25 November 2007
From Facebook May 29 2011:
Subroto Roy hears Dr Manmohan Singh said yesterday (to journalists “on board Air India One” returning with him from Africa) “I think industrialisation is essential for the country to solve the problems of unemployment and poverty”. Nonsense Prime Minister! That is obsolescent or, at the very least, rather quaint Stalinist chatter. Try to provide public goods properly, which means getting the judiciary etc to work well. Try to get the public finances & public decision-making processes right, which means getting govt accounting & audit right and legislatures to work across the country. Try to drastically raise the productivity of public investments and expenditures. And try not to debauch India’s money any further than you have done. All that may make a good start. (And only when you have done all that do you really need to travel abroad again on “Air India One”; that thing the telephone really is a great invention…)
Subroto Roy is scolded by Ms Siddiqui: “Out of all the corrupt money grabbing racist ministers and governors and politicians you could find only Manmohan Singh to attack? Truly discerning arent you?”,
to which I have to say Hello Ms Siddiqi, Thank you for your comment. It is I am afraid ill-informed. 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” https://www.facebook.com/note.php?note_id=177565501125“Assessing Manmohan”https://www.facebook.com/note.php?note_id=177600651125, “The Dream Team: A Critique” https://www.facebook.com/note.php?note_id=184178641125 “Mistaken Macroeconomics” https://www.facebook.com/note.php?note_id=179676656125 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.
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.
May 29 2009:
From Facebook October 15 2010
Subroto Roy thinks the Sonia-Manmohan Govt throwing auditors with their rule-books ex post facto at the Games’ organisers is a good if miniscule first step (though it is, in my estimation, the third Rajivist step in total, see infra…). May we please have the same done asap to military contracts (especially for Russian fighter jets, used aircraft carriers etc), Boeing & Airbus contracts, railway contracts, power sector contracts including nuclear business contracts, IIT and IIM building contracts, in fact *all* government sector building contracts, in fact *all* government sector contracts……
From Facebook March 28 2010
Subroto Roy is pleased that according to this morning’s news reports of a “national convention” on “Law, Justice & the Common Man”, the Sonia-Manmohan Congress took a small second step yesterday on the same road that Rajiv Gandhi and I had chalked out in 1990-1991. Better late than never!
From Subroto Roy & WE James’s Introduction 1989-1990 to Foundations of India’s Political Economy: Towards an Agenda for the 1990s edited by them, published by Sage 1992, received by Rajiv Gandhi on September 1990 in manuscript form.
“Finally, no discussion of the subcontinent’s political economy can ignore the fact of the monumental poverty of external goods on the part of a vast population, in contrast with a fairly large class of people with adequate livelihoods, in turn contrasting with small islands of indolence and conspicuous consumption. Benjamin Disraeli said of Victorian England that it consisted of two nations. The Indian subcontinent today consists in many respects of two nations living side by side, the real division being much less longitudinal on religious or communal lines (as intended by Muslim separatists at the time of Partition and Hindu imperialists today) as it is latitudinal on class lines between “bhadralok” and “janata”, middle class and working classes, bourgeoisie and masses, “nomenclatura” and proletariat. The sheer numbers can justify speaking of whole nations, the janata in India alone consisting of something like seven hundred million people, the bhadralok of one hundred and fifty million. The Indian bhadralok on their own constitute one of the largest nations on earth.
The bhadralok are not to be distinguished from the janata by any self-styled civility, nor is there any inevitable conflict which will lead to the victory of one and decimation of the other, nor is it that one derives its income from productive effort or enterprise and the other does not. A more effective criterion by which to distinguish the two nations of India may have to do not with work but with leisure, as well as with the kind of capital that comes to be inherited over time. The janata are the unleisured nation of India, people who mostly due to the meagreness of their initial resources come to possess little or no leisure in the course of their lifetimes. They are scattered and illiterate, without connections in high places, often too involved with the hardships of daily life to care for much else. They eat and sleep to maintain the minimum energy needed to survive, reproduce and send their children to school or work, travelling through life day by day and week by week. They may have some short time devoted to religion or entertainment, but life is too often too hard, not so much without happiness or culture as without much time for either. Expectations of what life has to offer may be unambitious and yet successful.
