Yesterday the PM is reported to have been asked by someone travelling on his aeroplane from Moscow “whether he had forgiven Advani for calling him a ‘weak Prime Minister’”.
The question was absurd, almost ridiculous, typical of our docile ingratiating rather juvenile English-language press and media, as if any issue of forgiveness arises at all about what one politician says during an election campaign about another politician’s performance in office.
Dr Manmohan Singh’s answer was surprising too: “I was compelled to reply to what Advani said…On May 16 when (Advani) telephoned me, he told me that he was hurt by some of my statements. He said he was hurt and regretted his statements… I apologised to him if I have hurt him. I am looking forward to a close relationship with the Leader of the Opposition.”
So LK Advani appears to have apologised to Manmohan Singh and Manmohan Singh to LK Advani for what they said about each other during the recent general election campaign! What is going on? Were they schoolboys exchanging fisticuffs in a school playground or elderly men battling over power and policy in modern Indian politics?
What would we have done if there was a Churchill in Indian politics today – hurling sarcastic insults at domestic opponents and foreign leaders while guiding a nation on its right course during turbulent times?
Churchill once famously said his parents had not shown him “The Boneless Wonder” in PT Barnum’s circus because it was too horrible a sight but now he had finally seen such a “Boneless Wonder” in his opponent on the Treasury Benches, namely, Ramsay MacDonald. Of the same opponent he said later “He has the gift of compressing the largest number of words into the smallest amount of thought”.
When accused of being drunk by a woman MP he replied “And you are very ugly, but tomorrow I’ll be sober”. Today’s politically correct world would scream at far less. Field Marshall Montgomery told Churchill, “I neither drink nor smoke and am 100% fit,” to which Churchill replied, “I drink and smoke and I am 200% fit”. That too would be politically incorrect today.
Churchill described Prime Minister Clement Attlee as “a modest man with much to be modest about”; also about Attlee: “If any grub is fed on Royal Jelly it turns into a Queen Bee”. Yet Attlee had enough dignity and self-knowledge and self-confidence to brush it all off and instead respect and praise him. In the 1954 volume Winston Spencer Churchill Servant of Crown and Commonwealth Attlee added his own tribute to his great opponent: “I recall…the period when he was at odds with his own party and took a seat on the Bench below the Gangway on the Government side. Here he was well placed to fire on both parties. I remember describing him as a heavily armed tank cruising in No Man’s Land. Very impressive were the speeches he delivered as the international horizon grew darker. He became very unpopular with the predominant group in his own party, but he never minded fighting a lone battle.”
Stanley Baldwin, who as PM first appointed Churchill as Chancellor of the Exchequer, once said “There comes Winston with his hundred horsepower mind”. Yet Churchill was to later say harshly “I wish Stanley Baldwin no ill, but it would have been much better had he never lived.”
Of Lenin, Churchill said, he was “transported in a sealed truck like a plague bacillus from Switzerland into Russia”. Of Molotov: “I have never seen a human being who more perfectly represented the modern concept of a robot.” Of Hitler, “If [he] invaded hell I would at least make a favourable reference to the devil in the House of Commons”. Of De Gaulle, “He was a man without a country yet he acted as if he was head of state”.” Of John Foster Dulles, “[He] is the only bull who carries his china shop with him”. Of Stafford Cripps, British Ambassador to the USSR, “…a lunatic in a country of lunatics”; and also “There but for the Grace of God, goes God”.
Decades later, that great neo-Churchillian Margaret Thatcher was on the receiving end of a vast amount of sarcasm. “President Mitterrand once famously remarked that Thatcher had ‘the eyes of Caligula and the lips of Marilyn Monroe’. Rather less flatteringly, Dennis Healey described her as Attila the Hen. She probably took both descriptions as compliments.” (Malcolm Rifkind in Margaret Thatcher’s Revolution: How it Happened and What it Meant edited by Subroto Roy and John Clarke, 2005).
Politics is, and should be, grown up stuff because it deals with human lives and national destinies, and really, if you can’t take the heat please do not enter the kitchen. The slight Churchillian sarcasm that does arise within modern Indian politics comes very occasionally from Bihar but nowhere else, e.g. about the inevitability of aloo in samosas and of bhaloos in the jungle but no longer of Laloo being in the seat of power. In general, everyone seems frightfully sombre and self-important though may be in fact short of self-knowledge and hence self-confidence.
What had Manmohan Singh said about LK Advani that he felt he had to apologise for? That Advani had no substantial political achievement to his credit and did not deserve to be India’s PM. Manmohan was not alone in making the charge – Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi and numerous other spokesmen and representatives of their party said the same. Has Manmohan’s apology to Advani been one on behalf of the whole Congress Party itself?
Was Advani’s apology to Manmohan one on behalf of the whole BJP too?
What had the BJP charged Manmohan with that Advani felt he had to apologise for? Being a “weak PM”.
Hmmm. Frankly, thinking about it, it is hard to count who has not been weak as a PM in India’s modern history.
Certainly Vallabhai Patel as a kind of co-PM was decisive and far from weak back in 1947-48.
Lal Bahadur Shastri was not weak when he told Pakistan that a Pakistani attack on Kashmir would result in an Indian attack on Pakistan.
Indira Gandhi was not weak when she resisted the Yahya Khan-Tikka Khan tyranny against Bangladesh.
Had he not been assassinated, Rajiv Gandhi in a second term would have been decisive and not weak in facing up to and tackling the powerful lobbies and special interest groups that have crippled our domestic economic policy for decades.
But the number of such examples may be counted by hand. Perhaps VP Singh might count, riding in an open jeep to Amritsar, as might AB Vajpayee’s Pokhran II and travelling on a bus to Lahore. In general, the BJP’s charge that Manmohan was “weak” may have constructively led to serious discussion in the country about the whole nature of the Prime Ministership in modern India, which means raising a whole gamut of issues about Indian governance – about India being the softest of “soft states”, with the softest of “soft government budget constraints” (i.e., endless deficit finance and paper money creation) etc.
Instead, what we have had thus far is apologies being exchanged for no real political reason between the leaderships of the Government and the Opposition. If two or three sellers come to implicitly carve up a market between themselves they are said by economic theory to be colluding rather than being in competition. Indian politics may be revealing such implicit collusive behaviour. The goal of this political oligopoly would seem to be to preserve and promote the status quo of the post-1947 Dilli Raj with its special hereditary nomenclatura, at the expense of anonymous diffused teeming India.
Subroto Roy, Kolkata
Postscript July 15 2009: Churchill’s mature opinion of Baldwin was one of the fullest praise at the 20 May 1950 unveiling of a memorial to him. See his In the Balance, edited by Randolph S Churchill, 1951, p. 281
From Facebook 7 March 2013
Dr Manmohan Singh is again talking about growth-rates, so I must again say what I said in 2009…
12 June 2009
The Hon’ble Dr Manmohan Singh, MP, Rajya Sabha
Prime Minister of India
Respected Pradhan Mantriji:
In September 1993 at the residence of the Indian Ambassador to Washington, I had the privilege of being introduced to you by our Ambassador the Hon’ble Siddhartha Shankar Ray, Bar-at-Law. Ambassador Ray was kind enough to introduce me saying the 1991 “Congress manifesto had been written on (my laptop) computer” – a reference to my work as adviser on economic and other policy to the late Rajiv Gandhi in his last months. I presented you a book Foundations of India’s Political Economy: Towards an Agenda for the 1990s created and edited by myself and WE James at the University of Hawaii since 1986 — the unpublished manuscript of that book had reached Rajivji by my hand when he and I first met on September 18 1990. Tragically, my pleadings in subsequent months to those around him that he seemed to my layman’s eyes vulnerable to the assassin went unheeded.
When you and I met in 1993, we had both forgotten another meeting twenty years earlier in Paris. My father had been a long-time friend of the late Brahma Kaul, ICS, and the late MG Kaul, ICS, who knew you in your early days in the Government of India. In the late summer of 1973, you had acceded to my father’s request to advise me about economics before I embarked for the London School of Economics as a freshman undergraduate. You visited our then-home in Paris for about 40 minutes despite your busy schedule as part of an Indian delegation to the Aid-India Consortium. We ended up having a tense debate about the merits (as you saw them) and demerits (as I saw them) of the Soviet influence on Indian economic “planning”. You had not expected such controversy from a lad of 18 but you were kindly disposed and offered when departing to write a letter of introduction to Amartya Sen, then teaching at the LSE, which you later sent me and which I was delighted to carry to Professor Sen.
I may add my father, back in 1973 in Paris, had predicted to me that you would become Prime Minister of India one day, and he, now in his 90s, is joined by myself in sending our warm congratulations at the start of your second term in that high office.
The controversy though that you and I had entered that Paris day in 1973 about scientific economics as applied to India, must be renewed afresh!
This is because of your categorical statement on June 9 2009 to the new 15th Lok Sabha:
“I am convinced, since our savings rate is as high as 35%, given the collective will, if all of us work together, we can achieve a growth-rate of 8%-9%, even if the world economy does not do well.” (Statement of Dr Manmohan Singh to the Lok Sabha, June 9 2009)
I am afraid there may be multiple reasons why such a statement is gravely and incorrigibly in error within scientific economics. From your high office as Prime Minister in a second term, faced perhaps with no significant opposition from either within or without your party, it is possible the effects of such an error may spell macroeconomic catastrophe for India.
“now has 10.4% growth on a 44 % savings rate… ”
Indeed the idea that China and India have had extremely high economic growth-rates based on purportedly astronomical savings rates has become a commonplace in recent years, repeated endlessly in international and domestic policy circles though perhaps without adequate basis.
1. Germany & Japan
What, at the outset, is supposed to be measured when we speak of “growth”? Indian businessmen and their media friends seem to think “growth” refers to something like nominal earnings before tax for the organised corporate sector, or any unspecified number that can be sold to visiting foreigners to induce them to park their funds in India: “You will get a 10% return if you invest in India” to which the visitor says “Oh that must mean India has 10% growth going on”. Of such nonsense are expensive international conferences in Davos and Delhi often made.
You will doubtless agree the economist at least must define economic growth properly and with care — what is referred to must be annual growth of per capita inflation-adjusted Gross Domestic Product. (Per capita National Income or Net National Product would be even better if available).
West Germany and Japan had the highest annual per capita real GDP growth-rates in the world economy starting from devastated post-World War II initial conditions. What were their measured rates?
West Germany: 6.6% in 1950-1960, falling to 3.5% by 1960-1970 falling to 2.4% by 1970-1978.
Japan: 6.8 % in 1952-1960 rising to 9.4% in 1960-1970 falling to 3.8 % in 1970-1978.
Thus in recent decades only Japan measured a spike in the 1960s of more than 9% annual growth of real per capita GDP. Now India and China are said to be achieving 8%-10 % and more year after year routinely!
Perhaps we are observing an incredible phenomenon of world economic history. Or perhaps it is just something incredible, something false and misleading, like a mirage in the desert.
You may agree that processes of measurement of real income in India both at federal and provincial levels, still remain well short of the world standards described by the UN’s System of National Accounts 1993. The actuality of our real GDP growth may be better than what is being measured or it may be worse than what is being measured – from the point of view of public decision-making we at present simply do not know which it is, and to overly rely on such numbers in national decisions may be unwise. In any event, India’s population is growing at near 2% so even if your Government’s measured number of 8% or 9% is taken at face-value, we have to subtract 2% population growth to get per capita figures.
2. Growth of the aam admi’s consumption-basket
The late Professor Milton Friedman had been an invited adviser in 1955 to the Government of India during the Second Five Year Plan’s formulation. The Government of India suppressed what he had to say and I had to publish it 34 years later in May 1989 during the 1986-1992 perestroika-for-India project that I led at the University of Hawaii in the United States. His November 1955 Memorandum to the Government of India is a chapter in the book Foundations of India’s Political Economy: Towards an Agenda for the 1990s that I and WE James created.
“I don’t believe the term GNP ought to be used unless it is supplemented by a different statistic: the rate of growth of the average consumption basket consumed by the ordinary individual in the country. I think GNP rates of growth can give very misleading information. For example, you have rapid rates of growth of GNP in the Soviet Union with a declining standard of life for the people. Because GNP includes monuments and includes also other things. I’m not saying that that is the case with India; I’m just saying I would like to see the two figures together.”
You may perhaps agree upon reflection that not only may our national income growth measurements be less robust than we want, it may be better to be measuring something else instead, or as well, as a measure of the economic welfare of India’s people, namely, “the rate of growth of the average consumption basket consumed by the ordinary individual in the country”, i.e., the rate of growth of the average consumption basket consumed by the aam admi.
It would be excellent indeed if you were to instruct your Government’s economists and other spokesmen to do so this as it may be something more reliable as an indicator of our economic realities than all the waffle generated by crude aggregate growth-rates.
3. Logic of your model
Thirdly, the logic needs to be spelled out of the economic model that underlies such statements as yours or Meghnad Desai’s that seek to operationally relate savings rates to aggregate growth rates in India or China. This seems not to have been done publicly in living memory by the Planning Commission or other Government economists. I have had to refer, therefore, to pages 251-253 of my own Cambridge doctoral thesis under Professor Frank Hahn thirty years ago, titled “On liberty and economic growth: preface to a philosophy for India”, where the logic of such models as yours was spelled out briefly as follows:
Kt be capital stock
Yt be national output
It be the level of real investment
St be the level of real savings
It = K t+1 – Kt
Kt = k Yt 0 < k < 1
St = sYt 0 < s <1
In equilibrium ex ante investment equals ex ante savings
It = St
Hence in equilibrium
sYt = K t+1 – Kt
s/k = g
where g is defined to be the rate of growth (Y t+1-Yt)/Yt .
The left hand side then defines the “warranted rate of growth” which must maintain the famous “knife-edge” with the right hand side “natural rate of growth”.
Your June 9 2009 Lok Sabha statement that a 35% rate of savings in India may lead to an 8%-9% rate of economic growth in India, or Meghnad Desai’s statement that a 44% rate of savings in China led to a 10.4% growth there, can only be made meaningful in the context of a logical economic model like the one I have given above.
[In the open-economy version of the model, let Mt be imports, Et be exports, Ft net capital inflows.
Mt = aIt + bYt 0 < a, b < 1
Et = E for all t
Balance of payments is
Bt = Mt – Et – Ft
In equilibrium It = St + Bt
Ft = (s+b) Yt – (1-a) It - E is a kind of “warranted” level of net capital inflow.]
You may perhaps agree upon reflection that building the entire macroeconomic policy of the Government of India merely upon a piece of economic logic as simplistic as the
s/k = g
equation above, may spell an unacceptable risk to the future economic well-being of our vast population. An alternative procedural direction for macroeconomic policy, with more obviously positive and profound consequences, may have been that which I sought to persuade Rajiv Gandhi about with some success in 1990-1991. Namely, to systematically seek to improve towards normalcy the budgets, financial positions and decision-making capacities of the Union and all state and local governments as well as all public institutions, organisations, entities, and projects in general, with the aim of making our domestic money a genuine hard currency of the world again after seven decades, so that any ordinary resident of India may hold and trade precious metals and foreign exchange at his/her local bank just like all those glamorous privileged NRIs have been permitted to do. Such an alternative path has been described in “The Indian Revolution”, “Against Quackery”, “The Dream Team: A Critique”, “India’s Macroeconomics”, “Indian Inflation”, etc.
4. Gross exaggeration of real savings rate by misreading deposit multiplication
Specifically, I am afraid you may have been misled into thinking India’s real savings rate, s, is as high as 35% just as Meghnad Desai may have misled himself into thinking China’s real savings rate is as high as 44%.
Neither of you may have wanted to make such a claim if you had referred to the fact that over the last 25 years, the average savings rate across all OECD countries has been less than 10%. Economic theory always finds claims of discontinuous behaviour to be questionable. If the average OECD citizen has been trying to save 10% of disposable income at best, it appears prima facie odd that India’s PM claims a savings rate as high as 35% for India or a British politician has claimed a savings rate as high as 44% for China. Something may be wrong in the measurement of the allegedly astronomical savings rates of India and China. The late Professor Nicholas Kaldor himself, after all, suggested it was rich people who saved and poor people who did not for the simple reason the former had something left over to save which the latter did not!
And indeed something is wrong in the measurements. What has happened, I believe, is that there has been a misreading of the vast nominal expansion of bank deposits via deposit-multiplication in the Indian banking system, an expansion that has been caused by explosive deficit finance over the last four or five decades. That vast nominal expansion of bank-deposits has been misread as indicating growth of real savings behaviour instead. I have written and spoken about and shown this quite extensively in the last half dozen years since I first discovered it in the case of India. E.g., in a lecture titled “Can India become an economic superpower or will there be a monetary meltdown?” at Cardiff University’s Institute of Applied Macroeconomics and at London’s Institute of Economic Affairs in April 2005, as well as in May 2005 at a monetary economics seminar invited at the RBI by Dr Narendra Jadav. The same may be true of China though I have looked at it much less.
“Savings is indeed normally measured by adding financial and non-financial savings. Financial savings include bank-deposits. But India is not a normal country in this. Nor is China. Both have seen massive exponential growth of bank-deposits in the last few decades. Does this mean Indians and Chinese are saving phenomenally high fractions of their incomes by assiduously putting money away into their shaky nationalized banks? Sadly, it does not. What has happened is government deficit-financing has grown explosively in both countries over decades. In a “fractional reserve” banking system (i.e. a system where your bank does not keep the money you deposited there but lends out almost all of it immediately), government expenditure causes bank-lending, and bank-lending causes bank-deposits to expand. Yes there has been massive expansion of bank-deposits in India but it is a nominal paper phenomenon and does not signify superhuman savings behaviour. Indians keep their assets mostly in metals, land, property, cattle, etc., and as cash, not as bank deposits.”
“India has followed in peacetime over six decades what the US and Britain followed during war. Our vast growth of bank deposits in recent decades has been mostly a paper (or nominal) phenomenon caused by unlimited deficit finance in a fractional reserve banking system. Policy makers have widely misinterpreted it as indicating a real phenomenon of incredibly high savings behaviour. In an inflationary environment, people save their wealth less as paper deposits than as real assets like land, cattle, buildings, machinery, food stocks, jewellery etc.”
If you asked me “What then is India’s real savings rate?” I have little answer to give except to say I know what it is not – it is not what the Government of India says it is. It is certainly unlikely to be anywhere near the 35% you stated it to be in your June 9 2009 Lok Sabha statement. If the OECD’s real savings rate has been something like 10% out of disposable income, I might accept India’s is, say, 15% at a maximum when properly measured – far from the 35% being claimed. What I believe may have been mismeasured by you and Meghnad Desai and many others as indicating high real savings is actually the nominal or paper expansion of bank-deposits in a fractional reserve banking system induced by runaway government deficit-spending in both India and China over the last several decades.
5. Technological progress and the mainsprings of real economic growth
So much for the g and s variables in the s/k = g equation in your economic model. But the assumed constant k is a big problem too!
During the 1989 perestroika-for-India project-conference, Professor Friedman referred to his 1955 experience in India and said this about the assumption of a constant k:
“I think there was an enormously important point… That was the almost universal acceptance at that time of the view that there was a sort of technologically fixed capital output ratio. That if you wanted to develop, you just had to figure out how much capital you needed, used as a statistical technological capital output ratio, and by God the next day you could immediately tell what output you were going to achieve. That was a large part of the motivation behind some of the measures that were taken then.”
The crucial problem of the sort of growth-model from which your formulation relating savings to growth arises is that, with a constant k, you have necessarily neglected the real source of economic growth, which is technological progress!
I said in the 2007 article referred to above:
“Economic growth in India as elsewhere arises not because of what politicians and bureaucrats do in capital cities, but because of spontaneous technological progress, improved productivity and learning-by-doing on part of the general population. Technological progress is a very general notion, and applies to any and every production activity or commercial transaction that now can be accomplished more easily or using fewer inputs than before.”
In “Growth and Government Delusion” published in The Statesman last year, I described the growth process more fully like this:
“The mainsprings of real growth in the wealth of the individual, and so of the nation, are greater practical learning, increases in capital resources and improvements in technology. Deeper skills and improved dexterity cause output produced with fewer inputs than before, i.e. greater productivity. Adam Smith said there is “invention of a great number of machines which facilitate and abridge labour, and enable one man to do the work of many”. Consider a real life example. A fresh engineering graduate knows dynamometers are needed in testing and performance-certification of diesel engines. He strips open a meter, finds out how it works, asks engine manufacturers what design improvements they want to see, whether they will buy from him if he can make the improvement. He finds out prices and properties of machine tools needed and wages paid currently to skilled labour, calculates expected revenues and costs, and finally tries to persuade a bank of his production plans, promising to repay loans from his returns. Overcoming restrictions of religion or caste, the secular agent is spurred by expectation of future gains to approach various others with offers of contract, and so organize their efforts into one. If all his offers ~ to creditors, labour, suppliers ~ are accepted he is, for the moment, in business. He may not be for long ~ but if he succeeds his actions will have caused an improvement in design of dynamometers and a reduction in the cost of diesel engines, as well as an increase in the economy’s produced means of production (its capital stock) and in the value of contracts made. His creditors are more confident of his ability to repay, his buyers of his product quality, he himself knows more of his workers’ skills, etc. If these people enter a second and then a third and fourth set of contracts, the increase in mutual trust in coming to agreement will quickly decline in relation to the increased output of capital goods. The first source of increasing returns to scale in production, and hence the mainspring of real economic growth, arises from the successful completion of exchange. Transforming inputs into outputs necessarily takes time, and it is for that time the innovator or entrepreneur or “capitalist” or “adventurer” must persuade his creditors to trust him, whether bankers who have lent him capital or workers who have lent him labour. The essence of the enterprise (or “firm”) he tries to get underway consists of no more than the set of contracts he has entered into with the various others, his position being unique because he is the only one to know who all the others happen to be at the same time. In terms introduced by Professor Frank Hahn, the entrepreneur transforms himself from being “anonymous” to being “named” in the eyes of others, while also finding out qualities attaching to the names of those encountered in commerce. Profits earned are partly a measure of the entrepreneur’s success in this simultaneous process of discovery and advertisement. Another potential entrepreneur, fresh from engineering college, may soon pursue the pioneer’s success and start displacing his product in the market ~ eventually chasers become pioneers and then get chased themselves, and a process of dynamic competition would be underway. As it unfolds, anonymous and obscure graduates from engineering colleges become by dint of their efforts and a little luck, named and reputable firms and perhaps founders of industrial families. Multiply this simple story many times, with a few million different entrepreneurs and hundreds of thousands of different goods and services, and we shall be witnessing India’s actual Industrial Revolution, not the fake promise of it from self-seeking politicians and bureaucrats.”
Technological progress in a myriad of ways and discovery of new resources are important factors contributing to India’s growth today. But while India’s “real” economy does well, the “nominal” paper-money economy controlled by Government does not. Continuous deficit financing for half a century has led to exponential growth of public debt and broad money, and, as noted, the vast growth of nominal bank-deposits has been misinterpreted as indicating unusually high real savings behaviour when it in fact may just signal vast amounts of government debt being held by our nationalised banks. These bank assets may be liquid domestically but are illiquid internationally since our government debt is not held by domestic households as voluntary savings nor has it been a liquid asset held worldwide in foreign portfolios.
What politicians of all parties, especially your own and the BJP and CPI-M since they are the three largest, have been presiding over is exponential growth of our paper money supply, which has even reached 22% per annum. Parliament and the Government should be taking honest responsibility for this because it may certainly portend double-digit inflation (i.e., decline in the value of paper-money) perhaps as high as 14%-15% per annum, something that is certain to affect the aam admi’s economic welfare adversely.
6. Selling Government assets to Big Business is a bad idea in a potentially hyperinflationary economy
Respected PradhanMantriji, the record would show that I, and really I alone, 25 years ago, may have been the first among Indian economists to advocate the privatisation of the public sector. (Viz, “Silver Jubilee of Pricing, Planning and Politics: A Study of Economic Distortions in India”.) In spite of this, I have to say clearly now that in present circumstances of a potentially hyperinflationary economy created by your Government and its predecessors, I believe your Government’s present plans to sell Government assets may be an exceptionally unwise and imprudent idea. The reasoning is very simple from within monetary economics.
Government every year has produced paper rupees and bank deposits in practically unlimited amounts to pay for its practically unlimited deficit financing, and it has behaved thus over decades. Such has been the nature of the macroeconomic process that all Indian political parties have been part of, whether they are aware of it or not.
Indian Big Business has an acute sense of this long-term nominal/paper expansion of India’s economy, and acts towards converting wherever possible its own hoards of paper rupees and rupee-denominated assets into more valuable portfolios for itself of real or durable assets, most conspicuously including hard-currency denominated assets, farm-land and urban real-estate, and, now, the physical assets of the Indian public sector. Such a path of trying to transform local domestic paper assets – produced unlimitedly by Government monetary and fiscal policy and naturally destined to depreciate — into real durable assets, is a privately rational course of action to follow in an inflationary economy. It is not rocket-science to realise the long-term path of rupee-denominated assets is downwards in comparison to the hard-currencies of the world – just compare our money supply growth and inflation rates with those of the rest of the world.
The Statesman of November 16 2006 had a lead editorial titled Government’s land-fraud: Cheating peasants in a hyperinflation-prone economy which said:
“There is something fundamentally dishonourable about the way the Centre, the state of West Bengal and other state governments are treating the issue of expropriating peasants, farm-workers, petty shop-keepers etc of their small plots of land in the interests of promoters, industrialists and other businessmen. Singur may be but one example of a phenomenon being seen all over the country: Hyderabad, Karnataka, Kerala, Haryana, everywhere. So-called “Special Economic Zones” will merely exacerbate the problem many times over. India and its governments do not belong only to business and industrial lobbies, and what is good for private industrialists may or may not be good for India’s people as a whole. Economic development does not necessarily come to be defined by a few factories or high-rise housing complexes being built here or there on land that has been taken over by the Government, paying paper-money compensation to existing stakeholders, and then resold to promoters or industrialists backed by powerful political interest-groups on a promise that a few thousand new jobs will be created. One fundamental problem has to do with inadequate systems of land-description and definition, implementation and recording of property rights. An equally fundamental problem has to do with fair valuation of land owned by peasants etc. in terms of an inconvertible paper-money. Every serious economist knows that “land” is defined as that specific factor of production and real asset whose supply is fixed and does not increase in response to its price. Every serious economist also knows that paper-money is that nominal asset whose price can be made to catastrophically decline by a massive increase in its supply, i.e. by Government printing more of the paper it holds a monopoly to print. For Government to compensate people with paper-money it prints itself by valuing their land on the basis of an average of the price of the last few years, is for Government to cheat them of the fair present-value of the land. That present-value of land must be calculated in the way the present-value of any asset comes to be calculated, namely, by summing the likely discounted cash-flows of future values. And those future values should account for the likelihood of a massive future inflation causing decline in the value of paper-money in view of the fact we in India have a domestic public debt of some Rs. 30 trillion (Rs. 30 lakh crore) and counting, and money supply growth rates averaging 16-17% per annum. In fact, a responsible Government would, given the inconvertible nature of the rupee, have used foreign exchange or gold as the unit of account in calculating future-values of the land. India’s peasants are probably being cheated by their Government of real assets whose value is expected to rise, receiving nominal paper assets in compensation whose value is expected to fall.”
Shortly afterwards the Hon’ble MP for Kolkata Dakshin, Km Mamata Banerjee, started her protest fast, riveting the nation’s attention in the winter of 2006-2007. What goes for government buying land on behalf of its businessman friends also goes, mutatis mutandis, for the public sector’s real assets being bought up by the private sector using domestic paper money in a potentially hyperinflationary economy. If your new Government wishes to see real assets of the public sector being sold for paper money, let it seek to value these assets not in inconvertible rupees that Government itself has been producing in unlimited quantities but perhaps in forex or gold-units instead!
In the 2004-2005 volume Margaret Thatcher’s Revolution: How it Happened and What it Meant, edited by myself and Professor John Clarke, there is a chapter by Professor Patrick Minford on Margaret Thatcher’s fiscal and monetary policy (macroeconomics) that was placed ahead of the chapter by Professor Martin Ricketts on Margaret Thatcher’s privatisation (microeconomics). India’s fiscal and monetary or macroeconomic problems are far worse today than Britain’s were when Margaret Thatcher came to power. We need to get our macroeconomic problems sorted before we attempt the microeconomic privatisation of public assets.
It is wonderful that your young party colleague, the Hon’ble MP from Amethi, Shri Rahul Gandhi, has declined to join the present Government and instead wishes to reflect further on the “common man” and “common woman” about whom I had described his late father talking to me on September 18 1990. Certainly the aam admi is not someone to be found among India’s lobbyists of organised Big Business or organised Big Labour who have tended to control government agendas from the big cities.
With my warmest personal regards and respect, I remain,
Subroto Roy, PhD (Cantab.), BScEcon (London)
Any Lok Sabha MP who neither sits with the Opposition nor is a sworn-in member of the Government is a Backbench MP of the Government party or its coalition.
Shrimati Sonia Gandhi is the most prominent of such Backbench MPs in the 15th Lok Sabha, just as she was of the 14th Lok Sabha, and has chosen to be in a most peculiar position from the point of view of parliamentary law. As the leader of the largest parliamentary party, she could have been not merely a member of the Government but its Prime Minister. She has in fact had a decisive role in determining the composition of the Manmohan Government as well as its policies. She in fact sits on the Frontbenches in the Lok Sabha along with the Manmohan Government. But she is not a member of the Government and is, formally speaking, a Backbench MP who is choosing to sit in the Frontbenches.
(Dr Manmohan Singh himself, not being a member of the Lok Sabha, may, formally speaking, sit or speak from among the Frontbenches of his own Government only by invitation of the Lok Sabha Speaker as a courtesy – such would have been the cardinal reason why Alec Douglas-Home resigned from being Lord Home and instead stood for a House of Commons seat when he was appointed British Prime Minister.)
Sonia Gandhi’s son, Mr Rahul Gandhi, is also a Backbench MP. From all accounts, including that of Dr Singh himself, he could have been a member of Dr Singh’s Government but has specifically chosen not to be. He has appeared to have had some much lesser role than Sonia Gandhi in determining the composition of the Government and its policies but he is not a member of it. He is, formally speaking, a Backbench MP, indeed the most prominent to actually sit in the Backbenches, as he had done in the 14th Lok Sabha, which, it is to be hoped, he does in the 15th Lok Sabha too.
Now Rahul Gandhi, Sonia Gandhi and their 541 other fellow 15th Lok Sabha MPs were declared winners by May 16 2009 having won the Indian people’s vote.
(Incidentally, I predicted the outcome here two hours before polls closed on May 13 – how I did so is simply by having done the necessary work of determining that some 103 million people had voted for Congress in 2004 against some 86 million for the BJP; in my assessment Congress had done more than enough by way of political rhetoric and political reality to maintain if not extend that difference in 2009, i.e., the BJP had not done nearly enough to even begin to get enough of a net drift in its favour. I expect when the data are out it shall be seen that the margin of the raw vote between them has been much enlarged from 2004.)
As I have pointed out here over the last fortnight, there was no legal or logical reason why the whole 15th Lok Sabha could not have been sworn in latest by May 18 2009.
Instead, Dr Manmohan Singh on May 18 held a purported “Cabinet” meeting of the defunct 14th Lok Sabha – an institution that had been automatically dissolved when Elections had been first announced! The Government then went about forming itself over two weeks despite the 15th Lok Sabha, on whose confidence it depended for its political legitimacy, not having been allowed to meet. Everyone – the Congress Party’s Supreme Court advocates, the Lok Sabha Secretariat, the Election Commission, Rashtrapati Bhavan too – seems to have gotten it awfully wrong by placing the cart before the horse.
In our system it is Parliament that is sovereign, not the Executive Government. In fact the Executive is accountable to Parliament, specifically the Lok Sabha, and is supposed to be guided by it as well as hold its confidence at all times.
What has happened instead this time is that Government ministers have been busy taking oaths and entering their offices and making policy-decisons days before they have taken their oaths and their seats as Lok Sabha MPs! The Government has thus started off by diminishing Parliament’s sovereignty and this should not be allowed to happen again.
(Of course why it took place is because of the peculiarity of the victory relative to our experience in recent decades – nobody could remember parliamentary traditions from Nehru’s time in the 1950s. Even so, someone, e.g. the former Speaker, should have known and insisted upon explaining the relevant aspect of parliamentary law and hence avoided this breach.)
A central question now is whether a Government which has such a large majority, and which is led by someone in and has numerous ministers from the Rajya Sabha, is going to be adequately controlled and feel itself accountable to the Lok Sabha.
Neither of the Lok Sabha’s most prominent Backbenchers, Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi, have thus far distinguished themselves as Parliamentarians on the floor of the Lok Sabha. In the 14th Lok Sabha, Sonia Gandhi, sitting in the Frontbenches, exercised the enormous control that she did over the Government not on the floor of the House itself but from outside it.
It would be best of all if she chose in the 15th Lok Sabha to actually physically sit in the Congress’s Backbenches because that would ensure best that the Government Party’s ministers in the Frontbenches will keep having to seek to be accountable to the Backbenches!
But this seems unlikely to happen in view of the fact she herself seems to have personally influenced the choice of a Speaker for the 15th Lok Sabha and it may be instead expected that she continues to sit on the Frontbenches with the Government without being a member of it.
That leaves Rahul Gandhi. If he too comes to be persuaded by the sycophants to sit on the Frontbenches with the Government, that will not be a healthy sign.
On the other hand, if he continues to sit on the Backbenches, he may be able to have a salubrious influence on the 15th Lok Sabha fulfilling its responsibility of seeking to seriously control and hold accountable the Executive Government, and not be bullied or intimidated by it. His paternal grandfather, Feroze Gandhi, after all, may have been India’s most eminent and effective Backbench MP yet.
Subroto Roy, Kolkata
On the day of the big Ludhiana rally by the BJP and friends last Sunday, I asked here if Messrs Advani, Rajnath Singh and Modi would ride into the sunset if the BJP came to be trounced. I also predicted then a large defeat for the BJP because by my assessment they had made nothing like the effort needed to maintain let aside increase their 86 million votes of 2004.
Three days later, two hours before polls closed, I predicted a “big victory” for Congress and sent my early congratulations to their leadership because by my assessment Congress had done enough not just to maintain but to increase their 103 million raw votes from 2004.
Once the data are out, I am sure that, after adjusting for population growth, the difference between Congress and the BJP in the raw vote will be much greater than the 17 million of 2004. It may even be double that.
The BJP has come to be trounced and it is time for Messrs Advani, Rajnath Singh and Modi to ride into the sunset.
So has the CPI(M) been trounced. It is time for heads to roll there too — especially those of the elitist JNU coterie that have dominated it ideologically for 30 years. Had this been the USSR or PRC, there would have been some serious purges in that Politburo! Time for some kangaroo courts, weeping confessions and then to march out those firing squads gentlemen!
Figuratively speaking of course….
Subroto Roy, Kolkata
It is now coming up to be 3 pm Indian Standard Time on May 13, the last day of India’s 2009 General Elections, and there are two hours left for the polls to close. I am happy to predict a big victory for the Congress Party, and Sonia Gandhi and her son Rahul will deserve congratulations for it.
How the victory takes shape is, I think, by their having won the median voter on both the economic and the secular-communal axes of Indian politics. (See my 2008 published graph on the Median Voter Model in Indian politics, available elsewhere here).
I have met Sonia Gandhi once, in December 1991 at her home, where I gave her a tape of her husband’s conversations with me during the first Gulf War in 1991. Her son and I met momentarily in her husband’s office in 1990-1991 but I do not recall any conversation. I have had nothing to do with her Government. Dr Manmohan Singh and I have met twice, once in Paris in the autumn of 1973 and once in Washington in September 1993; on the latter occasion, I was introduced to him and his key aides by Siddhartha Shankar Ray as the person on whose laptop the Congress manifesto of 1991 had been composed for Rajiv, something described elsewhere here. (I also gave him then a copy of the published book that emerged from the University of Hawaii perestroika-for-India project, Foundations of India’s Political Economy: Towards an Agenda for the 1990s, edited by myself and WE James.) On the former occasion, Dr Singh had kindly acceded to my father’s request to visit our then-home to advise me on economics before I started as a freshman undergraduate at the London School of Economics.
In May 2004 I was interviewed by BBC television in England and I praised the UPA in prospect — in comparison to the horrors of the Vajpayee-Advani regime (including my personal experience of it, when their Education Minister had sent an astrology-believing acolyte to supposedly run a scientific/technical institute).
Since 2005, especially in the columns of The Statesman, I have dispensed rational criticism of the UPA Government as harshly as I have criticised the BJP/RSS and the Communists. Principally, I believe they have got some (perhaps most) much of their economics (quite badly) wrong as well as their jurisprudence and foreign policy; they have also been willingly under the influence of the powerful organised lobbies and interest groups that populate our capital cities.
Even so, I think there is a large electoral victory in prospect for the Congress, and I send them my early congratulations. They have done enough by way of political rhetoric and political reality to maintain or enhance their vote-share; their oppositions on either side have both failed badly. The BJP may make some marginal gains especially in Bihar but they have generally done enough to lose the day. The CPM too will lose popularity especially in Bengal, and will never progress until they fire their JNU economists which they are never going to do.
So, Sonia-Rahul, well done!
But please try to improve your economics.
And, also, you simply must get Dr Manmohan Singh a seat in the Lok Sabha if he is to be PM — Ambedkar and Nehru and all their generation did not specify that India’s PM must be from the Lok Sabha because it was something totally OBVIOUS.
Subroto Roy, Kolkata
Postscript: Someone at a website has referred to my prediction above and remarked: “Perhaps the good doc is aware of the money in play”. The answer is no, I have absolutely no special information about any “money in play” on any side. My prediction is based on a layman’s observation of the campaign, as well as more specialised analysis of past voting data from the EC. In an earlier post, I pointed out the BJP had gotten some 17 million fewer votes than the Congress in 2004, and I asked if they had done enough to get enough of a net change in their favour. The answer I think is that they have not done so. To the contrary, I think there will be a quite large net change in favour of Congress thanks to a better-run and better-led campaign. Of course it is just a prediction that may be found to be incorrect.
“[I]f Atal Behari Vajpayee and Lal Krishna Advani could bring themselves to honestly walk away from BJP politics, there would have to be a genuine leadership contest and some new principles emerging in their party. There is an excellent and very simple political reason for Vajpayee and Advani to go, which is not that they are too old (which they are) but that they led their party to electoral defeat. Had they walked away in May 2004, there might have been by now some viable conservative political philosophy in India and some recognisable new alternative leadership for 2009. Instead there is none and the BJP has not only failed very badly at being a responsible Opposition, it will go into the 2009 General Election looking exceptionally decrepit and incompetent.”
Now, after the Ludhiana rally, I think the person who takes credit for making the BJP a national party in recent decades is also leading them into a large defeat.
