By Rajendra Prabhu
OUR media analysts seem to be as eager to be seen on the bandwagon of success as the political figures. Only last December, these analysts were praising the ?spin doctors? of the BJP, more specifically Arun Jaitley and Pramod Mahajan to the skies, attributing the sweeping victory of the party in the Assembly elections in three out of four major states to their ?brilliant? strategy, their data banks and their computer-based analysis of every constituency, almost streetwise.
This time the tables have been turned against the BJP and its alliance, the praise is all for the Congress strategists like Congress economic think-tank Jairam Ramesh and public relations consultant Dilip Cherian (of Perfect Relations). How the underdog managed to come from behind and surprise the upper dog! The much praised brilliance of the earlier spin doctors was forgotten; here are the new spin doctors.
The spin doctors of both combinations have had their day of glory. But now they seem to say the same thing. If Arun Jaitley is the author of the thesis that it is not the business of the government to run business, Jairam, who made a brilliant impact while at Boston University and is as eloquent a speaker as Arun Jaitley, is not singing a different tune. Jairam told Shekhar Gupta, editor of Indian Express in the NDTV interview: ?You really do require a public sector in some areas but you don'tneed a public sector to run airlines, to run hotels, make bread, make soft drinks…? BJP'stwo Aruns?targets of some of the party'sown critics?should be happy at the unintended compliment.
Just look at the events between May 15 and May 25. On May 17 the markets crash a second time over fears of Congress succumbing to the Leftist rhetoric against free enterprise and economic reforms. The Congress goes into action with Dr Manmohan Singh issuing a statement and asking the government to act to stop the slide. By May 19 it is clear that Sonia Gandhi is ?renouncing? the crown and Dr Singh would be the new Prime Minister. The markets bounce back. Some of the Left leaders continue to say their Marxist litany. But the Congress gets P. Chidambaram, the Harvard educated former Finance Minister of the ?dream budget? fame to man the North Block and another business-friendly face, Kamal Nath to preside over Udyog Bhavan. The markets stop their wild swing.
The draft common minimum programme of the UPA says: ?The UPA government will ensure that public investment in agriculture and irrigation is stepped up in a signifciant manner. . . ensure that flow of rural credit is doubled. . . ease the burden of debt and high interest rates on farm loans… a special programme for dryland farming. . . controls that depress incomes of farmers will be systematically removed… fair and renumerative prices for farmers across the country…?
Is this a mirror image of what the NDA also promised in its manifesto? ?…Make agriculture renumerative even to small and marginal farmers… double the rate of growth of public and private investment in agriculture…a national mission for rainfed agriculture… completion of all the ongoing irrigation projects within five years. . . ensure enhanced credit flow to the (farm) sector, make credit affordable at interest rates lower than the PLR… strengthen co-operative banks and other cooperative credit institutions… comprehensive crop insurance…? and so on. Both documents say much the same thing, though the NDA, as the then ruling party, is more detailed and specific in its commitments.
You may even ask what is the difference between what the NDA says about the contentious Ayodhya issue and what the UPA lays down: NDA: ?judiciary'sverdict should be accepted by all. At the same time, efforts should be intensified for dialogue and a negotiated settlement. . .? UPA: ?will await the verdict of the courts, while encouraging negotiations… for an amicable setlement?. Both promise 6 per cent of GDP on education, both call for economic reforms, both say about public-private partnership in infrastructure development and so on. While NDA is committed to the riverlinking project, UPA draft says that this project will be examined. There are all manner of degrees of differences in emphasis, actual allotments, etc., but in details and specifics, NDA scores. One is more right of Centre, the other is more left of Centre, specially on issues like future of the public sector. It seems econo-mics unite while politics divide.
This time the tables have been turned against the BJP and its alliance; the praise is all for the Congress strategists like Congress economic think-tank Jairam Ramesh and the public relations consultant.
?I came to privatisation not out of any ideological conviction. I came to reform the public sector purely out of pragmatic reasons. Having worked in the government for 15 to 20 years, I became convinced in the early 90s that the political economy of the Indian state?the Indian neta and the Indian babu?will never allow the public sector the true managerial and commercial autonomy. . .? Not just Jairam, this could well be the statement of P. Chidambaram, Dr Singh and many Congressmen in the new government as well; those who have been exposed to the Knowledge Economy and know what the compulsions of globalisation are.
But do we not discern in these words a bit of an echo of what Arun Shourie?much maligned by the Left?has also been saying all along? ?Those who have denounced the reforms when they were out of office have, when they assumed office, continued them in the same direction,??that is Arun Shourie in the Indian Express of last February 5.
?Mr Rajiv Gandhi assumed office amidst great hope. Not burdened by the past, he looked to the future. He initiated changes of various kinds?from technology missions to retraining of civil servants. . .? Is this well-deserved praise of the Congress icon from Jairam Ramesh or Kamal Nath, both of whom were working with Rajiv? No. These are the words of Arun Shourie in the same newspaper.
Are the two alliances closely parallel at least in economic policy? What difference does it make to the polity if alternatively the one is elected first and then the other, and again the first and again the second? This is what is called ?the chapati effect??to quote Prof. Raj Krishna, who coined the word long back in the 70s. First you press the chapati with right hand and then with the left hand and then again with the right and so on; the more you do that, the better the product gets.
The Indian polity is the chapati and the government and the Opposition are the two hands, alternately changing the seat. Last December it was the turn of the BJP, this summer it is the turn of the Congress and its allies. Within a year there would be more elections?to the state Assemblies?and the chapati effect might still be seen?the underdogs and overdogs changing places with some help from their respective spin doctors.
Nor are the political targets static. In the 70s and the 80s, everyone else wanted to isolate and defeat the Congress. Throughout the 1970s, the then Jan Sangh and the CPM were working together in Parliament to pin down the Congress government. In 1977, Jan Sangh merged into the Janata Party to be part of the Morarji Government and the Left supported that government. On Bofors, BJP and the Left acted together against the Congress, quit Lok Sabha en masse and thus forced an election. The V.P. Singh government that emerged after the fractured results remained in power for 11 months?only so long as the BJP and the Left could support it like its right hand and the left hand, as this correspondent commented at that time.
Earlier too, in the state government, there were the alliances of everyone, from Jan Sangh to the CPI and Congress defectors forming the Samyukta Vidhayak Dal governments that came down crashing as easily as they went up to displace elected Congress governments. Remember Charan Singh and Govind Narayan Singh and B.P. Mandal governments in 1967). In the 90s, there was a dramatic turn and others began to join to isolate BJP. In 1996-98 the DMK was in the anti-BJP alliance. In 1999 it was with the BJP-led alliance; it is back again with the Congress-led alliance now.
In the 90s the Congress moved away from the licence raj to launch liberalisation and consort with globalisation. In the year 1999, the BJP in alliance with others was changing from its traditional economic orthodoxy to embrace liberalisation and confront globalisation and shed the Fortress India attitude. Who knows what will be the contentious issue in 2009 or even earlier? There are no permanent enemies in politics and once Advani frankly admitted that even BJP and Congress could come together to isolate someone else. Friends, enemies, allies?they change places rapidly.
The NDA government was constantly pulled back by the lack of majority in the Rajya Sabha. Now it would be the turn of the Congress led alliance: After last December'sstate Assembly elections, the BJP can send more MPs to the Rajya Sabha. This time, the Congress has Andhra with a big majority and BJP has Karnataka with a sizeable strength. The UPA'smajority in Lok Sabha will have to gain cooperation from the NDA'smajority in the Rajya Sabha. The chapati effect will continue… To quote Vajpayee'sparting comment again: ?We have lost, India has won.?