Millennium Post

Amartya Sen takes a right turn

In a keynote speech to the Jaipur literary festival, Amartya Sen said something which he might not have said some years ago. ‘I want to see a party that is pro-market and pro-business to come to power and doesn’t prioritise one religion over another’.

For an avowed Leftist to favour a pro-market party is more than just ‘breaking news’. It shows how attitudes have changed, even among the Leftists, ever since India entered the globalised world in 1991. The first sign that they were taking cognisance of the changed scenario was evident in CPI(M) general secretary Prakash Karat’s observation after the electoral setbacks of the communists in 2009 that there was ‘a disconnect between the Left and sections of the middle class’.

According to him, the gulf was more pronounced among the ‘young who have benefitted post-reforms in terms of better opportunities, jobs, income’. This was the first admission that the supposedly pro-rich economic reforms were not a total disaster, but that there were also beneficiaries who could not be called rich, but only well-off.

The CPI’s A B Bardhan, who had famously said sensex bhhand mein jaye (the sensex be damned) in the early years of UPA-I when the communists were the government’s allies, was more sarcastic about the reasons for the 2009 debacle. He said that the comrades had ‘underestimated’ the ‘great Indian middle class’, which had become ‘more consumerist, more careerist’. The Left-wing economist, Prabhat Patnaik, had echoed the CPI(M) and CPI leaders by saying that ‘economic betterment’ of the middle class was responsible for its ‘quietitude’. While there is an element of regret in the voice of the mainstream communists about how ‘better opportunities, jobs, income’ were eroding their influence, Amartya Sen apparently wants the country to build on the current conditions of ‘economic betterment’ of the middle class via a pro-market ruling party. For the Nobel laureate, consumerism is evidently no sin although it is in tune with the capitalist objective of encouraging more production.

If there is any regret in his statement, it is about the possibility of a business-friendly party coming to power which is not secular. If only, he seems to be hinting, the Congress had continued with its market-oriented policies and the growth rates were maintained at their earlier high levels instead of sliding down as in the recent past, then Narendra Modi’s pro-development pitch wouldn’t have had as much as appeal as it does now.

The reason why the Congress faltered on the economic front is known. It was due to the policy paralysis caused by the government favouring the neo-liberal line and Sonia Gandhi’s kitchen cabinet, the left-of-centre National Advisory Council (NAC), opting for populism via the rural employment scheme, food security law, etc.

But, the point to note is that being pro-business is no longer a disadvantage for politicians. This is a sea change from the period till recently when private sector had a bad name. It was seen to be cheating the consumers by marketing sub-standard goods and cheating the government by evading income tax.

So, the public sector was preferred. Even today, there are politicians outside the communist parties like those in the Trinamool Congress, the Aam Aadmi Party and others who look down their noses at the private sector. It is Modi who has decided to follow a different line. He is probably the first politician since the days of the Swatantra party who is openly and unabashedly pro-business.

The Congress, on the other hand, has been hedging its bets. Although it started the liberalization process, its heart has never been in it since the party seems unwilling to turn its back on its 1955 promise of ushering in a socialistic pattern of society. Like non-alignment, socialism, too, is one of the party’s Nehruvian precepts which it doesn’t want to forsake.

Its basis is the belief that the only way to remove poverty is through socialistic measures of sops and subsidies despite the claim, which was reiterated by the prime minister at the recent AICC session, that the poverty levels have been falling.

The Congress appears unwilling to recognise that the economic reforms are responsible for raising large numbers of people from below the poverty line to what Modi calls the neo-middle class while Rahul Gandhi says that this group is in the strata between those below the poverty line and those in the middle class.

What is significant is that this particular segment is far more vocal than people in their position used to be. Earlier, the middle and upper classes did not vote. Now, thanks to the awareness created by the ubiquitous television channels, they vote in large numbers. And, given their consumerist and careerist orientation, it is a group whose importance is being slowly realized by the political class as Modi did earlier. Now, Amartya Sen has given legitimacy to this aspect of Modi’s policies.

Next Story
Share it