If such a defeat happens, will it mean Messrs Advani, Rajnath Singh and Modi might finally ride into the sunset? The general rule of democratic politics in all countries is, after all, that if you lead your party into defeat, you stand aside and let someone else have a go. But of course Indian politics have been an exception because no one wants to retire from doing jobs badly, least of all cricketers, Bollywood has-beens, and politicians.
Subroto Roy, Kolkata
NB: An earlier version of this post published yesterday contained a computer-generated error. 72 constituencies were listed as going to the polls in the final phase on May 13. These were
S08 1 HP Kangra
S08 2 HP Mandi
S08 3 HP Hamirpur
S08 4 HP Shimla
S09 1 JK Baramulla
S09 4 JK Ladakh
S19 1 PB Gurdaspur
S19 2 PB Amritsar
S19 3 PB Khadoor Sahib
S19 4 PB Jalandhar
S19 5 PB Hoshiarpur
S19 6 PB Anandpur Sahib
S19 7 PB Ludhiana
S19 8 PB Fatehgarh Sahib
S19 9 PB Faridkot
S22 1 TN Thiruvallur
S22 2 TN Chennai North
S22 3 TN Chennai South
S22 4 TN Chennai central
S22 5 TN Sriperumbudur
S22 6 TN Kancheepuram
S22 7 TN Arakkonam
S22 8 TN Vellore
S22 9 TN Krishnagiri
S22 10 TN Dharmapuri
S22 11 TN Tiruvannamalai
S22 12 TN Arani
S22 13 TN Viluppuram
S22 14 TN Kallakurichi
S22 15 TN Salem
S22 16 TN Namakkal
S22 17 TN Erode
S22 18 TN Tiruppur
S22 19 TN Nilgiris
S22 20 TN Coimbatore
S22 21 TN Pollachi
S22 22 TN Dindigul
S22 23 TN Karur
S22 24 TN Tiruchirappalli
S22 25 TN Perambalur
S22 26 TN Cuddalore
S22 27 TN Chidambaram
S22 28 TN Mayiladuthurai
S22 29 TN Nagapattinam
S22 30 TN Thanjavur
S22 31 TN Sivaganga
S22 32 TN Madurai
S22 33 TN Theni
S22 34 TN Virudhunagar
S22 35 TN Ramanathapuram
S22 36 TN Thoothukkudi
S22 37 TN Tenkasi
S22 38 TN Tirunelveli
S22 39 TN Kanniyakumari
S25 14 WB Bangaon
S25 15 WB Barrackpore
S25 16 WB Dum dum
S25 17 WB Barasat
S25 18 WB Basirhat
S25 19 WB Joynagar
S25 20 WB Mathurapur
S25 21 WB Diamond harbour
S25 22 WB Jadavpur
S25 23 WB Kolkata Dakshin
S25 24 WB Kolkata Uttar
S28 1 UK Tehri Garhwal
S28 2 UK Garhwal
S28 3 UK Almora
S28 4 UK Nainital-udhamsingh Nagar
S28 5 UK Hardwar
U02 1 CH Chandigarh
U07 1 PY Puducherry
In fact there are 86 — for some as yet unknown reason, the following 14 UP Constituencies which are also going to the polls on May 13 had been placed under the wrong date and were not included in the above list:
S24 1 UP Saharanpur
S24 4 UP Bijnor
S24 5 UP Nagina
S24 6 UP Moradabad
S24 7 UP Rampur
S24 8 UP Sambhal
S24 9 UP Amroha
S24 23 UP Badaun
S24 24 UP Aonla
S24 25 UP Bareilly
S24 26 UP Pilibhit
S24 27 UP Shahjahanpur
S24 28 UP Kheri
S24 29 UP Dhaurahra
That means the BJP et al held their big Ludhiana rally when they realistically had something like 36/543, not 22/543 seats left to contend.
As a rule I have not wished to comment much on substantive political matters while I have been writing on the ongoing 2009 General Elections as a democratic process. SR
We in India shall soon be hearing the talking-heads on TV, mostly in New Delhi, jabbering away about “swings” and “anti-incumbency” and “mandates” and “fractured mandates” etc. Most of it will be waffle without any basis in hard facts because nobody wants to actually do any of the work necessary to acquire a serious opinion.
Just as you cannot win at cricket unless you bowl out the other side and you cannot win at soccer unless you score more goals than the other side, you are not going to win a General Election in India unless you win more Assembly Segments of Parliamentary Constituencies than your competitors.
It is not logically impossible but it is factually unlikely that you can lose, say, five out of six Assembly Segments and still win the Parliamentary Constituency by winning the sixth with a sufficiently large margin. Raw votes generally translate into winning Assembly Segments and winning Assembly Segments generally translate into winning Lok Sabha seats.
In 2004, the top five winners were as follows, where the first number is raw votes won, the second the number of Assembly Segments won, and the third the number of Lok Sabha seats won:
INC 103,118,475 1,157 145
BJP 86,181,116 1,076 138
CPM 22,065,283 322 43
BSP 21,037,968 107 17
SP 16,822,902 167 39
Notice the BSP won some 4 million more raw votes than the SP but fewer Assembly Segments and fewer Lok Sabha Seats. And the CPM won barely a million more raw votes than did the BSP but 215 more Assembly Segments and 26 more Lok Sabha seats. Clearly Uttar Pradesh voting patterns need a lot more detailed analysis — my ex ante hypothesis would be that the BSP’s results are affected by the policy of some constituencies being “reserved”.
More significantly, at the head of the race, notice that the BJP lost the raw vote to the Indian National Congress by a margin of almost 17 million votes which translated into winning 81 Assembly Segments fewer than the INC which translated into winning 7 fewer Lok Sabha seats — and hence ended up sitting in the Opposition in the Lok Sabha for five years.
A central question is whether the BJP has or has not done enough over the last five years to get in its favour a net change in the raw vote — and that too by a sufficient amount to change the number of Assembly Segments won in its favour.
Putting it differently, has the INC done enough to at least maintain its share of the raw-vote and its leading position, and hence be likely to win the largest number of Assembly Segments and Lok Sabha seats again?
Here is the overall picture:
And yes, of course, there have been demographic changes over five years so those changed parameters shall have affected the new outcome too (notice the INC’s emphasis on the “youth vote”).
This is original research which could come to be published in a scientific journal if I find the time to send it, so please try not to steal and instead acknowledge its source properly if you want to discuss it elsewhere.
Subroto Roy, Kolkata
Two years ago, I said in “Political Paralysis”,
“[I]f Atal Behari Vajpayee and Lal Krishna Advani could bring themselves to honestly walk away from BJP politics, there would have to be a genuine leadership contest and some new principles emerging in their party. There is an excellent and very simple political reason for Vajpayee and Advani to go, which is not that they are too old (which they are) but that they led their party to electoral defeat. Had they walked away in May 2004, there might have been by now some viable conservative political philosophy in India and some recognisable new alternative leadership for 2009. Instead there is none and the BJP has not only failed very badly at being a responsible Opposition, it will go into the 2009 General Election looking exceptionally decrepit and incompetent.”
Lest anyone think this was a tirade against the BJP, most of the article was actually a criticism of the Congress and the Communists!
Mr LK Advani’s claim that Indian resources have been illegally shipped overseas is hardly new or interesting — what is truly grotesque is the sheer irresponsibility of his claim that if somehow this could be reversed, it would suffice to
” Relieve the debts of all farmers and landless • Build world-class roads all over the country – from national and state highways to district and rural roads; • Completely eliminate the acute power shortage in the country and also to bring electricity to every unlit rural home; • Provide safe and adequate drinking water in all villages and towns in India • Construct good-quality houses, each worth Rs. 2.5 lakh, for 10 crore families; • Provide Rs. 4 crore to each of the nearly 6 lakh villages; the money can be used to build, in every single village, a school with internet-enabled education, a primary health centre with telemedicine facility, a veterinary clinic, a playground with gymnasium, and much more. “
This is simply appalling in its sheer mendacity. The BJP is going to give an amnesty to all those with such money and then confiscate it or requisition it or forcibly borrow it to make these resources equivalent to tax-revenues for the purposes of Indian public finance? What can one say beyond this being grotesque in its incomprehension of both facts and economic principles? Could someone who supports the BJP please teach them some Econ 101 asap?
As I have said elsewhere, only quackery, fallacious finance and multitudinous intellectual fraud seem destined to emerge from New Delhi’s governing class of all political parties and their media and businessman friends. “Government finance requires scientific honesty, especially by way of clear rigorous accounting and audit of uses and origins of public resources. That scientific honesty is what we have not had at Union or State level for more than half a century.”
Subroto Roy, Kolkata
First published in The Statesman, Editorial Page Special Article, June 7 2008, http://www.thestatesman.net
Time & Tide Wait For No One In Politics: India Trails Pakistan & Nepal!
The Karnataka legislative elections, as well as to lesser extent the Bengal panchayat polls, have revealed the vacuum that exists across the leadership of India’s national-level politics today.
To start with the BJP: had India been a normal democratic country on the Western pattern, Mr Arun Jaitley would have rocketed to the top of his party’s leadership by now. Besides being articulate in both Hindi and English and in his fifties (the age-group of most leaders in democratic countries), Mr Jaitley’s political acumen and organisational skills have been acknowledged even by his Congress adversaries after the Karnataka result. He himself has been frank and expansive about his formula for winning in Karnataka, which was simply to focus on real issues, especially state-specific ones, as well as to project a single credible leader. Had the BJP been a normal political party in a normal country, Mr Jaitley would have been given the task of leading it to victory in the next General Election and, assuming he won a Lok Sabha seat, to become its prime ministerial candidate.
Instead, the BJP chooses to remain backward, backward, backward in the majority of its thought-processes and behaviour-patterns ~ from its kneejerk anti-Muslim psychology via its hyperinflationary macroeconomics and protectionist trade to its embrace of astrology and bovine exclusiveness. The idea of uniting behind someone relatively modern-minded in his politics like Mr Jaitley would be simply unacceptable not merely to people in the party within his own age-cohort (including the present party president) but even more so to those in age-cohorts decades older (including the party’s present prime ministerial candidate).
The opposition of the first group would arise from, in a word, jealousy. The opposition of the second group would arise from, in a word, dadagiri, i.e. the gerontocratic idea that merely because one is older, one is owed respect, authority and the plums of office in precedence over someone who is younger. Jealousy is a universal emotion not something specific to Indian politics, but dadagiri and the lack of meritocracy in our political culture is one reason India remains an abnormal polity in the modern democratic world.
LK Advani, driven by his unfulfilled personal ambition, will likely lead the BJP in the next election and do so with Mr Jaitley’s explicit support; Mr Advani may lead it into defeat or even to a victory in which he, given his age, is not as successful a PM as a Jaitley might have been. Yet our sclerotic political culture is such that neither Mr Advani nor Mr Rajnath Singh will simply stand aside now and hand over the reins to a newer, more competent and progressive leadership.
The same idea of dadagiri pervades what passes for the official “Left” in India as exemplified by the CPI-M. Mr Jyoti Basu has in a recent letter to Harkishen Singh Surjeet reminisced of their times together, and in doing so remarked that he remained the Chief Minister of West Bengal for as many years as he did because the Party had instructed him to do so, and when he handed over power to Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, he did so with the Party’s agreement.
Those who believe in India’s parliamentary democracy might have thought that what our system requires is for a Chief Minister to hold the confidence of the legislative assembly from the bottom up but clearly that is not so because what a CM or PM seems to need are Party instructions from the top down. When Mr Bhattacharjee was anointed the new CM, the present author had remarked to the then Editor of The Statesman that the transition seemed to take place even without a formal vote of confidence in the Assembly. Does anyone in fact recall the last confidence vote debated and passed in the West Bengal Assembly? Democratic legislatures the world over routinely begin their new sessions with a debate and vote of no confidence being brought by the Opposition against the Government-of-the-day.
Does that happen with us, purportedly the world’s largest democracy? Let aside State legislatures, even our Parliament sees only the rare vote of confidence, and LK Advani specifically as Leader of the Opposition seems to have introduced none. Oppositions that do not wish to properly oppose are of course complicit in a government’s misdeeds.
It is the dadagiri culture shared by the official Communists that has caused the generational handover of power from Mr Basu and Mr Surjeet to the JNU coterie of the Karats and Mr Sitaram Yechuri. The “Left” like the “Right” and everyone else in Indian politics, can only handle cherubic “known” faces at the top ~ genuine grassroots activists like Binayak Sen or Medha Patkar must languish in jail or starve on hunger-strike in seeking to represent the politically and economically powerless in India while the entrenched dadas of Indian politics continue with their dissimulation.
In case of the Congress, it is an even deeper aspect of the Indian joint family system than dadagiri that has dominated its political culture, namely, the question who is the karta of the family and, if the karta is or seems too young or naïve or inexperienced, who will act as Regent on the karta’s behalf? Indira Gandhi was successfully guided in international politics for several years by a coterie led by PN Haksar. Rajiv Gandhi was attempted to be guided by several different competing coteries of senior party dadas ~ one of whom first brought up the name of Manmohan Singh in Indian politics on 22 March 1991 in a challenge addressed to the present author on liberalisation plans that Rajiv had authorised.
It is almost true to say that Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi have been in recent years played by puppet-masters of whose personal interests and intrigues they remain clueless. As has been said before by this author, the most salubrious thing Sonia Gandhi could have done for the Congress Party was to remain steadfast in her decision to stay out of Indian politics, and to have organised a fair, tough intra-party contest among its putative senior leaders based on differences of political and economic ideology.
Instead there is now paralysis in decision-making induced by Sonia Gandhi and Manmohan Singh each mistakenly relying upon the other’s purported economic wisdom and political acumen. This confusion came to be most clearly illustrated in the choice of Head of State last year though that was something politically costless ~ the failures of which Karnataka is the current example may lead the Congress to lose what it, like other Indian parties, loves most of all, namely political power in Lutyens’ Delhi.
Indians should make no mistake: our good neighbours in Pakistan and Nepal (Muslim in Pakistan, Hindu and Buddhist and communist in Nepal) have been through healthy cathartic political experiences in recent months and years of a kind we have not. There continues to remain a dangerous intellectual vacuum around the throne of Delhi.
The Doctor of Deficit Finance should realise the currency is at stake
by Subroto Roy
First published in The Statesman, Editorial Page Special Article, April 25 2008, http://www.thestatesman.net
The best thing that may be said of the Manmohan Singh premiership is that when it began in May 2004, it seemed, for a short while, refreshing in comparison to the dysfunctional arrogance and brutality displayed by its predecessor. By the last months of the Vajpayee-Advani Government, there were party appointees who had ended all pretence of purportedly Hindu values and were raking it in shamelessly. The Golden Rule of Democracy is “Throw the rascals out”, which is what Indian democracy upheld as it has done time and again. By 2009, India’s electorate will have the chance to decide whether the incumbent government deserves the same fate.
Manmohan Singh was seriously discussed as the Congress’s putative nominee for PM as early as 2001. The idea brewing at the time with the party’s next generation of wannabe leaders (in their 50s and 60s, where Manmohan was near 70) was that they needed to maintain good relations with the Great White Queen and wait out one term of an inevitable Singh premiership before having a shot at the top job themselves.
What is surprising is Dr Singh appeared never to feel it necessary to educate himself privately on how to retool himself for the necessary transformation from being the archetypal bureaucrat he had been in his working career to becoming the national statesman he wished to be after retirement. It is doubtful, for example, if he ever stood in front of a mirror and practised an extempore political speech in Hindi in preparation for the highest executive post in the country, let aside writing a clear-headed, original vision or mission statement of substance as to where he wished to lead it. As Narasimha Rao’s Finance Minister, he could meekly take orders from his PM; it seemed he wished to continue in the same mode even when PM himself.
Jawaharlal Nehru is supposed to have been a hero of Dr Singh’s ~ but Nehru was a thorough parliamentarian, among the finest anywhere, and someone who always respected the Lok Sabha immensely. Dr Singh, after he lost to VK Malhotra for the South Delhi seat in 1999, made not the slightest effort to enter the Lok Sabha again, even when the Akalis indicated they might not oppose him in a Punjab contest. When asked specifically at a large press conference about not entering the Lok Sabha, Dr Singh murmured words to the effect he had better uses of his time ~ a display, if anything, of the misplaced arrogance of many New Delhi academics and intellectuals. Dr Singh may be the first PM in any parliamentary democracy never to have won a seat in the lower house nor felt a need to do so.
Dr Singh’s bureaucratic expertise assisted him well in the first national crisis that came his way, which was the Tsunami of 26 December 2004. There appeared to be an air of efficiency about the Government’s response and he seemed in his element as commander of bureaucratic forces while working with Pranab Mukherjee in enlisting the military. George W. Bush (not a great geographer or historian) was apparently impressed to see on a map that India had naval forces deployed as far as the Andamans.
By 2005 though, Dr Singh’s bureaucratic mindset had its negative impact. Montek Ahluwalia had been his Finance Secretary when he was Finance Minister. Mr Ahluwalia’s spouse had been a main supporter of Dr Singh’s unsuccessful Lok Sabha attempt. During the Vajpayee Government, Mr Ahluwalia remained a Planning Commission Member for several years before moving to Washington. With Dr Singh as PM, Mr Ahluwalia returned from the USA in mid 2004 to become Deputy Chair at the Planning Commission. Simultaneously with his return, the idea that the American nuclear industry would like to sell “six to eight lightwater reactors” to India arose.
That is as much as is presently known in public. Dr Singh and Mr Ahluwalia may in the national interest want to frankly and precisely explain to the Indian people the full story of the sudden origins of this idea. Certainly, none of the lessons of the Dabhol fiasco a decade earlier seemed to have been learnt, and the Maharasthtra Government (and hence the Government of India) ended up paying some $300 million to General Electric and Bechtel Corporation for Dabhol before any nuclear talks with the USA could begin. Nor had any serious cost-benefit analysis been done or discussion taken place comparing nuclear energy with coal, hydro and other sources in the Indian case.
Indian foreign policy became frozen in its focus on nuclear negotiations with the USA, swirling around Dr Singh’s fife-and-drum welcome at the White House and President Bush’s return visit to India. At the same time arose the issue of Paul Volcker’s UN committee mentioning the name of India’s foreign minister. As The Statesman put it, regardless of the latter’s involvement, “the damage to India’s diplomatic reputation in the world” was done and it was inevitable a new foreign minister would be necessary. After dilly-dallying and much 10 Janpath to-and-fro, Dr Singh followed Nehru’s mistake of becoming his own foreign minister. The idea was that this would be temporary but it became almost a year.
Instead of transforming himself towards Indian political statesmanship, Dr Singh advanced other retired bureaucrats’ ambitions on similar career-paths. Foreign policy went out of the MEA’s control and seemingly into the control of the new “National Security Adviser”. Dr Singh, sometimes with MK Narayanan beside him, travelled a large number of countries from Brazil to Finland and Uzbekistan to South Africa and Japan. Dr Singh also found time and willingness to accept honorary degrees from British and Russian universities during these short months.
While Dr Singh seemed thus preoccupied, two of India’s main neighbours underwent massive democratic revolutions (leave aside magnificent Bhutan). Nepal’s people practically stormed their Bastille while Dr Singh and Mr Narayanan visited Germany to discuss BMWs. Pakistan’s democratic forces could hardly believe the cold indifference shown to them by a New Delhi merely following Bush’s support for Pervez Musharraf. While Pakistan and Nepal, and to lesser extent Bangladesh, saw movements towards better governance, Sri Lanka descended towards civil war ~ India’s PM remained obsessed with the magic wand that the nuclear deal was supposed to be.
Then suddenly the magic vanished ~ Dr Singh seemed to finally come to a silent private recognition that the economics of the nuclear deal simply did not add up if it meant India importing “six to eight lightwater reactors” on a turnkey basis from the USA or anywhere else. Dr Singh seemed to come out of his self-imposed trance and return a little better to reality. By the time he visited China, although he was as deferential to Hu Jintao in his body language as he had been to Bush and Musharraf and even accepted an indoor guard of honour, he also seemed willing to stand up for India. The Arunachal visit was a reality-check.
Now there is inflation ~ and one year left in the UPA’s term. What the country needs is tough sensible macroeconomics and clean public finance. A pandering profligate budget in February was not a healthy sign. Instructing Mr Ahluwalia to close down the Planning Commission and make it a minor R&D wing of the Finance Ministry would be instead a good step. Instructing the RBI to clean up its bureaucratic wastefulness and prepare itself for institutional independence from the Finance Ministry would be even better. Getting proper financial control over every Union and State government entity spending public money and resources would be most important of all. Such major institutional changes in the policy-making process are what an economist might expect of an economist prime minister who wishes to lead India in the 21st Century. India’s currency is at stake.
(Of related interest: ”The Politics of Dr Singh”.)
Congress, BJP, Communists, BSP, Sena Etc Reveal Equally Bad Traits
By Subroto Roy
First published in The Statesman, March 4 2008, Editorial Page Special Article, http://www.thestatesman.net
A “black” American, born of a black Kenyan father and white American mother, and having a Muslim middle name Hussein though Christian by faith, may become the freely elected President of the USA in January 2009. He has stood up himself and anyone who knows Western cultures will know how hard it would have been to overcome workplace prejudices. Martin Luther King Jr’s dream of America becoming a nation where people “will not be judged by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character” might start to be fulfilled.
Can the same be said of modern India, ever? When will Muslims, Dalits, tribals and whomever become well enough integrated with mainstream Hindu societies ~ and vice versa ~ that we have army generals, fighter pilots, submarine commanders, nuclear scientists, media moghuls, top executives, and yes, freely elected Prime Ministers of India from any externally identifiable group without batting an eyelid? The policies followed by the Congress, BJP, Communists, BSP etc., exemplified by Mr Chidambaram’s pandering Budget-Speech last week, suggest that the answer will be never.
Mr Chidambaram mentioned “Scheduled Caste” six times and “Minority” (meaning “Muslim”) five times in his speech~ if he or the Sonia-Manmohan Government genuinely felt any of the schemes mentioned were in the true interest of these groups, these schemes could have been simply and quietly implemented without fanfare or political advertisement. Making a big deal about them in Parliament during a Budget-Speech precisely reveals the actual underlying cynicism and hypocrisy. The fact may be it is not the schemes themselves that are important but the illusions created and sold about them, illusions that have electoral value because they deceive the purported beneficiaries into thinking that somebody powerful cares about them and controls their well-being.
A quarter-century ago in Pricing, Planning & Politics: A Study of Economic Distortions in India, I applied the arguments of the black American economist Thomas Sowell to the Indian case. I said: “the racial composition of contemporary American society is a complex mosaic, and no-one can say with certainty how it has come to be what it is today. In such circumstances, for the government to try to isolate a single contingent characteristic like “race”, partition society on the basis of census data according to this characteristic, and then construct public policies accordingly, is to introduce an enormous arbitrariness into economic life. By merely defining a group by reference to a single contingent characteristic, which all its members seem to possess, the intrinsic complexity of the individual person is lost or overlooked. Two members of the same race may be very different from each other in every relevant characteristic (income, education, political preference, and so on), and indeed resemble members of other races more closely in them. A policy which introduces a citizen’s race as a relevant factor in the assignment of jobs or college places partitions the citizenry into vague groups: members of groups who are very different from members of other groups in characteristics other than race rarely competing with each other anyway, while the burden and beneficence of the State’s policies fall on members of groups who are not very different from members of other groups in characteristics other than race”.
Sowell himself (in Knowledge and Decisions) put it like this: “costs are borne disproportionately by those members of the general population who meet standards with the least margin and are therefore most likely to be the ones displaced to make room for minority applicants. Those who meet the standards by the widest margin are not directly affected ~ that is, pay no costs. They are hired, admitted or promoted as if blacks did not exist. People from families with the most general ability to pay also have the most ability to pay for the kind of education and training that makes such performance possible. The costs of special standards are paid by those who do not. Among the black population, those most likely to benefit from the lower standards are those closest to meeting the normal standards. It is essentially an implicit transfer of wealth among people least different in non-racial characteristics. For the white population it is a regressively graduated tax in kind, imposed on those who are rising but not on those already on top.’”
What Sowell said about American blacks may well apply to India’s religious and caste minorities today. Problems of tribal India are more subtle requiring more technical sociological and anthropological study.
The Leftist idea common to the Congress, Communists, BSP etc has been to perpetuate dependency of Muslims, Dalits, OBCs etc upon the whims of State power (as wielded by such Leftists themselves). By contrast, the Rightist/Fascistic idea of the BJP, its RSS parent, the Sena etc has been to try to bludgeon Muslims, Dalits and everyone else into submission whereby they must adopt majority customs, habits or political beliefs or (in true Nazi fashion) come to be exiled or banned from mainstream society. Both Left and Right in India have also promoted new government-induced “Sex Wars” between males and females ~ passing laws drastically raising the risk and cost of maintaining marriages and family households, which then simply collapse as has happened elsewhere.
In general, the Congress, BJP, Communists, BSP etc have been united in being wholly incapable of seeing India’s people as individuals in their own right in all the diversity and complexity that entails ~ as free citizens who possess individual rights to belief, property, security, privacy etc. Instead the idea has been to politically categorize people as members of mass-groups that may be then manipulated as puppets using State power in one direction or another. The result has been a general failure in the country to develop the notion of responsible individual citizens (hundreds of millions in number) dealing with responsible public and civic institutions including the State.
Citizens and State
Even in nations that are heirs to a long history of democratic political development, the link often has not been made in the public mind between enjoyment or lack of enjoyment of public services, and costs upon individual citizens from whom resources must be ultimately raised. In a fiscal democracy “those who bear the costs of public services are also the beneficiaries” (JM Buchanan); conversely, those who demand public services must pay for them in real resources one way or another. If citizens feel they receive little or nothing of value from government, there is an obvious loss of incentive to be counted as responsible voting members of the same community, and instead reason to evade taxes or flee the country or cynically believe everything to be corrupt.
On the other hand, if citizens demand public services without expecting to contribute private resources for their production, this amounts to being no more than a wish to be free-riders on the general budget. While Indian citizens have been arbitrarilty partitioned by government according to religion, caste etc., widespread cynicism has prevailed about secular provision of public services by government at any level. At the same time the idea is far from understood that beneficiaries of public services must sooner or later expect to bear real resource-costs one way or another. Everyday politics thus becomes highly irresponsible. Political New Delhi has created such a state of affairs over decades and continues to contribute to it.
Anarchy in Bengal
Intra-Left bandh marks the final unravelling of “Brand Buddha”
First published in The Sunday Statesman, 10 February 2008, Editorial Page Special Article http://www.thestatesman.net
Once upon a time, not very long ago, there was something called “Brand Buddha”. The basic idea was that the CPI-M had quietly reformed itself, passing the baton from old unreconstructed communists like Jyoti Basu and Harkishan Surjeet to a new generation of pragmatists and modernists represented by Prakash Karat’s JNU coterie at the national level and the smartly dressed bhadralok persona of Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee in Kolkata itself.
Big businessmen and their foreign collaborators were no longer the “comprador bourgeoisie” but rather were allies to whom government subsidies and concessions, especially land, would be and should be granted. The “investment climate” and “work culture” under a CPI-M government would be among the best in India. High employment levels would be the hoped-for result, especially employment for those associated positively with the CPI-M and its friends. The usual set of academics, journalists, film and TV actors, dancers, sportsmen, singers, NRIs etc who were directly or indirectly recipients of the largesse of the West Bengal Government helped to contribute to the idea that a viable political brand had been identified and it represented the unique way forward for the State. “You are either with us or against us” has always been the brief philosophy of communist and fascist parties around the world ~ joining up with Brand Buddha meant you were part of the bandwagon of progress, if you did not join up you would be left behind. (No one thought Brand Buddha could be or would come to be actively opposed.)
At the national level, the old Indira Gandhi-Communist alliance was restored by way of a new one led by Sonia Gandhi. Jyoti Basu had frankly described Sonia as “a housewife” but now that the housewife was running the country and needed the Communists’ help in doing so, the opportunity was not to be missed to extract whatever price was possible. The main broker between 10 Janpath and West Bengal’s Communists was Pranab Mukherjee who was most familiar with the old Indira-style of opportunistic Indian politics, and who was given the mandate of appeasing the Communists with whatever they needed while also being the pointman to make a phone call to his friend Buddhadeb to see to it, e.g., that the CPI-M like everyone else enjoyed the American and Indian air force show at Kalaikunda.
The “enemy” (for, after all, every unholy alliance must have an identifiable enemy) was the wicked old BJP. Everyone from Sonia Gandhi via Pranab Mukherjee to Jyoti Basu would voice the fear that if they did not join hands in socialist secularist unity, the BJP Boogeyman was destined to return to power. And of course the BJP did nothing and had little positive in its record to dissipate those fears. It was indeed filled with old men and it had indeed behaved wickedly while in power. From negligence in the Graham Staines murder in Orissa to the pogrom in Gujarat, there was little to suggest the BJP’s leadership had any clear ideas or principles about right and wrong governance. In office from 1998-2004, its macroeconomic record was woeful, mainly because it knew no better than maintain the same economic bureaucrats as its predecessors, and allow its finance and other economic ministers to be wholly manipulated by big business lobbies. Now when those bureaucrats and big business lobbies created, endorsed and marketed Brand Buddha itself, the BJP found it had been successfully finessed and could hardly speak a word in opposition. If the BJP thinks it can win in 2009 by its discredited leaders merely recycling anti-Muslim or anti-Christian formulae as before, it may be in for a surprise and a disappointment.
Brand Buddha reached its pinnacle when Sonia Gandhi’s Prime Minister endorsed it personally at a big business meeting in Kolkata on 12 January 2005. But the contradiction involved in Sonia Gandhi then giving merely a perfunctory speech on behalf of the West Bengal Congress in the 2006 election campaign could not be covered up and did not escape the notice of her local partymen.
Brand Buddha started to unravel when Mamata Banerjee realized that all the CPI-M really had was a brand being marketed, not something based on any new and fresh political and economic reality. Mamata has never accepted Sonia’s right to lead the Congress which is what had led to the Trinamul breaking away ~ at the same time, even when she was allied to the BJP, no one could accuse her of being anti-Muslim or anything but secular in her political identity. Her three-week long fast over Singur blocked Metro Channel and riveted the country’s political attention while TV broadcasts of the police-behaviour at Singur acted as a signal to the people of Nandigram to prepare for the same or worse.
The fact the Nandigram peasants who feared losing their land were mostly Muslim caused the central Sonia-Pranab-Buddhadeb myth to explode that only they stood to protect Muslims from the BJP. Once that myth had exploded, the fact the emperor was naked came to be seen by all. There never had been a viable political or economic product behind the brand that was being so heavily advertised and endorsed. If Buddhadeb and his party had been genuinely confident of possessing a constructive new economic policy for West Bengal, they should have transparently and honestly discussed it in detail and gone to the people to ask for a mandate on it before the 2006 elections.
Or when the issue boiled over and Mamata went on her fast at the end of 2006, Buddhadeb could have dissolved the Assembly and gone for fresh elections asking for a specific mandate from Bengal’s voters. Instead, the Chief Minister or his senior ministers not once found the need or courage to address all of West Bengal’s people on television even though the State came to be rocked by violence, mayhem and tragedy – hardly a climate for investment and new employment.
2007 saw the CPI-M and its New Delhi Congress friends being revealed to be bunglers, who could not cope with things as small as Rizwanur’s love-marriage or Taslima’s writings except with heavy-handed repression. The CPI-M’s own unions had crippled their own Government and the State before with bandhs, but not until the Cooch Behar firings has the anarchy become complete. The Forward Bloc protesters were, after all, merely asking for implementation of Sonia Gandhi’s favourite scheme of rural employment guarantees! Anarchy is the absence of government and when a government is so divided that its members cannot decide if they are the government or the opposition, it has to be said there is an absence of government.
Recovery requires candour which in turn requires honesty and introspection, all of which may be qualities too difficult to find. What Brand Buddha could have and should have been about is this: the CPI-M cutting waste, fraud and abuse of publicly owned resources from all the organs, departments and projects of the West Bengal Government that they have controlled for decades, and drastically improving the productivity of all those receiving State government wages or contracts. Real governance does not require any phony advertising because success advertises itself.
Our Dismal Politics
Will Independent India Survive Until 2047?
By SUBROTO ROY
First published in The Statesman Editorial Page, Special Article, Feb 1 2008, http://www.thestatesman.net
Mayawati and Narendra Modi are both in their 50s. So are the current leaders of Russia, Germany, Britain, France, the USA. No country, not even Communist Party China, is as pretentiously corrupt as ours in allowing a whole generation to be bred of “babalog” politicians among children of dead politicians or existing elderly politicians in their 70s and 80s. These babalog, Rahul Gandhi pre-eminent among them, are usually in their late 30s or early 40s. Having developed no useful marketable skills in life nor done anything worthwhile or creative, they have tended to arbitrage the political positions of their parents (whether departed or living) into gaining access and advantage in Delhi or the State capitals. Some nepotism is being seen in the USA with the Bush and Clinton families but nobody had heard of a Putin, Merkel or Sarkozy before they won their way into political power.
The Indian phenomenon of the inheritance of advantage is also seen in organised business, in Bollywood and in journalism, which, like our politics, tend to be sold via TV. Academic institutions and the civil and military services are not far behind although there the phenomenon more usually involves exporting adult children (and bank accounts) especially to the USA or UK or Australia, and then making annual trips abroad during the hot summer months to be able to tell the neighbours about later.
The idea that the future of Indian politics is in the hands of a babalog GenNext is sheer nonsense and fantasy. The victories of Mayawati and Modi were also defeats of the expectations raised by Rahul Gandhi’s Congress. There is a continuity of years between someone like Sonia Gandhi and her children which implies there can be no discontinuous jump from Sonia to Rahul in the leadership of the Congress. In between, as it were, are people like Kamal Nath among “Friends of Sanjay” or Mani Shankar Aiyar (a solitary Rajivist), both of whom have won seats in the Lok Sabha unlike Sonia’s current elderly PM. If Sonia Gandhi devolves political power to her son who then leads the Congress into another defeat, of which UP and Gujarat have been examples, there will be a revolt among senior middle-aged politicians in the Congress, and the Congress may splinter into a Right Faction and Left Faction leaving Rajiv Gandhi’s family to look after the Rajiv Gandhi Foundation which is what they should have been doing in the first place rather than playing at Indian politics.
A Congress disintegration may or may not finally cause a useful bipolarisation in Indian politics because Indian politics has not only an economic dimension, it has a social or communal dimension too. Besides being (ostensibly) pro-poor or anti-poor, you can be either “Islamophilic” or “Islamophobic” ~ i.e. either pro-Muslim “secularist” /”pseudo-secularist”/minorityist, or anti-Muslim “communalist”/ “fascist”/majority communitarian.
Narasimha Rao cleverly manipulated the median parliamentary vote along these two dimensions so as to maintain a weak Government in power for five years by seeming to ally with the BJP on economic issues and seeming to ally with Leftists on social issues. If the Congress splits after another major defeat caused by Sonia-Rahul incompetence, with the Right Faction joining hands with whatever the BJP morphs into, and the Left Faction joining hands with whatever the CPI-M and CPI morph into, the central question will become which side of the split along the economic dimension holds the median voter along the pro-Muslim/anti-Muslim social dimension.
The BJP remains as dreadful and unscientific a gathering as it has been always without displaying the slightest creative trace of being able to evolve into a serious Conservative Party that India remains in desperate need of. AB Vajpayee and LK Advani led it into electoral defeat but that was not enough for their patriarchy to be disturbed by competent new younger people. In any case, the BJPs more articulate better-educated members in their 50s and 60s are unable to command nation-wide respect nor, with the exception of Modi, are they able to win an election on their own steam. The idea that e.g. Pramode Mahajan’s son could “succeed” him on the 10 JanPath pattern fortunately self-exploded. The best the BJP could do was to choose an inarticulate member as its nominal head while the patriarchy continued unchanged in its backward communalised thinking. Its RSS parent occasionally shows a little savant-like intelligence but generally remains in mental and physical regression.
As for the so-called Left, its multi-dimensional hypocrisy and incompetence has been permanently exposed in the heartland of what passes for Indian communism, Bengal. After the demise of the USSR and transition of Communist China towards Capitalism/ Fascism, there has been no real reason why the CPI and CPI-M cannot merge into one and then renounce together their retrograde ideology in favour of becoming a genuine Social Democratic and Labour Party representing working people and the poor. But that, like any corporate merger, would mean administrative redundancies, retrenchment and new management, and the last thing Stalinist politburo members like is the idea of losing their Rajya Sabha sinecures (in Russia and China they lost their heads but Indian conditions are kinder, gentler, more non-violent).
Besides the Congress, BJP and “Left”, most other parties in India revolve around the whims, personality and IQ of some single local political warlord/warlady. The Naxals and other extremists, including Hindu and Muslim religious terrorists, at least make some pretence at representing political interests of some sections of the people; there is thus at least a slight authenticity about them, no matter how disengaged their thought processes may be from realities around them.
Endless deficit finance
The 2008 Budget or the 2009 General Election seem likely to remain in the grip of all such dramatis personae permanently on the Indian stage, and no new real creative constructive force seems likely to appear. Every political misdemeanour will be paid for by endless deficit finance and money-printing, the accounts and auditing of all public institutions shall remain in a shambles while private pockets of the heads of public institutions come to be lined with gold, the armed forces shall be ready to fight their Pakistani counterparts while deferring to any more formidable adversary, rich business people will continue with their grotesque conspicuous consumption, young people graduating from India’s pampered institutions of tertiary education will continue to line up outside foreign embassies to seek hope and escape.
Can India survive as an independent democratic republic for 100 years after 1947, let alone be a country where all citizens are reasonably free and comfortable? A worst-case scenario may see North India in endless conflict with a chaotic Pakistan, Eastern India hived off under Beijing’s influence, and peninsular India from Surat to Vizag being Western-dominated with “SEZs” on the pattern of pre-communist Coastal China. The failure of our elite classes to provide healthy creative governance over generations must inevitably result in the putrefaction of our body politic.
First published in two parts in The Sunday Statesman, September 23 2007, The Statesman September 24 2007, http://www.thestatesman.net
By Subroto Roy
Manmohan and Sonia have violated Rajiv Gandhi’s intended reforms; the Communists have been appeased or bought; the BJP is incompetent
WASTE, fraud and abuse are inevitable in the use and allocation of public property and resources in India as elsewhere, but Government is supposed to fight and resist such tendencies. The Sonia-Manmohan Government have done the opposite, aiding and abetting a wasteful anti-economics ~ i.e., an economic quackery. Vajpayee-Advani and other Governments, including Narasimha-Manmohan in 1991-1996, were just as complicit in the perverse policy-making. So have been State Governments of all regional parties like the CPI-M in West Bengal, DMK/ AIADMK in Tamil Nadu, Congress/NCP/ BJP/Sena in Maharashtra, TDP /Congress in Andhra Pradesh, SP/BJP/BSP in Uttar Pradesh etc. Our dismal politics merely has the pot calling the kettle black while national self-delusion and superstition reign in the absence of reason.
