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
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
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 thenuntil their
resurrection now, along with the human face, etc. With their mealy-
mouths, they have shouted that genuine pseudo-liberals are now in
powerthe 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 guessthe better to drown
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.
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, 199296 (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, 19982004.
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 19982004, as is the weather; growth is
in 199297, 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 periodfrom 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
Indiathese 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 politiciansit 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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