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Mainstream, Vol XLVI No 33

Emerging Right-wing trend in the Congress

Saturday 2 August 2008, by D Raja


The end of the UPA-Left relations has been welcomed by trade and industry. And why should it not be? This government headed by Dr Manmohan Singh makes no secret of its neoliberalisation agenda. Even when there was an UPA-Left Coordination Committee and Dr Manmohan Singh and P. Chidambaram gave lip-service to the National Common Minimum Programme (NCMP), they actually tried their best to push the agenda of the United States.

At one of the Coordination Committee meetings in 2005, I had remarked that in the common man’s perception there was no difference between the BJP and the Congress because the UPA was similar to the BJP when it came to privatising public sector units, opening up the insurance sector to foreign investors and investing pension funds in the risky stock-market. Pranab Mukherjee reacted angrily and said I was making “sweeping generalisations” The government’s behaviour with disinvestment in the Neyveli Lignite Corporation vindicated me.

I think that without the Left acting as referee, there is nothing preventing the UPA from taking a Right-ward shift in its economic policies. This will lead to the rich becoming richer and the poor being deprived of their last bit of dignity. Multinationals and local monopoly holders will do whatever they want to. Labour laws may be diluted, making “hire and fire” very easy. The trade unions will be rendered powerless. The banks will be privatised making the common man’s savings vulnerable.

The Right-ward shift began under the NDA. Atal Behari Vajpayee signed the Next Steps for Strategic Partnership and compromised India’s position. Today, the Congress is being hypocritical when it accuses the BJP of making India a subordinate. In June 2005, the External Affairs Minister, Pranab Mukherjee, went to the US on what he claimed was an “exploratory visit” before the Prime Minister. But suddenly we heard that he had signed the New Framework for Defence Relations. Then the Prime Minister went and signed the nuclear deal.

UNDER Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi, the Congress had a Leftist orientation. That is why it could introduce so many progressive measures in the economy. Nehru gave India its permanent economic foundation through a strong public sector. Indira Gandhi gave a call for Garibi Hato. I don’t think that the present Congress leadership has anybody who can do original thinking. They have no radical programmes. However, they have succeeded in mocking the aam admi by first depriving him of his bread and then mouthing slogans in his favour. In fact, Chidamabarm once said that the “turning-point” years for the Indian economy were 1987, 1991 and 2004 because these are landmarks on the road to privatisation and liberalisation. He did not mention anything about past achievements like bank nationalisation and the setting up of India’ steel plants in the public sector, which made our country self-sufficient.

I am certain that Chidambaram and Dr Manmohan Singh would not lose any time to start the disinvestment process. Their logic, as stated in Parliament many times by the Finance Minister, is that the government would retain 51 per cent stake of the PSUs.

But control over a company has not nothing to do with the size of the stake. In the past, we have seen how Tata Sons controlled the Tata Iron and Steel Company by holding less than 15 per cent of the equity, while national financial institutions and the members of the public owned the remaining 85 per cent. It is common to see the government playing a subordinate role to the private sector entity after disinvestment. What is the logic behind this? The Left parties would never permit this to happen. We will stage a big movement if disinvestment is attempted.

In its zeal to satisfy industrialists, the Finance Minister withdrew the transaction tax on stock market deals. He also reduced the rates of Corporate Tax. But no step has been taken against industrial houses that have defaulted no bank loans. As of September 2007, more than Rs 3,17,121 has been locked up in non-performing assets. Moreover, there is hardly any move to tackle the proliferation of black money. This will prove cataclysmic for the country in the long run.

The view now quite popular with Right-wing intellectuals is that the Communists were imposing themselves on the UPA Government led by Dr Manmohan Singh. Nothing can be farther from the truth. The NCMP was broadly endorsed by the Left even though we had certain differences with the Congress’ fiscal and economic policies. After all, the UPA’s accession to power was the product of a limited mandate in the 2004 election. But the Congress overestimated its importance and soon began to transgress beyond the mandate. The Prime Minister tried constantly to push the frontiers of the NCMP. This led to several confrontations.

Soon, the Coordination Committees became exercises in nothingness. There was hardly any scope for agreement between us.

We developed and circulated our own notes on a variety of issues like the Pension Bill, insurance, financial sector reforms and the role of the banks.

We proposed that instead of selling off the government’s stake in the PSUs, the government must go into the root causes of the sick PSUs and make every effort o revive them. But they refused to listen. n

(Courtesy : The Pioneer)

The author is a member of the CPI’s Central Secretariat.

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