The general pattern is one of well-informed, moneyed, mostly city-based special interest groups (especially including organised capital and organised labour) dominating government agendas at the cost of ill-informed, diffused anonymous individual citizens ~ peasants, small businessmen, non-unionized workers, old people, housewives, medical students etc. The extremely expensive “nuclear deal” with the USA is merely one example of such interest group politics.
Nuclear power is and shall always remain of tiny significance as a source of India’s electricity (compared to e.g. coal and hydro); hence the deal has practically nothing to do with the purported (and mendacious) aim of improving the country’s “energy security” in the long run. It has mostly to do with big business lobbies and senior bureaucrats and politicians making a grab, as they always have done, for India’s public purse, especially access to foreign currency assets. Some $300 million of India’s public money had to be paid to GE and Bechtel Corporation before any nuclear talks could begin in 2004-2005 ~ the reason was the Dabhol fiasco of the 1990s, a sheer waste for India’s ordinary people. Who was responsible for that loss? Pawar-Mahajan-Munde-Thackeray certainly but also India’s Finance Minister at the time, Manmohan Singh, and his top Finance Ministry bureaucrat, Montek Ahluwalia ~ who should never have let the fiasco get off the ground but instead actively promoted and approved it.
Cost-benefit analysis prior to any public project is textbook operating procedure for economists, and any half-competent economist would have accounted for the scenario of possible currency-depreciation which made Dabhol instantly unviable. Dr Singh and Mr Ahluwalia failed that test badly and it cost India dearly. The purchase of foreign nuclear reactors on a turnkey basis upon their recommendation now reflects similar financial dangers for the country on a vastly larger scale over decades.
Our Government seems to function most expeditiously in purchasing foreign arms, aircraft etc ~ not in improving the courts, prisons, police, public utilities, public debt. When the purchase of 43 Airbus aircraft surfaced, accusations of impropriety were made by Boeing ~ until the local Airbus representative said on TV that Boeing need not complain because they were going to be rewarded too and soon 68 aircraft were ordered from Boeing!
India imports all passenger and most military aircraft, besides spare parts and high-octane jet fuel. Domestic aviation generates near zero forex revenues and incurs large forex costs ~ a debit in India’s balance of payments. Domestic airline passengers act as importers subsidised by our meagre exporters of textiles, leather, handicrafts, tea, etc. What a managerially-minded PM and Aviation Minister needed to do before yielding to temptations of buying new aircraft was to get tough with the pampered managements and unions of the nationalized airlines and stand up on behalf of ordinary citizens and taxpayers, who, after all, are mostly rail or road-travellers not jet-setters.
The same pattern of negligent policy-behaviour led Finance Minister P. Chidambaram in an unprecedented step to mention in his 2007 Union Budget Speech the private American companies Blackstone and GE ~ endorsing the Ahluwalia/Deepak Parekh idea that India’s forex reserves may be made available to be lent out to favoured private businesses for purported “infrastructure” development. We may now see chunks of India’s foreign exchange reserves being “borrowed” and never returned ~ a monumental scam in front of the CBI’s noses.
The Reserve Bank’s highest echelons may have become complicit in all this, permitting and encouraging a large capital flight to take place among the few million Indians who read the English newspapers and have family-members abroad. Resident Indians have been officially permitted to open bank accounts of US $100,000 abroad, as well as transfer gifts of $50,000 per annum to their adult children already exported abroad ~ converting their largely untaxed paper rupees at an artificially favourable exchange-rate.
In particular, Mr Ratan Tata (under a misapprehension he may do whatever Lakshmi Mittal does) has been allowed to convert Indian rupees into some US$13,000,000,000 to make a cash purchase of a European steel company. The same has been allowed of the Birlas, Wipro, Dr Reddy’s and numerous other Indian corporations in the organised sector ~ three hundred million dollars here, five hundred million dollars there, etc. Western businessmen now know all they have to do is flatter the egos of Indian boxwallahs enough and they might have found a buyer for their otherwise bankrupt or sick local enterprise. Many newcomers to New York City have been sold the Brooklyn Bridge before. “There’s a sucker born every minute” is the classic saying of American capitalism.
The Sonia-Manmohan Government, instead of hobnobbing with business chambers, needed to get Indian corporations to improve their accounting, audit and governance, and reduce managerial pilfering and embezzlement, which is possible only if Government first set an example.
Why have Indian foreign currency reserves zoomed up in recent years? Not mainly because we are exporting more textiles, tea, software engineers, call centre services or new products to the world, but because Indian corporations have been allowed to borrow abroad, converting their hoards of paper rupees into foreign debt. Forex reserves are a residual in a country’s international balance of payments and are not like tax-resources available to be spent by Government; India’s reserves largely constitute foreign liabilities of Indian residents. This may bear endless repetition as the PM and his key acolytes seem impervious to normal postgraduate-level economics textbooks.
Other official fallacies include thinking India’s savings rate is near 32 per cent and that clever bureaucratic use of it can cause high growth. In fact, real growth arises not because of what politicians and bureaucrats do but because of spontaneous technological progress, improved productivity and learning-by-doing of the general population ~ mostly despite not because of an exploitative parasitic State. What has been mismeasured as high savings is actually expansion of bank-deposits in a fractional reserve banking system caused by runaway government deficit-spending.
Another fallacy has been that agriculture retards growth, leading to nationwide politically-backed attempts at land-grabbing by wily city industrialists and real estate developers. In a hyperinflation-prone economy with wild deficit-spending and runaway money-printing, cheating poor unorganised peasants of their land, when that land is an asset that is due to appreciate in value, has seemed like child’s play.
What of the Opposition? The BJP/RSS have no economists who are not quacks though opportunists were happy to say what pleased them to hear when they were in power; they also have much implicit support among organised business lobbies and the anti-Muslim senior bureaucracy. The official Communists have been appeased or bought, sometimes so cheaply as with a few airline tickets here and there. The nonsensical “Rural Employment Guarantee” is descending into the wasteland of corruption it was always going to be. The “Domestic Violence Act” as expected has started to destroy India’s families the way Western families have been destroyed. The Arjun-DMK OBC quota corrodes higher education further from its already dismal state. All these were schemes that Congress and Communist cabals created or wholeheartedly backed, and which the BJP were too scared or ignorant to resist.
And then came Singur and Nandigram ~ where the sheer greed driving the alliance between the Sonia-Manmohan-Pranab Congress and the CPI-M mask that is Buddhadeb, came to be exposed by a handful of brave women like Mamata and Medha.
A Fiscal U-Turn is Needed For India to Go in The Right Economic Direction
Rajiv Gandhi had a sense of noblesse oblige out of remembrance of his father and maternal grandfather. After his assassination, the comprador business press credited Narasimha Rao and Manmohan Singh with having originated the 1991 economic reform. In May 2002, however, the Congress Party itself passed a resolution proposed by Digvijay Singh explicitly stating Rajiv and not either of them was to be so credited. The resolution was intended to flatter Sonia Gandhi but there was truth in it too. Rajiv, a pilot who knew no political economy, was a quick learner with intelligence to know a good idea when he saw one and enough grace to acknowledge it.
Rule of Law
The first time Dr Manmohan Singh’s name arose in contemporary post-Indira politics was on 22 March 1991 when M K Rasgotra challenged the present author to answer how Dr Singh would respond to proposals being drafted for a planned economic liberalisation that had been authorised by Rajiv, as Congress President and Opposition Leader, since September 1990. It was replied that Dr Singh’s response was unknown and he had been heading the “South-South Commission” for Tanzania’s Julius Nyerere, while what needed to be done urgently was make a clear forceful statement to restore India’s credit-worthiness and the confidence of international markets, showing that the Congress at least knew its economics and was planning to take bold new steps in the direction of progress.
There is no evidence Dr Singh or his acolytes were committed to any economic liberalism prior to 1991 as that term is understood worldwide, and scant evidence they have originated liberal economic ideas for India afterwards. Precisely because they represented the decrepit old intellectual order of statist ”Ma-Bap Sarkari” policy-making, they were not asked in the mid-1980s to be part of a “perestroika-for-India” project done at a foreign university ~ the results of which were received, thanks to Siddhartha Shankar Ray, by Rajiv Gandhi in hand at 10 Janpath on 18 September 1990 and specifically sparked the change in the direction of his economic thinking.
India is a large, populous country with hundreds of millions of materially poor citizens, a weak tax-base, a vast internal and external public debt (i.e. debt owed by the Government to domestic and foreign creditors), massive annual fiscal deficits, an inconvertible currency, and runaway printing of paper-money. It is unsurprising Pakistan’s economy is similar, since it is born of the same land and people. Certainly there have been real political problems between India and Pakistan since the chaotic demobilisation and disintegration of the old British Indian Army caused the subcontinent to plunge into war-like or “cold peace” conditions for six decades beginning with a bloody Partition and civil war in J&K. High military expenditures have been necessitated due to mutual and foreign tensions, but this cannot be a permanent state if India and Pakistan wish for genuine mass economic well-being.
Even with the continuing mutual antagonism, there is vast scope for a critical review of Indian military expenditures towards greatly improving the “teeth-to-tail” ratio of its fighting forces. The abuse of public property and privilege by senior echelons of the armed forces (some of whom have been keen most of all to export their children preferably to America) is also no great secret.
On the domestic front, Rajiv was entirely convinced when the suggestion was made to him in September 1990 that an enormous infusion of public resources was needed into the judicial system for promotion and improvement of the Rule of Law in the country, a pre-requisite almost for a new market orientation. Capitalism without the Rule of Law can quickly degenerate into an illiberal hell of cronyism and anarchy which is what has tended to happen since 1991.
The Madhava Menon Committee on criminal justice policy in July proposed a Hong Kong model of “a single high-tech integrated Criminal Justice complex in every district headquarters which may be a multi-storied structure, devoting the ground floor for the police station including a video-installed interrogation room; the first floor for the police-lockups/sub-jail and the Magistrate’s Court; the second floor for the prosecutor’s office, witness rooms, crime laboratories and legal aid services; the third floor for the Sessions Court and the fourth for the administrative offices etc…. (Government of India) should take steps to evolve such an efficient model… and not only recommend it to the States but subsidize its construction…” The question arises: Why is this being proposed for the first time in 2007 after sixty years of Independence? Why was it not something designed and implemented starting in the 1950s?
The resources put since Independence to the proper working of our judiciary from the Supreme Court and High Courts downwards have been abysmal, while the state of prisons, borstals, mental asylums and other institutions of involuntary detention is nothing short of pathetic. Only police forces, like the military, paramilitary and bureaucracies, have bloated in size.
Neither Sonia-Manmohan nor the BJP or Communists have thought promotion of the Rule of Law in India to be worth much serious thought ~ certainly less important than attending bogus international conclaves and summits to sign expensive deals for arms, aircraft, reactors etc. Yet Rajiv Gandhi, at a 10 Janpath meeting on 23 March 1991 when he received the liberalisation proposals he had authorized, explicitly avowed the importance of greater resources towards the Judiciary. Dr Singh and his acolytes were not in that loop, indeed they precisely represented the bureaucratic ancien regime intended to be changed, and hence have seemed quite uncomprehending of the roots of the intended reforms ever since 1991.
Similarly, Rajiv comprehended when it was said to him that the primary fiscal problem faced by India is the vast and uncontrolled public debt, interest payments on which suck dry all public budgets leaving no room for provision of public goods.
Government has been routinely “rolling over” its domestic debt in the asset-portfolios of the nationalised banks while displaying and highlighting only its new additional borrowing in a year as the “Fiscal Deficit”. More than two dozen States have been doing the same and their liabilities ultimately accrue to the Union too. The stock of public debt in India is Rs 30 trillion (Rs 30 lakh crore) at least, and portends a hyperinflation in the future.
There has been no serious recognition of this since it is political and bureaucratic actions that have been causing the problem. Proper recognition would entail systematically cleaning up the budgets and accounts of every single governmental entity in the country: the Union, every State, every district and municipality, every publicly funded entity or organisation, and at the same time improving public decision-making capacity so that once budgets and accounts recover from grave sickness over decades, functioning institutions exist for their proper future management. All this would also stop corruption in its tracks, and release resources for valuable public goods and services like the Judiciary, School Education and Basic Health. Institutions for improved political and administrative decision-making are needed throughout the country if public preferences with respect to raising and allocating common resources are to be elicited and then translated into actual delivery of public goods and services. Our dysfunctional legislatures will have to do at least a little of what they are supposed to. When public budgets and accounts are healthy and we have functioning public goods and services, macroeconomic conditions would have been created for the paper-rupee to once more become a money as good as gold ~ a convertible world currency for all of India’s people, not merely the metropolitan special interest groups that have been controlling our governments and their agendas.
Saving Pakistan: A Physicist/Political Philosopher May Represent Iqbal’s “Spirit of Modern Times”
by Subroto Roy
First published in The Statesman, Editorial Page Special Article, August 13 2007, http://www.thestatesman.net
Pakistan’s Nobel winning particle physicist Abdus Salam (1926-1996) was, like Pakistan’s most eminent jurist Zafrullah Khan (1893-1985), treated badly by his country and compatriots merely because of his religious beliefs as an Ahmadiya/Qadiani. This itself may be an adequate reason for secular thinking when it comes to identifying Pakistan’s or any country’s interests. Pakistan has had eminent poets and writers but there have been no dedicated first-rate technical economists ~ and no serious political philosophers other than, recently, Pervez Hoodbhoy who is a physicist. Most political economy by Pakistanis about Pakistan has tended to be at the level of World Bank bureaucratic reports or traveller’s tales, which have their uses but hardly amount to profound insight or significant scholarship. (We in India also have had numerous minor World Bank/UN bureaucrats, with or without PhDs about anything, passing themselves off as experts on India’s political economy.)
Yet during Pakistan’s present national crisis (and Pakistan has continually faced crises ever since 1947) people must go back to first principles of political economy and ask questions like “Who are we?”; “What are we doing to ourselves?”; “What is our future?” etc ~ questions about national identity and national viability and national purpose.
Abu Dhabi Pact
On 29-30 July, a deal was reportedly struck in Abu Dhabi after a secret face-to-face meeting between Pervez Musharraf and Benazir Bhutto: he would stay on as President for five years, she would be PM and Head of Government, have prosecutions against her dropped and get back her enormous frozen wealth. Such would be the intended outcome of the long-touted return to fair competitive elections later this year. The deal was brokered by British, American, Saudi and other go-betweens outside Pakistan, and is an overt way of keeping Musharraf in power while also seeming to allow a large concession by way of the return of a purported symbol of democracy like Benazir.
But Benazir seems out of touch with reality. When she returned two decades ago as a young unmarried woman confronting General Zia ul-Haq, she was a genuine popular hero. Her father’s judicial execution at Zia’s hands was still fresh in public memory, and Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, no matter how misguided his ideologies, had some makings of a serious modern Pakistani nationalist politician.
Benazir as a middle aged matron is not her father and has lost almost all political credibility with her flip-flopping opportunism, and is now seen merely as a face agreeable to the West. Her good looks were discussed on American TV by the comedian Bill Maher while Musharraf’s publicity agent had him sharing jokes on a rival TV comedy – however, American TV audiences are or should not be a Pakistani constituency.
Benazir also forgets that Zia had set up Nawaz Sharif as an ally of the Pakistan military against her own populism in the late 1980s, just as she is being set up now as an ally of the same military against people like Sharif, Javed Hashmi, Maulana Fazlur Rahman and Imran Khan. Musharraf overthrew Sharif and jailed Hashmi and they are his declared foes; the other two have expressed opinions hostile to Western military presence in Pakistan and Afghanistan. The Maulana made a nationalistic overture towards India, while Imran has openly praised Indian democracy despite its faults. But Indian foreign policy has not responded and seems under manifest influence of the Western powers ~ had we felt and thought with genuine independence we could have, for example, easily declared and implemented large-scale humanitarian food-aid from the FCI’s wheat-stocks for the people of Afghanistan and Iraq as was suggested in these pages a year ago.
A Musharraf-Benazir alliance is hardly destined to save Pakistan and will be no more than a cynical example of short-term opportunism: we in India can expect them to use J&K as traditional rhetorical camouflage for their own continuing misgovernance and corruption. As in Iraq, Palestine and Afghanistan, the Western powers face the dilemma that any government they support in Pakistan will be perceived as lacking legitimacy while a genuine hands-off policy could result in legitimate popular governments which seem to Western Governments beyond their control and hence seemingly adverse to Western interests.
The West has long ill-understood Pakistan, partly because it has seen Pakistan merely to be used as a source of convenient military manpower and real-estate for itself as and when necessary. American diplomats were reporting as early as November 1951 that Maulana Maududi’s Jamaat were hostile to the “evils” of Western materialism which they wanted to “do away with root and branch” in the country. In January 1976, American diplomats were reporting Pakistan’s “crash program to develop nuclear weapons”, and by June 1983 that Pakistan was close to nuclear test capability, intended to deter aggression by India “which remains Pakistan’s greatest security concern”. For Islamic revivalism to coincide with nuclear weapons in the last decade has been something long-predictable if there had been adequate will to do so.
Right wing politicians and religious fundamentalists have come to power in countries with nuclear weapons without untoward results, e.g., Likud in Israel or the BJP/RSS in India. (It is America’s present leaders, as well as all main Democrat and Republican presidential candidates except Ron Paul, who have unilaterally threatened nuclear attacks on a non-nuclear country that has not committed aggression against anyone.) There is no obvious reason why an elected legitimate “conservative” or right wing government in Pakistan must come to pose a special nuclear danger to anyone. If it is serious about governance (which Musharraf-Benazir may not be), it may even succeed in finding enough sobriety and political honesty to start to face up to Pakistan’s real economic and social problems which are vast in size and scope.
Wali Allah vs Iqbal
“We are an Arab people whose fathers have fallen in exile in the country of Hindustan, and Arabic genealogy and Arabic language are our pride,” said Wali Allah (1703-1762). Two centuries later, Mohammad Iqbal (1877-1938), in his 1930 Presidential Speech to the Muslim League in Allahabad conceptualising today’s Pakistan, wished precisely to become free of that Arab influence: “I would like to see the Punjab, NWFP, Sind and Baluchistan amalgamated into a single state… The life of Islam as a cultural force in this living country very largely depends on its centralisation in a specified territory… For India it means security and peace resulting from an internal balance of power, for Islam an opportunity to rid itself of the stamp that Arabian Imperialism was forced to give it, to mobilise its law, its education, its culture, and to bring them into closer contact with its own original spirit and the spirit of modern times.”
That “spirit of modern times” is today represented most prominently in Pakistan by Pervez Hoodbhoy. In a December 2006 speech, Hoodbhoy suggested a new alternative to MA Jinnah’s ”Faith, Unity, Discipline” slogan: “First, I wish for minds that can deal with the complex nature of truth…. My second wish is for many more Pakistanis who accept diversity as a virtue… My third, and last, wish is that Pakistanis learn to value and nurture creativity.” And he has spoken of bringing “economic justice to Pakistan”, of the “fight to give Pakistan’s women the freedom which is their birthright”, and of people to “wake up” and engage politically. We shall witness a most engaging battle if Benazir and her new military friends all representing the jaded and corrupt old political power structures, come to face in the elections a new conservative alliance of people like Sharif, Hashmi, Fazlur Rahman and Imran all infused with Hoodbhoy’s scientific liberalism representing Iqbal’s ”spirit of modern times”.
India has yet to develop normal conservative, liberal and socialist parties. The Nice-Housing-Effect and a little game-theory may explain the current stagnation
By SUBROTO ROY
First published in The Sunday Statesman, Editorial Page Special Article, June 24 2007, http://www.thestatesman.net
THE theatrics surrounding the choice of presidential candidates refer to the highest and most dignified office of the land. Otherwise, India’s public would have been justified to think we were watching an absurd farce. Even so, lessons may be learnt about the nature of our polity, especially our purported Government and its purported Opposition.
Consider first how the name of the Congress’s candidate apparently arose. “Why don’t you think of Pratibha Patil?” was the rhetorical suggestion apparently made by Manmohan Singh to Sonia Gandhi at a joint meeting of the UPA and Left where no other person could be agreed upon. What could have been the emotional state of the Prime Minister of India in addressing such a question to its specific addressee? It had to be the same unconscious perplexity and mental contradiction he has experienced throughout the UPA Government, saying to himself: “I am the Prime Minister but I am not the Prime Minister, I am the Head of India’s Government but I am not the Head of India’s Government”.
Instead of leading the country as he was chosen to do in the belief he possessed some superior wisdom and capability for the job, Dr Singh has constantly deferred to and followed the person who chose him to lead. The Head of Government in our system recommends an appropriate Head of State. If Dr Singh truly felt himself India’s leader, not merely someone permitted for some time to enjoy the office and perquisites of India’s Prime Minister and being nominally referred to as such, he could have said: “I think we should consider Pratibha Patil, what say all of you?”
Such words would have displayed too much assertiveness in the presence of Sonia Gandhi, too much leadership from someone flatteringly described as mild and gentle but unflatteringly described as obsequious in the face of power. It is the same excess of deference displayed when he allows himself to be bullied or insulted by the DMK or receive the open contempt of his own Cabinet ministers. Dr Singh has just returned from the so-called “G-8 summit” where he was an invitee. In a group photo standing above and behind the American President, Dr Singh was seen gently touching George Bush on the shoulder as if Bush was a rich younger brother who needed a lift in spirits. Afterwards Dr Singh reportedly said the summit was useless ~ from his long bureaucratic experience he should have known that long beforehand, and declined to waste India’s time there. But then Europe is nice this time of year when Delhi is so hot. China is next on his itinerary, and he will surely not want to miss the Great Wall despite China’s continuing insults.
What the Pratibha episode reveals about Sonia Gandhi is her continuing bewilderment and confusion about the parameters of her life since her husband’s assassination sixteen years ago. There is a very simple candid explanation why, after her years in mourning, she entered politics following the Sitaram Kesri period: she and her children could not financially sustain a lifestyle to which they had become accustomed at 10 Janpath except as part of India’s politics via the Congress Party. Running the Rajiv Gandhi Foundation was not enough, and Rahul Gandhi’s income in a normal private sector career would have been unexceptional. Hence the lure of power has remained strong and cannot be walked away from even if walking away would be the right thing to do for sake of the political health of the Congress Party ~ which would finally have to grow up, find some political principles, and develop some normal processes of internal competition.
When Pratibha Patil’s name was mentioned for the first time in this manner, the rational course of action for the UPA Chair would have been to say, wait, if we are now thinking about a woman definitely, may we please have two or three such names to consider for a few days? But it was Dr Singh mentioning the name, and his supposed wisdom is what Sonia Gandhi believes, in her bewilderment, she should defer to, so she agreed at once in a parallel state of mental confusion as his: “I am India’s Leader but I am not India’s Leader”. Hence Pratibha Patil becomes the nominee. A little “game-theory” may help to explain the outcome (see table).
The paralysis and/or sclerosis of the Congress’s thinking processes is matched by the BJP and Communists. If Sonia Gandhi could bring herself to walk away from Indian politics, a genuine leadership contest in the Congress would have to occur for the first time in decades. Similarly, if Atal Behari Vajpayee and Lal Krishna Advani could bring themselves to honestly walk away from BJP politics, there would have to be a genuine leadership contest and some new principles emerging in their party. There is an excellent and very simple political reason for Vajpayee and Advani to go, which is not that they are too old (which they are) but that they led their party to electoral defeat. Had they walked away in May 2004, there might have been by now some viable conservative political philosophy in India and some recognisable new alternative leadership for 2009. Instead there is none and the BJP has not only failed very badly at being a responsible Opposition, it will go into the 2009 General Election looking exceptionally decrepit and incompetent.
Indeed, Vajpayee and Advani may not have walked away for the same reason as Sonia Gandhi, namely, the “10 Janpath Effect” or what may be generalised to the “Nice-New Delhi-Government-Housing-Effect”. Besides, like our ageing cricketers, cinema stars, playback singers and tons of ageing bureaucrats and corporate executives, where would they go, what would they do, how would they live, what do they know how to do if they were not doing what they have been doing for so long? Golf and grandchildren is the usual American formula.
In case of the Communists, it is not electoral but ideological defeat, indeed ideological annihilation, that their leaders have led them into. When was the last time we heard our Communist leaders extolling Marx, Engels, Lenin, Stalin, Mao, Zhou or even Fidel Castro? Not for a long time. The bankruptcy of official communism is obvious even to them, at least in their candid moments in front of the mirror every morning. Even for the CPI and CPI(M) to merge into a genuine modern socialist party is too creative and productive an outcome to be handled since top and middle management retrenchments would be inevitable. Also, the Cannot-Leave-Nice-Housing-Effect applies here too, and so the most we find by way of communist transformation is a perverse alliance with organised big business in trying to cheat very poor and unorganised peasants of their land in an economy where runaway paper money printing threatens a hyperinflation.
Nobody in power wants to address the rotten state of our public finances, since all of them have contributed to causing the stench. Our Finance Minister finds time to attend posh parties and publish books while presiding over an RBI-supported capital flight of India’s super-rich: “ultrahigh networth individuals are looking forward to buy overseas equities and real estate” Business Standard (25 April 2007) blithely said. The Finance Minister should have been instead burning the midnight candle getting public budgets and government accounting cleaned and healthy nationwide.
We in India have had more than enough time and democratic experience to have developed by now a set of normal conservative, liberal democrat, social democrat and socialist parties. That we have nothing of the kind speaks to the rot in the political culture we are witnessing in our capital and other major cities. Politically, we may be in for an especially ugly, unpleasant and incoherent few years starting with the presidential election currently underway.
When will normal political philosophy replace personality cults?
by Subroto Roy
First published in The Statesman, Editorial Page Special Article, June 11 2007, http://www.thestatesman.net
A decade after Solzhenitsyn’s classic 1962 memoir One day in the life of Ivan Denisovitch, an ambitious young Delhi photographer published a hagiography called A life in the day of Indira Gandhi. Indira was shown gambolling with her little grandchildren, guiding her dutiful daughter-in-law, weeping for her father, greeting her loyal subjects from around India, reprimanding her ingratiating sycophants, imperiously silent during political meetings, smiling and scolding alternately at press conferences, and of course standing in victory at Shimla beside the defeated Bhutto. “Indira is India” the sycophantic slogan went, and the cult of her personality was one of showing her as omniscient and omnipotent in all earthly matters of Indian politics.
She had indeed fought that rarest of things in international law: the just war. Supported by the world’s strongest military, an evil enemy had made victims of his own people. Indira tried patiently on the international stage to avert war, but also chose her military generals well and took their professional judgement seriously as to when to fight if it was inevitable and how to win. Finally she was magnanimous (to a fault) towards the enemy ~ who was not some stranger to us but our own estranged brother and cousin.
It seemed to be her and independent India’s finest hour. A fevered nation was thus ready to forgive and forget her catastrophic misdeeds until that time, like bank-nationalization and the start of endless deficit-finance and unlimited money-printing, a possible cause of monetary collapse today four decades later under Manmohan Singh whose career as an economic bureaucrat began at that time.
Hitler, Stalin, Mao
Modern personality cults usually have had some basis in national heroism. In Indira’s case it was the 1971 war. Hitler, Stalin and Mao were seen or portrayed as war heroes too. Because there has been leadership in time of war or national crisis, nervous anxious masses extend their hopes and delusions to believe such a leader has answers to everything. The propaganda machinery available as part of modern state apparatus then takes over, and when it is met on behalf of the citizenry with no more than a compliant docile ingratiating mass media, the public image comes to be formed of a parental god-like figure who will protect and guide the community to its destiny.
Beneath this public image, the cunning play of self-interest by anonymous underlings in the allocation of public resources continues unabated, and so it is possible some truth attaches to the idea that an individual leader is not as responsible for evil misdeeds or depredations done by “the party” in his/her name.
In the Indian case, hero-worship and ancestor-worship are part of the culture of all our major religions. Hence we have parades of parliamentarians garlanding or throwing flowers and paying obeisance at this or that statue or oil-painting or photograph regularly ~ though as a people we have yet to produce rigorous intellectual biographies of any major figures of our own modern history, comparable to, say, Judith Brown’s work on Gandhi or Ayesha Jalal’s on Jinnah.
Indira continued to dominate our political culture until her assassination more than a decade later, but there was hardly a shred of political or economic good in what she left the country. Her elder son (leaving aside his blunders in Sri Lanka, J&K etc.) did have the sense to initiate fundamental change in his party’s economic thinking when he found a chance to do so in the months before his own assassination.
Rajiv was the son of Feroze Gandhi too and a happy family man; he seemed not to have psychological need for as much of the kind of personality cult his mother clearly loved to indulge in. It is not clear if his widow is today trying to follow his example or his mother’s ~ certainly, the party that goes by the name of Indian National Congress would like to relive for a second time the worst of the Indira personality cult around Sonia Gandhi. And Rahul Gandhi, instead of seeking to develop or display any talent as befits a young man, has shown disconcerting signs of longing for the days of his grandmother’s personality cult to return. He may have been more effective pursuing a normal career in the private sector.
The Congress’s perpetual tendency towards personality cults has extended by imitation to other political parties in New Delhi and the States. Atal Behari Vajpayee at his peak as PM did not find it at all uncomfortable to be portrayed by his sycophants as a wise, heroic and loving father-figure of the nation ~ an image shattered when, immediately after perfunctorily commiserating the Godhra and post-Godhra horrors, he was pictured fashionably on a Singapore golf-cart sporting designer sunglasses.
India’s organised communists make a great show of collective decision-making since they most intimately followed the details of Kruschev’s denunciation of Stalin’s personality cult. It has not stopped them routinely genuflecting to China’s communists. There also has been a communist tendency to deny individual merit and creativity at junior levels and instead appropriate all good things for the party bosses. New brilliant faces will never arise in the Left and we may be condemned to see the usual characters in perpetuity. If personality cults around Jyoti Basu or Buddhadeb Bhattacharya have failed to thrive it has not been through lack of trying on part of the publicly paid communist intelligentsia and their docile artists, but rather because of resistance from Bengal’s newspapers and a few clear-headed journalists and well known opposition politicians.
Tamil Nadu has seen grotesque rivalry between Karunanidhi and Jayalalitha as to whose personality cult can alternately outdo the other, supplanting all normal political economy or attempts at discovery of the public interest. In Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, J&K, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh (but not Gujarat or Rajasthan lately), two-party democratic politics has succeeded in limiting tendencies for personality cults to develop. The North Eastern States have had inadequate coverage by modern media, which, fortuitously, along with tribal traditions, may have restrained personality cults from developing.
Facts explode cults
Facts are the most reliable means by which to explode personality cults. It is not a coincidence that facts are also the source by which to develop modern political philosophies, whether conservative, classical liberal/ libertarian, or socialist. Facts have to be discovered, ferreted out, analysed, studied and reflected upon by those civil institutions that are supposed to be doing so, namely university social science, economics and related departments, as well as responsible newspapers, radio and other mass media. Julian Benda once titled a book The Treason of the Intellectuals. India will begin to have a normal political philosophy when the treason of its modern intellectual classes begins to be corrected.
It is not a treason in which the state has been betrayed to an enemy. Rather it is one in which the very purposes of public conversation, such as the discovery of the public interest, have been betrayed in the interests of immediate private gain. This may help to explain why there is so little coherent public discussion in India today, and certainly almost nothing on television, or in the business papers or what passes for academia.
We & Our Neighbours
Pakistanis And Bangladeshis Would Do Well To Learn From Sheikh Abdullah
by Subroto Roy
First published in The Statesman May 15 2007, Editorial Page Special Article, http://www.thestatesman.net
Pakistan and Bangladesh, unlike ourselves in India, have yet to properly establish elementary constitutional institutions. “Individuals may form communities, but it is institutions alone that can create a nation”, said Benjamin Disraeli. The continual political chaos on the streets of Pakistan and Bangladesh ~ not just in recent weeks but in recent years and decades ~ indicate such institutions are still lacking or stillborn there. Tear gas, water cannon and hordes of armed policemen to charge at enraged stone-throwing crowds are not part of any solution but part of the political problem itself.
One main purpose of constitutional institutions has to do with peaceful transfer of power from one political party to its adversary. Mulayam Singh Yadav has just transferred political power to Mayawati in Uttar Pradesh, an Indian State more populous than either Pakistan or Bangladesh. Not long ago Lalu Prasad Yadav did the same to Nitish Kumar in Bihar, and Atal Behari Vajpayee to an appointee of Sonia Gandhi for all India itself. Modern democratic institutions are precisely about such peaceful transfers of power after voters have acted periodically to try to “throw the rascals out”.
It would be foolish to suppose an incoming Government of UP, Bihar or all India itself will be very much better than the one it displaces. But certainly in its first few “honeymoon” months or weeks at least, it will not be any worse. The tail-end of any scheduled democratic government, whether in India, Britain, the USA or elsewhere, is quite a disgusting sight, as those in their last days of power grab whatever they can from office before departure without any pretence of shame or embarrassment. Serious decision-making in the public interest would have long ago ceased. Almost anything new would be better.
At the same time, among those coming into power there will be some earnest wish at least to make some small difference for the better ~ a wish that will surely disappear within weeks of entering office after which the old cynicism and corruption will take hold again, and it will be the same ugly business as usual. But certainly, voters can expect slightly fresh air for a brief time after they have thrown one party out of power and chosen to bring in another. That is as about as good as democracy gets in modern practice.
Of India’s dozen or more larger States, we have, in the sixth decade of our Constitution, quite a few in which bipartisan democratic processes have been taking shape. UP was not one of them, and it is to Mayawati’s credit that she has broken the pattern of hung assemblies and now heads a majority government. Bihar too had seemed in the monolithic grip of Lalu Yadav until Nitish Kumar broke it, though the latter’s honeymoon period is now long over and it is business quite as usual there. Madhya Pradesh, Punjab, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Haryana, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala and even J&K each have a noticeable bipartisan nature developing with at least one “national” party present to be counted. Tamil Nadu has been bipartisan but in an unhealthy way based on the personality cults of antagonistic leaders rather than any political principles or class-interests ~ which is a pity as the old Madras once had seemed a source of some new rationality in Indian politics. West Bengal’s voters have been definitely bipartisan, the communist vote being no more than that of the Congress and Trinamul combined. But for decades the local Congress has been notoriously sold down the river to its communist adversary by the Congress “leadership” in Delhi, and that has allowed an entrenched and wholly corrupted communist cultural and political mindset to rule in Kolkata. The Basu-Bhattacharjee Government was palpably bewildered over the Singur and Nandigram events because of their self-induced delusion about the economic and political realities of the State.
Throughout India though, periodic elections have acquired enough legitimacy to be accepted as the means of peaceful change of government. And with bipartisan politics there is a tendency for the median voter to be wooed at election-time.
We have of course many other continuing problems in our political economy ~ most notorious of which is the rotten state of our public finances and the continuous massive deficit finance that has ruined our paper currency and banking system ever since Indira Gandhi’s rule, coinciding with the start of Manmohan Singh’s career as an economic bureaucrat and Pranab Mukherjee’s as a politician in the early 1970s. Our acceptance of the democratic way has to an extent depended on our notoriously irresponsible macroeconomic policies ~ since every State and Union Government entity has been allowed to face no effective binding financial budget-constraint, and all its perverse decision-making can flow eventually into the swamp that is our Public Debt which constitutes the asset-side of the domestic banking system. India’s cardinal problem then becomes one of how to improve our macroeconomics without losing our democracy ~ something the Sonia-Manmohan-Pranab Congress, the BJP/RSS and the Communists are all equally clueless about.
Across our borders, our Pakistani and Bangladeshi cousins were cut from the same constitutional cloth as ourselves, namely the 1935 Government of India Act and the Montague-Chelmsford reforms before that. But after Jinnah’s death they refused to admit this and instead embarked on trying to write and implement a Constitution for a new Caliphate. The initial demand was “That the sovereignty in Pakistan belongs to God Almighty alone and that the Government of Pakistan shall administer the country as His agent”. In Rashid Rida and Maulana Maududi’s words, Islam becomes “the very antithesis of secular Western democracy. The philosophical foundation of Western democracy is the sovereignty of the people. Lawmaking is their prerogative and legislation must correspond to the mood and temper of their opinion… Islam… altogether repudiates the philosophy of popular sovereignty and rears its polity on the foundations of the sovereignty of God and the viceregency (Khilafat) of man.” (Rosenthal, Islam & the Modern National State, Cambridge 1965). Pakistan’s constitutionalists thus have faced an impossible battle to overcome the ontological error of assuming that any mundane government can be in communication with God Almighty.
Now Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah was as pious a Muslim as any but was far more modern in his 5 November 1951 speech to J&K’s Constituent Assembly: “You are the sovereign authority in this State of Jammu & Kashmir; what you decide has the irrevocable force of law”. Referring to the American and French Constitutions, he said the “basic democratic principle” was of the “sovereignty of the nation”. “We should be clear about the responsibilities that this power invests us with. In front of us lie decisions of the highest national importance which we shall be called upon to take. Upon the correctness of our decisions depends not only the happiness of our land and people now, but the fate as well of generations to come.”
Can a modern conclave of Pervez Musharraf, Nawaz Sharif, Benazir Bhutto and Chaudhry Iftikhar Ahmed decide or declare any better for Pakistan today? Or one of Khaleda, Hasina and whichever cabal of generals and bureaucrats happens to head Bangladesh at present?
If Pakistan and Bangladesh each chose to restart with the modern-minded constitutional example Sheikh Abdullah set more than a half century ago in J&K, they may find their political problems less severe in due course. It is a long road ahead.
Maharashtra’s Money: Those Who Are Part Of The Problem Are Unlikely To Be A Part Of Its Solution
first published in The Statesman April 24 2007, Editorial Page
By Subroto Roy
Mr Percy Mistry, according to the World Bank’s official chronology, worked there with Moeen Qureshi, and S Javed Burki. Mr Qureshi was doyen of Pakistani bureaucrats in Washington and something of a king-maker back home, briefly becoming Pakistan’s PM himself; Mr Burki briefly became Pakistan’s Finance Minister and is an author in the book Foundations of Pakistan’s Political Economy created by WE James and myself in the 1980s in the USA. Although Mr Mistry claims no special expertise about India’s monetary economy or public finances, he was appointed by Finance Minister P. Chidambaram to head an official committee that has given an opinion on a crucial monetary issue facing the country today, namely, the rupee’s convertibility. Mr Mistry apparently authored the report but resigned before its release, making it unclear who is responsible for its contents.
