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Calling the bluff

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  • Shaji John K
    Calling the bluff By Surjit S Bhalla in New Delhi Business Standard / July 24,2004 http://www.business-standard.com/common/storypage.php?
    Message 1 of 1 , Jul 30, 2004
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      Calling the bluff

      By Surjit S Bhalla in New Delhi
      Business Standard / July 24,2004

      There has been a lot of noise lately from politicians of all camps.
      What is noteworthy is that the noise is exactly that of the Garibi
      Hatao campaign in the early seventies.

      What may be worrisome to some is that if all the politicians are
      caught in a time-warp (along with most senior bureaucrats) then what
      would happen to the poor people of this ostensibly perennially poor
      country? There is nothing to fear. Globalisation is ensuring that
      there is check and balance between what the politicians profess and
      what they do. This is good news for the common woman, as the
      politicians are forced to hurtle towards benign irrelevance.

      One of the more comical sights is to witness the BJP, sans Vajpayee,
      act out their stay in the opposition. They have been reduced to
      fighting imaginary insults and walking out of Parliament at a
      moment's notice.

      The only foreign investment they do not oppose is that of Reebok;
      possibly because they want to appear in ads favouring walking as an
      old Hindu custom. And if Vajpayee allows his party to oppose the
      policies he encouraged (e.g. increase in foreign investment), then
      is in danger of losing his important economic legacy.

      His political legacy, the rapprochement with Pakistan, is thankfully
      not in danger of being upset by his own politicians suffering most
      likely from the premature onset of Alzheimer's.

      Most likely supporting this "opposition for the sake of opposition"
      to economic reforms would be the reactionaries from the Left. While
      welcoming foreign investment in their private fiefdom of West
      the Left thespians want to oppose such policies at the Centre. Why?
      Because they want to let the ruling Congress party know that
      their "bite is worse than their bark".

      I had heard of cutting one's nose to spite, etc. but this is the
      first time that the Left parties of India have publicly acknowledged
      that they are indeed the running dogs of Communism. And if they
      it will be another "dog bites man" story; so I don't think India has
      much to fear.

      But then there are the Lefties within the Congress party itself. And
      these chaps are having an undue influence on the rhetoric of the
      present government; worse, their rhetoric is beginning to invade the
      otherwise good sense in the government. The leftover rhetoric is
      about human faces and the poor.

      Their attitude has been best described by my good friend Alok
      Rai: "their so-called `idealism', their carefully projected air of
      sanctimonious virtue, their mealy-mouthed saintliness" ("Beyond
      Ideology," The Times of India, July 22, 2004). Sorry, but I should
      mention that Alok used these phrases to describe not the neo-
      but rather the neo-fascists. Which is precisely my long-held
      conviction —there is not a naya paisa's worth of difference between
      the two.

      So let us not insult the genuine individuals who reside in the left
      or right camps; let us term the no-difference Left and the RSS right
      as the tootsies, or totalitarian socialists.

      The tootsies, by claiming that their policies have saintliness, are
      asserting, with arrogant implicitness, that all earlier economic
      policies were not pro-poor. It is noteworthy, and ironic, that the
      father of these inhuman economic reforms is none other than Dr
      Manmohan Singh, the present Prime Minister.

      I had the privilege of working on his unsuccessful election campaign
      in 1999; at that time, the Congress Left was contending that the
      party had lost the 1996 general elections because of Singh's
      reforms! They have been in the wilderness since then—until their
      resurrection now, along with the human face, etc. With their mealy-
      mouths, they have shouted that genuine pseudo-liberals are now in
      power—the better to serve you, my dear. I must confess that I find
      the constant references to how this government will deliver reforms
      with "a human face" to be quite sickening, and dare I say it,

      At least the "India Shining" slogan had the virtue of being right in
      asserting that the erstwhile begging bowl sub-continent had
      from the depths of despair. The human face wallahs seem to be only
      happy in contending that there has not been much progress in India;
      it goes better with the premium Scotch, I guess—the better to drown
      your sorrows.

      My leftist friends never deny that they have the same views as the
      RSS or the Swadeshi Jagran Manch, but do assert that the two sides
      are different on non-economic issues. The Left is supposed to be
      caring, more egalitarian, more freedom-loving. If so, then it is
      important to remember the original human face destroyers.

      The "socialism with a human face" programme was announced, in
      1968, by the reformist Czech Prime Minister Alexander Dubcek. What
      was his goal? Less storm-troopers, more economic freedom. Just eight
      months later, Russian troops, supported by the World Left movement,
      exterminated the human face.

      The moral of the story: freedom is never ended by believers in
      freedom, but almost always by those with sanctimonious virtue, i.e.
      the tootsies.

      A comic feature of the tootsies is that they almost always get their
      facts wrong; more accurately, they tend to be more intellectually
      dishonest than most. The table documents these accusations. Since
      they smelt power, the human face wallahs have been shouting that
      agriculture has been neglected, that education spending has gone
      down, that GDP growth has suffered.

      Data for four time-periods have been presented: the five years of
      Congress rule, 1991-92 to 1995-96; the four years of the Congress
      rule, 1992–96 (ignoring the initial crisis year); the six years of
      the non-crisis Congress plus Left rule, 1992 to 1998; and the six
      years of the Vajpayee-led NDA rule, 1998–2004.

      The table tells a story buffeted more by weather than by the
      shenanigans of the politicians. Agricultural output growth in 1991-
      is lower than that in 1998–2004, as is the weather; growth is
      in 1992–97, and the weather was the best then.

      GDP growth follows the rainfall pattern, and indeed, adjusting for
      rainfall, the NDA comes out best! Educational spending, the reason
      for the recent tax and spend cess, shows a large increase during the
      NDA period—from 3.2 per cent of GDP during 1992-97 to 3.7 per cent.

      So we have to thank the NDA for the brilliance of using "in the name
      of education" expenditures as an excuse to fund wasteful state

      Investment in agriculture, as a percentage of GDP has gone down, as
      contended by the faces; but this is a typically dishonest statistic,
      because with the share of agriculture declining (as part of desired
      development), it is expected that agricultural investment would also
      go down, as a share of total GDP.

      More informative is investment in agriculture as a proportion of
      agricultural GDP: this has varied between 6.74 per cent and 6.79 per
      cent over the last fifteen years!

      So what are we left with? A lot of rhetorical noise, a lot of
      sanctimonious platitudes, a lot of hand-wringing for the galleries,
      but really, very little in terms of differences in performance.
      Paraphrasing George Orwell, you look from the Congress to the NDA to
      the Congress and you cannot tell the difference.

      Because there isn't any. And that is the biggest reason for hope for
      India—these politicians can't mess up our economy, or our lives,
      anymore. Not to the same degree anyway. There is a larger
      intelligence and force than that possessed by our politicians—it is
      the checks and balances of the international economy, of

      If we stray too far from reforms, that dog will bite, and bite hard
      enough for us mere mortals to change course.

      o o o
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