Only constraint is Modi’s own mindset against freeing labour and land markets
Let us concede at the outset that all political parties offer a broad-brush direction of economic policy in their election manifestoes and it is expected that if they get in power these will be fine-tuned by experts before implementation. Not every promise in the economic sphere as in others is implementable or implemented. While these only get lip service from politicians when in power, others holding promise of wider public welfare are actively pursued for implementation.
Now the RSS Chief Mohan Bhagwat paid public fealty to Swadeshi as a full-blown economic ideology at the recent Vijayadashmi address in Nagpur to the assembled flock. This was only to be expected. For some time now, the RSS and its various offshoots have been harping on swadeshi as if it is a panacea to all our economic ills. We can, however, say with some confidence and experience that Bhagwat’s chanting of the swadeshi mantra did not cause any one in the ruling dispensation to lose his or her sleep.
Swadeshi precedes Bhagwat. Gandhi swore by it but Nehru mocked it. And those public sector behemoths Nehru built were a tribute to the Soviets rather than to the Mahatma. Where the state-controlled planning left the Soviets the world knows. As for Nehru’s so-called temples of modern India, his own successors and others in the non-Congress corner have been valiantly trying to revive them while they remain on ventilator at much cost to the taxpayer.
But the point to remember in the context of Bhagwat’s elevation of swadeshi as the central pillar of a BJP government’s economic policy is what the late Dattopant Thengdi had said when Vajpayee was the prime minister. A co-founder of the Jana Sangh along with Vajapyee, Advani, Shekhawat, etc., and the founder and life-long head of the Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh, Jana-Sangh-BJP’s trade union wing, Thengdi minced no word in frontally criticizing the Vajpayee Government’s economic policies.
At one stage, he publicly declared that Vajpayee `was the worst prime minister since independence’. Yet, Vajpayee let it pass, --- he could often be magnanimous. The top RSS apparatchiks did not care to counsel restraint to Thengdi, such being his status in the Sangh parivar who had grown the BMS into the largest trade union in the country, leaving the then ruling Congress-affiliated INTUC far behind. Unbothered, Vajpayee went on to successfully disinvest in several loss-making public undertakings.
Therefore, the allegiance to Swadeshi by the Sarsanghchalak and others in the parivar ought not to hold back the framing of pragmatic economic policies. But the problem with the current prime minister is that he seems to be still unclear about the path he has to carve for the country’s faster growth. That various global agencies have revised the growth projection to less than six percent this financial ought to further spur Modi and his economic advisers to take urgent steps to boost growth. The corporate tax concessions are unlikely to boost sentiment. The spurt in share market values is uneven, confined to a few select stocks. It is because the general sentiment is far from optimistic. There is little festival cheer in the markets. Consumers are missing from Diwali bazaars who usually throng them to buy jewelry, clothes, household durables – never mind passenger cars.
So, it should be known that it is not swadeshi that is holding back freeing of the animal spirits of the Indian entrepreneurs. Nor will it do so in the future. It is Modi’s own deep-seated distrust of Indian business, his confidence to turn around sick public sector undertakings, the belief that going after a few big-time crooks of the corporate world would send out a salutary message to the rest henceforth to grow rich only through legitimate means. All this is misplaced. Instead, what is needed is a fair and honest regulatory system, an incorruptible bureaucracy and a will to be even-handed in penalizing corporate wrongs regardless of their proximity to a particular political party and their capacity to rock the boat by activating their sleeper agents in the political spectrum should they be denied special treatment when found with their hands in the public till.
The government should think of freeing labour and land markets, the most urgent reforms no government has dared undertake for fear of being dubbed `anti-poor.’ Modi has the courage and the numbers to pass the requisite legislation to undo the mischief Jairam Ramesh did by moving the pendulum on land acquisition from one extreme to the other without an iota of concern about public welfare and economic growth. Labour reform now underway is a case of too little, too late. Boldness is required to grasp the nettle of this single biggest stranglehold on formal employment since the heyday of socialism discounted private capital altogether to accord the working class primacy, wholly unmindful of the fact that without economic power unemployment and hunger are inevitable. A state that undertakes to feed the poor indefinitely will go bankrupt.
Therefore, no swadeshi protagonist will come in his way if Modi were to decide that ridding the economy of two of the most severe and longer-lasting clamps can help revive the sentiment and lend credibility to the official projection of a six-plus percent growth in this bleak economic environment. Piecemeal band-aid solutions like the proposed cut in direct taxes wouldn’t be enough.
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My problem with liberals is that while they are ever-ready to clobber the present regime on its head given half a chance, they hold back when it comes to previous governments which ruled for nearly six decades. Take this ridiculous case of a junior magistrate in Bihar ordering an FIR against the 49 signatories to a statement against the Modi Government for growing lawlessness. Invoking the draconian sedition provision in the Indian Penal Code, the magistrate ordered the FIR. He has since been rebuked by higher judicial bosses while the state government has inquired why the publicity-seeking lawyer who lodged the FIR was allowed his fifteen minutes of notoriety.
After the news hit the headlines, the usual suspects in the pseudo-liberal stratosphere used their poison pens to paint yet again the Modi regime in the darkest of hues. And, ironically, they quoted Nehru to buttress their case. ` Nehru had described Section 124 A of the IPC’ as ‘obnoxious and highly objectionable’ and `sooner we get rid of it the better,’ wrote a former chief justice of the Delhi High Court who has sought to clothe himself in ultra liberal attire ever since they failed to elevate him to the apex court. Yet, the good judge and others who followed him failed to ask the only pertinent question that arises here: If India’s first and all-powerful prime minister was so convinced about the obnoxious nature of the sedition law, why did he not remove it from the statute book, why? Or, for that matter, the liberal governments that followed him?
The answer is simple: Being even-handed the self-avowedly liberal-secular pundits do not earn their spurs as, well .., well –liberal secular. You can be fair-minded and still criticize the present regime, can’t you? Unfortunately, those keen to endear to the out-of-power- politicians needs must be seen to be abusing the Modi Government with or without reason.
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`J and K Govt. unleashes ad war on terror,’ said the headline on Saturday, October 12 . Well, Kejriwal had unleashed it on the capital several months ago, much to the consternation of Delhiites who must pay for this huge diversion of funds from vital development projections for his image-building.