Mr Mistry has glossed over India’s present fiscal circumstances, said nothing of the limitless waste, fraud and abuse of the public purse the Sonia-Manmohan Government have been indulging in (like their Vajpayee-Advani predecessor) yet declared the rupee should be freed in 2008 ~ telling Business Standard a convertible rupee will allow people like “Ratan” and “Kumar” to raise capital in India for their foreign purchases, and not have to go to London as they must do now, poor things. All this in a report purporting to be a plan to make Mumbai an “international financial centre”, which is a different subject altogether.
Mr Mistry thus becomes a certifiable member of the “Dream Team” of Dr Singh, Mr Chidambaram, Mr Montek Ahluwalia, Mr Deepak Parekh and their big business/big labour/big media friends across political parties. Dreaming involves constructs in which normal logic and facts have no place. In the waking world, India is a labour-rich, capital-scarce country where wages are lower and interest-rates are higher respectively than in labour-scarce, capital-rich Western countries; hence India will be importing not exporting capital. In the real world too, Mumbai is not an off-shore island-resort outside India (like the so-called SEZs are going to be from a legal standpoint) but happens to be located in Maharashtra, whose public finances urgently require hard investigation and sober thought.
Now there used to be a “Bombay State” coinciding with the old Bombay Presidency plus “princely states” plus Marathi-majority districts of MP and Hyderabad and excluding Kannada-majority districts to Mysore. On May 1 1960, after much agitation, this became the new States of Gujarat and Maharashtra. There was talk of making Bombay city a Union Territory but the Marathis would have none of it. In fact, within a few weeks, Maharashtra reverted to calling itself “Bombay State” and it was not until the end of the year the Government of India officially declared it must be called Maharashtra.
The same quest for, or confusion about, cultural and political identity continues in recent times and may be at the root of the Shiv Sena’s erratic political behaviour which rocks Maharashtra politics so frequently. “Bombay” may be “Mumba Bai” or “Mumba Devi” but it had not been a Marathi town any more than Calcutta had been a Bengali town. Bombay’s traders and businessmen descended there while it developed after the decline of Surat, where the British initially came to trade in the 17th Century. Modern Bombay retains some of its “all-India” character and even today you cannot make money in its markets unless you speak Gujarati. Marathi-speakers have tended to wish Maharashtra was “Maratha-rashtra” reminiscent of the great Shivaji Bhonsla (1627-1680) but others have read the name only as “Great State”.
This continuing identity crisis had its most devastating costly impact through the Dabhol-Enron fiasco. As recently as March 4 2007, Chief Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh said frankly “We could not generate a single megawatt of electricity in the last 10 years due to the Enron issue”, adding demand for electric power had been growing in the State at 10% per annum.
Indeed, before the 2005-2006 nuclear or any other deal could be contemplated with the Americans, the US-India Business Council, the American business lobbyist (and recent guest and soon-to-be host of the CPI-M’s Buddhadeb Bhattacharya), insisted India pay up fully for the Dabhol-Enron fiasco. Maharashtra and its sovereign guarantor the Government of India, duly paid out at least $140-$160 million ($14-$16 crore) to each General Electric and Bechtel Corporation in “an amicable settlement”. It was only then that Dr Manmohan Singh could be hosted in the White House and in turn play host to President George W. Bush.
Without entering the intricacies of the fiasco, it may be still asked who was responsible. And in retrospect the finger must point both at the Mahajan-Munde BJP/ Thakeray-Joshi Shiv Sena, and at the Sharad Pawar Government and Manmohan-Montek Union Finance Ministry at the time. The BJP-Shiv Sena declared an intent to “throw Enron into the Arabian Sea” and thus vitiated the atmosphere with the Americans. Americans are shrewd and practical people in commercial matters and accounted for such contingencies in their deal-making, tidily earning their money anyway, winning the arbitration awards in due course. Maharashtra’s identity confusion was exemplified by Rebecca Mark having to visit Bal Thakeray before a policy flip-flop could be permitted.
If the basic technical cause Enron’s electricity became too expensive was that it was denominated in dollar prices and the rupee depreciated rapidly during and after the deal-making, then the financial responsibility for the fiasco must be ultimately traced to India’s Finance Minister in the early 1990s, namely Dr Singh, and his chief acolyte and Finance Secretary Mr Ahluwalia. Maharasthtra is not a sovereign country, and it was the Union Finance Ministry’s responsibility to oversee the necessary cost-benefit and project appraisal analyses, and these if properly done would have accounted for exchange-rate depreciation scenarios. It is no wonder the World Bank later refused to finance the project because they had done their studies better. The same kind of cavalier unprofessional attitude in spending scarce foreign moneys earned by India’s public has been displayed now more than a decade later by the Manmohan-Montek duo, though on a vastly larger scale, in regard to the planned purchase of nuclear reactors from Russia, the USA etc on a turnkey basis.
Maharashtra may be a Great State but its public finances are in as great a shambles as any other. The table for 2003-2004 (before the Enron payments were made) reveals the very high continuing public indebtedness, and the same pattern as the budgets of West Bengal and Uttar Pradesh described in these columns earlier. A closer look would reveal, e.g., that Rs 814.36 crore (Rs. 8.14 billion) were spent in collecting Rs1,205.97 crore. (Rs. 12.05 billion) of “Vehicle Tax”! There is much that Mumbai’s and Maharashtra’s and India’s citizens have to ponder over and act upon before serious thought can be put to restoring the integrity of India’s money. In that process, those who have been part of the problem are unlikely to be part of its solution.
Govt. of Maharashtra Finances 2003-04
EXPENDITURE ACTIVITIES: RsBn (Hundred Crore)
governance & local governance 18.19 2.58%
judiciary 2.96 0.42%
police (including vigilance etc) 19.81 2.81%
prisons 0.86 0.12%
bureaucracy 27.97 3.97%
collecting land revenue & taxes 42.25 6.00%
government employee pensions 26.36 3.74%
schools, colleges, universities, institutes 93.74 13.31%
health, nutrition & family welfare 23.42 3.33%
water supply & sanitation 10.22 1.45%
roads, bridges, transport etc. 12.96 1.84%
electricity 16.96 2.41%
irrigation, flood control, environ, ecology 70.79 10.05%
agricultural subsidies, rural development 41.30 5.86%
industrial subsidies 2.60 0.37%
capital city development 6.25 0.89%
social security, SC, ST, OBC, lab.welfare 25.40 3.61%
tourism 0.89 0.13%
arts, archaeology, libraries, museums 0.75 0.11%
miscellaneous -0.47 -0.07%
debt amortization & debt servicing 261.03 37.07%
total expenditure 704.22
tax revenue 285.52
operational income 35.49
grants from Union 22.70
loans recovered 4.82
total income 348.53
GOVT. BORROWING REQUIREMENT (total expenditure minus total income) 355.70
new public debt issued 317.02
use of Trust Funds etc 38.68
from author’s research and using C&AG data
First published in slightly abbreviated form as “A scam in the making” in The Sunday Statesman April 1 2007, Front page comment
A gigantic financial scheme is in the making. Will it come to be seen in future years as having been in fact a scam – indeed India’s scam of the 21st Century for which India’s unknowing masses will be made to pay for many generations? The scheme is mind-boggling in size as well as its sheer audacity. Bofors, Quattrochi etc amount to peanuts in comparison.
No less a personage than the Finance Minister of India, P Chidambaram, has openly praised the potential of this financial scheme. And he has done so in no less an open and transparent place than his latest Budget Speech to Parliament last February.
It is a scheme openly advocated and currently being developed by our Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh’s closest acolytes, Planning Commission head Mr Montek Singh Ahluwalia and HDFC head Mr Deepak Parekh, in collaboration with Reserve Bank Governor Dr YV Reddy and the Finance Ministry’s top bureaucrats. The PM himself has come close to endorsing it explicitly. And this PM is not an elected member of the Lok Sabha but holds office and acts as the executive agent of the UPA Chairperson and Lok Sabha Member from Rae Bareilly, Sonia Gandhi.
I hasten to add nobody in the BJP has objected to this financial scheme — in fact had the BJP been in power today instead of Congress, they would have been likely even more agreeable to the scheme given their close proximity to business lobbies and organized capital. As for the Communists, none of their JNU economics professors is technically competent enough to comprehend or recognize what is going on.
The scheme involves private companies “borrowing” India’s foreign exchange reserves from the Reserve Bank of India, allegedly for purpose of “infrastructure” creation — in collaboration with the American bank Citigroup, the American financial business, Blackstone Group, and possibly the American giant, GE Capital too. Mr Chidambaram took the unprecedented step of naming Mr Deepak Parekh as well as Citigroup and Blackstone in the text of his Budget Speech.
To begin to comprehend the nature of this scheme, we need to recall an earlier case.
Foreign exchange reserves of countries typically include foreign currency holdings as well as gold stocks. One of the biggest Wall Street scams of the 1980s-1990s involved private companies borrowing not countries’ foreign currency reserves but their gold reserves.
In that scam, it was not the Reserve Bank of India that was cheated but the Central Banks of Poland, Malaysia, Portugal and Yugoslavia. The New York financial company involved was a subsidiary of the Drexel Burnham Lambert Group. The Drexel parent went bankrupt on February 13 1990 and its subsidiary followed on May 9 1990.
A report on June 4 1990 by Leah J. Nathans (now Leah Nathans Spiro) in New York’s highly respected Business Week magazine said: “Central banks, those pillars of monetary virtue, lost $219 million ($21.9 crore) to an obscure commodities subsidiary called Drexel Burnham Lambert Trading Corporation”. The sum was small by American standards but it was “a big, big number” for the countries involved at the time.
What had these national central banks done? They had been lured into becoming greedy. They had been sitting on stocks of gold as part of their national reserves which they felt “just collect dust”. So they yielded to the temptation offered by the Drexel subsidiary of leasing the gold to private parties.
In Ms. Nathans’ words, “By leasing gold, a central bank earns a modest interest rate, ranging from less than 0.5% to 2.5%. Typically, the central bank consigns the gold to a dealer – say, for 90 days. The dealer can then lend the gold to a customer, at a higher interest rate. It may be a speculator, who hopes to repay the borrowed gold when the price falls, or a gold mine that wants to repay the broker with gold produced later.”
But the Drexel parent and subsidiary went bankrupt through bad financial decisions. Drexel’s Michael Milken went to jail. The Central Banks of Poland, Malaysia, Portugal and Yugoslavia were left empty-handed – and had to sue as creditors in New York’s courts trying desperately to get back the gold they had been lured into parting with. It would be unwise to take bets on how much of their gold they ever got back.
All the present PM’s men — Messrs Chidambaram, Ahluwalia, Parekh, Reddy et al in collaboration with one or two American financial companies – now have a scheme that will use not the RBI’s gold but its foreign currency reserves.
Mr Ahluwalia and Mr Parekh have made the outlandish claim that “India needs US$320 billion” (US 32,000 crore) by way of “investment for physical infrastructure” during the so-called “Eleventh Five-Year Plan”. (How many so-called “Five Year Plans” is India going to have incidentally? We had our “First Plan” when Manmohan Singh was a student at Punjab University. Stalin, who invented the “Five Year Plan”, died during that time, and even his old USSR has ceased to exist, let alone its “Five Year Plans”.)
That vast amount of “investment for physical infrastructure” is what Mr Ahluwalia says he knows India needs for his purported “9% growth rate” to be achieved. Where are the macroeconomic models and time-series data sets from him or his friends to back such assertions? There are none. None of the PM’s men, no one in the Finance Ministry or RBI or Planning Commission, nor any of their JNU economics professor friends or anyone else in Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata etc have any such models or data with which to back such assertions. Nor do the World Bank etc. It is all sheer humbug – all a lie. It is part of the mendacity and self-delusion that our capital city has been floating upon.
In any event, the RBI reportedly has “opposed the idea of deploying forex reserves for infrastructure development on the grounds that it will create monetary expansion”. But Mr Chidambaram’s Finance Ministry owns the RBI, and the Ministry has said “the RBI’s concerns had been taken care of, as the investments would be deployed only through a structured mechanism”. (Business Standard 23 March 2007, p. 3)
What is a “structured mechanism”? Mr Chidambaram, mentioning Citigroup and Blackstone Group specifically, said in his Budget Speech that Mr Deepak Parekh has “suggested the establishment of two wholly-owned overseas subsidiaries of India Infrastructure Finance Company Ltd with the following objectives: (i) to borrow funds from the RBI and lend to Indian companies implementing infrastructure projects in India, or to co-finance their External Commercial Borrowings for such projects, solely for capital expenditure outside India; and (ii) to borrow funds from the RBI, invest such funds in highly rated collateral securities, and provide ‘credit wrap’ insurance to infrastructure projects in India for raising resources in international markets. The loans by RBI to these two subsidiary companies will be guaranteed by the Government of India and the RBI will be assured of a return higher than the average rate of return on its incremental investment.”
You do not understand? Well, no one is supposed to. The most exquisite thievery occurs after all not in darkness but in broad daylight with everyone watching but no one able to see or comprehend anything. So let us return to elementary first principles.
What are foreign exchange reserves and why do countries hold them? It is quite simply answered. Consider the USA and Canada, each with its own dollar. Canadians want to purchase American goods and services, give gifts and make loans to American residents, and make investments in the USA. Americans want to do the same in Canada. Each has to use the domestic money of the other when it does so. If an American wishes to lend money to a Canadian or to purchase something from him, he receives Canadian dollar notes from the Canadian Government to make his Canadian transactions, handing over his American dollar notes instead. The American dollar notes he hands over become part of Canada’s foreign exchange reserves, held by its Central Bank. Roughly speaking, a country’s foreign exchange reserves are the residual foreign currency assets its central bank holds after all these transactions are carried out on both sides of the border.
In the US-Canada case, neither Government prevents its citizens from exchanging domestic money for foreign money. In India, our rupee has been inconvertible since about 1940. The average Indian cannot freely exchange his/her rupee-denominated assets for foreign exchange denominated ones even if he/she wished to. There has been some import-liberalisation in recent years but only someone with the political access of Mr Tata or Mr Birla can purchase foreign assets and foreign companies using their Indian money – because the rupee is inconvertible, any bad financial decisions they make in using their foreign assets will be implicitly paid for by the Indian public.
Now a country’s central bank, such as our Reserve Bank, is the custodian of its foreign exchange reserves. India’s reserves are supposed to have reached $195.96 Billion ($19,596 Crore) as of March 16 2007. Keep in mind we do not know why they have risen: they can rise merely because foreigners (including NRIs) have lent us more of their money, not because foreigners have bought more of our goods and services. In fact Business Standard yesterday 31 March 2007 said on its front page “external commercial borrowing” was “a major source of accretion” of India’s reserves.
Also keep in mind that the Reserve Bank has the duty to manage these foreign-denominated assets against which it has already issued Indian rupees. It might receive a small conservative income from the cash-management aspect of this but it may not risk them or place them in any jeopardy!
Yet the whole idea behind the Chidambaram-Ahluwalia-Parekh-Reddy scheme under discussion by the Sonia-Manmohan Government is that the RBI will “lend” some of the billions of Americans dollars in its custody to overseas subsidiaries of Indian companies – say, for example, to the Tatas who have now bought foreign “capital assets” of some US$ 12 Billion ($1200 Crore) from Corus without having anything near that kind of foreign income.
Such favoured Indian companies might then use these “borrowed” funds as collateral for other borrowings. In exchange, they will go about undertaking purported “infrastructure” projects in India. So much for the “structured mechanisms” being touted by Messrs Chidambaram, Ahluwalia, Parekh et al.
Before India’s public understands it, the schemers will shout (as they have done with the SEZ Act) that Parliament has passed it. The BJP will applaud with envy. The Communists might uncomprehendingly complain a little, and then be bought off with a sop or two that they do understand, like a little pro-China rhetoric or being let off lightly on Nandigram.
Now international institutions like the International Monetary Fund and the Bank of International Settlements officially exist to advise central banks to stay along the straight and narrow and to avoid all such mischief. Here is what the IMF explicitly warned about such schemes in its Guidelines for Foreign Exchange Reserve Management dated September 20 2001:
“Liquidity risk. The pledging of reserves as collateral with foreign financial institutions as support for loans to either domestic entities, or foreign subsidiaries of the reserve management entity, has rendered reserves illiquid until the loans have been repaid. Liquidity risks have also arisen from the direct lending of reserves to such institutions when shocks to the domestic economy led to the borrowers’ inability to repay their liabilities, and impairment of the liquidity of the reserve assets.
Credit risk. Losses have arisen from the investment of reserves in high-yielding assets that were made without due regard to the credit risk associated with the issuer of the asset. Lending of reserves to domestic banks, and overseas subsidiaries of reserve management entities, has also exposed reserve management entities to credit risk.”
Dostoevsky believed man could have evil intent. Socrates was more generous and said man does not do wrong knowingly. It is not impossible our Indian schemers have innocent intent and do not even realize how close they are to becoming scamsters, or are already in the grip of scamsters. But at least we are now forewarned: India faces a clear risk of being swindled of its foreign exchange reserves. Prevention is better than cure.
Uttar Pradesh Polity & Finance
A Responsible New Govt May Want To Declare A Financial Emergency
First published in
The Statesman Editorial Page, March 24 2007, www.thestatesman.net
By Subroto Roy
Uttar Pradesh goes to the polls beginning April 7. Nothing may succeed better in focusing the minds of its citizens and political candidates than some hard macroeconomic realities. Discussing UP’s public finances may be the first step to bringing cool rationality to the cauldron of its politics ~ consisting as it does of seemingly deep and irreconcilable divisions of religion, caste and personality.
UP shared initials of the old British “United Provinces of Agra and Oudh”, and in 1947 was mostly the same territory. It deserves better than to be known merely as our “Northern State”: UP has been India’s fulcrum, deeply affecting our history, culture and politics. There could have been today not merely a new Uttarakhand but also perhaps Agra, Bareilly (Rohilkhand), Jhansi (Bundelkhand), Meerut, Avadh (Ayodhya, Oudh), Kanauj, Varanasi etc.
History and politics
Each has had its history. Oudh was seen by the British before Dalhousie as a northern buffer for their Bengal possessions. Bareilly was “an important centre of disaffection” of Muslim soldiers against the British in 1857 and also where Hindus after Aurangzeb’s death in 1707 had “thrown off the imperial yoke” refusing to pay tribute to Delhi. The very idea of “Pakistan” was mostly a UP-invention. Long before Iqbal and Jinnah, Sayyid Ahmad Barelvi (1786-1831) initiated a mass migration of Muslims and created a theocratic principality in the NWFP (Tariqah-i-Muhammadiyah) which collapsed due to conflict between his Pashtun and North Indian followers. Pervez Musharraf’s family were frankly nostalgic during their India-visit, and indeed Pakistan’s Mohajirs long for fertile UP more than the arid country they in fact possess ~ even more than for J&K on which Pakistanis since Liaquat (UP’s most prominent Muslim legislator between 1926-1940) became fixated instead.
In the 1980s and 1990s, the “Ram Janambhoomi/Babri Masjid” dispute may have been mostly a gigantic, inchoate, incoherent national exercise in defining our identity: “Who are we?” or perhaps “Who are we not?” as modern Indians, questions that remain unanswered. Certainly, in 1908 the Imperial Gazetteer of India Vol XIX pp 279-280 reported: “After Babar had gained a footing in Hindustan by his victory at Panipat in 1526, and had advanced to Agra, the defeated Afghan house of Lodhi still occupied the Central Doab, Oudh, and the eastern districts of the present United Provinces. In 1527, Babar, on his return from Central India, defeated his opponents in Southern Oudh near Kanauj, and passed on through the Province as far as Ajodhya where he built a mosque in 1528, on the site renowned as the birthplace of Rama. The Afghans remained in opposition after the death of Babar in 1530, but were defeated near Lucknow in the following year.”
History books and doctoral theses should have been perhaps where all such old facts deserved to remain in a modern self-confident, self-aware India.
Today’s UP at more than 166 million people exceeds in population France and Germany combined. One in every six or seven Indians is from UP. The State has become notorious for its chaotic politics, its “history-sheeters”, its corruption, crimes, badlands, astrology and other superstition. Its popular power gets divided between Mulayam, Mayawati and the BJP: each the self-appointed spokesman of Muslims, “Bahujans” and Hindu upper castes respectively. Congress, once India’s grand old secular national party, has been side-lined in UP politics.
Yet UP’s pivotal role remains such that the healthiest development for Indian democracy today may be for the Lok Sabha Member from Rae Bareilly to close down 10 Janpath as a residence and office for herself, and live instead as an exemplary parliamentarian among the common people of her constituency, setting the example too for her son to do the same in Amethi. Their permanent departure from New Delhi, becoming prominent UP politicians instead, would be the desperately needed “tough love” required by the Congress Party ~ which finally, after many decades, would be compelled to grow up and elect a leadership for itself based on some real political principles and not mere sycophancy.
Focussing on UP’s Public Finances is the first constructive step towards a rational political economy arising in the interests of its many citizens. As with other States of our Union, it is not impossible to understand what is going on with UP’s finances, though it does take some serious effort. The State receives tax revenues, income from State operations (like bus fares etc), and grants transferred from the Union. Of these revenues, more than 70% arise from taxation. Of those taxes, about 45% is collected by the Union on behalf of the State according to the Finance Commission’s formulae; 55% is collected by the State itself, and about 50% of what the State collects is Sales Tax. On the expenditure side, some 43% has been going to repay the State’s debts plus interest owed on that debt. The remainder gets distributed as summarily shown in the table.
Audit and restructuring
As with the Union of India, as well as with other States like West Bengal, the wide difference between income and expenditure implies the Government must then issue new public debt, which typically has been a larger and larger sum every year, greater than the maturing debt being amortised or extinguished. The grave consequences of this will be obvious to any householder, and makes it imperative that calm, sober thought and objective analysis occur about UP’s financial condition and budget constraint. E.g., what is revealed at a higher level of detail is that in 2003-2004, Rs. 5.43 Bn (Rs 543 crores) were spent to collect Rs. 1.18 Bn (Rs. 118 crores) of land revenue! UP has also spent extraordinarily vast public resources (and World Bank loans) on electricity ~ yet its power supply remains dismal.
These kinds of facts may be enough for any responsible new Government of UP (perhaps even a “Unity Government”) to declare a financial emergency under Article 360 of the Constitution, followed by ordering the most stringent of audits of all government departments and projects using public resources as well as recognition of public assets, followed in turn by a restructuring of the public budget over a few years with the aim of cutting all waste, fraud and abuse, and directing public resources instead to areas of highest social usefulness.
The author is Contributing Editor, The Statesman
UP Government Finance 2003-2004
EXPENDITURE ACTIVITIES : Rs Billion (Hundred Crore)
government & local government
police (including vigilance etc)
collecting land revenue & taxes
government employee pensions
schools, colleges, universities, institutes
health, nutrition & family welfare
water supply & sanitation
roads, bridges, transport etc.
irrigation, flood cntrl., environ, ecology
agricultural subsidies, rural development
capital city development
social security, SC, ST, OBC, lab.welfare
arts, archaeology, libraries, museums
debt amortization & debt servicing
grants from Union
Govt. Borrowing Requirement:
(total expenditure minus total income) 420.67
new public debt issued
use of Trust Funds etc.
From the author’s research based on latest available data published by the C&AG of India
Fallacious Finance: Congress, BJP, CPI-M et al may be leading India to hyperinflation
First published in The Statesman, March 5 2007 Editorial Page Special Article www.thestatesman.net
It seems the Dream Team of the PM, Finance Minister, Mr. Montek Ahluwalia and their acolytes may take India on a magical mystery tour of economic hallucinations, fantasies and perhaps nightmares. I hasten to add the BJP and CPI-M have nothing better to say, and criticism of the Government or of Mr Chidambaram’s Budget does not at all imply any sympathy for their political adversaries. It may be best to outline a few of the main fallacies permeating the entire Governing Class in Delhi, and their media and businessman friends:
1. “India’s Savings Rate is near 32%”. This is factual nonsense. Savings is indeed normally measured by adding financial and non-financial savings. Financial savings include bank-deposits. But India is not a normal country in this. Nor is China. Both have seen massive exponential growth of bank-deposits in the last few decades. Does this mean Indians and Chinese are saving phenomenally high fractions of their incomes by assiduously putting money away into their shaky nationalized banks? Sadly, it does not. What has happened is government deficit-financing has grown explosively in both countries over decades. In a “fractional reserve” banking system (i.e. a system where your bank does not keep the money you deposited there but lends out almost all of it immediately), government expenditure causes bank-lending, and bank-lending causes bank-deposits to expand. Yes there has been massive expansion of bank-deposits in India but it is a nominal paper phenomenon and does not signify superhuman savings behaviour. Indians keep their assets mostly in metals, land, property, cattle, etc., and as cash, not as bank deposits.
2. “High economic growth in India is being caused by high savings and intelligently planned government investment”. This too is nonsense. Economic growth in India as elsewhere arises not because of what politicians and bureaucrats do in capital cities, but because of spontaneous technological progress, improved productivity and learning-by-doing on part of the general population. Technological progress is a very general notion, and applies to any and every production activity or commercial transaction that now can be accomplished more easily or using fewer inputs than before. New Delhi still believes in antiquated Soviet-era savings-investment models without technological progress, and some non-sycophant must tell our top Soviet-era bureaucrat that such growth models have been long superceded and need to be scrapped from India’s policy-making too. Can politicians and bureaucrats assist India’s progress? Indeed they can: the telecom revolution in recent years was something in which they participated. But the general presumption is against them. Progress, productivity gains and hence economic growth arise from enterprise and effort of ordinary people — mostly despite not because of an exploitative, parasitic State.
3. “Agriculture is a backward sector that has been retarding India’s recent economic growth”. This is not merely nonsense it is dangerous nonsense, because it has led to land-grabbing by India’s rulers at behest of their businessman friends in so-called “SEZ” schemes. The great farm economist Theodore W. Schultz once quoted Andre and Jean Mayer: “Few scientists think of agriculture as the chief, or the model science. Many, indeed, do not consider it a science at all. Yet it was the first science – Mother of all science; it remains the science which makes human life possible”. Centuries before Europe’s Industrial Revolution, there was an Agricultural Revolution led by monks and abbots who were the scientists of the day. Thanks partly to American help, India has witnessed a Green Revolution since the 1960s, and our agriculture has been generally a calm, mature, stable and productive industry. Our farmers are peaceful hardworking people who should be paying taxes and user-fees normally but should not be otherwise disturbed or needlessly provoked by outsiders. It is the businessmen wishing to attack our farm populations who need to look hard in the mirror – to improve their accounting, audit, corporate governance, to enforce anti-embezzlement and shareholder protection laws etc.
4. “India’s foreign exchange reserves may be used for ‘infrastructure’ financing”. Mr Ahluwalia promoted this idea and now the Budget Speech mentioned how Mr Deepak Parekh and American banks may be planning to get Indian businesses to “borrow” India’s forex reserves from the RBI so they can purchase foreign assets. It is a fallacy arising among those either innocent of all economics or who have quite forgotten the little they might have been mistaught in their youth. Forex reserves are a residual in a country’s balance of payments and are not akin to tax revenues, and thus are not available to be borrowed or spent by politicians, bureaucrats or their businessman friends — no matter how tricky and shady a way comes to be devised for doing so. If anything, the Government and RBI’s priority should have been to free the Rupee so any Indian could hold gold or forex at his/her local bank. India’s vast sterling balances after the Second World War vanished quickly within a few years, and the country plunged into decades of balance of payments crisis – that may now get repeated. The idea of “infrastructure” is in any case vague and inferior to the “public goods” Adam Smith knew to be vital. Serious economists recommend transparent cost-benefit analyses before spending any public resources on any project. E.g., analysis of airport/airline industry expansion would have found the vast bulk of domestic airline costs to be forex-denominated but revenues rupee-denominated – implying an obvious massive currency-risk to the industry and all its “infrastructure”. All the PM’s men tell us nothing of any of this.
5. “HIV-AIDS is a major Indian health problem”. Government doctors privately know the scare of an AIDS epidemic is based on false assumptions and analysis. Few if any of us have met, seen or heard of an actual incontrovertible AIDS victim in India (as opposed to someone infected by hepatitis-contaminated blood supplies). Syringe-exchange by intravenous drug users is not something widely prevalent in Indian society, while the practise that caused HIV to spread in California’s Bay Area in the 1980s is not something depicted even at Khajuraho. Numerous real diseases do afflict Indians – e.g. 11 children died from encephalitis in one UP hospital on a single day in July 2006, while thousands of children suffer from “cleft lip” deformity that can be solved surgically for 20,000 rupees, allowing the child a normal life. Without any objective survey being done of India’s real health needs, Mr Chidamabaram has promised more than Rs 9.6 Billion (Rs 960 crore) to the AIDS cottage industry.
6. “Fiscal consolidation & stabilization has been underway since 1991”. There is extremely little reason to believe this. If you or I borrow Rs. 100,000 for a year, and one year later repay the sum only to borrow the same again along with another Rs 40,000, we would be said to have today a debt of Rs. 140,000 at least. Our Government has been routinely “rolling over” its domestic debt in this manner (in the asset-portfolios of the nationalised banking system) but displaying and highlighting only its new additional borrowing in a year as the “ Fiscal Deficit” (see graph, also “Fiscal Instability”, The Sunday Statesman, 4 February 2007). More than two dozen State Governments have been doing the same though, unlike the Government of India, they have no money-creating powers and their liabilities ultimately accrue to the Union as well. The stock of public debt in India may be Rs 30 trillion (Rs 30 lakh crore) at least, and portends a hyperinflation in the future. Mr Chidambaram’s announcement of a “Debt Management Office” yet to be created is hardly going to suffice to avert macroeconomic turmoil and a possible monetary collapse. The Congress, BJP, CPI-M and all their friends shall be responsible.
First published in The Sunday Statesman February 25 2007, Editorial Page Special Article, www.thestatesman.net
There is urgent need for calm, sober thought, not self-delusion. Foreign trade, world politics are not what State Governments are constitutionally permitted to do.
By SUBROTO ROY
Mr Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee is fond of saying his hoped for industrialization plans will lead to jobs for “thousands” of unemployed young men and women emerging from West Bengal’s many schools, colleges and universities.
Now ever since JM Keynes’s time, economists have understood the phenomenon of unemployment quite well. Some unemployment is voluntary: where someone declines to accept a job at the prevailing wage or chooses leisure instead, e.g. withdraws from the labour-force in order to go to college or care for children or family or be involved in search for a better job. Some unemployment is seasonal, as in agriculture ~ where there often is “overfull” employment at harvest-time. Some unemployment may be frictional or structural, depending on dynamic unpredictable industrial or technological changes. In none of these cases is any large role defined for government investment using public resources, though there can be smaller roles like providing job-information, advice and training.
Keynes himself was concerned with systematic “involuntary” unemployment, where masses of people are willing but unable to find work at the going wage because there has been a general collapse of the market economy, as arguably happened in the 1930s in the Western countries. There has been no such situation in independent India.
And it is important to remember our labour markets are mostly unrestricted by State boundaries: unlike totalitarian China, we do not have internal passports in the country, and Indians are mostly free to work anywhere they wish to. Talk from CPI-M, Congress, BJP or other politicians of alleged Keynesian “multiplier” effects arising from government expenditure is mostly talk. And as for Sonia Gandhi’s “National Rural Employment Guarantee”, to the extent it was argued for at all by Amartya Sen’s disciples like Jean Drèze, the argument was not on Keynesian grounds but of a purportedly more equitable distribution of government expenditure.
What then is the Bhattacharjee Government supposed to be doing?
Chandrababu Naidu started a trend among Chief Ministers flying off to exotic foreign vistas, addressing international conferences and signing memoranda with foreign businessmen. But world politics, international relations and foreign trade are not what Indian State Governments are permitted by our Constitution to be engaged in doing. Nelson Mandela is a great man of history but Jyoti Basu’s Government had no constitutional right or business to gift him five million American dollars of West Bengal public money after he was released from jail in South Africa in 1990 by De Klerk.
Our Constitution is crystal clear that the legitimate agenda of India’s State Governments is something very mundane and wholly unglamorous: State Governments are supposed to be managing Courts of Law; the Police, Civil Order, Prisons; Water, Sanitation, Health; State Debt Service; Intra-State Infrastructure & Communications; Local Government; Liquor & Other Public Sector Industry; Trade, Local Banking & Finance; Land, Agriculture, Animal Husbandry; Libraries, Museums, Monuments; State Civil Service & Administration. In addition, “concurrent” with the Union Government are Criminal, Civil & Family Law, Contracts & Torts; Forests & Environmental Protection; Unemployment & Refugee Relief; Electricity; Education. It is relative to that explicit agenda that State Government performances around the country must be evaluated.
The finances of the West Bengal Government and those of every other State of the Union appear in a condition of Byzantine confusion. Even so, it is not impossible for any citizen to understand them with a little serious effort. The State receives tax revenues, income from State operations (like bus fares, lottery tickets etc), and grants transferred from the Union. Of the State’s total revenues, more than 80% arise from taxation. Of those taxes, about 30% is collected by the Union on behalf of the State in accordance with the Finance Commission’s formulae; 70% is collected by the State itself, and about 60% of whhat the State collects is Sales Tax. On the expenditure side, more than 60% goes in repaying the State’s debts as well as interest owed on that debt. The remainder gets distributed as summarily shown in the table. (What would be revealed at a higher level of detail is that e.g. Rs. 2.63 Bn is spent in collecting Rs. 9.93 Bn of land revenue!) The wide difference between the State’s income from all sources and its expenditures implies the State must then issue new public debt. That typically has been a larger and larger sum every year, greater than the amount of maturing debt being amortised or extinguished. The potentially grave consequence of this will be obvious to any householder, and makes it imperative that calm, sober thought and objective analysis occur about the State’s financial condition and budget constraint. There is no room for self-delusion, especially on the part of the Bhattacharjee Government. We are still paying interest on the money we borrowed to make Nelson Mandela a gift seventeen years ago.
Govt. of W. Bengal’s Finances 2003-2004
Rs Billion (Hundred Crore)
government & local government 8.68 1.68%
judiciary 1.27 0.25%
police (including home guard etc.) 13.47 2.61%
prisons 0.62 0.12%
bureaucracy 5.69 1.10%
collecting land revenue & taxes 4.32 0.84%
government employee pensions 26.11 5.05%
schools, colleges, universities, institutes 45.06 8.72%
health, nutrition & family welfare 14.70 2.84%
water supply & sanitation 3.53 0.68%
roads, bridges, transport, etc. 8.29 1.60%
electricity (mostly loans to power sector) 31.18 6.03%
irrigation, flood control, environment, ecology 10.78 2.09%
agricultural subsidies, rural development, etc. 7.97 1.54%
industrial subsidies 2.56 0.50%
capital city development 7.29 1.41%
social security, SC, ST, OBC, labour welfare 9.87 1.91%
tourism 0.09 0.02%
arts, archaeology, libraries, museums 0.16 0.03%
miscellaneous 0.52 0.10%
debt amortization & debt servicing 314.77 60.89%
total expenditure 516.92
tax revenue 141.10
operational income 6.06
grants from Union 18.93
loans recovered 0.91
total income 167.00
GOVT. BORROWING REQUIREMENT
minus total income ) 349.93
new public debt issued 339.48
use of Trust Funds etc 10.45
From the author’s research and based on latest available data published by the Comptroller & Auditor General of India
Dr Singh’s India, Buddhadeb’s Bengal, Modi’s Gujarat have notorious US, Soviet and Chinese examples to follow ~ distracting from the country’s real economic problems
By SUBROTO ROY
First published in The Sunday Statesman, Editorial Page Special Article, Jan 14 2007 www.thestatesman.net
AT a business meet on 12 January 2005, Dr Manmohan Singh showered fulsome praise on Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee as “dynamic”, “the Nation’s Best Chief Minister”, whose “wit and wisdom”, “qualities of head and heart”, “courage of conviction and passionate commitment to the cause of the working people of India” he admired, saying “with Buddhadeb Babu at the helm of affairs it appears Bengal is once again forging ahead… If today there is a meeting of minds between Delhi and Kolkata, it is because the ideas that I and Buddhadebji represent have captured the minds of the people of India. This is the idea of growth with equity and social justice, the idea that economic liberalization and modernization have to be mindful of the needs of the poor and the marginalized.”
With such support of a Congress Prime Minister (as well as proximity to Pranab Mukherjee), Mr Bhattacharjee could hardly have feared the local Congress and Trinamul would pose any threat in the 2006 Assembly Elections despite having more potential voters between them than the CPI-M.
Dr Singh returned to the “needs of the poor and the marginalized” at another business meet on 8 January 2007 promising to “unveil a new Rehabilitation Policy in three months to increase the pace of industrialisation” which would be “more progressive, humane and conducive to the long-term welfare of all stakeholders”, while his businessman host pointedly stated about Singur “land for industry must be made available to move the Indian manufacturing sector ahead”.
The “meeting of minds between Delhi and Kolkata” seems to be that agriculture allegedly has become a relatively backward slow-growing sector deserving to yield in the purported larger national interest to industry and services: what the PM means by “long-term welfare of all stakeholders” is the same as the new CPI-M party-line that the sons of farmers should not remain farmers (but become automobile technicians or IT workers or restaurant waiters instead).
It is a political viewpoint coinciding with interests of organised capital and industrial labour in India today, as represented by business lobbies like CII, FICCI and Assocham on one hand, and unions like CITU and INTUC on the other. Business Standard succinctly (and ominously) advocated this point of view in its lead editorial of 9 January as follows: “it has to be recognised that the world over capitalism has progressed only with the landed becoming landless and getting absorbed in the industrial/service sector labour force ~ indeed it is obvious that if people don’t get off the land, their incomes will rise only slowly”.
Land is the first and ultimate means of production, and the attack of the powerful on land-holdings or land-rights of the unorganised or powerless has been a worldwide phenomenon ~ across both capitalism and communism.
In the mid-19th Century, white North America decimated hundreds of thousands of natives in the most gargantuan land-grab of history. Defeated, Chief Red Cloud of the Sioux spoke in 1868 for the Apache, Navajo, Comanche, Cheyenne, Iroquois and hundreds of other tribes: “They made us many promises, more than I can remember, but they never kept any except one: they promised to take our land, and they took it.”
Half a century later, while the collapse of grain prices contributed to the Great Depression and pauperisation of thousands of small farmers in capitalist America in the same lands that had been taken from the native tribes, Stalin’s Russia embarked on the most infamous state-sponsored land-grab in modern history: “The mass collectivisation of Soviet agriculture (was) probably the most warlike operation ever conducted by a state against its own citizens…. Hundreds of thousands and finally millions of peasants… were deported… desperate revolts in the villages were bloodily suppressed by the army and police, and the country sank into chaos, starvation and misery… The object of destroying the peasants’ independence…was to create a population of slaves, the benefit of whose labour would accrue to industry. The immediate effect was to reduce Soviet agriculture to a state of decline from which it has not yet recovered… The destruction of the Soviet peasantry, who formed three quarters of the population, was not only an economic but a moral disaster for the entire country. Tens of millions were driven into semi-servitude, and millions more were employed as executants…” (Kolakowski, Main Currents of Marxism).
