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Mainstream, VOL L, No 31, July 21, 2012

Ascendance of Neo-Liberalism on Raisina Hill

Friday 27 July 2012, by Prem Singh

Like the last presidential election, the current election too has been the talk of the town and country. It is good that discussions are on with respect to the election of the highest constitu-tional head of the nation. The debates raised during Constitution-making regarding Presi-dentship can also be looked into for better understanding of the Constitution and Presi-dentship as well. There can be many other points for this discussion, like elections of previous Presidents, their special deeds, deci-sions and the critical analyses of their deviations. I want to recall that Dr Rammanohar Lohia had criticised the twice elected President, Dr Rajendra Prasad, for washing the feet of Varanasi’s priests. There were occasions when the first President and the first Prime Minister were engaged in arguments over the question of the role and powers of the President.

People casually talk about adopting the presidential system in the country like America, as they think that it will put an end to all the problems. But whatever be the focus of the debate, we can have a serious contemplation on this subject in academic and political domains while electing our next President. Those who are contesting the presidential elections should be made to face public debate on the contentious issues before the country and the world at large. Constitutional provisions should be discussed with them in order to know their views, understanding and the weight that they give to the constitutional provisions and basic values enshrined in those in this era of neo-liberalism. The presidential candidates should be asked what motivated them to contest the elections and after victory what special contri-bution they would make apart from their ceremonial role. They may be asked about their studies on various subjects and their opinion about the dimensions of life other than politics.

The high point of the discussion should be the expectations that the people have from the President and the degree to which the would-be President understands these expectations. There is no need to say that being the custodian of the Indian Constitution, the personality, post and role of the President should be seen as exis-ting within the purview of the Constitution—the guiding document of our destiny as a nation. This would certainly enhance and strengthen our constitutional civic sense that is lacking these days due to various reasons.

However, the ongoing debate only reflects that the election of the constitutional head of the nation has not much importance for us. The media and political parties both seem to be giving the message that the more important thing is which political party, coalition or leader gets successful in making its candidate the President and in turn gets to hold the key to the ‘power’ at the President’s Office. They are keeping an eye on the next general election to be held in 2014 while playing their moves in the presidential election. This is the most unfortunate aspect of this election. This time, it seems that the stratagem among the parties and leaders is at a much higher level. One throws a googly, and another throws dice. It has become a gamble game for them. Distrust, doublespeak, even mischievousness is the order of the day in the election. It was an absurd drama, most dismal, when a senior leader suggested Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for the post. The whole chapter simply reflects that Indian politics has become directionless. Ironically such a crisis could have opened the way to find the right direction provided there was a true motive behind the search.

The current presidential election has been sacrificed to cater to the blind race towards neo-liberalism. The President of the country is supposed to be the custodian of the Constitution; however, all the current debates by the experts, leaders or by the candidates themselves represents the President as the custodian of neo-liberalism. There was no discussion from any corner that the next President has to take care of the Constitution that has been altered in more than one way in favour of neo-liberalism since the last 25 years. We need a President who can heal the damages done to the Constitution and who is committed to the socialist goal of the Constitution. The Congress and BJP will not be able to give such presidential candidates as they have already adopted neo-liberalism as their goal. The regional parties too are following a path similar to these two national parties though there are some regional parties who describe themselves as ‘Socialist’.

The Janata Dal (United) is one such party whose spokesperson has come out in support of Pranab Mukherjee saying that neo-liberal economic policies are irrevocable. He has said that even if BJP spokesperson Ravi Shankar Prasad becomes the Finance Minister, he too will follow the path of Mr Mukherjee. The role of the Samajwadi Party’s supremo, Mulayam Singh Yadav, is equally regrettable in this election. It seems that he has not read a single line written by the great philosopher and socialist leader, Dr Lohia, whose name he uses against Mayawati’s idol, Babasaheb B. R. Ambedkar, in UP politics.

The Biju Janata Dal and AIADMK are the primary proposers of P.A. Sangma’s name for the President’s post. Sangma has challenged Mukherjee for an open debate not because the former Finance Minister had implemented neo-liberal economic policies and thus worked against the spirit of the Constitution but because he wants to expose the failure of Mukherjee in implementing these policies speedily. It proves that P.A. Sangma considers himself a better expert and bigger supporter of neo-liberal policies than Pranab Mukherjee.

Sangma had eyed the post of the President much before Mukherjee. Sangma, in support of his candidature, has said that so far no one from any tribal community has become President. To push his candidature, Sangma formed the ‘Tribal Forum of India’ with some like-minded friends, and declared himself the Forum’s presidential candidate by saying he represents crores of tribal people living across the country. Whether it was during the era of colonialism, during the era of mixed economy after independence or in the last 25 years of neo-liberalism, the tribal communities have suffered the most due to the capitalist model of development. Sangma belongs to the North-Eastern part of the country. There are geographical and cultural differences between the North-Eastern tribal population and the tribal communities living in other parts of the country. The ill-effects of capitalism are deeper on those tribal communities residing outside the N-E region.