Inequality from an economic point of view may consist of the fact that the poor do not inherit any leisure from the past. They do not inherit the savings of their parents and ancestors because most did not have parents and ancestors who had any savings to leave behind. Capital and the income it generates, and the consumption which such income makes possible, are among the most subtle notions of political economy. As a rough approximation, if we distinguish between human capital, physical and financial capital, and social and political capital, it may be said that the inheritance of economic inequality in India may consist of the inheritance of economic inequality in India may consist of the inheritance by the janata of no form of capital except their own stock of human capital. There is little or no inheritance from parents of savings or any other form of capital. Hence the janata are also the “garib lok”, the masses are also the poor folk.
By contrast the bhadralok are also the leisured nation of the subcontinent, with the time and inclination to praise or decry the state of the culture or the economy or the prime minister, to visit or return from the outside world (“baahar”) to the subcontinent or vice versa, to take a walk in the morning or a nap in the afternoon, to express compassion for or embarrassment about the existence of the janata (especially in relation to the foreigner since the bhadralok have to explain both their privileged position relative to the janata and their often underprivileged position relative to the foreigner with whom they desire to consort), to study the janata or lead them in revolution or take measurements of them, and to read, write, edit or publish books such as this one. The bhadralok are the “respectable people” of the subcontinent, with names, family histories and reputations, literate and often highly educated, bilingual at least, with an inheritance of or illusions about acknowledged places in society. They inherit from their parents and save for their children physical and financial capital, invest in their human capital, and bestow to them as much social and political capital as they can. The mercantile and industrial bhadralok own and transfer to their children relatively more physical and financial capital, while the managerial, administrative and professional bhadralok may transfer relatively more social and political capital. At the apex of both groups is an elite amounting to a few million people, united perhaps by their membership or attempted membership of the post-British social clubs and centres of intellectualism, or foreign universities and the lower middle classes of Britain and North America.
What may be expected in the long run is mobility between the two nations and in both directions. Through indolence or bad luck, families can fall by a half or a third of a social class each generation, or move in the opposite direction through chance or cunning or enterprise and effort. It is an essential feature of mass economic development that there will be net mobility upwards in the long run, and an attendant breakdown of social barriers and the gradual assimilation of classes and castes into one another. Contrary to an assumption of the working classes being united in their despair and contempt for the middle class, and motivated in their desire to bloodily dispose of them, it may be more accurate to say that what unleisured people want most (after employment, food, shelter and clothing) is what they value most at the margin, namely, leisure. What the working classes desire most may be something like the kind of life as the bourgeoisie. Let aside there being a potential or open conflict arising from the janata against the bhadralok, the truth of the matter could be there is a desire of the janata to have at least some leisure like the bhadralok.
If this is an accurate assumption, the main source of conflict between the two nations of India or the subcontinent could be different from what is often supposed by many people. Instead of being revolutionary in nature and deriving from below, the source may be reactionary in nature and amount to resistance from the top. Like all cartels, the bhadralok may want to preserve their numbers and not look with favour at the prospect of large-scale mass economic development, entailing as this will greater competition on all fronts, the erosion of privilege, the breakdown of social barriers and the assimilation of classes into one another.
The Jacobin/Bolshevik/Maoist method of reducing inequalities was to expropriate physical and financial capital, and decimate social and political capital and all that stands in the way of such destruction. The upheaval and chaos of such blood-letting leaves a new order which is, or seems, for a moment, more egalitarian than the regime it replaces. But it also leaves a society without knowledge of its past, alternately enervated by its present and terrified of its future. Recovery from such a state of near social death has been long and hard and painful, where it has happened at all. Despite the wishes of a few, India does not seem likely to experience such social death on a national scale, although the temporary effects of terrorism and civil chaos in pockets of the country would seem to be similar.
