Old whine, new battles!

 First there was the big bang theory, that held that a nation can be distracted from humongous corruption by reform-sounding economic steps. Close on its heels comes the second flanking move – a self congratulatory reshuffle which, bereft of a plausible plan, seems like old wine in new bottles.

If the measure of popularity is common refrain, this government is running out of steam, and fast. The slew of reformist steps that the government has lately taken would have you believe that the gates of heaven have opened and manna is flowing, except for that untamed beast called public perception. The Congress believes it has bought itself breathing space and that the cascade of economic reforms, if you can call it that, will beef up its image enough to help it live to fight another day.

Hollowed out ethically and morally, the UPA is clutching at straws. Stricken by drift it has sought to camouflage its illness with bravura and heralded a reform binge that kids nobody. Truth is, the breakdown in the UPA was not led by any attack from outside but is a result of being eaten away at the innards by their own actions, attitudes and rapacious instinct. To imagine that people, particularly the ones who vote without  reading editorials, are in thrall of what the PM has lately pulled off is a joker’s idea of causation. The more realistic estimation would be to equate it with a swan song.

It is significant that the PM, pushed to the wall for so long, has desperately attempted to free himself and open the floodgates to some hot money – the kind that floods the market place when the take is good and disappears after it has made a killing. It is for that reason that Raghuram Rajan, Chief Economic Advisor to the Government has outlined the dangers of such incursive flows and settled for a tamer investment route through FDI, knowing rather well that retail is hardly the source of India’s maladies or indeed, her salvation. Be that as it may, it did not conceal the discomfiture of economic rating agencies which were rather blasé about the efforts and simply put out a more thrifty warning and recast India’s growth lower by another half a percent.

In spite of this, the BJP’s opposition to FDI in retail and the diesel hike is being painted as regressive by interested media groups which have developed a voracious appetite for such juicy handouts thanks to cross holdings in many businesses. The real India, however, begs to agree with the BJP. Nowhere is the effect of big retail more inconsonant with growth in agricultural variety or production than in the US in particular and the west in general. At a time when the world is going local, organic and in the exact opposite direction of mass markets, India, in its typical third world mindset acquiesces to becoming the failing laboratory of the west. To expect big retail like Walmart and Tesco to solve India’s agrarian crises is to imagine that MacDonald’s has solved the problem of food security in India.

Similarly, the diesel hike is being posited as a reformist step when in fact it is a desperate attempt to claw back our falling international ranking on the back of a deficit that has started looking ugly. The real question that begs to be asked is: How did the deficit get to this situation under your watch, Mr. Prime Minister? And, is the diesel hike the only way to handle this, and, is it good enough to make an impact? The answer is no, and no. In which case these are mere smoke signals professing intent, not solutions. And that stands to reason. The big hole the UPA’s vote catching schemes have blown in the economy are going to be hard to fill with token increases of this sort. Worse is due yet. Another round of fiscal profligacy awaits, when the Food Security Bill translates into a poll aimed promise. By then, as we shall realise, and with apologies to lady Macbeth, all the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand.

Unleashing economically sensitive policies in a hurry is the unintended consequence of how the Government has painted itself into a corner with no elbow room thanks mostly to its allies and its own list of misdemeanors. There is a direct link between the insouciance of its allies and the Congress’ raids on the treasury and its corrupt and arrogant ways. The image of the Congress as a synonym for corruption has taken root. That reduces its moral authority to rule and earn the respect of its colleagues, partners and allies. The NDA sustained itself with many of the same parties when it was in power due to the credibility of the BJP and the sagacious leadership and personal integrity of its leadership. In contrast, a powerless PM, with no moral authority and one who presides over such plunder under his watch cannot hope to keep his flock together, even if he can, his reputation.

The BJP has charged the UPA Government with betraying the trust of the people of the country. Who can argue with that? Shorn of credibility, shamed publicly, derided everywhere it has no place to hide. And therefore, it resorts to diversionary tactics labeled as reforms. As evidence, the latest issue of The Economist, that citadel of orgiastic capitalism has a telling piece of advice to offer our beleaguered PM, so that he may, even as he goes down, end up at least a martyr to the cause of the American dream: The PM must remember, it says, encouraging him, “that growth promoting reforms divert attention from damaging corruption scandals…”. So much for the raison d’etre of this largesse.

Having settled that, we might return to the political idiocy of the UPA in betting on a face saver as a game changer. The writing is on the wall and the only ones not able to read it right are the folks doing cartwheels or standing on their heads to entertain their high command. The delusion that arithmetic is the answer to politics can hold for a bit when electoral clouds threaten, but to imagine that you can ride out a storm by adding two plus two must rank as lunacy. The Congress is buffeted by winds and it has no control over its sails any more. The range of public opinion against it, the resentment of its allies, the paralysis of its faculties are all converging in an unprecedented arrangement to choke its chances of survival.

The loss of Trinamool Congress’ support may be cleverly adjusted with another CBI-hooked ally but the arrangement is still tenuous. The DMK has been hurting for a while and it is biding its time. The BSP has no love lost for it. The knives are out in the NCP. And The SP is in a hurry to take control of any interim arrangement a mid-term election can throw up. With friends like that, you need no enemies. Besides when survival becomes a matter of living one day at a time, you know that your days are numbered. The mercurial Ms. Bannerjee’s mood swings apart, it is the mood of the nation that is on the swing once again and it is unlikely that the Congress is going to be able to sweeten the pill so much that it can cancel the bitter aftertaste of its last few years in power.


This post was published under a different headline in the Op-Ed page in The Pioneer, New Delhi of September 2012. It is being uploaded with a back date to correct the lapse in posting.

2 Responses to “Old whine, new battles!”
  1. Alka Ganesh says:

    Your comments are well written, but so off balance, showing only one side of the coin, that they are unconvincing. The pathbreaking seminal legislation conceived and executed by UPA 1 ( RIF, MNREGA, RTE, NRHM, JNURM and now the food security bill) look at the heart of many fundamental inequities in this country. It is the same people who are trying to do good in UPA11, but the intransigence of the BJP in particular has tied the hands of the congress. True the big scams have rocked the polity, but is one naive enough to think that it is only this government which is corrupt? It is just that it got caught, but still had the gumption to put the culprits into jail and allowed law and justice to take it’s course.
    The track record of the BJP in power, is nothing to be proud of; making the rich richer and the poor even poorer. So do give it time, keep them accountable for their mistakes, and Congress will deliver. The vast mass of India is still benefitting and it is only the middle class of the chattering variety that is generating 90% of the brouhaha that one hears on television channels everyday! Mark my words, the aforesaid chattering classes will be gasping with disbelief in 2014.

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