Why did Stalin destroy the peasants? Lenin’s wishful “alliance between the proletariat and the peasantry” in reality could lead only to the peasants being pauperised into proletarians. At least five million peasants died and (Stalin told Churchill at Yalta) another ten million in the resultant famine of 1932-1933. “Certainly it involved a struggle ~ but chiefly one between urban Communists and villagers… it enabled the regime to obtain much of the capital desired for industrialization from the defeated village… it was the decisive step in the building of Soviet totalitarianism, for it imposed on the majority of the people a subjection which only force could maintain” (Treadgold, 20th Century Russia).
Mr Bhattacharjee’s CPI-M is fond of extolling Chinese communism, and the current New Delhi establishment have made Beijing and Shanghai holiday destinations of choice. Dr Singh’s Government has been eager to create hundreds of “Special Economic Zones” run by organised capital and unionised labour, and economically privileged by the State. In fact, the Singur and Nandigram experiences of police sealing off villages where protests occur are modelled on creation of “Special Economic Zones” in China in recent years.
For example, Chinese police on 6 December 2005 cracked down on farmers and fishermen in the seaside village of Dongzhou, 125 miles North East of Hong Kong. Thousands of Dongzhou villagers clashed with troops and armed police protesting confiscation of their lands and corruption among officials. The police immediately sealed off the village and arrested protesters. China’s Public Security Ministry admitted the number of riots over land had risen sharply, reaching more than seventy thousand across China in 2004; police usually suppressed peasant riots without resort to firing but in Dongzhou, police firing killed 20 protesters. Such is the reality of the “emergence” of China, a totalitarian police-state since the Communist takeover in 1949, from its period of mad tyranny until Mao’s death in 1976, followed by its ideological confusion ever since.
Modern India’s political economy today remains in the tight grip of metropolitan “Big Business” and “Big Labour”. Ordinary anonymous individual citizens ~ whether housewife, consumer, student, peasant, non-union worker or small businessman ~ have no real voice or representation in Indian politics. We have no normal conservative, liberal or social democratic party in this country, as found in West European democracies where the era of land-grabbing has long-ceased. If our polity had been normal, it would have known that economic development does not require business or government to pauperise the peasantry but instead to define and secure individual property rights and the Rule of Law, and establish proper conditions for the market economy. The Congress and BJP in Delhi and CPI-M in Kolkata would not have been able to distract attention from their macroeconomic misdeeds over the decades ~ indicated, for example, by increasing interest-expenditure paid annually on Government debt as a fraction of tax revenues (see Table). This macroeconomic rot originated with the Indira Gandhi-PN Haksar capriciousness and mismanagement, which coincided with the start of Dr Singh’s career as India’s best known economic bureaucrat.
By SUBROTO ROY
First published in The Sunday Statesman October 22 2006, Editorial Page Special Article, http://www.thestatesman.net
Communists, socialists and fascists exist in the Left, Congress and BJP-RSS ~ but there is a conservative/”classical liberal” party missing in Indian democracy today
We in India have sorely needed for many years a serious “classical liberal” or “conservative” political party. Major democratic countries used to have such parties which paid lip-service at least to “classical liberal” principles. But the 2003 attack on Iraq caused Bush/McCain-Republicans to merge with Hilary-Democrats, and Blair-Labour with Tory neocons, all united in a cause of collective mendacity, self-delusion and jingoism over the so-called “war on terror”. The “classical liberal” or “libertarian” elements among the Republicans and Tories find themselves isolated today, just as do pacifist communitarian elements among the Democrats and Labour. There are no obvious international models that a new Indian Liberal Party could look at ~ any models that exist would be very hard to find, perhaps in New Zealand or somewhere in Canada or North Eastern Europe like Estonia. There have been notable individual Indian Liberals though whom it may be still possible to look to for some insight: Gokhale, Sapru, Rajagopalachari and Masani among politicians, Shenoy among economists, as well as many jurists in years and decades gone by.
What domestic political principles would a “classical liberal” or conservative party believe in and want to implement in India today? First of all, the “Rule of Law” and an “Efficient Judiciary”. Secondly, “Family Values” and “Freedom of Religious Belief”. Thirdly, “Limited Government” and a “Responsible Citizenry”. Fourthly, “Sound Money” and “Free Competitive Markets”. Fifthly, “Compassion” and a “Safety Net”. Sixthly, “Education and Health for All”. Seventhly, “Science, not Superstition”. There may be many more items but this in itself would be quite a full agenda for a new Liberal Party to define for India’s electorate of more than a half billion voters, and then win enough of a Parliamentary majority to govern with at the Union-level, besides our more than two dozen States.
The practical policies entailed by these sorts of political slogans would involve first and foremost cleaning up the budgets and accounts of every single governmental entity in the country, namely, the Union, every State, every district and municipality, every publicly funded entity or organisation. Secondly, improving public decision-making capacity so that once budgets and accounts recover from having been gravely sick for decades, there are functioning institutions for their proper future management. Thirdly, resolving J&K in the most lawful and just manner as well as military problems with Pakistan in as practical and efficacious a way as possible today. This is necessary if military budgets are ever going to be drawn down to peacetime levels from levels they have been at ever since the Second World War. How to resolve J&K justly and lawfully has been described in these pages before (The Statesman, “Solving Kashmir” 1-3 December 2005, “Law, Justice and J&K”, 2-3 July 2006).
Cleaning up public budgets and accounts would pari passu stop corruption in its tracks, as well as release resources for valuable public goods and services. A beginning may be made by, for example, tripling the resources every year for three years that are allocated to the Judiciary, School Education and Basic Health, subject to tight systems of performance-audit. Institutions for improved political and administrative decision-making are necessary throughout the country if public preferences with respect to raising and allocating common resources are to be elicited and then translated into actual delivery of public goods and services.
This means inter alia that our often dysfunctional Parliament and State Legislatures have to be inspired by political statesmen (if any such may be found to be encouraged or engendered) to do at least a little of what they have been supposed to be doing. If the Legislative Branch and the Executive it elects are to lead this country, performance-audit will have to begin with them.
The result of healthy public budgets and accounts, and an economy with functioning public goods and services, would be a macroeconomic condition for the paper-rupee to once more become a money that is as good as gold, namely, a convertible world currency again after having suffered sixty years of abuse via endless deficit finance at the hands of first the British and then numerous Governments of free India that have followed.
It may be noticed the domestic aspects of such an agenda oppose almost everything the present Sonia-Manmohan Congress and Jyoti Basu “Left” stand for — whose “politically correct” thoughts and deeds have ruined India’s money and public budgets, bloated India’s Government especially the bureaucracy and the military, starved the Judiciary and damaged the Rule of Law, and gone about overturning Family Values. While there has been endless talk from them about being “pro-poor”, the actual results of their politicization of India’s economy are available to be seen with the naked eye everywhere.
One hundred years from now if our souls returned to visit the areas known today as India, Pakistan, Bangladesh etc, we may well find 500+ million inhabitants still below the same poverty-line despite all the gaseous prime ministerial or governmental rhetoric today and projections about alleged growth-rates.
If the Congress and “Left” must oppose any real “classical liberal” or conservative agenda, we may ask if the BJP-RSS could be conceivably for it. The answer is clearly not. The BJP-RSS may pontificate much about being patriotic to the motherland and about past real or imagined glories of Indian culture and religion, but that hardly ever has translated concretely into anything besides anti-Muslim or anti-Christian rhetoric, or breeding superstitions like astrology even at supposedly top technological institutes in the country. (Why all astrology is humbug, and a pre-Copernican Western import at that, is because all horoscopes assume the Sun rotates around the Earth in a geocentric solar system; the modern West’s scientific outlook arose only after astrology had declined there thanks to Copernicus and Galileo establishing the solar system as heliocentric.)
As for a “classical liberal” economic agenda, the BJP in Government transpired to be as bad if not worse than their adversaries in fiscal and monetary profligacy, except they flattered and were flattered by the organised capital of the big business lobbies whereas their adversaries flatter and are flattered by the organised power of the big labour unions (covering a tiny privileged class among India’s massive workforce). Neither has had the slightest interest in the anonymous powerless individual Indian citizen or household. The BJP in Opposition, instead of seeking to train and educate a new modern principled conservative leadership, appear to wish to regress even further back towards their very own brand of coarse fascism. “Family Values” are why Indian school-children have become the envy of the world in their keen discipline and anxiety to learn – yet even there the BJP had nothing to say on Sonia Gandhi’s pet bill on women’s property rights, whose inevitable result will be further conflict between daughters and daughters-in-law of normal Indian families.
At the root of the malaise of our political parties may be the fact we have never had any kind of grassroots “orange” revolution. There has been also an underlying national anxiety of disintegration and disorder from which the idea of a “strong Centre” follows, which has effectively meant a Delhi bloated with power and swimming in self-delusion. The BJP and Left are prisoners of their geriatric leaderships and rather unpleasant ideologies and interest-groups, while the Congress has failed to invent or adopt any ideology besides sycophancy. Let it be remembered Sonia Gandhi had been genuinely disdainful of the idea of leading that party at Rajiv’s death; today she has allowed herself to become its necessary glue. The most salubrious thing she could do for the party (and hence for India) is to do a Michael Howard: namely, preside over a genuine leadership contest between a half-dozen ambitious people, and then withdraw with her family permanently from India’s politics, focusing instead on the legacy of her late husband. Without that happening, the Congress cannot be made a healthy political entity, and hence the other parties have no role-model to imitate. Meanwhile, a liberal political party, which necessarily would be non-geriatric and non-sycophantic, is still missing in India.
NEW FOREIGN POLICY? “Kiss Up, Kick Down”?
Seven phases of Indian foreign policy may be identifiable since Nehru; the current phase seems to involve subservience to the strong, jingoism otherwise
by Subroto Roy
First published in The Sunday Statesman, Oct 8 2006, The Statesman Oct 9 2006 Editorial Page Special Article, www.thestatesman.net
The outlines of a new tri-partisan Indian foreign policy may be becoming discernible. That it is “new” or that it commands near unanimity among the Congress, BJP and “Left” and their respective friends in the Indian media and political classes, does not make it sound or robust in any way. In fact, its basis in the history, geography and economics of India is wholly inadequate, and it is also entirely divorced from any clearly enunciated new Indian political ethics for the modern world.
The new policy, which may be fairly dubbed the Jaswant-Manmohan policy after the BJP and Congress politicians who have been its putative authors and leading practitioners, is as likely as not to lead to an India that is no longer a free decision-maker in any meaningful way in world affairs by 2047, one hundred years after Independence. Our great grandchildren may well be taught that for some decades in Indian history a sovereign unitary republic actually existed which then came to be effectively lost.
Indeed the new policy may amount to being less a coherent new doctrine of India’s role in international relations than a mere change in attitude on the part of politicians, bureaucrats and their intelligentsia friends: from seeming universally arrogant in the world to becoming pliant and subservient towards those world powers perceived (accurately or inaccurately) as strong, combined with a vainglorious jingoism towards all others. It is an application to international diplomacy and politics of the classic bureaucratic principle of “kiss up, kick down” in an organisation, and may reflect the fact the two main institutions the Mughals and British used to run their empires were the bureaucracy and military ~ both of which have grown and continued to run New Delhi (and Islamabad) afterwards, co-opting whatever domestic political development that has arisen. There is plenty of wishful waffling too about India becoming a “great power” or being a “swing state in the global balance of power”, and about how well the economy is supposedly doing ~ as if what Government spokesmen say about the economy is to be believed at face-value. Indian Leftists and their fellow-travellers ~ as great lovers themselves of bureaucracy, collectivist groupthink and propaganda on the USSR or PRC pattern, and fearful or envious of all individual criticism, creativity and achievement – have taken to the same principle like fish to water.
The first phase of Indian foreign policy was Nehruvian in that it began with Nehru’s Fabian misperception of Stalin’s USSR, and ended with the military debacle he led the country into at the hands of Zhou’s “human wave” armies in the mountains of Ladakh and NEFA.
A second phase was Kashmir-centric, overlapping with the first insofar as it may be traced to Karan Singh’s iniquitous dismissal of Sheikh Abdullah’s first Government, but really beginning after Nehru’s death with the Ayub-Abdullah summit, and being marked by Ayub’s 1965 attack in J&K ~ Shastri’s riposte reaching the Ichogil Canal signalled that no longer would war over J&K be confined to J&K.
A third phase was forced on India by the Pakistani civil war that led to Bangladesh’s creation, and was marked by the Indira/ Haksar alliance with Brezhnev’s USSR, as well as by Pokhran-I.
A fourth phase of Indian foreign policy may be identified in the late 1970s and 1980s, marked by rebellion of the fundamentalist Sikhs whom Indira and Sanjay Gandhi had provoked, which led in due course to her assassination. The turmoil that followed in Punjab and North India was financed by anti-Indian Sikhs from Vancouver,California and Britain, with gleeful help from the Pakistanis, and Indian diplomats had their hands full in trying to counter that phenomenon. It was during this phase of domestic Indian turmoil that New Delhi wholly missed the seismic changes occurring in the USSR, East Europe and international relations generally, and completely failed to predict its consequences for India.
The phase came to end when the Narasimha Rao Government (upon advice of a well-known communist cabal in the IFS and JNU) instantly showered praise on the anti-Yeltsin coup in August 1991. When Yeltsin returned to power, the new anti-communist Russians took their revenge on New Delhi, exacting hard dollars for the soft rouble-trade of friendlier times.
A fifth phase may be seen in retrospect as one of relative success.The main plank of Indian foreign policy in the late 1980s and early 1990s was to get Pakistan designated a “terrorist state” in American eyes, as well as to warn of the dangers of a Pakistani nuclear bomb. It had been prompted by the end of American involvement in the Afghan war, which caused the ISI to shift the jihadis to J&K, and the Indian policy was destined not to succeed. No matter how hard Kanwar Sibal tried in 1992-1993 as Minister-Political in the Washington Embassy to tell the Americans that their Pakistani friends were dangerous, he was destined to fail as the MEA had entirely failed to realise how far ahead the Pakistanis were in their lobbying power in Washington ~ the Pakistani super-elite has been entrenched among the K-Street lobbyists and in expensive real-estate along the Potomac River for more than two generations. Yet after the 9/11 attacks several years later, the Indians were able to look back at that fifth phase and say to the Americans, “We told you so”.
In the late 1990s came a short-lived sixth phase of Pokhran-II and the Lahore bus-trip, which may be credited as Vajpayee successes, and also contained the Kargil War and Kandahar hijacking, which were more dubious. This overlapped with the last and currently continuing seventh phase of Indian foreign policy with Jaswant Singh breaking the ice with the Americans when they had recovered from the fact the CIA’s failures included not foreseeing Pokhran-II; it coincided too with Osama bin Laden’s declarations of jihad against the USA. The Americans enlisting themselves on the side of the Northern Alliance to defeat the Taliban after 9/11 was beneficial from an Indian standpoint since Afghanistan had been effectively lost to secular Indian influence for two decades, and the Taliban had shown themselves no friends of India during the Kandahar hijacking.
But the BJP’s anti-Muslim thought processes quickly took over, as did its proximity to organised business lobbies. When Iraq was attacked and occupied in 2003, there was hardly a whimper from the BJP leadership, and instead their businessmen friends started to fly to Amman hopeful of “reconstruction” contracts. The Sonia/ Manmohan Congress/Leftist combine has effectively continued and expanded that trend, though now the business lobbies have been much more muted and subtle, especially in their backroom dealings and payoffs with respect to the nuclear deal. There is also an occasional burst of anti-Americanism from leftists though it is hard of course to beg for American foreign investment in Marxist-run areas while also being sincere in quaint street demos or agitprop.
Running through the new foreign policy is a fiction that it is driven by a new economic motivation to improve development and mass well-being in India. The bizarre idea of creating hundreds of so-called “Special Economic Zones” (reminiscent of 17th and 18th Century colonial fortifications) illustrates this. India’s ordinary anonymous masses ~ certainly the 850 million people entirely outside the organised sector ~ have little or nothing to do with any of this. Benefits will accrue only to the ten million Indian nomenclatura controlling or having access to the gaping exit holes to the outside world in the new semi-closed economy with its endless deficit finance paid for by unlimited printing of an inconvertible domestic currency.
It is as fallacious to think private investment from foreign or domestic businessmen will support public “infrastructure” creation as it is to think foreign exchange reserves are like tax revenues in being available for Government expenditure on “infrastructure”. Such fallacies are intellectual products of either those who know no economics at all or those who have forgotten whatever little they might have been once mistaught in their youth. What serious economics does say is that Government should generally have nothing to do with any kind of private business, and instead should focus on properly providing public goods and services, encourage competition in all avenues of economic activity and prevent or regulate monopoly, and see to it all firms pay taxes they are due to pay.
That is it. It is as bad for Government to be pampering organised foreign or domestic business or organised labour with innumerable subsidies, as has been happening in India for decades, as it is to make enterprise difficult with red tape and hurdles. Businessmen are grown ups and should be allowed to freely risk their capital and make their profits or their losses without public intervention.
An economics-based policy would have single-mindedly sought to improve the financial condition of every governmental entity in the country, with the aim of improving the provision of public goods and services to all 1,000 million Indians. If and when budgets of all governmental entities become sound, foreign creditors would automatically line up before them with loans to sell, and ambitious development goals can be accomplished. As long as public budgets (and public accounts) remain in an outrageous shambles, nothing can be in fact achieved and only propaganda, corruption and paper-money creation results instead. Whatever economic growth does occur is due to new enterprise and normal technological progress, and is mostly despite and not because of New Delhi’s bureaucrats (see “The Dream Team: A Critique”, The Statesman 6-8 January 2006).
The first aspect of the new Indian foreign policy has been for Government to become wholly ingratiating towards any and all “First World” members visiting India who may deign to consider any kind of collaboration whatsoever. The long line of foreign businessmen and heads of government having photo-ops with the Indian PM began with Vajpayee and has continued with Manmohan, especially when there is a large weapons’ or commercial aircraft or other purchase to be signed. The flip-side has been ministerial and especially Prime Ministerial trips abroad ~ from Vajpayee’s to a Singapore golf-cart immediately after commiserating Gujarat, to Manmohan receiving foreign honorary doctorates while still holding public office.
Subservience to foreign business interests in the name of economic policy extends very easily to Indian naval, military or diplomatic assets being used to provide policing or support services for the great powers as and when they may ask for it. Hence, Indian naval forces may be asked by the Americans to help fight pirates in the Indian Ocean, or escort this vessel or that, or India may be asked to provide refuelling or base facilities, or India may be requested to vote against Iran, Venezuela or whomever here or there. But there would be absolutely no question of India’s role in international politics being anything greater than that of a subaltern or comprador whose response must be an instant “Ji, Huzoor”. The official backing of the Tharoor candidacy was as futile and ridiculous as the quest for UN veto-power or the willingness to attend G-8 summits as an observer.
While subservience towards the First World’s business and military interests is the “kiss up” aspect of the new foreign policy, an aggressive jingoism towards others is the “kick down” aspect. One influential voice among the media friends of the new foreign policy states it as follows: “The search for `equity oil’ has been the single most important new element of Indian economic diplomacy in recent years… Equity oil raises India’s stakes in the stability of regimes or even individuals who preside over these resources… the big question is how far would India go in defence of `regime stability’ elsewhere? And if it’s assets fall into hostile hands, would India be prepared to consider promoting `regime change’?” Just as surely as a pacifist Fabian socialist Nehru misperceived Stalin’s USSR, New Delhi’s new capitalistic jingoists have misperceived the Cheney-Rumsfeld grab for “equity oil” and have even defined Bush-Blair adventurism as being “the side of the angels”. How they must love to want to project Indian military force ~ paratroopers in the Maldives perhaps, though they need to recall what happened with the LTTE too!
Multiple Jallianwalla Bagh massacres may have been occurring in front of us in Iraq, Afghanistan and Balochistan, and there may soon be an attack on Iran too. New Delhi’s new “kiss up, kick down” attitude has rendered India’s once-dignified and sober voice silent, our eyes closed or our face turned away.
The obvious alternative to bureaucratic “kiss up, kick down” would be “kick up, kiss down” loved by all individualists and anti-bureaucrats. In other words, it would be for India to take each case and circumstance in international politics on its merits; be seen to stand up seriously to the powerful in world politics wherever and whenever necessary; seek to protect those who may be vulnerable to international or other brutality in world affairs, while getting on properly with the mundane business of ordinary government and commerce at all other times. That mundane business may call for a gradual withdrawal of India from all or most of the fancy, corrupt international bureaucracies in New York, Washington, Geneva etc, focussing calmly but determinedly instead on improved administration and governance at home. Such was what Rajiv Gandhi was advised in January 1991 (see “Memos to Rajiv,” The Statesman 31 July-2 August 1991; Freedom First October 2001), when for one futile moment he even formed a peaceful bridge between the Americans and Saddam during the first Gulf War. The New Delhi establishment may be too intoxicated with power and insecure intellectually to be able to reflect on such sober alternatives.
Indian Money & Credit
First published in The Sunday Statesman, August 6 2006, Editorial Page Special Article, www.thestatesman.net
One rural household may lend another rural household 10 kg or 100 kg of grain or seed for a short time. When it does, it expects to receive back a little more than the amount lent ~ even if that little amount is in services or in plain goodwill among friends or neighbours. That extra amount is “real interest”, and the percentage of its value relative to the whole is the “real rate of interest”. So if 10 kg of grain are lent for two weeks and 11 kg are returned, an implicit real rate of interest of 10 per cent has been paid over that short period. The future is always less valuable than the present in the sense that 10 kg of grain today is worth something more than the prospect of the same 10 kg of grain tomorrow.
But loans may be made in terms of money rather than real units of grain, thus the change in the value of money over the period of the loan becomes relevant. If a loan of Rs 100,000 is made by a bank to a borrower for one year at a simple interest rate of 13 per cent per annum, and the value of money then declines at 8 per cent over the year, the debtor is paying real interest of just about 13 per cent-8 per cent = 5 per cent. The Yale economist Irving Fisher described how this monetary rate of interest equals the real rate of interest plus the rate of monetary inflation, while the great Swedish economist Knut Wicksell predicted inflation if the monetary rate fell below the real rate, and vice versa.
And there is another consideration too. A new cycle-rickshaw costs about Rs 5,000. A rickshaw driver who does not own his own machine has to pay the owner of the rickshaw a fixed rental of about Rs 15 per day. Now a government policy may want to see more cycle-rickshaw drivers owning their own machines, and allocate bank-credit accordingly. But some fraction of the drivers are alcoholics and hence are bad credit-risks, while others are industrious, have strong family lives and are good credit-risks. If a creditor is unable to distinguish between who is an alcoholic and who is not, credit terms will tend towards subsidising the alcoholic and taxing the industrious.
On the other hand, a creditor who knows each debtor individually will also know their credit-risks, and price individual loans to them accordingly. India’s credit markets, both rural and urban, have been segmented always into “formal” and “informal”, and remain so despite (or perhaps because of) much government intervention in recent decades.
Banks and the Reserve Bank of India operate in formal financial markets, but the informal credit market is where the real action is. For example, a mosaic-machine used in the construction business costs Rs 15,000 brand new and gets to be rented out at the rate of Rs 150 per day.
Someone with access to formal sector bank loans at say 13 per cent per annum, might borrow the Rs 15,000, buy a machine, rent it out, break-even within a few months and make a whopping profit afterwards. Everyone would thus hunger after subsidised formal sector bank loans, and these would be rationed quickly and then come to be allocated to people known to bank officials (like their own friends and relatives).
Rates of return on capital, i.e. real profits, are and always have been massively high in India, and that is what is to be expected because capital, both machinery and finance, is relatively scarce as a factor of production. Rates of return on labour, i.e. real wages, are on the other hand relatively low in India thanks to our vast population. For these reasons we have had for three centuries foreigners coming to India to invest their capital in enterprise and make a profit, while Indians have emigrated all over the world from Fiji to Britain to America in search of higher wages.
Now all of this is very elementary reasoning well known to serious monetary economists, yet it seems to have always escaped India’s monetary and fiscal decision-makers. For example, just the other day, the Finance Minister said in Parliament that all rural banks had been instructed to lend farmers credit at a 7 per cent (monetary) rate of interest, and failure to do so would lead to punishment. By the rickshaw example (in fact many cycle-rickshaw drivers are also marginal farmers), the FM did not wish to, and of course cannot in practice, distinguish between good and bad credit-risks among the recipients of such loans. If the value of money is declining by, say, 8 per cent per annum, a 7 per cent monetary rate is equivalent to a minus 1 per cent real rate. i.e., the FM would have done some Humpty Dumpty economics and caused the future prospect of holding Rs 1,000 tomorrow to be more and not less valuable than the certainty of holding Rs 1,000 today. It is inevitable there will be credit-rationing when credit is so massively subsidised, so the typical borrowing farmer will get some little fraction of his credit-needs at the official government price of 7 per cent per annum and then have to get the bulk of his credit-needs fulfilled in the informal market ~ at a price perhaps of 1 per cent-5 per cent PER DAY! The FM promising in his Budget to subsidise farm credit sounds nice on TV but may be wholly futile as a way of stopping farmers’ suicides.
The same kind of Humpty Dumpty monetary economics has been religiously pursued by the Reserve Bank of India for decades upon directions from its owner and master, the Finance Ministry ~ which in turn has always meekly followed the dictates of India’s unreasonable politicians of all parties. Formal sector interest rates in India have been for decades so artificially lowered that even if we use official figures measuring inflation, this leads to real interest rates being lower in capital-scarce India than in the capital-rich West! (See graphs). Negative or near-zero real interest rates in India’s formal financial sector coexisting with massively high profit rates in informal credit markets point to continuous processes of low risk profits being made by arbitrage between the two. That is why the organised private and public sectors seem so pleased with official credit policies ~ while every borrower in the informal credit markets always has suicide not far from his/her mind.
Other than Dr Rangarajan who once mentioned it, we have never had an RBI Governor who has wished to see the Reserve Bank of India constitutionally independent of the Government of the day, and hence dedicated to restoring the integrity of India’s money. Playing with the repo rate or other short term monetary rates is fun and makes the RBI think it is doing something as important as the US or UK central banks. Certainly the upward trend in such short term rates over the last few months is better than the nonsensical flip-flops previously. But it is small potatoes compared to the really giant variables which are all fiscal and not monetary in India. For example, Sonia Gandhi (as advised by another naturalized Indian, Jean Drèze, disciple of the Non-Resident Amartya Sen) insisted on a massive “Rural Employment Guarantee”; Manmohan Singh and Pranab Mukherjee have insisted on massive foreign weapons’ purchases and government wage increases; Praful Patel on massive foreign aircraft purchases; Arjun Sengupta on Scandinavian welfare benefits; Montek Ahluwalia on nuclear reactor purchases (so South Delhi will be able at least to run its ACs in 20 years’ time). All this adds endlessly to the stock of government paper being held as bank-assets, while the currency remains inconvertible (See e.g. The Statesman 30 October 2005, 6-8 January, 23 April 2006).The RSS/BJP and JNU/Left have been equally bereft of serious thought.
Tell any suicidal farmer that the Government of India has been borrowing larger and larger amounts every year just to pay intereston previously incurred debts; it may make him realise there are famous and powerful people who are even more unwise than himself and amount to effective suicide-prevention therapy. But do not tell him that they unlike himself have been playing with public money ~ or you may have the opposite effect.
Preface April 25 2009: This article of mine has become a victim of bowdlerisation on the Internet by someone who seems to support Dr Singh’s political adversaries. I should say, therefore, as I have said before that there is nothing personal in my critical assessment of Dr Singh’s economics and politics. To the contrary, he has been in decades past a friend or at least a colleague of my father’s, and in the autumn of 1973 visited our then-home in Paris at the request of my father to advise me, then aged 18, before I embarked on my undergraduate studies at the London School of Economics. My assessments in recent years like “The Politics of Dr Singh” or “Assessing Manmohan” etc need to be seen along with my “Assessing Vajpayee: Hindutva True and False”, “The Hypocrisy of the CPI-M”, “Against Quackery”, “Our Dismal Politics”, “Political Paralysis” etc. (Also “Mistaken Macroeconomics”, June 2009). Nothing personal is intended in any of these; the purpose at hand has been to contribute to a full and vigorous discussion of the public interest in India.
THE POLITICS OF DR SINGH
First published in
The Sunday Statesman Editorial Page Special Article, May 21 2006, www.thestatesman.net
Manmohan Singh matriculated during Partition, and earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in economics from Punjab University in 1952 and 1954. He then went to Cambridge to read for the BA over two years. The pro-communist Joan Robinson and Nicholas Kaldor were dominant influences in Cambridge economics at the time. Mark Tully reports Dr Singh saying in 2005 he fell under their influence. “At university I first became conscious of the creative role of politics in shaping human affairs, and I owe that mostly to my teachers Joan Robinson and Nicholas Kaldor. Joan Robinson was a brilliant teacher, but she also sought to awaken the inner conscience of her students in a manner that very few others were able to achieve. She questioned me a great deal and made me think the unthinkable. She propounded the left wing interpretation of Keynes, maintaining that the state has to play more of a role if you really want to combine development with social equity. Kaldor influenced me even more; I found him pragmatic, scintillating, stimulating. Joan Robinson was a great admirer of what was going on in China, but Kaldor used the Keynesian analysis to demonstrate that capitalism could be made to work.”
Now, in fact, what was going on in China at that time was the notorious catastrophe caused by Mao Zedong known initially as the “Little Leap Forward” (with a Stalin-like collectivization of agriculture) and then as the “Great Leap Forward”. Mao later apologised to China’s people for his ignorance of microeconomic principles, admitting he “had not realised coal and steel do not move of their own accord but have to be transported”. If what Robinson was extolling to young Indians at Cambridge like Amartya Sen and Manmohan Singh in the mid 1950s was Mao’s China, it was manifest error.
As for Kaldor, the Canadian economist Harry Johnson independently reported that “being a man who rolls with the times fairly fast”, Kaldor “decided early on that capitalism actually was working. So for him the problem was, given that it works, it cannot possibly work because the theory of it is right. It must work for some quite unsuspected reason which only people as intelligent as himself can see.” Like Robinson, Kaldor made a handful of fine contributions to economic theory. But in policy-making he exemplified the worst leftist intellectual vanity and “technocratic” arrogance.
Returning to India, Manmohan Singh was required to spend three years at Chandigarh. In 1960, he left for Nuffield College to work for an Oxford DPhil on the subject of Indian exports. He returned to Chandigarh as required by government rules for another three years, and in 1966 left again until 1969, this time as a bureaucrat at the new UNCTAD in New York run by Raul Prebisch. A book deriving from his doctoral thesis was published by Clarendon Press in 1964.
In 1969, Dr Singh returned to India becoming Professor of International Trade at the Delhi School of Economics. A technical survey of mainstream Indian economic thinking done by his colleagues Jagdish Bhagwati and Sukhamoy Chakravarty published in the American Economic Review of 1969, made footnote references to his book in context of planning and protectionism, but not in the main discussion of Indian exports which at the time had to do with exchange-rate overvaluation.
After Indira Gandhi’s March 1971 election victory, Dr Singh came to the attention of Parameshwar Narain Haksar, who launched his career in bureaucracy after inviting him to write a political paper “What to do with the victory”. Haksar had been an Allahabad lawyer married into the Sapru family. In London as a student he was a protégé of R. Palme Dutt and Krishna Menon, and openly pro-USSR. He was close to the Nehrus, and Jawaharlal placed him in the new Foreign Service. He was four years older than Indira and later knew her husband Feroze Gandhi who died in 1960. By May 1967 Haksar was Indira’s adviser, and became “probably the most influential and powerful person in the Government” until 1974, when there was a conflict with her younger son. But Haksar’s influence continued well into the 1990s. His deeds include nationalization of India’s banks, the Congress split and creation of the Congress(I), and politicisation of the bureaucracy including the intelligence services. High quality independent civil servants became politically committed pro-USSR bureaucrats instead. Professionalism ended and the “courtier culture” and “durbar” politics began.
Haksar and T. N. Kaul were key figures negotiating the August 1971 “Treaty of Peace, Friendship and Cooperation” with the USSR, which was to run 25 years except the USSR collapsed before then. Indira had hosted Richard Nixon two years previously, and the Nixon-Kissinger attempt to get close to Zhou En Lai’s China using Pakistan’s Z. A. Bhutto and Yahya Khan (coinciding with Pakistan’s civil war) were undoubtedly factors contributing to India’s Soviet alliance.
As Haksar’s protégé, Dr Singh’s rise in the economic bureaucracy was meteoric. By 1972 he was Chief Economic Adviser and by 1976 Secretary in the Finance Ministry. The newly published history of the Reserve Bank shows him conveying the Ministry’s dictates to the RBI. In 1980-1982 he was at the Planning Commission, and in 1982-1985 he was Reserve Bank Governor (when Pranab Mukherjee was Finance Minister), followed by becoming Planning Commission head, until taking his final post before retirement heading the “South-South Commission” invented by Julius Nyerere of Tanzania, from August 1987 until November 1990 in Geneva.
Dr Singh joined Chandrashekhar’s Government on 10 December 1990, when Rajiv Gandhi was Leader of the Opposition yet supporting Chandrashekhar “from the outside”, and left when new elections were announced in March 1991. The first time his name arose in context of contemporary post-Indira Congress Party politics was on 22 March 1991 when M K Rasgotra challenged the present author to answer how Manmohan Singh would respond to proposals being drafted for a planned economic liberalisation of India by the Congress Party authorised by Rajiv since September 1990 (viz., “Memos to Rajiv” The Statesman 31 July-2 August 1991 republished here as “Three Memoranda to Rajiv Gandhi”; “The Dream Team: A Critique” The Statesman 6-8 January 2006 also republished here; see also “Rajiv Gandhi and the Origins of India’s 1991 Economic Reform” published elsewhere here, and in abbreviated form in Freedom First, October 2001).
Rajiv was assassinated on 21 May 1991, resulting in Narasimha Rao (who had been ill and due to retire) becoming PM in June 1991. Dr Singh told Tully: “On the day (Rao) was formulating his cabinet, he sent his Principal Secretary to me saying, `The PM would like you to become the Minister of Finance’. I didn’t take it seriously. He eventually tracked me down the next morning, rather angry, and demanded that I get dressed up and come to Rashtrapati Bhavan for the swearing in. So that’s how I started in politics”. In the same conversation, however, Dr Singh also said he learnt of “the creative role of politics” from Robinson, and hence he must have realised he actually became politically committed when he began to be mentored by Haksar — Indira Gandhi’s most powerful pro-communist bureaucrat. Before 1991, Dr Singh may be fairly described as a statist anti-liberal who travelled comfortably along with the tides of the pro-USSR New Delhi political and academic establishment, following every rule in the bureaucratic book and being obedient in face of arbitrary exercise of political and economic power. There is no evidence whatsoever of him having been a liberal economist before 1991, nor indeed of having originated any liberal economic idea afterwards. The Congress Party itself in May 2002 passed a resolution saying the ideas of India’s liberalisation had originated with neither him nor Narasimha Rao.
Indeed, the 1970s and 1980s saw onset of the worst macroeconomic policies with ruination and politicisation of India’s banking system, origins of the Rs 30 trillion (Rs 30 lakh crore) public debt we have today, and the start of exponential money supply growth and inflation. Along with Pranab Mukherjee, Dr Singh, as the exemplary Haksarian bureaucrat, must accept responsibility for having presided over much of that. If they are to do anything positive for India now, it has to be first of all to undo such grave macroeconomic damage. This would inevitably mean unravelling the post-Indira New Delhi structure of power and privilege by halting deficit finance and corruption, and enforcing clean accounting and audit methods in all government organisations and institutions. Even the BJP’s Vajpayee and Advani lacked courage and understanding to begin to know how to do this, allowing themselves to be nicely co-opted by the system instead. Rajiv might have done things in a second term; but his widow and her coalition government led by Dr Singh, who exemplified India’s political economy of the 1970s and 1980s, appear clueless as to the macroeconomic facts, and more likely to enhance rather than reverse unhealthy fiscal and monetary trends.
Note: This article may have initiated the public debate on the economics of the Indo-US nuclear deal. It was published as a Special Article on the Editorial Page of The Sunday Statesman of April 2 2006 but it failed to be uploaded at the website http://www.thestatesman.net because there had been a fire on March 31 2006. The politicians who led the parliamentary debate in 2006 subsequently made reference to it.
See also republished elsewhere here e.g. “India’s Energy Interests”, “India and Energy Security”, “Need for Clarity”/”From Confusion to Clarity”, “Against Quackery”, “Jimmy Carter and the Indo-US Nuclear Deal”", NuksaanFaida Analysis”.
“Towards an Energy Policy”
by Subroto Roy
First published in
The Sunday Statesman, Editorial Page Special Article 2 April 2006
When was the last time we heard a thorough, well informed debate in Parliament about India’s long-term energy needs and policy-alternatives? The answer is never. Just as Pakistan tends to be run by Islamabad’s generals, we tend to be run by New Delhi’s bureaucrats; both are a legacy of the Raj which was run by small numbers of pompous civil servants and soldiers. Bureaucrats keep as much decision-making information as they can to themselves, give it to Parliament only under duress and then too in garbled opaque form, and share it voluntarily with the public never at all. A bureaucrat of conscience who shares vital information transparently becomes a “whistleblower”, and may risk his/her life and career because assorted mafias invariably surround all government contracting, and, like vampire bats, cannot stand the light of day shed upon them.
The problem with the Manmohan/Montek deal-making with the USA on behalf of India’s people has less to do with rational assessments not having been made of the relative costs and benefits of e.g. nuclear/fossil fuel/renewable energy, as it has to do with the fact it reflects the same lack of transparency (and is accompanied by the same politically correct propaganda) as has existed in other policy-making – like the $12 billion worth of commercial aircraft from Boeing and Airbus bought for our bankrupt nationalized airlines, or spending untold billions of borrowed dollars on new weapons from France, Russia, Britain or whomever to fight unknown enemies in unimagined wars, or throwing newly printed paper-money at every government project that any fool or knave cares to mention.
To be fair, the UPA/Communist dispensation of the public’s largesse is no worse than that of the NDA/RSS. Both are part of New Delhi’s own “Inside-the-Beltway” syndrome, and turn up at the same celebrity wedding-receptions and iftehar parties. Neither minds too much when the other is in power so long as they can keep their government accommodation. Our fundamental political problem may be the absence of any serious party of Left or of Right which is secular, scientific, liberal, nationalist, clean, law-abiding, and fiscally prudent.
Since no national debate on energy-policy has been offered by New Delhi, ordinary citizens will have to create such a debate for themselves. What follows constitutes a few of the barest facts needed to start such an analysis of India’s alternative energy scenarios and their respective costs.
