[dropcap]I[/dropcap]ndications are that the Congress may once again return to the days of economic populism and an anti-American foreign policy favoured by Sonia Gandhi when the party was in power. Such policies did not help the Congress. Instead, its various rights-based programmes, along with charges of corruption, led the party to its worst-ever drubbing in 2014. Neither the “right to food”, which promised subsidised grains to 67% of the population, nor the “right to education”, which did away with examinations in schools till Class VIII, nor the right to rural employment, which poured money into the countryside without creating durable assets (as admitted by rural development minister Jairam Ramesh in 2013), could save the Congress from its ignominious defeat in the last General Elections.
Needless to say, these “pro-poor” programmes were devised by the National Advisory Council comprising Leftist activists and intellectuals headed by Sonia Gandhi. One of them, Aruna Roy, even complained about the Manmohan Singh government’s emphasis on growth at the expense of welfare measures. Sonia Gandhi even very nearly scuttled the Indo-US nuclear deal by saying that the communists had a point when they opposed it. As is known, the comrades are still fighting the former Soviet Union’s lost battle against the Yankees. Manmohan Singh had then put on a brave face on the possibility of his brainchild falling by the wayside by saying that the world would not come to an end if the deal was not signed. As Sanjaya Baru recounts in his book, ‘The Accidental Prime Minister’, Manmohan Singh felt deeply disappointed when the then Congress president put the survival of the coalition with the Left above the signing of the deal.
Rahul, just in case the Congress is voted to power, will be making a fatal mistake if he goes down such a path again with its standard communist predilection for high expenditure for generally unproductive “poverty alleviation” programmes at the expense of growth-oriented and employment generating initiatives. Such an outlook is aligned with an ingrained animus towards the so-called international finance capital dominated by Americans, which made Jyoti Basu describe Montek Singh Ahluwalia, then Planning Commission vice-chairman, as the World Bank’s “man”.
That Rahul does lean Leftwards is evident from his derisory dubbing of the Narendra Modi government as “suit-boot ka sarkar”, echoing perhaps, without knowing Karl Marx’s observation that a “bourgeoise government is the executive committee of big business and industrial houses”. That his jibe may have made Modi focus more on the poor in the recent period is, probably, true, but what Rahul has to remember is that even the communists are changing.
As Kerala’s Marxist CM, Pinarayi Vijayan, has said, the state is “making policies towards ease of doing business” to ensure that an industry gets “clearance within a particular number of days after filing an application”. Before him, West Bengal’s former chief minister, Buddhadev Bhattacharjee, realised that the “flight of capital” in the wake of the Left’s ascent in the late-1960s had hurt the state, which was once a leading industrial and commercial centre.
He tried to make amends by inviting the Tatas and other industrialists to invest, although his initiative was sabotaged by Mamata Banerjee, who was playing her own political games. She is now paying the price for her political cynicism because industrialists have shied away from the state despite her appeals for investment, resulting in the deserted Kolkata airport being called Fatehpur Sikri, Emperor Akbar’s abandoned capital, by Nobel laureate Amartya Sen.
Rahul once spoke in favour of small, rather than large, industries because the former provides more jobs, while the big factories are mostly automated. He also wanted the country to attract more medical “tourists”, but that would require a large number of private hospitals, suggesting that he is not averse to the private sector. But, so far, he has not spelt out his economic outlook in clear terms.
It is one thing for Rahul to criticise the present government for demonetisation, GST (“Gabbar Singh Tax”), failing to bring back black money from abroad and allowing the “brightest”, such as former chief economic adviser Arvind Subramanian, to flee the “sinking ship”, and quite another to present his own economic ideas, which he has not. Yet, mere promises of “achhey din” or the manipulation of caste and communal factors are no longer enough, as the BJP is realising since the state of the economy now looms larger than ever before in the popular consciousness, especially of the young.
(The author is a senior journalist)