A consensus has been reached among the leaders of the nation that the welfare role of the government is limited to meeting the basic needs of the poorest people. There is no need to examine the pro- or anti-people nature of the larger economy as long as food, education and health facilities are made available to the BPL households. The economy may be wholly anti-people. Roads may be captured by the SUVs and leave no space for the bicyclist. Electricity may be consumed by the air-conditioned shopping malls leaving the poor households in the dark. TV programmes may cater to the sensual needs leaving no space for spiritual needs. All this is not to be scrutinised by the courts or the civil society as long as subsidised food is made available to the poor.
Speaking at the Commonwealth Law Conference, Chief Justice of India S H Kapadia said that the government cannot be expected to provide food, education and health to all “but those who are below the poverty line can have it.” Prime Minister Manmohan Singh agreed. He said the government was committed to the cause of poor. Both are agreed that the welfare role of the government is limited to providing the basic needs of the poor. The government is providing free run to the big corporate houses under this dispensation. Huge harm may be perpetrated by the workings of the politician-bureaucrat-corporation nexus. This is outside the purview as long as the corporations pay taxes, bureaucrats make money in spending the revenues and politicians garner votes with these expenditures. This is Manmohan’s path.
Alternative is to impose heavy tax on selected big industries so that cottage and labour intensive industries become profitable within the market economy. For example, imposition of heavy tax on machine-made textiles would spontaneously lead to the growth of the handloom weavers. The poor people will get employment and would be able to buy food, health and education from that income. This is Mohandas Gandhi’s path.
The Manmohan’s path is heavily dependent on bureaucracy. Huge revenue is needed to run big welfare programmes by the government departments or NGOs. Taxes have to be imposed on the businesses. Income tax, service tax etc are imposed in addition to excise duty. The bureaucracy of the revenue departments makes a killing in the collection of these revenues. Another bureaucracy makes money in reaching the facilities to the people such as in the Employment Guarantee Scheme. Government teachers are drawing salaries around Rs 15,000 per month even though the rate of failure is double than in private schools where teachers draw a salary of Rs 3,000 pm. It is doubtful, therefore, whether the people will benefit much in Manmohan’s path. But it is certain that the bureaucracy will benefit.
The role of bureaucracy is less in Mohandas’s path. The imposition of a single heavy tax on big textile mills spontaneously leads to the generation of jobs. There is no need to impose myriad of taxes to collect revenues for welfare programmes. There is no need for the government to run Employment Guarantee Scheme because the market generates employment in response to the economic policies. Just as the body cures itself by providing a small doze of Homeopathic medicine; similarly the economy generates jobs by imposition of tax on selected capital-intensive industries.
Another difference in the two approaches is of availability of public money for investment in infrastructure. Much of the revenue is used up in running welfare programmes in the path suggested by Manmohan. Less revenue is available for investment in roads, ports, highways and patriot missiles. More revenue for these investments is generated in Mohandas’s path. The third difference is in the impact on the people. People are made perpetually dependent on the government machinery in the Manmohan’s path. The patient has to provide bribe to the government doctor to provide the medicines. The common man becomes a meek ‘beggar’ from the government officers rather than a strong ‘buyer’ of services from the market. The poor villager has to first beg to have his name entered into the BPL list by the Pradhan. Then, the Pradhan has to beg before the District Administration to have his proposal approved; and to have the payments released. The attitude of subservience and dependence grows in the people. The people are relatively free in Mohandas Gandhi’s path. He had promoted Khadi so that the people got employment without being dependent upon the government.
Manmohan’s path actually seeks to enchain the people but misleads them into believing it to be freedom. First Manmohan renders the people unemployed by giving freedom to large businesses to kill their cottage industries as Coca Cola has killed the rasvanti and textile mills have killed handlooms. Then selected vocal elements among the people are co-opted by providing them with opportunities to make money from corruption in the implementation of welfare programmes. The Block Pramukh is treated free in the government hospitals and his voice is muffled. The ordinary people remain helpless as previously-only they may imagine they too will get free treatment like obtained by the Block Pramukh.
It can be argued that people continue to be dependent upon the government in Mohandas Gandhi’s path as well. Jobs in handlooms and rasvanti are generated only if the government imposes tax on the big businesses. But the nature of dependence in the two paths is qualitatively different. The people are dependent upon the government machinery at every step in Manmohan’s path such as having to produce a BPL ration card. This dependence on the government is both less and remote in Mohandas Gandhi’s path. The imposition of heavy tax at one critical point automatically leads to the generation of employment.
I believe that the economic policies being implemented by Manmohan Singh are fundamentally anti-people. A cruel doctor surreptitiously removes one kidney of a patient who has been admitted for an operation of intestines. He then gives the patient free food supplements and vitamins to feign concern for his welfare. Similarly, Manmohan Singh is surreptitiously implementing policies that deprive the people of their jobs in the name of ‘development’. He is then giving subsidised food to the poor to feign his concern for the poor. This is the reason that discontent is brewing in the common man as seen in the Naxalite and other movements.
Chief Justice of India should see through this game. Instead of approving Manmohan Singh’s policies he should examine them on the touchstone given by Mohandas Gandhi.