Hydroelectric power does not involve burning any fuels. Instead, the gravitational force of the movement of water from the mountains to the oceans is harnessed to generate electricity. But hydroelectric projects (like the Narmada Dam) can displace people, who must be then compensated and resettled. Burning of organic “fossil fuels” like coal, gas and oil, causes atmospheric oxygen to turn into carbon dioxide, which may affect climate in unknown ways. In 2004, the International Energy Agency’s estimated the new energy capacity worldwide required by rising economic growth in the year 2020 will derive 1400 GW from burning coal (half of it in China and India), 470 GW from burning oil, 430GW from hydro, and 400 GW from renewable sources (like solar or wind power). On the Agency’s assumptions, gas prices will remain low, making construction of new nuclear plants for electricity uneconomical. By 2030, new energy expected to be required worldwide is 4700GW, of which only 150GW is expected from new nuclear plants — which will be replacing existing nuclear plants due to be retired. (Such is the scenario before any new nuclear plants were going to be exported by e.g. USA to India).
Now the fission of an atom of uranium produces perhaps 10 million times the energy produced by combustion of an atom of carbon from coal. Gas and fossil fuels may be cheap and in plentiful supply worldwide for generations to come but the potential for cheap energy from nuclear sources seems practically infinite. Nuclear power can arise from fission of radioactive uranium, plutonium or thorium. India has perhaps 8 million tonnes of monazite deposits along the seacoast of which half may be mined, to yield 225,000 tonnes of thorium metal; we have one innovatively designed thorium reactor under construction. But almost all nuclear energy worldwide today arises from uranium, and there are practically unlimited reserves of that. There is so much uranium in sea water that mankind’s total electricity needs can be satisfied for 7 million years. There is more energy in the uranium impurity present in coal than can arise from actually burning the coal. There is plenty of uranium in granite. None of these sources will become profitable for centuries because there is so much cheap uranium possible to be extracted from conventional ores. In 2001, uranium cost about US$20 per kg or so, translating to US$0.0004 per kwh of electricity. The known reserves of uranium that can be profitably sold at $120 per kg are enough for at least a hundred years. Design improvements in reactors will also improve productivity; e.g. “fast breeder” reactors “breed” more fissile material than they use, and may get 100 times as much energy from a kilogram of uranium as existing reactors do. India has about 95,000 tonnes of uranium metal which may be mined to yield about 61,000 tonnes net for power generation.
Natural uranium is 99.3 percent of the U-238 isotope and 0.7 percent of the radioactive U-235 isotope. Nuclear power requires “enriched uranium” or “yellow cake” in which U-235 has been increased from 0.7 percent to 4 to 5 percent, and that “separation” process is expensive. (Nuclear bombs require highly enriched uranium with more than 90% of U-235). Yellow cake is broken into small pieces, put in metal rods placed in bundles, which are then bombarded by neutrons causing fission. In nuclear bombs, the fission occurs in a small space, and the blast that results kills all life for miles around it by sucking up all the atmospheric oxygen, besides causing firestorms, shock waves and radioactivity. In a civilian reactor, the energy released turns water into steam, which moves turbines powering the generation of electricity. However, while there is no carbon dioxide “waste” as in burning fossil fuels, the “spent” rods of nuclear fuel and other products constitute grave radioactive waste, which is hard if not impossible to dispose of. Many countries like the USA just bury their nuclear waste in remote thinly populated desert areas.
Rational choice between energy sources depends on costs determined by history and geography. France has 59 of the 441 or so civilian nuclear reactors in the world, and generates 78% of its electricity from them, 22% from hydroelectricity. Japan has 54 reactors and generates 34% of its electricity from them. The USA has 104 reactors but generates only 20% of its electricity from them, principally because it has vast alternative sources of energy. In India, installed power generating capacity as of 2003 was 107,533.3MW, of which 71% was from burning fossil fuels. Hydroelectric potential is 150,000MWe. In 2003, total installed hydro capacity with utilities was 26,910MWe (about 18% of the potential). More than 70% of India’s hydroelectric potential is in the North and NorthEast regions put together.
India’s 14 nuclear reactors produce less than 4% of the total electricity being consumed in the country. Even if all other sources of electricity remained constant, and our civilian nuclear capacity alone was made to grow by 100% under the Manmohan-Montek deal with the USA, that would mean less than 8% of total Indian electricity produced. So the first question India’s citizens must ask is why such a fuss has been created about the Manmohan-Montek deal with America. Clearly, the Government of India must come wholly clean with all the facts and analysis it has available on the whole problem of India’s energy future in all its complexity and detail. If and when it does so, we may simply find that the fault lies not in the stars but in ourselves. Whether the US-India nuclear deal stands or falls, it will have scant effect in satisfying the country’s energy needs.
COMMUNISTS & CONSTITUTIONS
By SUBROTO ROY
first published in The Sunday Statesman, Editorial Page, Special Article,
January 22 2006 www.thestatesman.net
Constitutions and communists do not go together. The most glaring example comes from Russia — the Motherland not only of modern communism but also of great brave individual souls like Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn and Andrei Sakharov, and the many other men and women who struggled to defeat communism there over seven decades. Before Russia managed to liberate herself from communism — i.e. before the Communist Party of the Soviet Union began under Mikhail Gorbachev and Boris Yeltsin to liberate itself from itself in the late 1980s — the only genuine elections that ever occurred in the country were to the Constituent Assembly of November 1917.
That Constituent Assembly was a multiparty legislative body and it happened to have a large anti-Bolshevik majority. It met only once in January 1918 and was destroyed under Lenin immediately because it quite naturally refused to adopt Bolshevik proposals. Under the Czar, the “Constitutional Democratic Party” (the “Cadets”), formed in 1905, “constituted the most dangerous ranks of revolution”. Under the government of the proletariat, the very same Cadet Party represented “the most dangerous ranks of reaction” (Solzhenitsyn). Constitutionalists inevitably end up battling both the Fascists of the Right and the Communists of the Left. As Hannah Arendt made clear, the organisation of totalitarian governments whether of Hitler’s Germany or Stalin’s USSR or Mao’s China were remarkably similar in nature. Upon seizing power in November 1917, Russia’s Bolsheviks attacked the constitutionalists first, outlawing the Cadet Party and arresting its members, and doing the same to students, workers and soldiers associated with the “Alliance for the Constituent Assembly”.
This is not a coincidence. Communists and fascists are powered by instincts of grabbing State political power for themselves any which way they can, in order to impose by brute force on everyone else the rather shoddy obsolete ideologies they subscribe to themselves. Karl Marx himself most famously said the words “I am not a Marxist”. Communists and fascists cannot stand the idea of the anonymous individual citizen standing up on his or her own; their instinct is one which cannot attribute credit to the individual person for any good that may be done, instead purloining it into a fake “collective” effort. Similarly, errors cannot be simply acknowledged, and instead responsibility is diffused all around until nobody remembers who said or did what or when, and all history becomes a jumble.
Every great scientific and artistic achievement has been an expression of individual genius, often against the reactionary collective will. And constitutions from Magna Carta onwards have been built on the idea of protecting the anonymous, powerless individual citizen against the violent arbitrary power of the established State and its comprador organisations. Britain and America may have contributed their share of evil to world history but they have made up for at least some of it by pioneering Anglo-Saxon constitutional jurisprudence. It may be no coincidence Britain and America have been home to the greatest outpourings of human creativity and invention in modern times, from the steam engine to the Internet.
In fact it has been a singularly American contribution to pioneer the very idea that parliamentary majorities themselves need to be restrained from their own baser proclivities. In 1767, before America had herself become free from British rule, the British Parliament once issued a declaration that a parliamentary majority could pass any law it saw fit. It was greeted with an outcry of horror in Britain’s American colonies. Patrick Henry of Virginia — later famous for his cry “Give me Liberty or give me Death” — led the battle for the anonymous free individual citizen against the arbitrary power that comes to be represented by the herd or mob instincts even of elected parliamentary majorities. Constitutions are written to protect parliaments and peoples from themselves.
The philosopher John Wisdom, who translated the subtle work of Wittgenstein and Freud into normal idioms, once said: “Sometimes a society acts as if all power lay in the hands of the most babyish and animal members, and sometimes as if all power lay in the hands of strict old men, and sometimes it acts more as a whole — mostly when there’s a war on. Sometimes a man is not himself and acts as if a babyish or cunning animal had gained control — that’s the id — sometimes as if an exacting parent, a sarcastic schoolmaster, or an implacable deity possessed him — that’s the super-ego. Sometimes a man is more himself and acts more as a whole, a new whole which is not a combination but a synthesis of the id and the super-ego. Some are constantly at the mercy of the id, some are slaves to the super-ego, and in some first one and then the other gains an unhappy victory in a continual struggle, and in some conflict and control have vanished into cooperation…”
Similarly, we may say that political processes in any country appear to often give play to the most “babyish” and “cunning animal” instincts of the society, while at other times the “strict old men” or “exacting parent” take over. The constant struggle of political reasonableness is to find the rational, normal national self that rests in between.
India at present has been set upon an unproductive and pointless course of inevitable Constitutional collision between Parliament and the Supreme Court. That course has been singly set by the present Speaker even though every attempt is being made now to diffuse his responsibility for the situation that has arisen, so that soon nobody will be able to remember exactly what happened or why. The incumbent Speaker, instead of being wholly self-effacing as called for by the job-requirements of the high and grave office he holds, has remained too much of a normal parliamentary advocate. Before grave irreparable damage comes to be done to India’s Parliamentary and Constitutional traditions, he needs to return at once to the Front Benches of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) as a distinguished senior Member of the House, and from there make whatever arguments he wishes about Parliament’s rights under the Constitution. The high self-effacing office of the Speaker is not from where such arguments as he has been making should be made — unless India’s Parliament and Constitution are soon to be thrown into the dustbin for ever (as has similarly happened for half a century across the border with our Pakistani cousins).
The incumbent Speaker is right that the Supreme Court does not oversee Parliament. The Supreme Court oversees something greater than Parliament, namely, India’s Constitution. Parliament, its Speaker, its Prime Minister, the President of India, and the Supreme Court itself are all creatures of the Constitution. However, the Constitution of India that was adopted on 26 January 1950 is not sui generis a creature of itself. It is the outcome of a clear and well-known constitutional history which has among its modern milestones the Government of India Act of 1935, and thence all the ancient milestones of Anglo-American constitutional jurisprudence going back to Magna Carta. And India’s Supreme Court — sitting not in any of its normal division benches but as a Constitutional Bench — does indeed have jurisdiction, indeed it has sole jurisdiction, over whether India’s Constitution is being made to suffer crimes or misdemeanours at the hands of India’s Government or Parliament of the day. For the Speaker to decline to receive a notice from the High Court is an irrelevancy; many people who are served notices ignore them; it does not reduce jurisdiction by an iota. An “All-Party” meeting of MPs can rail all it wants against the Supreme Court — even the whole of the present Parliament can pass as many unanimous resolutions as they want against the Supreme Court. They will only make themselves look silly and petulant in the eyes of history. As for the BJP Opposition in particular, the present situation may make it perfectly clear that there is not among them a single, principled, liberal constitutionalist hidden in their proto-fascistic ranks.
The Dream Team: A Critique
by Subroto Roy
First published in The Statesman and The Sunday Statesman, Editorial Page Special Article, January 6,7,8 2006 www.thestatesman.net
(Author’s Note: Within a few weeks of this article appearing, the Dream Team’s leaders appointed the so-called Tarapore 2 committee to look into convertibility — which ended up recommending what I have since called the “false convertibility” the RBI is presently engaged in. This article may be most profitably read along with other work republished here: “Rajiv Gandhi and the Origins of India’s 1991 Economic Reform”, “Three Memoranda to Rajiv Gandhi”, “”Indian Money & Banking”, “Indian Money & Credit” , “India’s Macroeconomics”, “Fiscal Instability”, “Fallacious Finance”, “India’s Trade and Payments”, “Our Policy Process”, “Against Quackery”, “Indian Inflation”, etc)
1. New Delhi’s Consensus: Manmohantekidambaromics
Dr Manmohan Singh has spoken of how pleasantly surprised he was to be made Finance Minister in July 1991 by PV Narasimha Rao. Dr Singh was an academic before becoming a government economic official in the late 1960s, rising to the high office of Reserve Bank Governor in the 1980s. Mr Montek Singh Ahluwalia now refers to him as “my boss” and had been his Finance Secretary earlier. Mr Ahluwalia was a notable official in the MacNamara World Bank before being inducted a senior government official in 1984. Mr P Chidambaram was PVNR’s Commerce Minister, and later became Finance Minister in the Deve Gowda and Gujral Governments. Mr Chidamabaram is a Supreme Court advocate with an MBA from Harvard’s Business School. During 1998-2004, Dr Singh and Mr Chidambaram were in Opposition but Mr Ahluwalia was Member-Secretary of the Vajpayee Planning Commission. Since coming together again in Sonia Gandhi’s United Progressive Alliance, they have been flatteringly named the “Dream Team” by India’s pink business newspapers, a term originally referring to some top American basketball players.
Based on pronouncements, publications and positions held, other members or associates of the “Dream Team” include Reserve Bank Governor Dr YV Reddy; his predecessor Dr Bimal Jalan; former PMO official Mr NK Singh, IAS; Chief Economic Advisers Dr Shankar Acharya and Dr Ashok Lahiri; RBI Deputy Governor Dr Rakesh Mohan; and others like Dr Arvind Virmani, Dr Isher Ahluwalia, Dr Parthasarathi Shome, Dr Vijay Khelkar, Dr Ashok Desai, Dr Suman Bery, Dr Surjit Bhalla, Dr Amaresh Bagchi, Dr Govind Rao. Honorary members include Mr Jaswant Singh, Mr Yashwant Sinha, Mr KC Pant and Dr Arun Shourie, all economic ministers during the Vajpayee premiership. Institutional members include industry chambers like CII and FICCI representing “Big Business”, and unionised “Big Labour” represented by the CPI, CPI(M) and prominent academics of JNU. Mr Mani Shankar Aiyar joins the Dream Team with his opinion that a gas pipeline is “necessary for the eradication of poverty in India”. Mr Jairam Ramesh explicitly claimed authoring the 1991 reform with Mr Pranab Mukherjee and both must be members (indeed the latter as Finance Minister once had been Dr Singh’s boss). Dr Arjun Sengupta has claimed Indira Gandhi started the reforms, and he may be a member too. External members include Dr Jagdish Bhagwati, Dr. TN Srinivasan, Dr Meghnad Desai, Dr Vijay Joshi, Mr Ian Little, Dr Anne O. Krueger, Dr John Williamson, IMF Head Dr R Rato, and many foreign bank analysts who deal in Bombay’s markets. Harvard’s Dr Larry Summers joins with his statement while US Treasury Secretary in January 2000 that a 10% economic growth rate for India was feasible. His Harvard colleague Dr Amartya Sen — through disciples like Dr Jean Dreze (adviser to Sonia Gandhi on rural employment) — must be an ex officio member; as an old friend, the Prime Minister launched Dr Sen’s recent book while the latter has marked Dr Singh at 80% as PM. Media associates of the Dream Team include editors like Mr Aroon Purie, Mr Vinod Mehta, Dr Prannoy Roy, Mr TN Ninan, Mr Vir Sanghvi and Mr Shekhar Gupta, as well as the giddy young anchors of what passes for news and financial analysis on cable TV.
This illustrious set of politicians, government officials, economists, journalists and many others have come to define what may be called the “New Delhi Consensus” on contemporary India’s economic policy. While it is unnecessary everyone agree to the same extent on every aspect — indeed on economic policy the differences between the Sonia UPA and Vajpayee NDA have had to do with emphasis on different aspects, each side urging “consensus” upon the other — the main factual and evaluative claims and policy-prescriptions of the New Delhi Consensus may be summarised as follows:
A: “The Narasimha Rao Government in July 1991 found India facing a grave balance of payments crisis with foreign exchange reserves being very low.”
B: “A major cause was the 1990-1991 Gulf War, in its impact as an exogenous shock on Indian migrant workers and oil prices.”
C: “The Dream Team averted a macroeconomic crisis through “structural adjustment” carried out with help of the IMF and World Bank; hence too, India was unaffected by the 1997 ‘Asian crisis’”.
D: “The PVNR, Deve Gowda, Gujral and Vajpayee Governments removed the notorious license-quota-permit Raj.”
E: “India’s measurable real economic growth per capita has been raised from 3% or lower to 7% or more.”
F: “Foreign direct investment has been, relative to earlier times, flooding into India, attracted by lower wages and rents, especially in new industries using information technology.”
G: “Foreign financial investment has been flooding into India too, attracted by India’s increasingly liberalised capital markets, especially a liberalised current account of the balance of payments.”
H: “The apparent boom in Bombay’s stock market and relatively large foreign exchange reserves bear witness to the confidence foreign and domestic investors place in India’s prospects.”
I: “The critical constraint to India’s future prosperity is its “infrastructure” which is far below what foreign investors are used to in other countries elsewhere in Asia.”
J: “It follows that massive, indeed gargantuan, investments in highways, ports, airports, aircraft, city-flyovers, housing-estates, power-projects, energy exploration, gas pipelines, etc, out of government and private resources, domestic and foreign, is necessary to remove remaining “bottlenecks” to further prosperity for India’s masses, and these physical constructions will cause India’s economy to finally ‘take off’.”
K: “India’s savings rate (like China’s) is exceptionally high as is observable from vast expansion of bank-deposits, and these high (presumed) savings, along with foreign savings, will absorb the gargantuan investment in “infrastructure” without inflation.”
L: “Before the gargantuan macroeconomic investments bear the fruits of prosperity, equally large direct transfer payments also must be made from the Government to prevent mass hunger and/or raise nominal incomes across rural India, while existing input or other subsidies to producers, especially farmers, also must continue.”
M: “While private sector participants may increasingly compete via imports or as new entrants in industries where the public sector has been dominant, no bankruptcy or privatisation must be allowed to occur or be seen to occur which does not provide public sector workers and officials with golden parachutes.”
Overall, the New Delhi Consensus paints a picture of India’s economy on an immensely productive trajectory as led by Government partnered by Big Business and Big Labour, with the English-speaking intellectuals of the Dream Team in the vanguard as they fly between exotic conferences and international commercial deals. An endless flow of foreign businessmen and politicians streaming through Bangalore, Hyderabad, five-star hotels or photo-opportunities with the PM, followed by official visits abroad to sign big-ticket purchases like arms or aircraft, reinforce an impression that all is fine economically, and modern India is on the move. Previously rare foreign products have become commonplace in India’s markets, streets and television-channels, and a new materialist spirit, supposedly of capitalism, is captured by the smug slogan yeh dil mange more (this heart craves more) as well as the more plaintive cry pardesi jana nahin, mujhe chhorke (foreigner, please don’t leave me).
2. Money, Convertibility, Inflationary Deficit Financing
India’s Rupee became inconvertible in 1942 when the British imposed exchange controls over the Sterling-Area. After 1947 independent India and Pakistan, in name of “planned” economic development, greatly widened this war-time regime – despite the fact they were at war now only with one another over Jammu & Kashmir and, oddly enough, formed an economic union until 1951 with their currencies remaining freely convertible with each other.
On May 29 1984, the present author’s Pricing, Planning and Politics: A Study of Economic Distortions in India proposed in London that the Indian Rupee become a convertible hard currency again — the first time liberal economics had been suggested for India since BR Shenoy’s critique of the Second Five Year Plan (a fact attracting an editorial of The Times). The simple litmus test whether believers in the New Delhi Consensus have or have not the courage of their stated convictions – i.e., whether what they have been saying is, in its empirical fundamentals, more signal or noise, more reality or rhetorical propaganda – would be to carry through that proposal made 21 years ago. The Dream Team have had more than enough political power to undertake this, and it remains the one measure necessary for them to demonstrate to India’s people and the world that the exuberant confidence they have been promoting in their model of India’s economy and its prospects is not spurious.
What does convertibility entail? For a decade now, India has had limited ease of availability of foreign exchange for traders, students and tourists. Indeed some senior Government monetary economists believe there is convertibility already except forex dealers are being allowed “one-way” and not “two-way” quotes! That is wrong. The Government since 1942 has requisitioned at the border all foreign exchange earned by exporters or received as loans or investment — allocating these first to pay interest and amortisation on the country’s foreign debt, then to make its own weapons and other purchases abroad, then to release by ration what remains to private traders, students, tourists et al. Current account liberalisation has meant the last of these categories has been relaxed, especially by removal of some import quotas. What a convertible Rupee would mean is far more profound. It would allow any citizen to hold and save an Indian money that was exchangeable freely (i.e. without Government hindrance) into moneys of other countries. Full convertibility would mean all the paper money, bank deposits and rupee-denominated nominal assets held by ordinary people in India becomes, overnight, exchangeable without hindrance into dollars, yens, pounds or euros held anywhere (although not of course at the “one-way” rates quoted today).
Now money is a most peculiar human institution. Paper money is intrinsically worthless but all of India’s 1,000 million people (from street children onwards) have need to hold it temporarily to expedite their individual transactions of buying and selling real goods and services. Money also acts as a repository of value over time and unit of account or measure of economic value. While demand to hold such intrinsically worthless paper is universal, its supply is a Government monopoly. Because Government accepts obligations owed to it in terms of the fiat money it has itself issued, the otherwise worthless paper comes to possess value in exchange. Because Government controls its supply, money also can be abused easily enough as a technique of invisible taxation via inflation.
With convertibility in India, the quantity of currency and other paper assets like public debt instruments representing fiscal decisions of India’s Union and State Governments, will have to start to compete with those produced by other governments. Just as India’s long-jumpers and tennis-players must compete with the world’s best if they are to establish and sustain their athletic reputations, so India’s fiscal and monetary decisions (i.e. about government spending and revenues, interest-rates and money supply growth) will have to start competing in the world’s financial markets with those of the EU, USA, Japan, Switzerland, ASEAN etc.
The average family in rural Madhya Pradesh who may wish, for whatever personal reason, to liquidate rupee-denominated assets and buy instead Canadian, Swiss or Japanese Government debt, or mutual fund shares in New York, Frankfurt or Singapore, would not be hindered by India’s Government from doing so. They would become as free as the swankiest NRI jet-setters have been for years (like many members of the New Delhi Consensus and their grown children abroad). Scores of millions of ordinary Indians unconnected with Big Business or Big Labour, neither among the 18 million people in government nor the 12 million in the organised private sector, would become free to hold any portfolio of assets they chose in global markets (small as any given individual portfolio may be in value). Like all those glamorous NRIs, every Indian would be able to hold dollar or Swiss Franc deposit accounts at the local neighbourhood bank. Hawala operators worldwide would become redundant. Ordinary citizens could choose to hold foreign shares, real-estate or travellers’ cheques as assets just as they now choose jewellery before a wedding. The Indian Rupee, after more than 65 years, would once again become as good as all the proverbial gold in Fort Knox.
When added up, the new demand of India’s anonymous masses to hold foreign rather than Rupee-denominated assets will certainly make the Rupee decline in price in world markets. But — if the implicit model of India’s economy promoted by the Dream Team is based on correctly ascertained empirical facts — foreign and domestic investor confidence should suffice for countervailing tendencies to keep India’s financial and banking system stable under convertibility. Not only would India’s people be able to use and save a currency of integrity, the allocation of real resources would also improve in efficiency as distortions would be reduced in the signalling function of domestic relative prices compared to world relative prices. An honest Rupee freely priced in world markets at, say, 90 per dollar, would cause very different real microeconomic decisions of Government and private producers and consumers (e.g., with respect to weapons’ purchases or domestic transportation, given petroleum and jet fuel imports) than a semi-artificial Rupee at 45 per dollar which forcibly an inconvertible asset in global markets. A fully convertible Rupee will cause economic and political decisions in the country more consistent with word realities.
Why the Rupee is not going to be made convertible in the foreseeable future – or why, in India’s present fiscal circumstances if it was, it would be imprudent to do so – is because, contrary to the immense optimism promoted by the Dream Team about their own deeds since 1991, they have in fact been causing India’s monetary economy to skate on the thinnest of thin ice. Put another way, a house of cards has been constructed whose cornerstone constitutes that most unscientific anti-economic of assumptions, the “free lunch”: that something can be had for nothing, that real growth in average consumption levels of the masses of ordinary households of rural and urban India can meaningfully come about by nominal paper-money creation accompanied by verbal exhortation, hocus-pocus or abracadabra from policy-makers and their friends in Big Business, Big Labour and the media. (Lest half-remembered inanities about “orthodox economics” come to be mouthed, Maynard Keynes’s 1936 book was about specific circumstances in Western economies during the Depression and it is unwise to extend its presumptions to unintended situations.)
3. Rajiv Gandhi and Perestroika Project
On 25 May 2002, India’s newspapers reported “PV Narasimha Rao and Manmohan Singh lost their place in Congress history as architects of economic reforms as the Congress High Command sponsored an amendment to a resolution that had laid credit at the duo’s door. The motion was moved by…. Digvijay Singh asserting that the reforms were a brainchild of the late Rajiv Gandhi and that the Rao-Singh combine had simply nudged the process forward.”
Now Rajiv Gandhi was an airline-pilot and knew no economics. But the origins of the 1991 reform did come about because of an encounter he had, as Opposition Leader and Congress President from September 1990 onwards, with a “perestroika” project for India’s political economy occurring at an American university since 1986 (viz., The Statesman Editorial Page July 31-August 2 1991, now republished here; Freedom First October 2001). In being less than candid in acknowledging the origins of the reform, the Dream Team may have failed to describe accurately the main symptoms of illness that afflicted India before 1991, and have consequently failed to diagnose and prescribe for it correctly ever since.
The Government of India, like many others, has been sorely tempted to finance its extravagant expenditures by abusing its monopoly over paper-money creation. The British taught us how to do this, and in 1941-43 caused the highest inflation rates ever seen in India as a result. Fig. 1 shows this, and also that real growth in India follows as expected the trend-rate of technological progress (having little to do with government policy). Independent India has continually financed budget- deficits by money creation in a process similar to what the British and Americans did in wartime. This became most conspicuous after Indira Gandhi’s bank and insurance nationalisations of 1969-1970. Indeed, among current policy-makers, Pranab Mukherjee, Manmohan Singh, Arjun Sengupta, Montek Singh Ahluwalia, Bimal Jalan, NK Singh, Amaresh Bagchi and Shankar Acharya, were among those governing such macroeconomic processes before 1991 — albeit in absence of the equations that illustrate their nature. Why the Rupee cannot be made an honest, internationally convertible, stable money held with confidence by all Indians today, is because the Dream Team have continued with the same macroeconomics ever since. The personal and political ambitions of the tiniest super-elite that the New Delhi Consensus represent (both personal and political) have depended precisely on gargantuan unending deficit-financing backed by unlimited printing of paper-money, and hence the continuing destruction of the integrity of India’s banking system. A convertible Rupee would allow India’s ordinary people to choose to hold other stores of value available in the world today, like gold or monies issued by foreign governments, and thus force an end to such processes.
Two recent articles in The Statesman (Perspective Page 30 October 2005, Front Page 29 November 2005) outlined India’s financial repression and negative real interest rates (which suffice to explain the present stock market boom the way athletes perform better on steroids), and also how deficits get financed by money creation accompanied by wishful projections of economic growth in an upside down imitation of how macroeconomic policy gets done in the West.
“Narrow Money” consists mostly of hand-to-hand currency. “Broad Money” consists of Narrow Money plus bank-deposits. Modern banking is built on “fractional reserves”, i.e. a system of trust where your bank does not literally hold onto deposits you place there but lends these out again – which causes further deposit expansion because no individual banker can tell whether a new deposit received by it is being caused by the depositor having himself borrowed. As a general rule, bank lending causes further deposit expansion. Why India’s (and China’s) bank deposits have been expanding is not because Indians (or Chinese) are superhuman savers of financial assets in banks but because the Government of India (and China) has for decades compelled (the mostly nationalised) banks to hold vast sums of Government debt on the asset side of their balance-sheets. Thus there has been humongous lending by the banking system to pay for Government expenditures. The Dream Team’s macroeconomics relies entirely on this kind of unending recourse to deficit finance and money creation, causing dry rot to set into banks’ balance sheets (Figs. 2,3, 4). If the Rupee became convertible, those vast holdings of Government debt by banks would become valued at world prices. The crucial question would be how heavily New York, London and Hong Kong financial markets discounted Indian sovereign debt. If upon convertibility, the asset sides of domestic Indian banks get discounted very heavily by world financial markets, their insolvency upon being valued at international prices could trigger catastrophic repercussions throughout India’s economy. Hence the Rupee cannot be made convertible — and all our present inefficiencies and inequities will continue for ever with New Delhi’s rhetorical propaganda alongside. The capital flight of 10 out of 1000 million Indians will continue, leaving everyone else with the internal and foreign public debts to pay.
4. A Different Strategy had Rajiv Not Been Assassinated
Had Rajiv Gandhi not been assassinated and the perestroika project allowed to take its course, a different strategy would have been chosen. Honest money first demands honest Government and political leadership. It would at the outset have been recognised by Government (and through Government by all India’s people) that the asset-liability, income-expenditure and cash-flow positions of every public entity in the country without exception — of the Union Government, every State and local Government, every public undertaking and project – is abysmal. Due to entanglement with government financial loans, labour regulations, subsidies, price controls, protection and favouritism, the same holds for the financial positions of vast numbers of firms in the organised private sector. Superimpose on this dismal scene, the bleak situation of the Rule of Law in the country today – where Courts of Justice from highest to lowest suffer terrible abuse receiving pitiable amounts of public resources despite constituting a third and independent branch of India’s Government (while police forces, despite massive expenditure, remain incompetent, high-handed and brutal). What India has needed ever since 1991 is the Rule of Law, total transparency of public information, and the fiercest enforcement of rigorous accounting and audit standards in every government entity and public institution. It is only when budgets and financial positions become sound that ambitious goals can be achieved.
The Dream Team have instead made a fetish of physical construction of “infrastructure”, in some grandiose make-believe dreamworld which says the people of India wish the country to be a superpower. The Dream Team have failed to properly redefine for India’s masses the appropriate fiscal and monetary relationship between State and citizen – i.e. to demarcate public from private domains, and so enhance citizens’ sense of individual responsibility for their own futures, as well as explain and define what government and public institutions can and cannot do to help people’s lives. Grotesque corruption and inefficiency have thus continued to corrode practically all organs, institutions and undertakings of government. Corruption is the transmutation of publicly owned things into private property, while its mirror image, pollution, is the disposal of private wastes into the public domain. Both become vastly more prevalent where property rights between private and public domains remain ill demarcated. What belongs to the individual citizen and what to sovereign India –their rights and obligations to one another – remains fuzzy. Hence corruption and pollution run amuck. The irrational obsession with “infrastructure” is based on bad economics, and has led to profoundly wrong political and financial directions. The Rupee cannot be made an honest stable money because India’s fiscal and monetary situation remains not merely out of control but beyond New Delhi’s proper comprehension and grasp. If and when the Dream Team choose to wake up to India’s macroeconomic realities, a great deal of serious work will need to be done.
Assessing Vajpayee: Hindutva True and False
by Subroto Roy
First published in The Sunday Statesman, Nov 13 2005 and The Statesman, Nov 14 2005, Editorial Page Special Article http://www.thestatesman.net
Atal Behari Vajpayee, mentored by Shyama Prasad Mookerjee himself, became Prime Minister of India for less than a fortnight in 1996, then again in 1998 and again in 1999 and remained so until he was voted out in 2004.
He became PM holding the trust of India’s 120 million Muslims. He was supposed to be the genial, avuncular “good cop” who would keep at bay the harsh forces represented by the unpredictable “bad cop”, his Deputy PM and long-time colleague LK Advani. It was the first time RSS members had come to lead India’s government. How is the Vajpayee-Advani duumvirate to be candidly assessed? The question is important not only for the RSS and BJP engaged in their own introspection and petty politics but for the country as a whole. India needs both a competent Government and a competent Opposition in Parliament, and it is not clear we have ever had either.
Overall, Vajpayee-Advani, as the chief public symbols of the RSS-BJP, earned relatively high marks in office handling India’s strategic and security interests, including the nuclear issue and Pakistan. Equally, they failed badly in their treatment of India’s Muslims and religious minorities in general. This is a paradox that can be explained by the general failure of putative Hindutvadis to acquire an objective understanding of the processes that had led to Independence, Partition, and Pakistan’s creation.
Roughly, their comprehension of these processes has been one which sees all Muslims everywhere as cut from the same communal cloth, regardless of the beliefs or actions of individual Muslims. In such prejudiced eyes, there is no conceptual or ultimate difference between a Jinnah and an Azad, between a Salauddin who attacks India at Kargil and a Lt Hanifuddin who dies for India at Kargil. This is the product of a sloppy and erroneous philosophy of history, which in turn is an outcome of an attitude towards modern science and modes of rigorous reasoning that can only be called backward and retrograde.
It has been signalled most conspicuously by the extremely public adherence of many putative Hindutvadis (and millions of other Indians) to astrology — in apparent ignorance of the fact that all horoscopes assume the Sun rotates around Earth. Astrology, a European invention, came to decline in Europe after the discoveries of Copernicus and Galileo became widely understood there.
Like Indian Communists, Hindutvadi ideologues with rare exceptions played no role in the movement that led to Indian independence in 1947 and creation of the modern Indian Republic in 1950. They remained to their credit constantly suspicious of and hostile towards the foreign phenomena that were Bolshevism, Stalinism and Maoism. They remained to their discredit constantly suspicious of and hostile towards Indian Muslims, even at one point seeing virtuous lessons in Hitler’s attitude towards the Jews. They have in their own way subscribed to Ein Reich, Ein Volk but fortunately have always failed to find Ein Fuhrer (on a pattern e.g. of a modern “Netaji”).
Where Nazis saw communists and Jews in conspiracies everywhere, Hindutvadi ideologues have tended to see communists and Muslims, and also Christians and “Macaulayite” Hindus, in conspiracies everywhere. (An equal methodological admiration for Nazism occurred on the part of Muslims in the 1930s led by Rahmat Ali, the Pakistani ideologue — who saw “caste Hindus” as the root of all evil and in conspiracies everywhere.) The paradox of the RSS-BJP success in handling nuclear and security issues quite well and domestic issues of secular governance badly, is explained by this ideology of double hostility towards communism and Muslims.
On the positive side, Vajpayee-Advani advocated a tough clear-headed realpolitik on the issue of Indian’s security. “We should go nuclear and sign the Non-Proliferation Treaty as a nuclear weapons’ state. The whole world will recognise us by our power. We don’t want to be blackmailed and treated as oriental blackies. Nuclear weapons will give us prestige, power, standing. An Indian will talk straight and walk straight when we have the bomb”. That is what the BJP told the New York Times in 1993.
Three years later, the moment Vajpayee first entered office as PM in May 1996, the government’s scientists who had already secretly assembled the bomb for testing, were instructed to stand by for orders to go ahead. Vajpayee did not know if his Government would survive the vote of confidence required of them. When it was pointed out that if he tested the bomb and lost the vote, a successor Government would have to cope with the consequences, Vajpayee, to his credit and reflecting his political experience and maturity, cancelled the test. When he lost the vote, the public demonstration of Indian nuclear weapons capability was also postponed until May 1998, after he had returned as PM a second time. The bomb was a celebration of Hindu, or more generally, Indian independence in the world. India had nominally freed herself from the British but not from Western culture, according to the RSS. Where the Congress had been in the grip of world communism, the RSS-BJP led India to nuclear freedom – such was their propaganda.
In reality, a long line of prime ministers including Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi, VP Singh and IK Gujral had authorised India’s bomb, and a long line of scientists starting with Homi Bhabha had developed it over several decades.
Vajpayee’s decision finally flushed out Pakistan’s clandestine nuclear weapons developed with North Korea and China. Pakistan is an overtly Islamist state where liberal democracy shows no signs of starting even 65 years after the Lahore Resolution. Its nuclear bombs remain a far greater threat to the world than anyone else’s. Moreover, while India has renounced first use of such weapons, Pakistan has not only not done so, its Foreign Minister Gohar Ayub Khan boasted in 1998-1999 that the next war would be over in two hours with an Indian surrender.
Such glib talk about nuclear war is beyond contempt in its irresponsibility. A study by medical doctors estimated that a Hiroshima-sized bombing of Mumbai would cause 9 million deaths from blast, firestorms, radiation and fallout. An Indian retaliation would end Pakistan’s existence (though the Pakistani super-elite has long ago fled with its assets to Britain and America). An India-Pakistan nuclear exchange would leave a vast wasteland, finally ending all intellectual controversies about Partition and Jinnah’s theory. In reality, each is hardly able to cope with natural calamities like earthquakes, cyclones and floods, and also has very grave macroeconomic crises brewing because of unending deficit-finance and unlimited printing of paper money. For either to imagine itself a major power is a vain boast regardless of the polite flattery from visiting foreign businessmen. Of course, while each remains the principal enemy of the other, neither is a serious military force in the world.
After the exchange of nuclear tests in 1998, Vajpayee took the bus across the Wagah border to meet Nawaz Sharif in February 1999. He claimed it was a diplomatic and psychological breakthrough as indeed it was for a moment. But it had not been his original idea. AM Khusro, who accompanied him on the bus, had worked with Rajiv Gandhi in 1990-1991 when Rajiv was advised to make such a Sadat-like move. Furthermore, Vajpayee failed to see the significance of the Pakistani military chiefs led by Pervez Musharraf refusing to meet him formally, which would have entailed saluting him when he was their enemy.
Vajpayee also may not have known the Pakistani monument he visited was later “purified” with rose water by orthodox Muslim believers. So much for Indian diplomatic triumphs or Pakistan’s diplomatic niceties towards their kaffir guest. BJP foreign ministers later ingratiated themselves with Ariel Sharon because he was an enemy of Muslims — though again the BJP seemed unaware that “a single hair” shorn from idol-worshipping Hindu women at Tirupathi was enough for orthodox rabbis to declare as “impure” the wigs worn by Jewish women made from such hair. The evil of “untouchability” has not been a “caste Hindu” monopoly.
According to the Sharif-Musharraf plan secretly brewing during Vajpayee’s Pakistan visit, the Kargil infiltration followed. India’s Army and Air Force gamely fought back in the initial weeks suffering relatively severe losses, but the country seemed mesmerised by World Cup cricket and there was no significant political leadership from Vajpayee’s Government until the second week of June 1999. It was only after Brajesh Mishra was provoked by an analysis of how Pakistan might actually succeed (with the possibility of hidden Pakistani plans of a blitzkrieg and missile attacks), that Vajpayee’s Government seemed to wake up from its stupor, mobilised forces rapidly and threatened Pakistan with direst consequences, a threat made credible because it was conveyed by Mishra via the Americans. The Pakistanis backed down, which led soon to Musharraf’s coup détat against Sharif, and the world has had to deal with a Pakistani state synonymous with Musharraf ever since. The Vajpayee-Advani military triumph at Kargil was short-lived, as it was followed within months by an abject surrender to the Taliban’s terrorists at Kandahar airport.