A more far-sighted method would be by the creation of capital for the janata to increase their sources of income and consumption and thereby reduce the inequality of wealth and political power. It would mean investment in the only form of capital that the janata have: their own human capital. It would mean fundamentally a change of focus away from the theoretical and grandiose in the drawing-rooms and corridors of New Delhi (and Washington), and towards the simple and commonsensical: stopping the wastage of the tax-resources; making the currency sound at home and abroad; redirecting public investment towards public goods such as civil justice, roads, fresh water and sanitation; and fostering a civilized rural life, built around village schools with blackboards and chalk, with playgrounds and libraries and hot meals, with all-weather buildings and all-weather roads to their doors.
India today resembles a kind of gigantic closed city with high walls and few gates. Within the walls are concurrently represented many different ages in the history of man, from pre-historic and early Aryan, to medieval and Moghul, to Dickensian and American, the members of each age having some common and some individual sets of life-expectations, yet all being due to enter the next century together. Outside is the rest of human civilization, as well as the free circulation of gold and foreign exchange. Nearabouts the gates of the city, and with ability to travel in and out, are the few million of the elite. If the walls of the city are to be knocked down or at least if the gates opened and kept wide open, it will have to be the elite who do this or consent to have it done.
If it is done properly, after adequate preparation of the economic and political expectations of citizens, there may be many positive results, not only for the economy but also for the culture and civilization of the subcontinent as a whole. The free flow of ideas and opportunities across national borders; the freedom to travel in the world; the free movement of goods and capital; the freedom to save one’s tangible wealth, small as this may be, in whatever form or currency one considers best — these are fundamentally important freedoms which have been denied to most of the people of the subcontinent thus far and yet are taken for granted elsewhere in the world. There seems little reason to doubt that if such freedoms come to be gradually exercised by the janata there would be a permanent trend of increase in mass income and consumption.
Yet there are genuine questions of sovereignty which have to be anticipated as well. The consequences of a true opening are not fully or easily foreseeable. The prompt arrival of new East India Companies may be expected. Will there be enough competition between them? Or will the elite come to be further subverted, taking the first Indian Republic with it? After the long experience of foreign rule and nationalism and independent democracy, is the Indian polity mature enough to survive and gain from such an opening, or will it collapse once again as it did in the eighteenth century? The spectres of Plassey and Avadh must haunt every Indian nationalist, even as the hopes of a free economy and a progressive culture and an open civilization, beckon from the future. Is it a silent and implicit fear of this sort which constitutes the only possible rational barrier to greater freedom? Has the continued poverty been, in effect, the cost of nationalism? These are hard questions to which answers may not be found easily. It is hoped by the editors that the present volume may engage the citizens and friends of India to reflect upon them….”
From Facebook 7 Sep 2010:
Rajiv Gandhi received this book in manuscript form in hand from me on Sep 18 1990, and it contributed to the origins of India’s 1991 economic reform as has been described elsewhere. I am delighted to hear his son Rahul has in the last few days also been referring to India as “Two Nations”, rich and poor. Dr Manmohan Singh received the book itself in hand from me at the Indian Ambassador’s Residence in Washington in Sepember 1993; I am glad to see he too has yesterday mentioned the same “Two Nations” theory that I had applied from Disraeli’s book about Victorian England.
Subroto Roy reads that Dr Kaushik Basu, Chief Economic Adviser to the Finance Ministry of the Manmohan Singh Government, has “expressed great confidence in the fiscal health of the economy” and says to Kaushik:
Subroto Roy believes the great optimism about the Indian Republic that he had felt as a 7-year old boy upon meeting Jawaharlal Nehru at Colombo Airport on Oct 13 1962 (the first days of the surprise Communist Chinese attack on India), has now dissipated, and apart from Nehru’s immediate successor (Lal Bahadur Shastri) all Indian Prime Ministers since then have been gravely, perhaps catastrophically, disappointing.