Sangma has been a prominent leader of mainstream politics that promoted capitalist development and ruined the lives of tribals in most parts of the country. He has never raised his voice for tribal rights while profit-greedy MNCs plunder them. He was never seen on any forum or people’s movement which fights for the rights of the tribals. Sangma, a party to the destruction of the tribal people, is now aspiring to become the country’s next President while claiming to be their representative. He is appealing to the MPs and MLAs to caste their vote according to their conscience—‘antaratma ki awaz’. Sangma himself should introspect whether his own conscience is clear.

The Left Front is also divided, like the NDA, over the candidature of Pranab Mukherjee. However, the division within the Left Front is more important because it is an ideological Front driven by the aims of socialism since four decades. The Communist Party-Marxist has supported Pranab’s candidature. However, another fraction of the Left Front, the Communist Party of India (CPI), has decided not to take part in the election. The Forward Block is with the CPM while the RSP is with the CPI. Instead of Pratibha Patil, the CPM had proposed the name of Pranab Mukherjee during the last presidential election also. The rationale behind the CPM’s support to Pranab’s name is amazing and against the very party line. The CPM’s Secretary General Prakash Karat has stated that ideological considerations do not apply to the election of the President. One may ask him: how can the election of the President be viewed outside ideology? If one grants that it is outside the Marxist ideology, how can it be considered outside the ideology of the Constitution? If no ideology is involved in the election of the President, one wonders, how can he or she be perceived as the custodian of the Constitution?

There is a unique world of Marxist discourse and party network in India. They apply their own thesis, terminology and methodology to analyse situations and justify their line of support and conflict based on them. A debate is already taking place in communist circles, where the CPM’s move to support Pranab Mukherjee is being viewed as a wrong decision. A young leader from the party’s research wing has resigned from the post on this issue. The CPM has expelled the leader from the party. It says that Pranab Mukherjee has wide acceptance and the party has no strength to oppose his candidature. The question is: whether the wide acceptance to the name of Pranab Mukherjee is also not an acceptance awarded to neo-liberalism. By not opposing it, does it naturally mean that it should be supported? It is clear that the CPM’s decision is related to West Bengal’s politics. In the wake of Mamata Banerjee’s opposition to the candidature of Pranab, the CPM has given its support to the veteran leader only to woo Bengali sentiments.
But it involves ideological complications also. The CPM, that speaks about Indian socialism these days, cannot imagine real socialism without capitalism. The CPM has only two options—either it should completely forget about capitalism or come out in its full support. Secondly, for Marxists, the Indian Constitution and parliamentary democracy that follows the Constitution are a big hurdle in their way to a socialist revolution. Since they have accepted it reluctantly, they are not able to take real inspiration from the Constitution. Thirdly, Marxists still rely on their party’s strength before they think of political strength. The outside world is more like a doctrine for them; they are, therefore, unable to expand their political power in the larger public sphere.

It would have been really encouraging if the Left Front had fielded its own presidential candidate. It might have lacked the strength but until and unless the public witnessed their stand, how could they support them? What is happening now is that those who claim to practice pro-public politics are becoming part of the mainstream politics while saying that they don’t have the strength to contest the election. There is an urgent need for a strong, honest political voice to present its claim. In this era of neo-liberal imperialism, it is the only way shown by the Constitution to spread socialist political consciousness. It is not necessary that every leader of a pro-neo-liberal political party should also be a supporter of neo-liberalism. Questions can be raised on neo-liberalism within their parties. All I mean to submit is that the Left Front should have fielded a candidate against Pranab Mukherjee and P.A. Sangma in support of true democratic and socialistic ideals.

Such a candidate could have been a non-political person also. Civil society could have started a sound debate against the attack of neo-liberalism in this way. Even without actual nomination the aim could have been fulfilled. However, the Indian civil society is affected by the same problem as is mainstream politics. There are very few people who have trust in socialism; many are supporters of faster economic reforms. This is the reason that there was no concrete effort from the civil society on the name of Justice Rajindar Sachar, which came up in discussions, or anybody else. Thus, this presidential election does not provide any solution to the problem—the onslaught of neo-liberal imperialism on our constitutional sovereignty; rather, it has deepened it.

Pranab Mukherjee, who has wider acceptance in the electorate across party lines and is considered to be the most suitable candidate for the post, is not in the fray to uphold the spirit of the Constitution. Till his farewell from the government and party, he has been committed to the pace of economic reforms as the only remedy to the slowdown of our economy. His faith in the neo-liberal economy has been consistent and beyond qualms for the last 25 years. He has never bothered about the fact that the new economic policies cater to only one-fourth of the Indian population and necessarily exclude the rest. Therefore, Pranab will tag on with the reforms even in the President’s house. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Planning Commission Deputy Chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia, Knowledge Commission Chairman Sam Pitroda, Home Minister P. Chidambaram, along with Sonia Gandhi, will take his President-ship as an opportunity to accelerate the pace of economic reforms. The biggest reform that may be implemented after Pranab’s victory would be a green signal to 51 per cent FDI in the multi-brand retail sector. Those who say that Pranab has been excluded by the market/corporate forces to ‘ceremonial’ Presidentship are trying to confuse the discourse.

Dr Prem Singh, a former Fellow, Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla, teaches Hindi at Delhi University. He is also the General Secretary of the Socialist Party (India).

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