In the meantime, on 23 January 1999, the Australian missionary Graham Staines and his two young sons were murdered by a savage anti-Christian mob as they slept in their car in rural Orissa. Vajpayee, the agreeable face of the RSS-BJP with allegedly impeccable secular credentials, responded without the moral strength that was necessary from a leader of all of India’s people. It was a model of weakness of political will and comprehension that would be followed in the larger catastrophe to occur in Gujarat.
On 27 February 2002, a train approaching Godhra station had a bunch of travelling rowdies bullying ticketed passengers, ticket-collectors and local tea-vendors. The vendors belonged to a lowly Muslim caste whose members were entrenched around Godhra and the nearby Signal Falia. During an extended stop at Godhra station, the altercations grew fiercer — the rowdies forcing people to shout slogans and roughing them up when they did not. False rumours flew that the rowdies had molested a Muslim woman and her two daughters who had been waiting on the platform. As the train left Godhra, a gang of rioters led by one tea-shop owner and other tea-vendors gathered before Signal Falia, stopped the train and assaulted it with stones and petrol-bombs.
One whole compartment was completely burnt, scores of passengers, including 26 women and 12 children, were incinerated, many of whom remain unidentified. (Some of those supposed to be in the compartment according to Railway lists were later found alive and well, as they had moved due to the rowdyism.) Throughout the day, Godhra District Collector Jayanthi Ravi stated on television and radio that a riot had occurred and appealed for calm. But after 7 pm, the State’s political executive called it a “pre-planned violent act of terrorism”, and an organised pogrom began against Muslims across the State. Over several weeks, thousands were killed and raped and turned into refugees inside their own country.
Gujarat’s chief political executive, a Vajpayee-Advani protégé, should have been immediately held accountable; instead he continued to receive their political patronage. Vajpayee, en route to a planned business trip abroad, made a perfunctory visit to the scene of the civil horror, then proceeded to Singapore, where he was shown moving around on a golf-cart wearing designer goggles. He had clearly failed to grasp the dimensions or the gravity of the nature of the office he held. Vajpayee thus came to lose the trust of India’s Muslims and minorities in general which he had earned by his moderation and maturity over many decades in the Opposition. The RSS-BJP had lost, perhaps permanently, the last opportunity to make their actions tally with their sweet words about a united Indian people living in bliss in a common sacred Motherland.
Vajpayee’s finance and economic planning ministers were as ignorant of the reality of India’s macroeconomics as the Stalinist New Delhi bureaucrats pampered by Congress and its Communist friends. These bureaucrats continued in power under Vajpayee. Plus the RSS’s pseudo-economists were enough to scare away all except a minor econometrician and a shallow economic historian. The latter led the BJP up the garden path in 2003-2004 with talk about India’s economy being on the point of “take off” (based on defunct American theory from the 1960s), which misled them into the “India Shining” campaign and electoral defeat. The BJP finance minister, thus misled, revealed his own ignorance of his job-requirements when he happily spoke on TV of how much he sympathised with businessmen who had told him CBI, CVC and CAG were the initials holding India back from this (bogus) “take off”. Equally innocent of economics, the BJP’s planning chief went about promising vast government subsidies to already-rich Indians abroad to become “venture capitalists” in India! Instead of reversing the woeful Stalinism of the Congress decades overall, Vajpayee’s Government super-imposed a crony capitalism upon it. Budgetary discipline was not even begun to be sought — another BJP finance minister revelling publicly in his ignorance of Maynard Keynes.
The signal of monetary crisis that was the UTI fiasco was papered over with more paper money printing. Privatisation was briefly made a fetish — despite there being sound conservative reasons not to privatise in India until the fiscal and monetary haemorrhaging is stopped. Liquidating real assets prior to a likely massive inflation of paper assets caused by deficit-financing, is not a public good.
RSS members and protégés appointed to government posts and placed in charge of government moneys revealed themselves as corrupt and nepotistic as anyone else. The overall failure of the management of India’s public institutions and organs of State continued under Vajpayee-Advani just as it had done for decades earlier. Vajpayee-Advani evinced no vision of a modern political economy as reformers of other major countries have done, such as Thatcher, Reagan, Gorbachev-Yeltsin, Adenauer-Erhardt, De Gaulle, even Deng Tsiaoping.
The overall explanation of the ideological and practical failure of the putative Hindutvadis must have to do with their irrational obsession over two decades with the masjid-mandir issue. Ramayana and Mahabharata are magnificent mythological epics yet they are incidental aspects of the faith and culture deriving from the Vedas and Upanishads. The motive force of a true Hindutva is already contained in the simple Upanishadic motto of the Indian Republic, Satyameva jayathe (let truth prevail) which is almost all the religion that anyone may need. The search for all truth necessarily requires individual freedom, and taking its first steps would require the RSS-BJP denouncing all their backward pseudo-science and anti-science. Who among them will liberate them from the clutches of astrology, and bring instead the fresh air and light of modern science since Copernicus and Galileo? Without rigorous modern reasoning, the RSS and BJP are condemned to their misunderstanding of themselves and of India, just as surely as their supposed enemies — literalist Muslim believers — are committed to a flat earth and an implacably stern heaven placed above it. Pakistan’s finest academic has reported how his colleagues pass off as physics the measurement of earth receding from heaven if Einstein and The Qúran could be amalgamated. The RSS and BJP need to free themselves from similar irrational backwardness in all fields, including politics and economics. It is plain Vajpayee, Advani or any of their existing political progeny cannot lead themselves, or Indians in general, to that promised land.
On Hindus and Muslims
First published in The Statesman, Perspective Page, Nov 6 2005, www.thestatesman.net
The one practical contribution made to India’s polity by the Hindu Mahasabha was to thwart the Sarat Bose/Suhrawardy idea in 1946-1947 of a “United Bengal”, which inevitably would have led to Kolkata andWest Bengal becoming part of Pakistan. The one practical contribution made to India’s polity by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh was to help defend against the Pakistani attack upon Jammu & Kashmir which commenced on 22 October 1947 and included the Rape of Baramulla a few days later. The RSS contribution may have been more than what Sheikh Abdullah and the National Conference or Jawaharlal Nehru and the Government of India cared to admit because it had had an offensive aspect as well; RSS attacks on Muslim civilians in the Mirpur-Pooncharea later formed the basis of Pakistan’s justification for the October 1947 attack and the origins of the “Azad Kashmir” idea. Practical contributions were also made by individuals like Shyama Prosad Mookerjee, who, for example, as a member of Nehru’s Cabinet, responded immediately to information received from a young Government of India officer in Karachi in September 1947, sending ships and Navy frigates from Bombay to retrieve thousands of Hindu refugees in danger of being massacred. The one theoretical contribution made by the Hindutvadi organisations in India has been to establish that it is not a matter of shame and can be a matter of pride to be a Hindu, or, more generally, to be an Indian in the modern world. This is important, even though most RSS and BJP members today may have altogether failed themselves to understand its nature and significance. Indeed, the small handful of Muslims who have been part of their organisations may have understood it rather better.
To be Muslim, a person has only to believe that God is One and Muhammad is the last of the prophets, i.e. to pronounce the Kalma. Nothing else is either necessary or sufficient. Praying daily, facing Mecca (or Jerusalem before it), going on pilgrimage, fasting during Ramzan, giving to the poor, circumcising boys, polygamy, inducing the modesty of women though seclusion or the veil, have all been part of Muslim practice for ever because they were aspects of the Prophet’s life. But if a Muslim did not pronounce the Kalma, everything else he/she might do is rendered meaningless. The Kalma is necessary and sufficient for Islamic belief. All else is incidental and logically superfluous.
The first half of the Kalma is a commitment to an austere monotheistic ontology; the second half is an oath of fidelity to the Prophet because he was the original exponent of this ontology (in Arabic). Muhammad (572-632 AD) was without a doubt among the greatest of men, as may be measured by his vast impact on human history. His total self-effacement and abhorrence of adulation was signified when at his death it was famously said “If you are worshippers of Muhammad, know that he is dead. If you are worshippers of God, know that God is living and does not die”.
Abul Kalam Azad understood well that there was no contradiction between being Muslim by faith and Indian by nationality. “My ancestors came to India from Herat in Babar’s time…” is how he began his autobiography. No one could think Azad anything but a proud Indian nationalist. No one ~ certainly not MA Jinnah ~ could think of Azad as anything but a Muslim and a scholar of Islam. Yet Azad’s respect and admiration (like that of Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan) knew no bounds for the only reformer since Vivekananda that Hinduism has seen in the 20th century: a Congress politician by the name of MK Gandhi,who came to be murdered by Hindu fanatics. By contrast, Jinnah, the political founder of Pakistan, could see Congress only as a Hindu party and Gandhi the Hindu leader using Hindu symbols against whom he was juxtaposed in a struggle for power after the British left: “Congress leaders may shout as much as they like that the Congress is a national body. But …(the) Congress is nothing but a Hindu body,” he declared in 1938. Jinnah’s ambition, and that of the separatist Muslim elite, demanded that they rule themselves in isolation in corners of India.
Throughout the period of Hindu Westernisation in response to the opening to the world presented by the British Raj, the Muslim elite were instead chafing under the idea that an India free of British rule could possibly have Muslims living under governments composed of people who were not “People of the Book” mentioned in the Muslim scriptures. Even if British rule had been almost intolerable in Muslim eyes ~ rendering India’s territory dar-ul-harb at worst or dar-ul-aman at best ~ the British were at least “People of the Book”. After a British departure, rule over Muslims by a Hindu majority, supported by the much-feared Sikhs (“kaffirs with beards” in Muslim popular perception), was felt to be psychologically intolerable. Not only were Hindus, in Muslim eyes, polytheistic believers in idol-worship and practitioners of a caste-system, but everyone knew that the vast majority of India’s Muslims had been themselves converts from the same Hindu social and cultural origins, and there would be constant danger of relapse of Muslims into Hindu beliefs and practices if the country was governed by a Hindu majority. The slogan “Islam in danger” has always had substance in the sense that the faithful have constantly had to mind the dangers of yielding to temptations around them, including scepticism, syncretism and pantheism. Hence, insularity and communalism ~ a psychological circling of the wagons in terms of the American Wild West ~ was a natural political response of Muslims to the Hindu (and Parsee and Christian) modernisation of India in the 19th and 20th centuries.
Such were the implicit unspoken premises driving the Pakistan Movement which Iqbal and Jinnah came to lead in the 20th century. The origins lay in the thoughts and deeds of Shah Wali Allah (1703-1762) and his Arab contemporary in Nejd, Mohammad Ibn Abdal Wahhab, the founder of Wahhabism. It continued with men like Sayyid Ahmed Barelvi(1786-1831), and Titu Mir (1782-1831), until we reach the Islamic “moderniser” Sayyid Ahmed Khan who, while being the founder of Muslim higher education at Aligarh, was also the fountainhead of the separatism that led to the Muslim League’s creation in 1906. “We are an Arab people whose fathers have fallen in exile in the country of Hindustan, and Arabic genealogy and Arabic language are our pride,” Wali Allah had said. Barelvi after him declared: “We must repudiate all those Indian, Persian and Roman customs which are contrary to the Prophet’s teaching.” “In the later 1820s, (Barelvi’s) movement became militant, regarding jihad as one of the basic tenets of faith. Possibly encouraged by the British, with whom the movement did not feel powerful enough to come to grips at the outset, it chose as the venue of jihad the NW frontier of the subcontinent, where it was directed against the Sikhs. Barelvi temporarily succeeded in carving out a small theocratic principality which collapsed owing to the friction between his Pathan and North Indian followers; and he was finally defeated and slain by the Sikhs (at the battle of Balakot) in 1831,” points out Aziz Ahmed, in AL Basham’s A Cultural History of India. Barelvi’s jihadi proto-Pakistan state near Peshawar was named Tariqa-yi Muhammadiya; it may have survived at Sittana until the First World War. Leaving to one side Rahmat Ali’s lonely scheming from England and invention on the top floor of a London bus of the name “PAKSTAN”, such was the genesis of Iqbal and Jinnah’s Muslim state.
Azad, on behalf of scores of millions of Muslim Indians including Sheikh Abdullah and Zakir Hussain and Ghaffar Khan among the most prominent, candidly raised objections to this entire exercise: “I must confess that the very term Pakistan goes against my grain. It suggests that some portions of the world are pure while others are impure. Such a division of territories into pure and impure is un-Islamic and is more in keeping with orthodox Brahmanism which divides men and countries into holy and unholy – a division which is a repudiation of the very spirit of Islam. Islam recognises no such division and the Prophet says `God made the whole world a mosque for me’.”
Azad had seen that India is or can be dar-ul-Islam or at least dar-ul-aman and not dar-ul-harb, because the Muslim in this land of ours –bounded by the mountains and the seas, with the rivers in between them, all of which the Hindu finds sacred and imagines to be the home of the Hindu pantheon – is in fact able to practise his/her faith freely despite the majority culture superficially being or seeming to be one which is polytheistic and pantheistic. The majority culture in India has had no theoretical or practical difficulty with the recitation of the Kalma anywhere or anytime in the country. The handful of Muslims in the RSS and BJP today may have understood something of the same. Visiting Pakistanis today are amazed by two things in India: the presence of women in public life and the fact that Muslims are free to practise Islam. Muslims may privately believe their Hindu compatriots or cousins to be hopelessly ignorant of the truth, and vice-versa, but nothing in public life needs to hinge on such mutual beliefs people have aboutone another. That is what was meant when the present author said in the Introduction to Foundations of Pakistan’s Political Economy that Jinnah’s address to Pakistan’s Constituent Assembly was as secular as any that may be found.
THREE MEMORANDA TO RAJIV GANDHI 1990-1991
I. PAKISTAN, SECULARISM AND HINDU COMMUNALISM
II. FOREIGN POLICY
III. ECONOMIC POLICY
Author’s Note, April 2007: As told elsewhere here, in September 1990 I was appointed by Rajiv Gandhi to advise on the long-term agenda for the country. These advisory memoranda were first written by me in that capacity. The Economic Policy Memo was written in September-October 1990; the Foreign Policy Memo was written in February 1991 (during and after the Gulf War); the one on Secularism was a compendium of several smaller ones written in late 1990. These were confidential at the time though were based on the work of the perestroika projects on India and Pakistan that I had been leading since 1986 at the University of Hawaii. As has been told elsewhere, I warned against Rajiv’s vulnerability to assassination. My warnings went in vain. When he was killed, I published these documents in The Statesman Editorial Pages of July 31, August 1, August 2 1991. The published subtitles were “Stronger Secular Middle”, “Saving India’s Prestige”, and “Salvation in Penny Capitalism” respectively. Needless to say, I do not today at age 52 agree with everything I wrote in these documents some 16 years ago at age 35-36, and my perspectives on the economy, Pakistan etc have matured further as may be seen from my current writings; but I am pleased to find I am today not embarrassed more than very slightly by any statement I made back then. My most recent writings relevant to the change in my thought since these documents include “What to tell Musharraf”, “Solving Kashmir”, “Law, Justice and J&K”, “India’s Macroeconomics”, “Fiscal Instability” and “India’s Trade and Payments”.
I. PAKISTAN, SECULARISM, AND HINDU COMMUNALISM (“Stronger Secular Middle”)
The world political order has seen immense structural changes recently. The most important of these are the result of the collapse of totalitarianism in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, and its replacement there by free and self-critical thought and debate, with all the risks and responsibilities that these carry. As a result, the world economy too is on the verge of major change. There may well be by 2000 a pact led by people of European descent from Australia via the Americas and Europe to Siberia, and a smaller pact of East Asian peoples from the Sea of Japan to the Straights of Malacca. Competition between the powers in such a world will be for new markets and cheap sources of labour, energy and natural resources. Given the fragmentation of the Islamic world and the overall weakness of Africa, it is China and our subcontinent which may be the only significant counterweights in this new balance of power. Both have long histories, resilient cultures, and vast populations, which make others apprehensive. But the future of China is far from clear to anyone. The collapse of totalitarianism seems certain after the passing of the present gerontocracy, but what will follow is anybody’s guess. At best, it may be the emergence after a power struggle of a Chinese Gorbachev who will free the domestic economy, restore political freedom, and restore Tibet’s self-governance. At worst, it may be a civil war between the remnants of the communists and some new Kuomingtang nationalists backed by Taiwan and Hong Kong. The one thing certain about China’s near term future is the oncoming uncertainty. This leaves our subcontinent, and here the key is India-Pakistan relations.
There is little doubt that the post-Partition configuration of India, Pakistan, and a divided and disputed Kashmir has been extremely detrimental to the welfare of all the people of the subcontinent, and has impoverished the general budgets and distorted the economies of both countries. If it has benefited important sections of the political and military elites of both countries, it has done so only at the expense of the general welfare of the masses. So long as the arms-race and elite-rivalry continues, the economies of both countries are likely to remain severely distorted, and there is little genuine prospect of improvements in mass welfare or the large-scale economic development of either country.
It seems hard to remember that little more than a generation or two ago, there was no problem of Kashmir on the subcontinent, or that, for the most part, the Muslims and Hindus lived in amity in undivided India. Partition came about because of the failure of the political dialogue between the Congress and Jinnah. This dialogue failed for three sets of reasons: the British role in the middle, the specific international context at the time, and the fact Congress and Jinnah were more often at cross-purposes than addressing the same issues. The proof they were largely at cross-purposes is indicated by the fact that Kashmir was never on the agenda of any serious discussion before Partition, yet ever since it has come to precisely symbolize the crisis over national identity in both India and Pakistan.
Now, in general, a country cannot have large land and naval forces at the same time. If it is assumed Pakistan and India must remain the perpetual military enemy of one another, both may have today more than adequate land and naval forces. But if that assumption is mistaken, then the real military weakness of the subcontinent taken as a whole becomes immediately apparent. This is made clear by the recent Gulf War, which is a defining event of the last half-century, and even perhaps of the whole century. If India and Pakistan are to protect themselves adequately in the modern world, they must do so by combined forces.
From a practical point of view, this cannot happen so long as each has its army trained at the other and calling it the “dushman”. On the other hand, the combination of both forces would immediately make the resulting force one of significant power, even though there would have to be further transition towards naval forces while infantries are transformed towards amphibious, airborne, reserve, and civil duties.
In the modern age, the defence of our subcontinent as a whole has to be naval and strategic, and such a defence cannot be made adequately so long as there are instead large rival armies facing one another in anger across a disputed border in Kashmir. The lesson of the Gulf War for the people of the subcontinent is that our bitter problems must be resolved, and resolved completely and permanently, in the way the bitter problems between France and Germany came to be resolved by De Gaulle and Adenauer.
Eventually, Kashmir (with or without Jammu and Ladakh) has to be united and demilitarized by both countries. But Kashmir cannot be independent any more than Punjab, Sind or Assam. Nor can a united Kashmir “go” to either India or Pakistan without further needless bloodshed. So the solution must be to try to mutually re-define the foundational basis of the sovereign states of our subcontinent after Partition. Indians and Pakistanis are free peoples who can voluntarily agree together to alter in their own interests the terms set hurriedly by Attlee or Mountbatten in the Indian Independence Act of 1947. Nobody but we ourselves keeps us prisoners of British or American definitions of who we are or might be.
For such a redefinition to take place, there has to be recognition that the configuration which occurred after Partition was a monumental mistake, which even Jinnah — the chain-smoking secular-minded Muslim nationalist — had not wanted at the time. (Jinnah’s cheerless speech to the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan is, incidentally, as secular a document as any.) The solution must be to reopen the dialogue where it failed almost fifty years ago, and to work towards a major constitutional revision for a new and stable configuration to emerge in all of our subcontinent. Fifty years is, after all, not a long time in the history of our peoples. This kind of a solution is further implied by an understanding of the nature of the three nationalist forces on the subcontinent: secular nationalism as is supposed to be represented by the Congress and its offshoots; Muslim nationalism as represented today by Pakistan; and Hindu nationalism as represented today by the BJP. For the whole of the present century, these have been the three permanent political forces on the subcontinent. Congress has been the most important and central force. But the fact Congress was started mostly by Hindus was enough for a Muslim political force in the form of the Muslim League to get created on one side of it. Muslim politicization had its own reaction of an explicitly Hindu politicization in the form of the Hindu Mahasabha on the other side of Congress. It is not long ago, relative to the length of our history, that the Muslim League and Hindu Mahasabha were just factions of the Congress in its struggle for independence, and many people like Jinnah had joint membership of both a communal and a secular organization.
The fact these three forces are permanent fixtures of our politics is of the highest importance. Each has changed in name, form and strength from time to time. The Muslim force went into the hands of Jinnah who, in course of bluffing his way with Congress and the British in the hope of gaining maximum advantage for his constituents, inadvertently created a moth-eaten Pakistan, which soon collapsed into military rule, foreign domination, civil war and secession. The Hindu political force became associated in the public mind with the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi, was eclipsed for a short while, then re-emerged in the form of the RSS, the Jana Sangha and now the BJP. Congress has stayed more or less in the middle. But with a frequent policy of expediency instead of a clear and convincing national philosophy, during decades of extreme economic and political crisis, Congress has been experiencing continuous factionalism and splintering into various disunited and opportunistic groups.
Nevertheless, a permanent configuration of political forces on the subcontinent can be identified of a secular middle, with Hindu and Muslim communal interests on either side of it. Each force is of such a size and importance that it must be respected and cannot be ignored. None of the three can be destroyed or converted by any one or combination of the other two. Congress and the BJP cannot destroy Muslim communalism as represented today by Pakistan. Congress and the Muslims cannot destroy Hindu communalism as represented today by the BJP. And the BJP and Pakistan will destroy one another and the whole of our subcontinent with them before they destroy secularism. Much as they might like to, neither can the RSS impose universal Hindu domination nor can the Pakistani ulema impose Islamic law over all parts of the subcontinent. Nor, for that matter, can Congress and its offshoots expect to spread secularism everywhere on the subcontinent.
These are the fundamental facts of political life on the subcontinent. They have not changed for 100 years, and, come what may, they are not likely to change for the next 50 years. If the forces are not recognised correctly and accomodated and reconciled properly, all that will happen is that the real and emotional resources of all sides will be drained against each other, until such a time as there is perhaps a break-up of the subcontinent and a repeat of the 18th century, with elites panicking and fleeing abroad if they can, mass blood-letting, while foreigners roam the country competitively in search of aluminium, manganese, coal, iron ore, oil, women, cheap labour, quick profits or whatever. Both the national movement for Independence from European rule and Jinnah’s desire to preserve the cultural identity of Indian Muslims will have become ghastly long-term failures. So long as the conflict between the Hindus and Muslims of the subcontinent continues, with secular forces caught in the middle, it is certain that the people of our subcontinent will not experience genuine mass economic improvement or be able to take their proper position in the world. Instead, we shall be completely vulnerable and defenceless with respect to predaory foreign powers in the post-Cold War world.
A genuine reconciliation between Pakistan and Hindu communalism is possible only via the revitalised leadership of a secular centre, with a clear-headed understanding of the facts and the way forward. It will require courage and calm statesmanship of a high order, of the kind shown by Willy Brandt, Sadat and Gorbachev in recent years. (Postscript: Rajiv Gandhi may have been able to show such statesmanship in his second term.)
II. FOREIGN POLICY (“Saving India’s Prestige”)
A key principle by which to guide the foreign policy of a large and potentially great nation like ours can be stated simply as follows:
An action of the Government of India outside the territory of India, i.e., an act of foreign policy, should be undertaken if and only if it protects or promotes Indian interests outside the territory of India.
Indian interests outside India encompass the private interests of Indian businessmen, Indian migrant workers and their descendants, Indian pilgrims, Indian students, Indian tourists etc, as well as the public interests of the Indian Republic such as the defence of the territory and property of India and the promotion overseas of the culture, languages and values of India.
It is a fact that Indian prestige on the world-stage has declined steadily since Independence. India’s share of world trade and finance used to be large in the 1750s, considerable in the 1850s, small but significant in the 1950s. It is close to insignificant today as we approach 2000. Accurately or not, we are perceived by those who think about us at all as a complex mess of a society, rife with caste, class and religious conflicts; moralistic and hypocritical beggars and braggarts on the world stage; very weak relative to our potential and our pretensions; with all talk and little ability. True or false, whether we like it or not, that is how we are perceived by many people outside India.
Repercussions of this view that the world has of us today are felt everywhere. A cynical Pakistani foreign minister once said about Non-Alignment: “Zero plus zero equals zero”. He was wrong then but would be right today. In public international circles, the Government of India is mostly ignored, and not even humoured or flattered the way some are because of their oil. Many Indians outside India face harrassment, hostility and discrimination of various degrees. This is related not only to the fact they are often competent and successful relative to local populations, but also to the perception that India is a weak and flabby country unable to protect her citizens abroad or offer them a proper life at home. If we are to formulate a new and effective foreign policy for India, we have to be first candid and realistic in our assessment of the facts and circumstances of the world situation and our present place in it.
Ideally, the foreign policy and defence of the subcontinent should be common. Differences between private Indians, Pakistanis, etc tend to disappear outside the subcontinent in face of common opportunities and adversities. If we are not able to persuade our neighbours about this in the short run, we may nevertheless act as far as possible as if we have a common policy, hoping to thereby persuade our neighbours by our example of the gains from such a policy. With this in mind, the broad aims of a new foreign policy may be formulated as follows:
A. Independence from so-called “foreign aid”. We do not ask for or accept public foreign aid from foreign Governments or international organizations at “concessional” terms. Requiring annual foreign aid is an indication of economic maladjustment, having to do with the structure of imports and exports and the international price of the Indian rupee. Receiving the so-called aid of others, e.g. the so-called Aid-India Consortium or the soft-loans of the World Bank, diminishes us drastically in the eyes of the donors, who naturally push their own agendas and gain leverage in the country in various ways in return. Self-reliance from so-called foreign aid would require making certain economic adjustments in commercial and exchange-rate policies, as well as austerity in foreign-exchange spending by the Government. Emergency aid from abroad (e.g. for disaster relief) or private voluntary aid need not be affected.
B. Promotion of amity and demilitarisation on the subcontinent. The idea would be to aim towards a more or less common foreign and military policy on the pattern of Western Europe within five or ten years. This will require some outstanding statesmanship and domestic political courage vis-a-vis Pakistan on the lines suggested in the previous memorandum.
C. Resolving the border-dispute with China by treaty. This too will require some clear-thinking statesmanship. The general trade-off between sectors may be a commonsensical way of breaking the impasse. Prima facie at least, Arunachal which we already have is probably more valuable to us than Aksai Chin which they already have, unless there are defence reasons to the contrary. A sound settlement should allow us to take a firm if quiet stand with them on Tibet. What they do at Tiannanmen may be not be our affair but what they do in Tibet is. Our position on Tibet has not been an altogether honourable one in the last 40 years. Also we should seek to protect those of Indian descent in Hong Kong from the chaos that is likely to occur in 1997.
D. Promotion of emigration and reverse migration to and from e.g. North America, Hong Kong, Africa etc. On the one hand, we should export our most exportable product, which is inexpensive good quality labour skills. At the same time, any Indian or descendant of an Indian living abroad should be encouraged to return at will. This is important for economic reasons, in effect adding value to the stock of human capital in the country. It is even more important for political reasons, as it will undercut to some extent the overseas financing of domestic terrorism. Nationality laws have to be amended giving Indian nationality to as many people as possible of Indian descent. Every Indian abroad who has taken a foreign passport but wishes to retain or re-acquire Indian nationality at the same time should be encouraged by us to do so. This may go to isolate extremist opinion, as thousands of moderate emigrants in Britain and North America will presumably prefer to maintain or freely re-acquire Indian nationality alongside their new nationalities. Many may rediscover patriotism for their homeland, where they now feel rootless in alien cultures which is what subconsciously motivates the demand for an abstract separatism.
E. Promotion of commerce, finance and investment abroad – exports, imports, capital flows in and out, tourism, contacts and exchanges. This is of fundamental importance for economic reasons. It will entail establishing as quickly as possible conditions favourable for the freeing of the rupee, as will be described in the next memorandum.
F. Achievement of tolerable standards in sports, music, and the arts. Our sporting prowess has become laughable. This contributes to our dismal image in the outside world. The present system is utterly hopeless, because of the heavy and completely unnecessary Government involvement in sports. Sports can be and must be privatized as completely as possible. Let commercial advertising and private sponsorship help our athletic development with minimum Government involvement. For example, Government can give tax breaks to sponsors who finance athletes for competitive international sport. There is plenty of black money in the economy which can be induced to come out to support sports in the country. To a lesser extent, the state of music and the arts and the culture in general have also become hopeless due to the unnecessary Government involvement.
For these six new objectives of an effective Indian foreign policy to be achieved, there must be a clear-headed and consistently formulated long-term view. The basic means would be to make a major and distinct move away from multilateralism towards bilateralism in international affairs. This would begin with Pakistan, on the lines discussed in the previous memorandum. Our most active foreign policy must be on the subcontinent, followed by South East Asia to where we once exported Buddhism, Islam, Sanskrit and Hinduism. South East Asia is today thriving economically and is quite stable politically. We have to learn what we can from them and offer whatever we have in exchange. Then there are the major powers: the United States, the Soviet Union, Germany, Japan, Britain and France. Then there is the Islamic crescent from Morocco to Indonesia. Then there are the countries where Indians have gone or can still go as emigrants or where there are significant Indian interests. These include Australia, Canada, South Africa, East Africa, Fiji and the West Indies. Then there are continental powers like Brazil, Argentina, Egypt and Nigeria. Then there are regional groups like the European Community and Scandinavia as collectivities.
On the subcontinent, the relationship should be made domestic and familiar with the aim of identifying common interests and forging a common policy as soon as possible. With the others, a rational bilateralism would involve starting with a thorough assessment of bilateral relations country-by-country. What are the principal components of imports and exports and their rates of expansion or contraction? What are Indian assets and liabilities in each of these countries and how liquid are these? How significant are private Indian interests in each — immigrants, tourists, students, businesses, etc.? What is the scope for expansion of ties in view of our objectives? Etc. Long-term foreign policy requires a constant stock of reliable information and also a continuous flow into and out of that stock. This may require overhauling some of the civil services. For good foreign policy to be made and implemented, there should be easy flow between the IFS and IAS, academia and the military and intelligence services. The aim would be to have a pool of highly qualified people voluntarily pursuing foreign languages and research of national importance with respect to the different countries of the world. The dozens of unthinking think-tanks in Delhi may have to be drastically overhauled to actually produce something useful after all.
Having determined what are the priorities and what are not, a reallocation of the foreign exchange resources of the Government of India will be called for to achieve stated foreign policy objectives. This has to accompany the process of economic reform, as well as the vigourous pursuit of reasonable solutions to the subcontinent’s continuing political problems. Obtaining a broad national consensus on the objectives is very important. Once the thinking has been clarified and the pieces put in place, this may not be so hard to achieve.
III. ECONOMIC POLICY (“Salvation in Penny Capitalism”)
Our economic problems have to do with the misdefinition which has occurred since Independence of the role of government in the economy. Partly under the influence of numerous domestic and foreign economists and pseudo-economists, our Government since the 1950s has frequently done things which need not or should not be done by government at the expense of things which have to be done or can only be done by government. The prime indicator of economic mismanagement today is not the annual deficit, but rather the vast public debt today of more than Rs. 273,000 crores. Our Government has borrowed something like Rs. 3500/- on behalf of each man, woman and child in the country — and spent it. A pile of rupee coins adding up to the public debt of India would stretch 4.55 million km into the sky, or be as long as six trips to the moon and back. That is the size of the problem.
Commonsense says that for the individual family or business or the nation as a whole, if you borrow funds for productive purposes which repay their worth, the size of the debt incurred is immaterial. If you borrow on the credit of the Government of India and then add to the country’s capital stock (whether human capital via better health and education or physical capital like roads and bridges), then the size of the debt does not matter, as long as the payments of interest on the debt are matched by increases in the capital stock. But if Government spends borrowed funds recklessly without a thought to rates of return, no capital gets created and instead the economy approaches technical bankruptcy at which time foreign creditors come knocking at the door.
The roots of the crisis may be traced to the following:
(A) Politicians in democratic systems make competitive soft promises of cash and immediate benefits, without thinking of where the revenue is going to come from. It is recognition of this which this has led to the turnaround in the Western economies since 1979, and made politics there much more sober from an economic point of view.
(B) Our closed economy with a captive Reserve Bank and credit market has caused any amount of the currency to be debased internally. To correct the problem at the roots, these two factors have to be faced squarely.
Short Run Policy (0-6 months) All political parties, national or regional, whether they have been in power or not, are mutually responsible for the crisis. It has been one of the unintended side-effects of the democratic system we have chosen. Therefore, all parties have a responsibility to set things right, and the way to do so was thoughtfully placed in the Constitution by its framers in Article 360: in a situation in which the “financial stability or credit” of India is threatened, the President is entitled to declare a financial emergency. This would permit freezing all levels and increases in Government spending outside essential functions (defence, law and order, roads, transport and comunications, basic education and health), initiate cost-cutting in all non-essential parts of the Government, and create the appropriate mood of seriousness in the country.
Next there will have to be an increase in revenue without increasing taxes. Can this be done? (Bush had once called this Reagan/Thatcher idea “voodoo economics”.) In our economy it may be possible via the appropriate use of two facts — the vast black economy of undeclared income of perhaps Rs. 43,000 crores, and the vast Government-owned industrial and services sector plus any amount of Government-owned land and capital. The black economy has made our businessmen waste their enterprise in trying to cheat or buy out the Government. The Government-owned sector has led our workers to waste their skills and learning abilities in overmanned and unproductive occupations. Any reform-minded Government must be prepared to tackle corrupt or lazy businessmen, union bosses and Government employees, while creating a system which rewards initiative, honesty, enterprise and effort on the part of business, labour and the bureaucracy.
As part of the financial emergency, every Government department can be instructed to reduce costs by 10-25% every year for the next five years. Much of this may be possible without layoffs but by internal economies and tough administration — freezing wages and benefits, saving office-space, more clatter and less chatter, etc.
More crucially, there must be an absolute moratorium on strikes in the public sector. Only if an industry is vital to the national interest should it be in the public sector, e.g. space research, defence production or oil. Strikes in such industries damage the whole country and not just the individual employer. Therefore, either there are no strikes, or the industry is not vital to the nation and can be safely placed in the private sector.
This will set the example for more fundamental changes in industrial relations. Labour laws have to be applied or amended to ensure unions are run for the benefit of their members and not of union bosses or political parties. Unions are vital in industrial society to protect individual workers from exploitation, discrimimation and safety hazards. They are not supposed to be empires for unelected union bosses, arenas for party politics, or excuses for overmanning. Our productivity is shockingly low relative to international standards, and without crucial improvements in it we shall be wiped out if and when the economy is opened as it will have to be for other reasons.
Increasing productivity per head throughout the economy is therefore a vital preparatory step, and must be tackled in the first few months. The device of a strike has to be made a last resort. Workers have to be free to elect their leaders by secret ballot without fear or intimidation. Political parties have to be removed from the workplace. The power of toughs and vandals has to be broken by the ballot box.
At the same time, employment can be made to increase by leaps and bounds by freeing all domestic enterprise from licensing, controls and permits. Freeing domestic enterprise from retrograde Central and State laws may be again most easily done via the Constitution. Subject only to local laws of safety, morality and environmental protection, all trade, commerce and enterprise throughout the territory of India should be made free from Government interference or restriction. That was what was envisioned by Articles 19 and 301 of the Constitution.
The increase may be incalculable in employment, wages and income, and hence the consumption of the masses of our people. Important side-benefits will be that urban discontent, political vandalism and communalism will be reduced. An idle mind is the devil’s workshop — with increased employment via enterprise, there will be less time and inclination for political or communal crimes.
Special notice has to be given to banking policy, as banks affect all other enterprises. Our nationalised banks are in disastrous shape. Private banks are responsible to their share-holders; if bad loans are made or bad risks taken, or if costs are too high or service poor, then managements get replaced by the power of share-holders. In public sector banks this does not happen. Costs are very high, profit rates low or negative, loans are not repaid or should not have been made in the first place, and service is appalling. Small depositors place their confidence in them because they have no other place to put their meagre savings, and because they believe the Government knows best and is not itself bankrupt. If a serious opening of the economy is to be planned in the medium and long-term, there has to be adequate preparation of the monetary system, else there may be a run on the banks and a collapse in public confidence in the currency.
It becomes essential that costs in the public sector banks are slashed, loans get repaid, loan melas stop, and banks are run as banks and not as public charities or employment agencies. At the same time, the Reserve Bank has to be made independent of the Ministry of Finance and of parliamentary pressure, and preferably made constitutionally independent like the UPSC or the Auditor-General. The task of any central bank is to maintain a currency in which the domestic public can have confidence in making their economic transactions, and to reflect a realistic price on international currency markets. The Reserve Bank’s role has been severely distorted by it being forced practically at gunpoint to hold massive amounts of the Government’s debt, and to finance this by printing more and more paper money. Instead, the currency has to reflect real economic transactions, and the Reserve Bank can be instructed (as its own 1985 report said) to follow a non-inflationary monetary rule of expanding the money-supply only relative to the rate of growth of real income and output in the economy.
Similarly, markets for insurance and life-insurance have to be rescued from the bankruptcy of nationalisation. Insurance is a highly complicated industry involving the correct assessment and sharing of business and personal risks. The present industry is in a shambles and will probably have to learn the modern business almost from scratch. Yet reforming it is vital to a new and invigorated economy, and also to laying the basis for heath-insurance for the masses.
Medium-Run Policy (6-18 months) Next, a concerted effort will have to be made to raise revenue without raising taxes. To the contrary, tax rates have to be simplified and reduced if possible, and especially the system of invisible indirect excise taxes (which tend to hurt the poor most heavily) gradually changed as far as possible to visible direct income and wealth taxes. If revenues are to be raised without increasing taxes, it is black money and the public sector which must be made to come to the rescue of the country. The public sector belongs to the public — not to the IAS, not to the public sector unions and certainly not to local politicians. Ideally, the most efficient and equitable means of share-holding of the public sector would be for every Indian adult to receive at the address of his or her domicile (or voter registration), upon a simple application and a processing fee, oe share-certificate in each enterprise being run by the Government of India. (An even better model would be to have a poverty-citerion, and give the shares to the poorest of the poor villages or village panchayats.) The shares would become tradeable; markets of penny-capitalism would spread throughout the villages of India, as each penny-capitalist decided whether to hold or sell the share-certificates thus received, and the Government would have safely handed over the ownership of the public sector to its rightful owners.
