May 29 2009:
November 7, 2010
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.
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.
A Note on the Indian Policy Process
During the University of Hawaii perestroika-for-India project two decades ago, I had wished to attract Sukhamoy Chakravarty from Delhi. He very kindly met me on July 14 1987 and presented me his last personal signed copy of the famous RBI report his committee had chaired. He said he could not come to Hawaii because of ill health but he strongly recommended I take C. Rangarajan instead because, he said, Dr Rangarajan was the main author of the report. I met Dr Rangarajan in Kolkata at Jadavpur University where he was giving a speech in his role as President of the Indian Economic Society that year. Later in correspondence, he wrote to say he was over-committed but that if I took Amaresh Bagchi instead, he would help co-author Bagchi’s contribution to our project. So I commissioned Amaresh Bagchi, then Director of New Delhi’s National Institute of Public Finance and Policy.
In my next project-related visit to Delhi in December 1988, I met Amaresh Bagchi personally for the first time; he was about to retire or had already done so. He told me he knew my name from the fact the High Commission of India in London had sent the Finance Ministry in Delhi the May 29 1984 lead editorial of The Times of London on my work which had been very critical of Indian economic policy; Bagchi had been at the time in the Finance Ministry, and, as an old sarkari statist, had naturally taken exception to what I had said by way of liberal criticism. He wished to co-write his contribution for our Hawaii project with a young colleague of his; I declined permission for him to do that and told him our understanding was that Dr Rangarajan would be writing with him.
In any case, in May 1989, Amaresh was the first person to reach Honolulu in the team we had put together for the project, arriving early by several days. He was all alone and seemed miserable, so I took him to the supermarket and later invited him to dine with my small family at our home at Punahou Towers, 1621 Dole Street. It pleased him to eat some home-cooked Indian food, and he warmed slightly. He told me he had joined the Government as a bureaucrat in the income tax department and later acquired a doctoral degree in economics, though I did not get a sense that he was familiar with traditional public finance of the sort in Richard Musgrave’s classic textbook. I gifted him a copy of James Buchanan’s lectures that I had put together when Professor Buchanan had visited the University of Hawaii at my invitation in 1988 and which the University had then published with a preface by myself. He remarked he found it terrible that American supermarkets had all this canned pet food when the world was so hungry. Later I invited him to a larger dinner party again at my home before the conference began.
At the conference itself, I placed him next to Milton Friedman, which some said was a master-stroke. There was a long and somewhat heated interchange between him and TN Srinivasan, though not with Milton, as Milton was, as always, invariably polite, patient and clear-headed in argument for the two days that he stayed.
The chapter Amaresh Bagchi wrote for us in the book Foundations of India’s Political Economy, edited by myself and WE James, was useful as practically the only statement until that time on the fiscal-induced monetary weakness of India (that still continues today, indeed may have gotten worse since). It contributed to placing him in the policy-limelight in his post-retirement years. Dr Rangarajan was not a co-author after all but apparently contributed the most important paragraphs on the subject. (We have been trying for almost a year now to get the University of Hawaii to allow free republication of the book on the Internet; the original publisher, now dead, reneged on a promise to produce a paperback edition after there was leftist academic pressure on him in Delhi.)
I gave a copy of our book to Manmohan Singh when I met him and his senior aides in September 1993 in Washington at the Indian Ambassador’s Residence; I was introduced to Dr Singh by the then Ambassador of India SS Ray as the person on whose laptop computer the 1991 economic reform had been designed for Rajiv Gandhi during Rajiv’s last months, a statement accurate enough as has been told elsewhere. (Dr Singh had 20 years earlier kindly visited our then-home in Paris at 14 Rue Eugene Manuel at the invitation of my father who knew him, to advise me about economics just before I headed to the London School of Economics as an 18 year old freshman; but in 1993 both he and I had forgotten that earlier 1973 meeting.)
Today’s newspapers report Amaresh Bagchi’s passing and say that “When (Manmohan) Singh was finance minister in the early 1990s, Bagchi was one of his key advisers on fiscal policy”. Dr Singh has described Bagchi as “one of our most distinguished fiscal policy experts” and said “It is no exaggeration to state that Amaresh has been associated with almost every major fiscal policy reform in the past 30 years”.
I am afraid I disagree with the Prime Minister of India in that I do not see any “major fiscal policy reform” having taken place at all in India, just a lot of unsystematic tinkering here and there. The root cause has been the failure to face or want to comprehend the extremely dismal state of government and public sector accounts throughout the country. Without proper government accounting, there can be neither accountability nor any serious fiscal policy, and hence no serious monetary or macroeconomic policy either.