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Mainstream, VOL LV No 39 New Delhi September 16, 2017

Bankruptcy Writ Large

Monday 18 September 2017, by Nikhil Chakravartty

From N.C.’s Writings

Even if the Finance Minister’s wishes were horses, there is no escape from the economic blizzard that India is about to encounter. Without claiming to be a pundit one can without much difficulty discern from Venkataraman’s Budget oration that our economy is today in doldrums. Leaving aside the inescapable impact of the alarming rise in oil prices, the mismanagement of the economy itself is bound to create serious difficulties.

Six months of the new government has seen no coherent policy pronouncement on the economic situation and how to tackle it: the Finance Minister talked about the need to arrest deterioration of the economy but nowhere indicated how price rise would be curbed, if at all. The Prime Minister during the recent Assembly election campaign has only harped on the mess that the Janata left behind—almost along the same lines as she had done before the Lok Sabha elections in January. But a critique of the Janata record on the economic front does not amount to a policy frame-work. What we have been witnessing today is adhocism run riot—the very thing that holds up economic stability. From attempts at spot purchase of petroleum crude by trusted con-men to importing sugar through favourite businessmen, there is no policy perspective. If the Janata went for importing coking coal, the Indira Congress has been doing no better. The collapse of the power supply in most of the States has only helped the West Bengal Government from being singled out for its dismal record on this score. Even the nationalisation of six banks has been done without any fanfare; presumably the government today is reluctant to commit itself to radicalism. On the other hand, any talk of resisting multinationals is muffled—and here there is little to choose between the Centre run by the Indira Congress and West Bengal run by the CPM. Only Indira Gandhi herself has assured us that she personally has never even tasted Coca Cola.

Narayan Dutt Tewari’s first pronouncement after joining the Cabinet as the Planning Minister has been that planning would be guided by the strategy of realising Garibi Hatao and that the Sixth Plan would translate the Twenty-Point Programme into a reality. What a far-reaching discovery for those who have been accustomed to look upon Garibi Hatao as an electioneering gimmick, and the Twenty Points as an after-thought of the imposition of Emergency! Even Charan Singh talked of a rural-oriented strategy, no matter how phoney that was.

The order of the day is pragmatism. But this is not the pragmatism of TTK’s times, which could be translated as practical common sense: that had a perspective of building the economy though it made no pretence of being Left-oriented or socialistic. It was part of that strategy that led him to impose such measures as Expenditure Tax, though he dared not impose an agricultural income tax. But the pragmatism of the Indira Congress today is no policy at all: it has no objective worth the name. Instead of a perspective it has a hand-to-mouth approach, the day labourer’s outlook which cannot look beyond the evening.

This hand-to-mouth approach permeates almost all branches of political life today, not merely the handling or the mishandling of economic affairs. The approach to the crisis in Assam, Manipur, Mizoram or Tripura is stamped with that same brand of so-called pragmatism, which has become another name for opportunism. There is no policy of dealing with the tribal people, their special problems or aspirations or overcoming their prejudices. The grievances of the people of Assam are not confined only to the issue of foreigners: there are any number of complaints leading upto bitter frustration. Tripura has just witnessed a bloody pogrom with the dangerous potentialities of civil-war conditions, but the government at the Centre seems to be engaged in a slanging match with the Opposition over the respective failure of responsibility between itself and the State Government. Not even a passing reference has so far been made by the Prime Minister or anybody in authority about the need to study the problem of the tribal people in depth.

Equally deplorable is the abdication by the Left of the imperative to think for itself. It is naturally engaged in a vociferous denunciation of the government on the score of price rise: but so far it has come out with no concrete proposal for curbing or containing inflation. On the North-East the position of the Left leads the country nowhere. The West Bengal leadership of the CPM is no doubt agitated over the persecution of the Bengalis in Assam, but that is no reason why Jyoti Basu has to be a spokesman of the Bengalis alone: as a leader of a party claiming to have an all-India outlook, what about his role among the people of Assam? Has the CPM or, for that matter, any of the other Left parties, no active role to play as the unifier, the welder of a fragmented body politic? Is it not time that the Communists sat up and seriously pondered why and how they have lost their hold so spectacularly over the tribal people of Tripura, the very same people among whom they had an almost impregnable strong-hold only a few years ago?

It is possible that Jyoti Basu’s stand has consolidated his position among the Bengalis. But would this help him in tackling the new demands for an Uttarakhand in North Bengal and a Jharkhand on its west? Any assertion of Bengali nationalism would cut at the very roots of the socio-political set-up of a State like West Bengal where men and women from different parts of India live and work. Even in Tripura, the repercussions of new Bengali assertiveness in West Bengal may further erode the position of the Communists among the tribal people.

The fact of the matter is that in the hurry to cash in on the prevailing mood in a particular area or within a particular community, linguistic or communal, our political leaders by and large, from the Congress to the Communists, have been abdicating their national responsibilities. They all are fast losing credibility as builders or upholders of national integration.

This is a development fraught with serious consequences. With all the profession of having no truck with the so-called sons-of-the-soil theorists, the major political parties are in no mood to combat this pernicious doctrine. Rather, they wink at it. The electoral alliance struck by the Indira Congress with the Shiv Sena (with its sordid record of violent pogroms against non-Maharashtrians in Maharashtra) will now require of it, as part of the deal, to allot a Rajya Sabha seat to Bal Thakeray’s group: in other words, a remorseless advocate of the sons-of-the-soil doctrine will soon be entering the portals of Parliament by the grace of Indira Gandhi.

In this climate of fragmentation of national consciousness, it will not be surprising if new demands are soon raised for new States, each with the banner of a particular group, linguistic, communal or even casteist, and the consequent expulsion of the so-called foreigner or outsider. In the recent communal tension in Moradabad in UP, a new slogan was heard with disconcerting distinctiveness—Punjabis must quit! After the ordeal of Partition, and years of honest labour, settling there in the inhospitable Terai land nearby, if the Punjabi peasant or a craftsman or a truck driver has to face such attack in UP, would not there be a chain-reaction in Punjab where thousands of farm hands migrate every year for jobs from the impoverished areas of Bihar and UP?

India is entering a dangerously unstable phase in her career, thanks to the short-sightedness and bankruptcy of its political leaders, Right, Centre and Left. Destabilisation is being perpetrated by our own hands, foreign hands can do no better.

(‘Editor’s Notebook’, Mainstream, June 21, 1980)

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