It would be a historic move for the distribution of national wealth, as scores perhaps hundreds of millions of new shareholders are created. The hidden hoards of black money would come out and become distributed equitably. Of course the shares of some public sector enterprises will not be worth much, but they will not be worth less than nothing. Nor would anyone be obliged to sell until it was privately profitable to do so. Future entrepreneurs (domestic or foreign) who wished to take over or turn around the fortunes of a bankrupt public sector firm would have to solicit the shares from a vast population of penny-capitalists.
Long-Run Policy (18+ months) Thus the key objective would be to control wasteful Government spending in order to place the Government in a position to redirect public resources towards the fundamental sources of economic growth for the common people of India. One further step would be necessary. This would be to make the rupee a hard currency of the world.
This will have to be done with utmost care and proper preparation of economic and political expectations. It will mean making every Indian — high or lowly, rich or poor — free to hold his or her assets, small as these may be, in any currency or precious metal of choice without Government intervention. Government would use its own reserves of foreign exchange and gold for its own purchases and obligations abroad — e.g. defence, diplomacy, or emergency reserves. Success or failure will depend squarely on the credibility and resolve of the Government that there will be no U-turn. If the Government is steadfast and is believed, the rupee will fall some distance for some months and then turn upwards and rise some lesser distance, at which point it would have become a hard currency. The initial fall will bring out black money and pent-up demand, and may reduce the present (October 26 1990) artificial price of Rs. 20 to the dollar to even Rs. 40 or Rs 50 to the dollar. The import bill will become enormous, and immediate relief will have to be given by cutting back on import duties and excise taxes on petroleum equivalently, leading to a fall in revenue from these sources. Export incentives should be immediately withdrawn, as Indian exporters will face an unprecedented boom as the dollar prices of their goods tumble, and goods which were previously high-cost and unexportable become very exportable. The export boom may be so huge as to be inflationary in the short term, requiring the same steady monetary policy plus corrective action by release of food and other stocks. The critical burden will fall on expansion of supply and production — it is here that the importance of first establishing domestic free enterprise and cooperative industrial relations is seen, as domestic enterprise must be in a position to respond to an export boom when the rupee becomes a hard currency. The rupee would become a hard currency the moment its initial fall comes to an end and it starts upwards at a new and steady equilibrium value. At this value, our credit-worthiness in the world would be firm, our export-led boom would have begun, capital owned by Indians abroad would have begun to flow freely in, and the Government would be in a position to embark on fundamental changes for long term economic growth and welfare of the masses — specifically, village-based economic development and school-based village development. Most important, as people gain more control over their own individual futures, the mood and momentum should make the position one of strong confidence.
Rajiv Gandhi and the Origins of India’s 1991 Economic Reform
Author’s Note May 2008: The family of Rajiv Gandhi received a copy of this when it was first written in July 2005. An earlier abbreviated version “Encounter with Rajiv Gandhi: On the Origins of India’s 1991 Economic Reform” was published in October 2001 in Freedom First, Bombay, a journal founded by the late Minoo Masani and now edited by S V Raju. A copy of that article was received by all Congress MPs of the 13th Lok Sabha. In May 2002, the Congress Party passed an official resolution stating Rajiv Gandhi and not Narasimha Rao or Manmohan Singh was to be credited with having originated the 1991 economic reforms. This article has now been published in print in The Statesman Festival Volume, October 2007. It may be profitably followed by “The Dream Team: A Critique”, “Solving Kashmir”, “Law, Justice & J&K”, “What to tell Musharraf”, “India’s Macroeconomics”, “Fiscal Instability”, “India’s Trade and Payments”, “Fallacious Finance”, “Against Quackery”, etc. My original advisory memoranda to Rajiv in 1990-1991 were published in The Statesman’s Editorial Pages July 31-August 2 1991, and now have been republished elsewhere here as well.
I met Rajiv Gandhi for the first time on 18th September 1990 thanks to an introduction by S. S. Ray. We met a half dozen or so times until his assassination in May 1991. Yet our encounter was intense and consequential, and resulted directly in the change of the Congress Party’s economic thinking prior to the 1991 elections. I had with me results of an interdisciplinary “perestroika-for-India” project I had led at the University of Hawaii since 1986. This manuscript (later published by Sage as Foundations of India’s Political Economy: Towards an Agenda for the 1990s edited by myself and W. E. James) was given by me to Rajiv, then Leader of the Opposition, and was instrumental in the change of thinking that took place. In interests of fairness, I tried to get the work to V. P. Singh too because he was Prime Minister, but a key aide of his showed no interest in receiving it.
The Hawaii project manuscript contained inter alia a memorandum by Milton Friedman done at the request of the Government of India in November 1955, which had been suppressed for 34 years until I published it in May 1989. Milton and Rose Friedman refer to this in their memoirs Two Lucky People (Chicago 1998). Peter Bauer had told me of the existence of Friedman’s document during my doctoral work at Cambridge under Frank Hahn in the late 1970s, as did N. Georgescu-Roegen in America. Those were years in which Brezhnev still ruled in the Kremlin, Gorbachev was yet to emerge, Indira Gandhi and her pro-Moscow advisers were ensconced in New Delhi, and not even the CIA had imagined the Berlin Wall would fall and the Cold War would be over within a decade. It was academic suicide at the time to argue in favour of classical liberal economics even in the West. As a 22-year-old Visiting Assistant Professor at the Delhi School of Economics in 1977, I was greeted with uproarious laughter of senior professors when I spoke of a possible free market in foreign exchange. Cambridge was a place where Indian economists went to study the exploitation of peasants in Indian agriculture before returning to their friends in the well-known bastions of such matters in Delhi and Calcutta. It was not a place where Indian (let alone Bengali) doctoral students in economics mentioned the unmentionable names of Hayek or Friedman or Buchanan, and insisted upon giving their works a hearing.
My original doctoral topic in 1976 “A monetary theory for India” had to be altered not only due to paucity of monetary data at the time but because the problems of India’s political economy and allocation of resources in the real economy were far more pressing. The thesis that emerged in 1982 “On liberty and economic growth: preface to a philosophy for India” was a full frontal assault from the point of view of microeconomic theory on the “development planning” to which everyone routinely declared their fidelity, from New Delhi’s bureaucrats and Oxford’s “development” school to McNamara’s World Bank with its Indian staffers.
Frank Hahn protected my inchoate liberal arguments for India; and when no internal examiner could be found, Cambridge showed its greatness by appointing two externals, Bliss at Oxford and Hutchison at Birmingham, both Cambridge men. “Economic Theory and Development Economics” was presented to the American Economic Association in December 1982 in company of Solow, Chenery and other eminences, and then Pricing, Planning and Politics: A Study of Economic Distortions in India published by London’s Institute of Economic Affairs, provoking the lead editorial of The Times on May 29 1984. The Indian High Commission sent the editorial to the Finance Ministry where it caused a stir as the first classical liberal attack on post-Mahalonobis Indian economic thought since B. R. Shenoy’s original criticism decades earlier. The “perestroika-for-India” project was to follow at Hawaii starting in 1986. New Delhi was represented at the project’s conference held between May 22-27 1989 by the accredited Ambassador of India to the USA, the accredited Consul General of India to San Francisco, and by the founder-director of ICRIER (see photo).
All this I brought into that first meeting with Rajiv Gandhi on September 18 1990. That first day he came to the door to greet me. He was a handsome tall man with the most charming smile and manner, seemed pleased to see me and put me at ease at once. I gave him my books as well as the manuscript of the “perestroika for India” project. He gave me a celebratory volume that had just been published to mark his grandfather’s centenary. He began by talking about how important he felt panchayati raj was, and said he had been on the verge of passing major legislation on it but then lost the election. He asked me if I could spend some time thinking about it, and that he would get the papers sent to me. I said I would and remarked panchayati raj might be seen as decentralized provision of public goods, and gave the economist’s definition of public goods as those essential for the functioning of the market economy, like the Rule of Law, roads, fresh water, and sanitation, but which were unlikely to appear through competitive forces.
I distinguished between federal, state and local levels and said many of the most significant public goods were best provided locally. Rajiv had not heard the term “public goods” before, and he beamed a smile and his eyes lit up as he voiced the words slowly, seeming to like the concept immensely. It occurred to me he had been by choice a pilot of commercial aircraft. Now he seemed intrigued to find there could be systematic ways of thinking about navigating a country’s governance by common pursuit of reasonable judgement. I said the public sector’s wastefulness had drained scarce resources that should have gone instead to provide public goods. Since the public sector was owned by the public, it could be privatised by giving away its shares to the public, preferably to panchayats of the poorest villages. The shares would become tradable, drawing out black money, and inducing a historic redistribution of wealth while at the same time achieving greater efficiency by transferring the public sector to private hands. Rajiv seemed to like that idea too, and said he tried to follow a maxim of Indira Gandhi’s that every policy should be seen in terms of how it affected the common man. I wryly said the common man often spent away his money on alcohol, to which he said at once it might be better to think of the common woman instead. (This remark of Rajiv’s may have influenced the “aam admi” slogan of the 2004 election, as all Congress Lok Sabha MPs of the previous Parliament came to receive a previous version of the present narrative.)
Our project had identified the Congress’s lack of internal elections as a problem; when I raised it, Rajiv spoke of how he, as Congress President, had been trying to tackle the issue of bogus electoral rolls. I said the judiciary seemed to be in a mess due to the backlog of cases; many of which seemed related to land or rent control, and it may be risky to move towards a free economy without a properly functioning judicial system or at least a viable system of contractual enforcement. I said a lot of problems which should be handled by the law in the courts in India were instead getting politicised and decided on the streets. Rajiv had seen the problems of the judiciary and said he had good relations with the Chief Justice’s office, which could be put to use to improve the working of the judiciary.
The project had worked on Pakistan as well, and I went on to say we should solve the problem with Pakistan in a definitive manner. Rajiv spoke of how close his government had been in 1988 to a mutual withdrawal from Siachen. But Zia-ul-Haq was then killed and it became more difficult to implement the same thing with Benazir Bhutto, because, he said, as a democrat, she was playing to anti-Indian sentiments while he had found it somewhat easier to deal with the military. I pressed him on the long-term future relationship between the countries and he agreed a common market was the only real long-term solution. I wondered if he could find himself in a position to make a bold move like offering to go to Pakistan and addressing their Parliament to break the impasse. He did not say anything but seemed to think about the idea. Rajiv mentioned a recent Time magazine cover of Indian naval potential, which had caused an excessive stir in Delhi. He then talked about his visit to China, which seemed to him an important step towards normalization. He said he had not seen (or been shown) any absolute poverty in China of the sort we have in India. He talked about the Gulf situation, saying he did not disagree with the embargo of Iraq except he wished the ships enforcing the embargo had been under the U.N. flag. The meeting seemed to go on and on, and I was embarrassed at perhaps having taken too much time and that he was being too polite to get me to go. V. George had interrupted with news that Sheila Dixit (as I recall) had just been arrested by the U. P. Government, and there were evidently people waiting. Just before we finally stood up I expressed a hope that he was looking to the future of India with an eye to a modern political and economic agenda for the next election, rather than getting bogged down with domestic political events of the moment. That was the kind of hopefulness that had attracted many of my generation in 1985. I said I would happily work in any way to help define a long-term agenda. His eyes lit up and as we shook hands to say goodbye, he said he would be in touch with me again.
The next day I was called and asked to stay in Delhi for a few days, as Mr. Gandhi wanted me to meet some people. I was not told whom I was to meet but that there would be a meeting on Monday, 24th September. On Saturday, the Monday meeting was postponed to Tuesday because one of the persons had not been able to get a flight into Delhi. I pressed to know what was going on, and was told I was to meet former army chief K.V. Krishna Rao, former foreign secretary M. K. Rasgotra, V. Krishnamurty and Sam Pitroda.
The group met for the first time on September 25 in the afternoon. Rasgotra did not arrive. Krishna Rao, Pitroda, Krishnamurty and I gathered in the waiting room next to George’s office. The three of them knew each other but none knew me and I was happy enough to be ignored. It seemed mysterious while we were gathering, especially when the tall well-dressed General arrived, since none of us knew why we had been called by Rajiv, and the General remarked to the others he had responded at once to the call to his home but could not get a flight into Delhi for a day.
Rajiv’s residence as Leader of the Opposition had a vast splendid meeting room, lined with high bookshelves on one or two walls, a large handsome desk on one side, two spacious comfortable sofa sets arranged in squares, and a long conference table with leather chairs occupying most of the rest of the room. The entrance to it was via a small 10 ft by 10 ft air-conditioned anteroom, where George sat, with a fax machine, typewriters and a shredding machine, plus several telephones, and a used copy of parliamentary procedures on the shelf. Getting to George’s office was the final step before reaching Rajiv. There were several chairs facing George, and almost every prospective interviewee, no matter how senior or self-important, had to move from one chair to the next, while making small talk with George, as the appointment with Rajiv drew near. Opening into George’s office was a larger and shabbier waiting room, which is where we sat, which was not air-conditioned, and which opened to the outside of the building where a plainclothes policeman sometimes stood around with a walkie-talkie. There were large photographs of Mahatma Gandhi, Nehru and Indira Gandhi on the wall, and a modern print also hung incongruously. A dozen or more plastic chairs lined the walls. There were faded torn issues of a few old magazines on the plastic coffee-table, and on one occasion there was a television playing the new sporadic domestic cable news and weather information for the entertainment of the many visitors waiting. Via this waiting room went the vast majority of people who were to meet Rajiv in his office. To reach the waiting room, one had to walk a hundred yards along a path lined by splendid high hedges from the initial reception desk at the rear-gate, manned by Congress Seva Dal volunteers in khadi wearing Gandhi-caps. These persons were in touch with George’s office by telephone, and would check with George or his assistant Balasubramaniam before sending a visitor along. The visitor would then pass through a metal-detector manned by a couple of policemen. If someone’s face came to be known and had been cleared once, or if someone acted to the policemen like a sufficiently important political personage, such a person seemed to be waved through. Outside, the front-entrance of the premises were closed unless extremely important people were entering or exiting, while at the rear-entrance there were usually two or three jeeps and several plainclothes policemen, who might or might not challenge the prospective visitor with a kind of “Who goes there?” attitude before the visitor reached the Seva Dal reception desk. The whole arrangement struck me from the first as insecure and inefficient, open to penetration by professional assassins or a terrorist squad, let aside insiders in the way Indira Gandhi had been assassinated. I could not imagine counter-terrorist commandos would suddenly appear from the high hedges in the event of an emergency.
On that Tuesday when Rajiv finally called in our group, we entered hesitantly not knowing quite what the meeting was going to be about. Rajiv introduced me to the others and then spoke of why he had gathered us together. He wanted us to come up with proposals and recommendations for the direction the country should take on an assumption the Congress Party was returned to power in the near future. He said it would help him to have an outside view from specialists who were not party functionaries, though the others obviously had been closely involved with Congress governments before. Rajiv said we were being asked to write a draft of what may enter the manifesto for the next election, which we should assume to be forthcoming by April 1991. I asked what might have become of the “perestroika” manuscript I had given him at our previous meeting. He said he had gotten it copied and bound, and that along with my 1984 monograph, it had been circulated among a few of his party colleagues who included P. Chidambaram and Mani Shankar Aiyar.
The initial meeting left us breathless and excited. Yet within a few days, the others became extremely tied up for personal causes, and I found myself alone in getting on with doing what we had been explicitly asked to do. I felt I should get done what I could in the time I had while keeping the others informed. Rajiv had said to me at our first meeting that he felt the Congress was ready for elections. This did not seem to me to be really the case. He actually seemed very isolated in his office, with George seeming to be his conduit to the outside world. I decided to start by trying to write a definite set of general principles that could guide and inform thought about the direction of policy. I spent the evening of October 26 in the offices at Rajiv’s residence, preparing an economic policy memorandum on a portable Toshiba computer of his, the first laptop I ever used. After Rajiv’s assassination, this was part of what was published in The Statesmen’s center pages July 31-August 2, 1991.
Rajiv read the work and met me on October 30 or 31, even though he was down badly with a sore throat after his sadbhavana travels around the country; he looked odd clad in khadi with a muffler and gym shoes. He said he liked very much what I had written and had given it to be read by younger Congress leaders who would discuss it for the manifesto, for an election he again said, he expected early in 1991. I said I was grateful for his kind words and inquired whom he had shown the work to. This time he said Chidambaram and also mentioned another name that made me wince. In December 1990, I was back in Hawaii when I was called on the phone to ask whether I could come to Delhi. With the rise of Chandrashekhar as Prime Minister, Rajiv had called a meeting of the group. But I could not go.
In January 1991, the Gulf War brought an odd twist to my interaction with Rajiv. On January 15, the UN deadline for the withdrawal of Iraq from Kuwait passed without Iraqi compliance, and American-led forces started the heavy aerial bombardment of Iraq. The American media had built up the impending war as one of utter devastation and mass killing, especially when the American infantry became engaged. Estimated casualties on the American side alone were being wildly exaggerated by the number of “body-bags” being ordered by the Pentagon. An even larger conflagration was being imagined if Israel entered the fighting, while Saddam Hussein had vowed to set fire to Kuwait’s oil-fields before retreating. I like everyone else erroneously believed the media’s hyperbole about the impending regional catastrophe. On January 16, just after the bombing of Iraq had begun, I called an American family friend who had retired from a senior foreign policy role and who had known me from when I was an infant. In informal conversation, I mentioned to him that since other channels had by then become closed, an informal channel might be attempted via India, specifically via Rajiv who was still Leader of the Opposition but on whom the Chandrashekhar Government depended. The sole aim would be to compel an immediate Iraqi withdrawal without further loss of life. What transpired over the next few days was that a proposal to that effect was communicated at Rajiv’s decision to a high level of the Iraqis on the one hand, and evidently received their assent, while at the same time, it was mentioned to the authorities on the American side. But nothing came of it. Rajiv initiated a correspondence with Chandrashekhar beginning January 19, demanding a coherent formulation of Indian policy in the Gulf war, and faxed me copies of this. By February 8, the Times of India led by saying Rajiv’s stand “on the Gulf War demonstrates both his experience and perspicacity … in consonance with an enlightened vision of national interest”, and urged Rajiv to “give the nation some respite from [the] non-government” of Chandrashekhar. I taped my phone conversations with Rajiv during the Gulf War because notes could not be taken at the necessary speed; in late December 1991, I was to give his widow a copy of the tape for her personal record.
I returned to Delhi on Monday, March 18, 1991 as new elections had been announced. Rasgotra said I should be in touch with Krishna Rao, and the next day March 19 Krishna Rao met me for several hours. I told him what I thought were the roots and results of the Gulf war. He in turn generously told me what had happened while I had been away. He said the group had met Rajiv in December with the proposal that Rajiv better organize his time by having an “office manager” of larger political stature than George. The name of a UP Congressman of integrity had been put forward, but nothing had come of it. Rajiv had been advised to keep Chandrashekhar in power through the autumn of 1991, as Chandrashekhar was doing Rajiv’s work for him of sidelining V. P. Singh. The idea was to cooperate with Chandrashekhar until he could be pushed up to the Presidency when that fell vacant. Rajiv had been advised not to work in a Chandrashekhar cabinet, though in my opinion, had we been like the Scandinavians, it was not impossible for a former prime minister to enter another cabinet on the right terms in the national interest of providing stable government, which was imperative at the time. Things seem to have slipped out of control when Chandrashekhar resigned. At that point, Rajiv called the group together and instructed them to write a draft of the manifesto for the impending elections. I had advised readiness back in September but the lack of organization had prevented much tangible progress at the time. Our group was to now report to a political manifesto-committee of three senior party leaders who would report to Rajiv. They were Narasimha Rao, Pranab Mukherjee and Madhavsingh Solanki. Krishna Rao liased with Narasimha Rao, Krishnamurty with Mukherjee, Pitroda with Solanki. While Rajiv would obviously lead a new Congress Government, Mukherjee was the presumptive Finance Minister, while Narasimha Rao and Solanki would have major portfolios though Narasimha Rao was expected to retire before too long.
Krishna Rao said I should be in touch with Krishnamurty who was preparing the economic chapters of the draft of the manifesto. Krishnamurty told me he had brought in A. M. Khusro to the group, and there would be a 5 p.m. meeting at Khusro’s office at the Aga Khan Foundation. I arrived early and was delighted to meet Khusro, and he seemed pleased to meet me. Khusro seemed excited by my view that India and Pakistan were spending excessively on defence against each other, which resonated with his own ideas, and he remarked the fiscal disarray in India and Pakistan could start to be set right by mutually agreed cuts in military spending. (Khusro was eventually to accompany Prime Minister Vajpayee to Lahore in 1999).
Krishnamurty had prepared a draft dated March 18 of several pages of the economic aspects of the manifesto. After our discussions, Krishnamurty was hospitable enough to open the draft to improvement. That evening, the 19th, I worked through the night and the next morning to get by noon copies of a revised version with all the members of the group. At 4 p.m. on the 20th there was a meeting at Andhra Bhavan of the whole group except Pitroda, which went on until the night. The next day the 21st , Krishnamurty, Khusro and I met again at Andhra Bhavan for a few hours on the economic aspects of the draft. Then in mid-afternoon I went to Rasgotra’s home to work with him and Krishna Rao. They wanted me to produce the economic draft which they could then integrate as they wished into the material they were dictating to a typist. I offered instead to absorb their material directly on to my laptop computer where the economic draft was. Rasgotra was reluctant to let go control, and eventually I gave in and said I would get them a hard copy of the economic draft, which they then planned to re-draft via a stenographer on a typewriter. At this, Rasgotra gave in and agreed to my solution. So the work began and the three of us continued until late.
That night Krishna Rao dropped me at Tughlak Road where I used to stay with friends. In the car I told him, as he was a military man with heavy security cover for himself as a former Governor of J&K, that it seemed to me Rajiv’s security was being unprofessionally handled, that he was vulnerable to a professional assassin. Krishna Rao asked me if I had seen anything specific by way of vulnerability. With John Kennedy and De Gaulle in mind, I said I feared Rajiv was open to a long-distance sniper, especially when he was on his campaign trips around the country.
This was one of several attempts I made since October 1990 to convey my clear impression to whomever I thought might have an effect that Rajiv seemed to me extremely vulnerable. Rajiv had been on sadhbhavana journeys, back and forth into and out of Delhi. I had heard he was fed up with his security apparatus, and I was not surprised given it seemed at the time rather bureaucratized. It would not have been appropriate for me to tell him directly that he seemed to me to be vulnerable, since I was a newcomer and a complete amateur about security issues, and besides if he agreed he might seem to himself to be cowardly or have to get even closer to his security apparatus. Instead I pressed the subject relentlessly with whomever I could. I suggested specifically two things: (a) that the system in place at Rajiv’s residence and on his itineraries be tested, preferably by some internationally recognized specialists in counter-terrorism; (b) that Rajiv be encouraged to announce a shadow-cabinet. The first would increase the cost of terrorism, the second would reduce the potential political benefit expected by terrorists out to kill him. On the former, it was pleaded that security was a matter being run by the V. P. Singh and then Chandrashekhar Governments at the time. On the latter, it was said that appointing a shadow cabinet might give the appointees the wrong idea, and lead to a challenge to Rajiv’s leadership. This seemed to me wrong, as there was nothing to fear from healthy internal contests for power so long as they were conducted in a structured democratic framework. I pressed to know how public Rajiv’s itinerary was when he travelled. I was told it was known to everyone and that was the only way it could be since Rajiv wanted to be close to the people waiting to see him and had been criticized for being too aloof. This seemed to me totally wrong and I suggested that if Rajiv wanted to be seen as meeting the crowds waiting for him then that should be done by planning to make random stops on the road that his entourage would take. This would at least add some confusion to the planning of potential terrorists out to kill him. When I pressed relentlessly, it was said I should probably speak to “Madame”, i.e. to Mrs. Rajiv Gandhi. That seemed to me highly inappropriate, as I could not be said to be known to her and I should not want to unduly concern her in the event it was I who was completely wrong in my assessment of the danger. The response that it was not in Congress’s hands, that it was the responsibility of the V. P. Singh and later the Chandrashekhar Governments, seemed to me completely irrelevant since Congress in its own interests had a grave responsibility to protect Rajiv Gandhi irrespective of what the Government’s security people were doing or not doing. Rajiv was at the apex of the power structure of the party, and a key symbol of secularism and progress for the entire country. Losing him would be quite irreparable to the party and the country. It shocked me that the assumption was not being made that there were almost certainly professional killers actively out to kill Rajiv Gandhi — this loving family man and hapless pilot of India’s ship of state who did not seem to have wished to make enemies among India’s terrorists but whom the fates had conspired to make a target. The most bizarre and frustrating response I got from several respondents was that I should not mention the matter at all as otherwise the threat would become enlarged and the prospect made more likely! This I later realized was a primitive superstitious response of the same sort as wearing amulets and believing in Ptolemaic astrological charts that assume the Sun goes around the Earth — centuries after Kepler and Copernicus. Perhaps the entry of scientific causality and rationality is where we must begin in the reform of India’s governance and economy. What was especially repugnant after Rajiv’s assassination was to hear it said by his enemies that it marked an end to “dynastic” politics in India. This struck me as being devoid of all sense because the unanswerable reason for protecting Rajiv Gandhi was that we in India, if we are to have any pretensions at all to being a civilized and open democratic society, cannot tolerate terrorism and assassination as means of political change. Either we are constitutional democrats willing to fight for the privileges of a liberal social order, or ours is truly a primitive and savage anarchy concealed beneath a veneer of fake Westernization.
The next day, Friday March 22, I worked from dawn to get the penultimate draft to Krishna Rao before noon as planned the night before. Rasgotra arrived shortly, and the three of us worked until evening to finish the job. I left for an hour to print out copies for a meeting of the entire group, where the draft we were going to submit would come to be decided. When I got back I found Rasgotra had launched an extended and quite unexpected attack on what had been written on economic policy. Would someone like Manmohan Singh, Rasgotra wanted to know, agree with all this talk we were putting in about liberalization and industrial efficiency? I replied I did not know what Manmohan Singh’s response would be but I knew he had been in Africa heading something called the South-South Commission for Julius Nyrere of Tanzania. I said what was needed was a clear forceful statement designed to restore India’s credit-worthiness, and the confidence of international markets. I said that the sort of thing we should aim for was to make clear, e.g. to the IMF’s man in Delhi when that person read the manifesto, that the Congress Party at least knew its economics and was planning to make bold new steps in the direction of progress. I had argued the night before with Rasgotra that on foreign policy we should “go bilateral” with good strong ties with individual countries, and drop all the multilateral hogwash. But I did not wish to enter into a fight on foreign policy which he was writing, so long as the economic policy was left the way we said. Krishnamurty, Khusro and Pitroda came to my defence saying the draft we had done greatly improved on the March 18 draft. For a bare half hour or so with all of us present, the draft was agreed upon. Later that night at Andhra Bhavan, I gave Krishna Rao the final copy of the draft manifesto which he was going to give Narasimha Rao the next day, and sent a copy to Krishnamurty who was liaising with Pranab Mukherjee. Pitroda got a copy on a floppy disc the next day for Solanki.
In its constructive aspects, the March 22 1991 draft of the Congress manifesto went as follows with regard to economic policy: “CHAPTER V AGENDA FOR ECONOMIC ACTION 1. Control of Inflation …. The Congress believes the inflation and price-rise of essential commodities… is a grave macroeconomic problem facing the country today. It has hit worst the poorest and weakest sections of our people and those with fixed incomes like pensioners. The Congress will give highest priority to maintaining the prices of essential commodities, increasing their production and supply using all appropriate economic instruments. 2. Macroeconomic Policy Framework To control inflation of the general price-level, the Congress will provide a predictable long-term policy framework. The average Indian household and business will not have their lives and plans disrupted by sudden changes in economic policy. Coherent monetary policy measures will be defined as called for by the Report of Experts of the Reserve Bank of India in 1985. The Long-Term Fiscal Policy introduced by the Congress Government of 1984-1989 will be revived. Medium and long-term export-import policies will be defined. The basis for a strong India must be a strong economy. The Congress believes a high rate of real growth is essential for securing a strong national defence, social justice and equity, and a civilized standard of living for all. As the party of self-reliance, Congress believes resources for growth must be generated from within our own economy. This means all wasteful and unproductive Government spending has to be cut, and resources transferred from areas of low priority to areas of high national priority. Subsidies have to be rationalized and reduced, and productivity of investments already made has to be improved. The widening gap between revenue receipts and revenue expenditure must be corrected through fiscal discipline, and the growing national debt brought under control as a matter of high priority. These policies in a consistent framework will create the environment for the freeing of the rupee in due course, making it a hard currency of the world of which our nation can be proud. Public resources are not unlimited. These have to be allocated to high priority areas like essential public services, poverty-reduction, strategic sectors, and protection of the interests of the weaker sections of society. Government has to leave to the initiative and enterprise of the people what can be best done by themselves. Government can now progressively vacate some areas of activity to the private, cooperative and non-government sectors. Black money in the parallel economy has become the plague of our economic and political system. This endangers the social and moral fabric of our nation. Artificial price controls, excessive licensing, capacity restrictions, outmoded laws on rent control and urban ceiling, and many other outdated rules and regulations have contributed to pushing many honest citizens into dishonest practices. The Congress will tackle the problem of black money at its roots by attacking all outmoded and retrograde controls, and simplifying procedures in all economic spheres. At the same time, the tax-base of the economy must be increased via simplification and rationalization of tax-rates and coverage, user-fees for public goods, and reduction of taxes wherever possible to improve incentives and stimulate growth. 3. Panchayati Raj India’s farmers and khet mazdoors are the backbone of our economy. Economic development is meaningless until their villages provide them a wholesome rural life. The Congress will revitalize Panchayat Raj institutions to decentralize decision-making, so development can truly benefit local people most effectively. 4. Rural Development Basic economic infrastructure like roads, communications, fresh drinking water, and primary health and education for our children must reach all our villages. The Congress believes such a policy will also relieve pressures from migration on our towns and cities…… Through the Green Revolution which the Congress pioneered over 25 years, our farmers have prospered. Now our larger farmers must volunteer to contribute more to the national endeavour, and hence to greater equity and overall economic development. Equity demands land revenue should be mildly graduated so that small farmers holding less than one acre pay less land revenue per acre…. 9. Education and Health The long-run prosperity of our nation depends on the general state of education, health and well-being of our people. Small families give themselves more choice and control over their own lives. Improving female literacy, promoting the welfare of nursing mothers and reducing infant mortality will have a direct bearing on reducing the birth-rate and improving the health and quality of all our people. Primary and secondary education has high social returns and is the best way in the long-run for achievement of real equality. Efforts will be made to reduce the cost of education for the needy through concessional supply of books and other study materials, scholarships and assistance for transportation and residential facilities. The Congress Party pledges to dedicate itself to promoting education, especially in rural areas and especially for girls and the weaker sections of society. The next Congress Government will prepare and launch a 10-year programme for introduction of free and compulsory primary education for all children of school age. It will continue to emphasize vocational bias in education, integrating it closely with employment opportunities…. 11. Industrial Efficiency Our industrial base in the private and public sectors are the core of our economy. What we have achieved until today has been creditable, and we are self-reliant in many areas. Now the time has come for industry to provide more efficiency and better service and product-quality for the Indian consumer. The public sector has helped the Indian economy since Independence and many national goals have been achieved. Now it has become imperative that the management of public sector units is made effective, and their productivity increased. Major steps must be taken for greater accountability and market-orientation. Failure to do this will make our country lose more and more in the international economy. Budgetary support will be given only for public sector units in the core and infrastructure sectors. Emphasis will be on improving performance and productivity of existing investments, not on creating added organizations or over manning. Units not in the core sector will be privatised gradually. Even in core sectors like Telecommunications, Power, Steel and Coal, incremental needs can be taken care of by the private sector. The Government-Enterprise interface must be properly defined in a White Paper. The Congress believes privatisation must distribute the profits equitably among the people of India. In order to make our public enterprises truly public, it is essential that the shares of many such enterprises are widely held by the members of the general public and workers. Congress pledges to allot a proportion of such shares to the rural Panchayats and Nagarpalikas. This will enhance their asset-base and yield income for their development activities, as well as improve income-distribution. 12. Investment and Trade Indian industry, Government and professional managers are now experienced enough to deal with foreign companies on an equal footing, and channel direct foreign investment in desired directions. Foreign companies often bring access to advanced technological know-how, without which the nation cannot advance. The Congress Government will formulate a pragmatic policy channelling foreign investment into areas important to the national interest. Every effort must be made also to encourage Indians who are outside India to invest in the industry, trade and real estate of their homeland. Because of the protected and inflationary domestic market, Indian industry has become complacent and the incentive for industrial exports has been weakened. When all production is comfortably absorbed at home, Indian industry makes the effort to venture into exports only as a last resort. This must change. A Congress Government will liberalize and deregulate industry to make it competitive and export-oriented, keeping in mind always the interests of the Indian consumer in commercial policy. Export-oriented and predictable commercial policies will be encouraged. Existing procedural constraints and bottlenecks will be removed. Quotas and tariffs will be rationalized. Thrust areas for export-development will be identified and monitored. Efforts will be made to develop a South Asian Community. Trade and economic cooperation among South Asian countries must be increased and simplified.”
This March 22 1991 draft of the Congress’s intended economic policies got circulated and discussed, and from it rumours and opinions appeared that Congress was planning to launch a major economic reform in India. Economic Times said the manifesto “is especially notable for its economic agenda” and Business Standard said “if party manifestos decide election battles” Congress must be “considered home and dry”. A senior IMF official told me three years later the manifesto had indeed seemed a radical and bold move in the direction of progress, which had been exactly our intended effect. When I met Manmohan Singh at the residence of S. S. Ray in September 1993 in Washington, Ray told him and his senior aides the Congress manifesto had been written on my computer. Manmohan Singh smiled and said that when Arjun Singh and other senior members of the Congress had challenged him in the cabinet, he had pointed to the manifesto. Yet, oddly enough, while the March 22 draft got discussed and circulated, and the Indian economic reform since July 1991 corresponded in fundamental ways to its contents as reproduced above, the actual published Congress manifesto in April 1991 was as tepid and rhetorical as usual, as if some party hack had before publication put in the usual nonsense about e.g. bringing down inflation via price-controls. Certainly the published manifesto was wholly undistinguished in its economic aspects, and had nothing in it to correspond to the bold change of attitude towards economic policy that actually came to be signalled by the 1991 Government.
On March 23, our group was to meet Rajiv at noon. There was to be an event in the inner lawns of Rajiv’s residence in the morning, where he would launch Krishna Rao’s book on India’s security. Krishna Rao had expressly asked me to come but I had to wait outside the building patiently, not knowing if it was a mistake or if it was deliberate. This was politics after all, and I had ruffled feathers during my short time there. While I waited, Rajiv was speaking to a farmers’ rally being held at grounds adjoining his residence, and there appeared to be thousands of country folk who had gathered to hear him. When it was over, Rajiv, smiling nervously and looking extremely uncomfortable, was hoisted atop people’s shoulders and carried back to the residence by his audience. As I watched, my spine ran cold at the thought that any killer could have assassinated him with ease in that boisterous crowd, right there in the middle of Delhi outside his own residence. It was as if plans for his security had been drawn up without any strategic thinking underlying them.
Krishna Rao arrived and graciously took me inside for his book launch. The event was attended by the Congress’s top brass, including Narasimha Rao whom I met for the first time, as well as foreign military attaches and officers of the Indian armed forces. The attaché of one great power went about shaking hands and handing out his business card to everyone. I stood aside and watched. Delhi felt to me that day like a sieve, as if little could be done without knowledge of the embassies. One side wanted to sell arms, aircraft or ships, while the other wanted trips abroad or jobs or green cards or whatever for their children. And I thought Islamabad would be worse — could India and Pakistan make peace in this fetid ether?
Proceedings began when Rajiv arrived. This elite audience mobbed him just as the farmers had mobbed him earlier. He saw me and beamed a smile in recognition, and I smiled back but made no attempt to draw near him in the crush. He gave a short very apt speech on the role the United Nations might have in the new post-Gulf War world. Then he launched the book, and left for an investiture at Rashtrapati Bhavan. We waited for our meeting with him, which finally happened in the afternoon. Rajiv was plainly at the point of exhaustion and still hard-pressed for time. He seemed pleased to see me and apologized for not talking in the morning. Regarding the March 22 draft, he said he had not read it but that he would be doing so. He said he expected the central focus of the manifesto to be on economic reform, and an economic point of view in foreign policy, and in addition an emphasis on justice and the law courts. I remembered our September 18 conversation and had tried to put in justice and the courts into our draft but had been over-ruled by others. I now said the social returns of investment in the judiciary were high but was drowned out again. Rajiv was clearly agitated that day by the BJP and blurted out he did not really feel he understood what on earth they were on about. He said about his own family, “We’re not religious or anything like that, we don’t pray every day.” I felt again what I had felt before, that here was a tragic hero of India who had not really wished to be more than a happy family man until he reluctantly was made into a national leader against his will. We were with him for an hour or so. As we were leaving, he said quickly at the end of the meeting he wished to see me on my own and would be arranging a meeting. One of our group was staying back to ask him a favour. Just before we left, I managed to say to him what I felt was imperative: “The Iraq situation isn’t as it seems, it’s a lot deeper than it’s been made out to be.” He looked at me with a serious look and said “Yes I know, I know.” It was decided Pitroda would be in touch with each of us in the next 24 hours. During this time Narasimha Rao’s manifesto committee would read the draft and any questions they had would be sent to us. We were supposed to be on call for 24 hours. The call never came. Given the near total lack of system and organization I had seen over the months, I was not surprised. Krishna Rao and I waited another 48 hours, and then each of us left Delhi. Before going I dropped by to see Krishnamurty, and we talked at length. He talked especially about the lack of the idea of teamwork in India. Krishnamurty said he had read everything I had written for the group and learned a lot. I said that managing the economic reform would be a critical job and the difference between success and failure was thin.
I got the afternoon train to Calcutta and before long left for America to bring my son home for his summer holidays with me. In Singapore, the news suddenly said Rajiv Gandhi had been killed. All India wept. What killed him was not merely a singular act of criminal terrorism, but the system of humbug, incompetence and sycophancy that surrounds politics in India and elsewhere. I was numbed by rage and sorrow, and did not return to Delhi. Eleven years later, on 25 May 2002, press reports said “P. V. Narasimha Rao and Manmohan Singh lost their place in Congress history as architects of economic reforms as the Congress High command sponsored an amendment to a resolution that had laid credit at the duo’s door. The motion was moved by…. Digvijay Singh asserting that the reforms were a brainchild of the late Rajiv Gandhi and that the Rao-Singh combine had simply nudged the process forward.” Rajiv’s years in Government, like those of Indira Gandhi, were in fact marked by profligacy and the resource cost of poor macroeconomic policy since bank-nationalisation may be as high as Rs. 125 trillion measured in 1994 rupees. Certainly though it was Rajiv Gandhi as Leader of the Opposition in his last months who was the principal architect of the economic reform that came to begin after his passing.