Leadership vacuum

First published in The Statesman, Editorial Page Special Article, June 7 2008, http://www.thestatesman.net

Leadership vacuum

Time & Tide Wait For No One In Politics: India Trails Pakistan & Nepal!

Subroto Roy

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.

Dadagiri

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.

Puppet-masters

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.

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Our Dismal Politics: Will Independent India Survive Until 2047?

Our Dismal Politics
Will Independent India Survive Until 2047?

By SUBROTO ROY

First published in The Statesman Editorial Page, Special Article, Feb 1 2008

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.

Inheriting advantage

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.

(Author’s Note: The graph that accompanied this article is published elsewhere here under the title “Median Voter Model of India’s Electorate”.)

On Land-Grabbing

ON LAND-GRABBING

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

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.