Dr Jay Dubashi
THE Manmohan Singh government messes up every thing it touches. This is because it does things, or is compelled to do things, it does not really believe in. I have strong doubts whether Singh himself has much faith in economic reforms, though he and his colleagues shout from the rooftops that they do. And that is precisely the reason they are in trouble.
At the moment of writing, it is touch and go whether the UPA-2 government lasts another week. The lady from Kolkota has pulled the plug and soon she may pull the carpet from under the shaky government. Singh & Co. go about saying that the lady from Kolkota is an irrelevance, and what she does or says does not really matter. But in their heart of hearts, they know their government is on a knife-edge and may fall any time.
Singh & Co. have got some pliable journalists to write pieces eulogising the PM for sticking to his principles and exhibiting what they call the courage of his convictions. Manmohan Singh and convictions? Perish the thought. Singh is a quintessential babu who believes in nothing and has always done what he has been asked to do. If he has any convictions, he has always kept them under wraps, as babus do. Like most economists working in the government during Nehruist heydays, his convictions were no different from those of the government of the day.
When he was chief of the Planning Commission, he had said in his introduction to one of the plans that planning in India was a gift of the Nehrus. This must have been noticed in 10 Janpath, or wherever the centre of political gravity was located at the time. Singh has always been a Gandhi family retainer, just as before the Gandhis, he was a Narasimha Rao retainer, which means he has always done what he has been asked to do, and since you are an economist, you can always bend and twist your figures to suit your masters.
After three years of dilly-dallying, why has Singh suddenly turned so wonkish on the economy? For three years, he and his colleagues dragged their feet and let the economy go to the dogs. The GDP growth rate collapsed from nine per cent to nearly half that, and so did everything else. Unemployment mounted, and along with it prices. First, they tried to pretend it was not their fault, and global forces were too strong for them to do anything. So they would do nothing and just let things go, until the global economy stabilised itself.
But they had calculated without the sudden eruptions on corruption front. First, a few crores here, then a few hundred crores there. But then suddenly things started going out of control, and the crores blossomed into thousands of crores, in one scam after another. I am of the opinion that Manmohan Singh, the bureaucrat, never really knew what was happening beneath his own feet, not because he was not told, but like most ministers, did not care to listen. This is precisely what Jawaharlal Nehru had done when confronted with facts about the scams in the Defence Ministry under Krishna Menon way back in the 1960’s.
This is what ministers in the government always do – they just ignore things that are uncomfortable and look the other way. Their usual excuse is that they were not told, or they didn’t know, or they would look into it, or would appoint a committee or maybe even a commission, presided over by a retired Supreme Court judge, the standard gimmick to push things under the carpet.
But it didn’t work because it was not the usual corruption involving a minor minister, but corruption with capital ‘C’ involving senior ministers down the line. Singh’s usual excuse that this was the result of coalition politics did not wash. Corruption became a big issue in some of the State elections in which the ruling party got thoroughly thrashed, as the middle class turned against it and threw its candidates overboard.
That is when bells started ringing and Singh & Co. suddenly realised they could not fool the voters anymore, and unless they did something, and quickly, their goose was cooked. The middle class may be relatively small in number, but when it is affected, it speaks loudly, and when it speaks, the whole country begins listening. Manmohan Singh is a neophyte in politics and doesn’t really understand it. But others do, and they began warning the political bigwigs in the party that, unless something was done, its days were numbered. It appeared that the party, and its government at the Centre, had no other agenda except looting.
For a whole year, month after month, the headlines, even in loyal papers which always wagged their tails when Singh & Co. passed by were about corruption – Commonwealth games, Adarsh Building in Mumbai, 2-G Spectrum and Coalgate – all involving Congress ministers and companies so close to the government that it looked as if they had takenover the government and were running it as their private fiefdom.
During UPA-1, the Congress had succeeded in keeping the middle class on its side. After over fifteen years of liberalisation, it was this new middle class that now ruled the roost and determined the voting pattern. Gone were the days when you could shout few slogans, bribe the bosses in cities and villages and manipulate the votes. The middle class, not just in India but elsewhere, looked closely at the turn of events and decided its own courses of action. But in India, the middle class was not just fed up with the Congress and its new crop of politicians, but also disgusted with avaricious, corrupt and totally decadent Congressmen who presumed to rule the country.
How do you keep this new middle class on your side? This class is also westernised or likes to think that it is, and if it cannot actually go and live in foreign lands – New York or London, Philadelphia or San Francisco – it hankers after hamburgers and Starbucks, shirts and dresses, and, of course its glossy magazines and porno films. This is what the government had promised them, and this is what they want, and that is what they expect their politicians to provide.
Singh & Co.’s new mantra is just this: Go West, young man, and if you can’t, go to Walmart and Tosco and Carrefour, with their fancy goodies, and their shelves laden with imported stuff straight from London and Paris, even if it hurts our economy. The voters don’t even realise that, after looting them, the government is now bribing them with foreign goodies, hoping this will divert their attention from the scams. This is a new kind of bhulbhulaya and it is to be seen if the middle class falls for it.
And to think that the man responsible for this piece of chicanery was at one time a respected economist! How are the mighty fallen!!