Politics, said Groucho Marx, is the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly, and applying the wrong remedies. The political class, in turns, proved the power of the truism with spectacular success this week.
On Monday, spurred by the power of high-decibel drivel, the UPA government banned cartoons in textbooks. On Tuesday, MPs found time to object to the fact that RajyaSabha TV focused on Jaya Bachchan while film star Rekha took oath as a nominated MP. They even complained to the Vice-President. On Wednesday, Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, responding to the state of the economy, chose to blame Greece and Europe for the rapid fall in the value of the rupee. On Thursday, as Air India bled and even as the government murmured about austerity, the civil aviation ministry was planning a jumbo junket to the US where Ajit Singh would receive the first Boeing Dreamliner aircraft. On Friday in Parliament, Lalu Prasad led the storm-troopers demanding a ban on the Indian Premier League. Outside the House, the government announced that inflation was back in double-digit territory and had touched 10.23 per cent fuelled by primary/food articles.
The political class may well celebrate the success in banning the cartoon but they must recognise that they are also painting themselves into a larger-than-life caricature. Even as they demand a ban on the IPL, they are promoting their own projection as the Indian Parody League. In fact, you could argue that the political landscape is littered with its own little IPLs. The Indian Patronage League would symbolise the deals for the boys culture; those obstructing the conduct of reasoned debate on issues could be labelled as the Indian Pandemonium League; a large section of the youth feels the Indian Political League is the Indian Paleolithic League, somewhere near the Stone Age, given their views on Internet censorship. The UPA, given its thick-skinned inaction, could be called the United Pachydermatous Alliance or the United Pantomime Alliance.
The argument is not about which issues MPs should raise in Parliament, rather it is about those issues which elected representatives are unable to flag and corner the government on. Is it that the issues that impact the people are so intractable that politicians would rather not flag them? AslamSher Khan, former Indian captain and MP, alluded to this on a news channel when he simply said “it is not that the issues of the economy are not understood, it is just that it is easier to ban cartoons”!
The spectre of denial is appalling to say the least. Over Rs 5 lakh crore of investments in infrastructure are stalled because projects are struggling to acquire land to house them. This means employment generation has pretty much stalled. The crux of the problem is located in the absence of a reasonable policy on land acquisition. On Friday, the government put off, for the umpteenth time in seven years, the new Land Acquisition Bill. But there has hardly been any protest. Lanterns and torches are a top-selling item, thanks to the inability of the government to formulate a path for fuel linkage and a cogent policy for environment clearances. The go, no-go policy has paralysed investment. Why isn’t it an issue?
Indian ranks in the bottom decile of “Ease to do Business” ratings. One big stumbling block is the plethora of permissions that persists but there is no move to rid the system of case-by-suitcase clearance raj. The new Companies’ Bill is yet again pushed off to the Monsoon Session and nobody seems to mind. Corruption hogs headlines in every session but there is no sign of the Lokpal Bill. The direct tax code was cleared by the Standing Committee in February, but it is not on the government’s to-do list. And the list goes on… there are over 50 Bills pending since 2005. Yet these issues don’t get the attention that IPL does. Vocal power, it would seem, is reserved for a 1949 cartoon in a textbook published in 2006. It is reserved for a film star’s midnight skirmish at a stadium, match-fixing and charges of molestation against an Australian player.
The economy is confronted by crises on multiple fronts. Every signal on the e-way is blinking amber and red. Perhaps they are sanguine that these issues affect only a fraction of the population. Perhaps they believe that issues like the slide of the rupee, disastrous level of deficit, the magnitude of current account deficit and the fall in domestic savings rate are urban concerns and are Greek to the average rural voter.
It is true that India is a democracy of the poor. It is also true that a large chunk of the voting classes reside in rural economy; nearly four of ten urban voters don’t vote. The UPA is living in la-la land if it thinks that will be unaffected. Lower growth will dismantle the Robin Hood model of economics that it has practiced. It would be a huge mistake to confuse the sequence of cause and consequences, believe what transpires in the economy is only an urban concern. The consequences of the mismanagement of the current account deficit will visit the rural economy first as prices of fertilisers and diesel shoot up. Higher prices will jack up subsidies to unsustainable levels. Already rising debt and interest costs are crowding out investment in rural infrastructure. Post the 1991 crisis, the first victim of spending cuts was agriculture. The combination of a weak rupee, high inflation and low growth is a cocktail for disaster.
It is time the political parties came out of their little vote-bank ghettos and looked at the big picture. Lower growth impacts Bharat much more than India.
Courtesy: The New Indian Express