Millennium Post

So-called pillar of Indian economy

If courage is exemplified by putting the common people to distress, then surely Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is a courageous man. If political risk is measured by the way the leader(s) of the country put the burden of cost for their beliefs in economic liberalism on the common people, then surely Singh is a risk-taker. He is so far removed from an ordinary citizen, that he can safely remain within his cocoon and let the common Congress-person deal with the consequences  of his ‘courage’ and ‘risk-taking.’

Common Congress-people at the municipal ward level to the state committee levels are the ones who need to garner the votes that put their so-called leaders in their ‘ivory towers’ to supposedly run country. Take the case of even the Finance Minister P Chidambaram, who actually won his election in 2009 by some formal, yet dodgy electoral processes.

He would have to go back to Tamil Nadu to seek votes. But considering that he is believed to be ‘too big to loose,’ after his sure fire defeat in the 2014 general elections, he could still come back to New Delhi through the Rajya Sabha route.

So that knowledge, in a way, insulates him from having to countenance the wreckage he lives behind as a senior minister in the Union government. He can still demand that there be a National Investment Board under the chairmanship of Singh, the PM, which will function as a super Cabinet above and beyond the normal rules of the game the rest of the government follows.

These are the two pillars of economic liberalism that the country has had to suffer for the last two decades. Chidambaram and his prime minister believes that investment will pour in from foreign and domestic sources once the decision-making loop is kept short and speedy.

They refuse to acknowledge that high levels of inflation have conflated with misgovernance to break the back of the people in most parts of the country. Even the vaunted middle class has begun showing reticence to spend enough money on high ticket purchases that can keep the wheel of the domestic economy moving.

Misguided subsidy policies that have fattened the wealthy and left the poor with denied access have militated finally to reflect on the overall economic picture of the country. Some of their ministerial colleagues claim that higher prices of consumer non-durables, including food items, have actually provided more money to the farmers. But these people are clearly unaware that the ‘terms of trade’ between agricultural produce and industrial products have been skewed in favour of the latter.

In fact, it is surprising that no one ever asked Singh a question about why he did not seek to reform the capitalist agricultural sector of the country, when in the 1990s, even the World Bank had advocated for it. Considering that more than 50 per cent of the country’s population earn their livelihood from agriculture, producing 20-odd per cent of the gross domestic product, it should have been a priority for Singh and the gang.

Yet, that was not done. If Singh would have undertaken the task, not only would it have added lustre to his liberalising policies, it could have also paved the way for a more evenly distributed  capitalist growth that would be far longer lasting than is now. Also, it would have opened channels for transfer of resources from the metropolitan centres to the country-side.

Then the farmers who tilled the land in Gurgaon, Noida or other such city suburbs would have remained within the ambit of their traditional skill-sets and not sale their land to urban land sharks. This would have also saved these farmers from the crisis of the present as they blew most of the money they got from land sale, in conspicuous consumption.

Of course, there is a ‘push back’ factor of the elite. The shiny urban extensions could not have tolerated a habitat of unseemly shacks between their glass and steel super-structures. This is where the country needs to imbibe lessons from the China story.

Without getting into a fatuous debate about whether it is a socialist country or not, one can clearly see how, about three hundred million people have been raised above the poverty level in one generation by China. India, on the other hand, appear to be an ‘also ran.’ The argument that China has a authoritarian state do not wash anymore as every day one hears stories how the Chinese authorities have had to back off from a ‘land grab’ in the face of stern popular mobilisations.

There is, of course, no ‘Beijing Consensus’ in the lines of a ‘Washington Consensus,’ even though global capital seek to create one, to deal with the lost authority of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.

But, Singh’s epitaph will not just include the unprecedented levels of corruption that he supervised, but it will also include the genesis of a failed economic reforms programme – the lack of a coherent farm policy.

Pinaki Bhattacharya is a senior journalist.
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