Subroto Roy thinks President Obama’s informed lawyerly academic approach to the Afghanistan decision, whether or not it has its intended good consequences, has a positive demonstration effect for other capital cities, e.g. New Delhi, where public policy decisions are too often made to appease special interest groups inside a cloud of meaningless rhetoric.
Subroto Roy says of India and China in summary discussion at Edward Hugh’s Wall: “Well, both have massive and energetic populations, each with relatively little capital per head; raising the capital per head with new production and exchange processes leads to growth. (But the nominal economies are weak, public finances are absymal and paper money is out of control.)”
Subroto Roy recalls again Pericles of Athens: “Here each individual is interested not only in his own affairs but in the affairs of the state as well; even those who are mostly occupied with their own business are extremely well-informed on general politics- this is a peculiarity of ours:we do not say that a man who takes no inter…est in politics is a man who minds his own business;we say that he has no business here at all.”
Subroto Roy must ask Dr Manmohan Singh’s Government how it sees India’s “aam admi” coming to benefit by the United States Polo Team welcoming India in 2010 in the world championship polo matches on the DC National Mall, as has been very kindly reported by Mr and Mrs Tareq Salahi following the “Sensational Night honoring India”.
Dr Manmohan Singh has in a televised meeting with children said about himself:
“I am an aam admi“.
I am afraid this caused me to say at Facebook today:
Subroto Roy finds disconcerting Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s claim of being himself “a common man”.
In “Rajiv Gandhi and the Origins of India’s 1991 Economic Reform”, I wrote about my encounter with Rajiv:
“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.)”
I am afraid I do not think Dr Singh was whom Rajiv or Indira had in mind in speaking of the common man.
“Manmohan and Sonia have violated Rajiv Gandhi’s intended reforms”.
I said inter alia
“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….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. …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 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.”
Days after the article appeared there were press reports Dr Singh was murmuring about quitting, and then came a fierce speech in Hindi from the Congress President saying “enemies” would receive their dues or whatever – only to be retracted a few days later saying that no more had been meant than a local critique of the BJP in Haryana politics! (Phew! I said to myself in relief…)
Today I am very happy to learn that Dr Manmohan Singh spoke on Sunday of the importance of the Rule of Law and an effective and efficient judiciary. The new Law Minister in the second Sonia-Manmohan Government has been eagerly saying the same.
All this is constructive and positive, late as it is since Sonia Gandhi and Manmohan Singh both became heavy-duty Congress Party politicians for the first time a dozen years ago.
“….….The most serious examples of the malfunctioning of civil government in India are probably the failure to take feasible public precautions against the monsoons and the disarray of the judicial system. …The Statesman lamented in July 1980:`The simplest matter takes an inordinate amount of time, remedies seldom being available to those without means or influence. Of the more than 16,000 cases pending in the Supreme Court, about 5,000 were introduced more than five years ago; while nearly 16,000 of the backlog of more than 600,000 cases in our high courts have been hanging fire for over a decade. Allahabad is the worst offender but there are about 75,000 uncleared cases in the Calcutta High Court in addition to well over a million in West Bengal’s lower courts.” Such a state of affairs has been caused not only by lazy and corrupt policemen, court clerks and lawyers, but also by the paucity of judges and magistrates. . . . a vast volume of laws provokes endless litigation as much because of poor drafting which leads to disputes over interpretation as because they appear to violate particular rights and privileges…. When governments determinedly do what they need not or should not do, it may be expected that they will fail to do what civil government positively should be doing.” A few months ago was the 25th anniversary of this statement… ! 🙂
Yes Prime Minister, having an effective and efficient judiciary is indeed a premier public good and one that has failed to be provided to India’s people from Nehru’s time and through Indira’s. I managed to persuade Rajiv about it completely. Might I next be so bold as to draw attention as well to the paragraphs of the 2007 article that followed?
“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 accounts: 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.”
