India is a country of one political party, really

No, I am not referring to China but to India. This weekend, in ‘Business Standard’, both Shekhar Gupta and T. N. Ninan have focused on the political defeat of the Marxist Communist Party in Tripura elections but on their sustained economic relevance in India or to that effect. They are absolutely right.

I had dedicated a column to this issue in MINT: ‘India is a one-party State’, nearly a year ago.

Ninan wrote:

If the two principal parties have turned away from the “neo-liberal” agenda, so called, they must be in agreement that the electorate is interested in anything but those ideas. And who is to say they are wrong? [Link]

Very well said. It is not even an issue of State vs. markets. It is about work ethic. It is about being accustomed to ‘something for nothing’ which is what the culture of populism encourages or the ‘Rights’ based paradigms of UPA create.

The competitive populism that political parties engage in can happen only if political parties agree on eschewing populism and agree to refrain from criticising the ruling party for sensible programmes that they had tried to initiate when they were in office.

Or, we get a leader who is indifferent to tenure but not indifferent to the lasting change that he or she needs to bring, regardless of tenure.

Educating the public about the perils of freebies is another option. But, that is a tall order too, I realise. Who will educate? Colleges and Universities too have succumbed to populism long ago. Do teachers know these trade-offs well and can articulate them well?

Can spiritual leaders educate their disciples among politicians? Perhaps. Do they understand and can they? Will they be taken seriously on these matters? Further, some of them are compromised too. So, those of them may not have credibility.

I hear anecdotal stories about how parents do not want their children to be put to hard work as interns and apprentices but want them to be pampered by the employer, from day one. Otherwise, they would rather keep their children at home than see them struggle, learn and then grow.

So, the biggest and most frustrating challenge is the weaning the society of the culture of instant gratification which is what populism encourages.

In the West, it came after they had achieved prosperity through hard work, productivity, savings and investment. Then, they fell for the charm of debt, leverage and instant gratification. Consumption spending became the engine of growth rather than real investment.

India’s populism (i.e., instant gratification) has come at a much earlier age of economic development. That is not good at all. Each day it remains, it entrenches itself and becomes the norm and it is one day lost for a better economic future. Soon, it will be out of reach.

Beyond the above philosophical musings, specifically, the question that needs to be asked of Mr. Rahul Gandhi is about the lessons of 2009-2014 economic mismanagement and of the true causes of the boom of 2004-08. The boom happened for other reasons than that of the presence and policies of UPA-1. They took advantage of it and unleashed the ‘Rights’ paradigm. When growth faltered and the tide receded, they were seen swimming naked in 2009-14. What are the lessons learnt? Evidently, not much at all.

With his constant reference to ‘Suit boot ki Sarkar’, he had made his own contribution to the government’s inclination to be anti-business and to play to the gallery.

On the part of the NDA, while they are quick to dismiss Mr. Gandhi as an undeserving opponent, the truth is that they had taken him too seriously and have always gone overboard in their reactions to business corruption, malpractice and irregularities because they want to prove him wrong; that they are not a ‘Suit boot ki Sarcar’. IF they  do not take him seriously, why would they want to him prove him wrong?

OF course, they know that in this country, it sells electorally. So, on social and economic matters, political parties congregate at the lowest common denominator because the Society too is addicted to instant gratification.

That is the response of the poor to the loot of the rich, of the rich gaming the system to their advantage, in multiple ingenious ways. Just look at the hurdles to the auctioning of assets by NCLT. Then, there are bogus environmental challenges to stall competitors, regulatory capture and capture of the judiciary, etc.

I do not have the answer to the questions of ‘Who will bell the cat? and ‘How to bell the cat?’

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6 thoughts on “India is a country of one political party, really

  1. Religious leaders have a huge role to play. Let me use the example of Karnataka. Lingayat mutts provide anna dasoha (dana) to everyone regardless of caste and the big ones among them heavily invest to take care of the healthcare and education needs of the community. Almost every seer I have met preaches the value of hard work and privately bemoans the ‘cradle to grave’ subsidies provided by the state government (some do so publicly too). A common target is the ‘anna bhagya’ scheme of the Karnataka govt. (a byproduct of the NFSA) which gives rice at Re.1 / kg to citizens of the state.

    Amongst those of the muslim commmunity, the difference religious leaders can make is visible in the disparity of living conditions between say bohras and normal sunnis.

    Religious leaders across India need to take up the mantle of freeing poor Indians from this mindset.

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    1. Good point, Shreyas. They need to emphasise ownership for one’s own thoughts and actions, responsibility, accountability and the virtues of being self-reliant. The State has an obligation. But, in general, that should be inculcated as an exception than as a rule, in the minds of the people. For the rulers, the messaging has to be different.

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  2. Dear Anantha, chastise Rahul Gandhi as much you want but please talk about Narendra Modi wasting his golden opportunity and mandate where he did not have to tackle unruly alliance partners, no crippling oil prices and global recession. When he could administer demonetization without fear, why would he fear Rahul’s suit-boot comments?

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