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
Cabinet Government has become far too unwieldy and impractical in India, and the new Cabinet chosen by Sonia Gandhi and Manmohan Singh over almost a fortnight — of some 79 Ministers, almost certainly the largest number in the world — may be destined to be so as well. If there is going to be “fiscal prudence” as the PM and Finance Minister have declared, it really needs to start at the top with the Union Government itself. Remember we also have more than two dozen State Governments plus Union Territories and myriad local governments too.
Here then is an example of a better-designed Cabinet for the Government of India with Cabinet Ministers in bold-face, others not so:
– Parliamentary Affairs
– Intra-Government Liaison
Defence War/Forces ( Raksha, Yudh/Fauj)
– Navy & Coast Guard
– Air Force & Strategic Forces
– Money & Banking
– Accountant General
– Law & Justice
– Internal Security
– Disaster Management & Civil Defence
– Archaeology, Art & Culture
– Commerce & Tourism
– Overseas Indians
– International Organisations
– Roads & Highways
– Shipping & Waterways
– Civil Aviation
– Urban Development
Agriculture & Food
– Rural Development
– Water, Flood Control & Irrigation
– Forestry & Tribal Affairs
– Competition and Monopoly-Control
– Petroleum and Energy
– Chemicals & Fertilizers
– Coal and Mines
– Communications and IT
– Higher Education
– Vocational Education
– Science and Technology
Labour & Employment
Health and Human Services
– Women and Child Development
– Social Security
There are just eleven Cabinet Ministers (in bold-face above) including the PM, so, along with the Cabinet Secretary, they could sit with ease around a normal table which should help the process of deliberation.
This document has arisen out of one during my work as an adviser to Rajiv Gandhi in his last months in 1990-1991 though the latter never reached him; I had intended to talk to him about its contents but it was not to be.
It may be profitably read alongside my “Distribution of Government Expenditure in India”, which is part of my ongoing research and was released in the public interest last year.
Subroto Roy, Kolkata
Citizen & Voter
“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”. “
I went on to say
“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.”
It is interesting and amusing to see today’s newspapers report that the person who appointed Dr Manmohan Singh to be India’s PM, namely Sonia Gandhi, has taken a 180-degree turn on this subject while sitting beside Mamata Banerjee yesterday.
She apparently said: “I am happy so be sharing the dais with Mamata Banerjee once again….in Nandigram and Singur the State Government had unleashed dictatorship in the garb of democracy… . In the name of development (the CPI(M)) created terror in Nandigram and Singur. In the name of development, they snatched the land from the poor people there.”
Now what is the poor old CPI(M) to think after all this! Politics can be so entertaining. 😀
British PM Gordon Brown welcomed our PM into his official home at 10 Downing Street — but did he know there would be something like a dozen Indian bureaucrats following Dr Singh in? What did all these people talk about in such a short time? Or did they just sit around creating a receptive audience for the two PMs’ discussion? Perhaps they were planning a cricket match between the Prime Minister’s Offices of the United Kingdom and the Republic of India, and so the teams were getting introduced to one another.
“Pork barrel politics” has been known as a concept in America and other Western countries for more than a century. India is clearly playing catch-up here but advancing quickly. The so-called “second fiscal stimulus” announced yesterday by Dr Manmohan Singh’s chief economic policy aide no longer makes any pretence of any engagement with serious public finance economics at all and is instead a plain bill of rights for lobbyists, especially organised business (and with it, organised labour).
In fact New Delhi’s way seems to be for organised lobbies to deal directly with the higher bureaucracy with executive political approval or acquiescence; pork arising from legislative politics may be secondary.
Now “pork” is too ugly a term for our Indian sensibilities and not many people eat any in the country (though, believe it or not, pork-production literally speaking is still the recipient of a government subsidy!). So we do need a nice preferably vegetarian name for “pork-barrel politics” Indian-style. “Tel” or “oil” may provide some ideas, and as a rough approximation I would suggest “Teli politics” or “Oily politics” but suggestions are welcome.
There are groups in America known as “Porkbusters” :