In the long term only those parties will succeed who think of the poor, underprivileged, how to bring relief to the poorest of the poorest of the people. And the earlier these people do it, the better it is. The Congress, the Hindu faction —the BJP, RSS— and the Left, all three are important for this country. All three must play their role and all regional parties must play their role. That is the matrix of India, which in the long run will help India grow in the right direction. That will keep peace in the country. If anybody tries to outdo the other, even the present Government must reach out to the opposition.
The elections are over and the mandate has come — surprising for many of us and satisfying for the BJP and their allies. One outcome is that there will be a stable Government for five years because they don’t have to depend on coalition partners or even their own allies. They themselves have got a clear majority. Their leadership issue too is clear because they declared their leader before the election, so within the party there is no problem. So straight away the point comes : what will be the policies of this Government and what will it be able to deliver? The manifesto has its own policies. The satisfactory point is that even in the manifesto, issues like the Ram temple and Article 370 were pushed into the inner pages and the main thrust was on development and employment. Now assuming that this Government remains true to its promise, how will they go about it?
Investment is an easier thing to do, because foreign investment can come in. The last two years, this country’s ‘sentiment’ has spoilt because of some measures taken by the previous Government like retrospective taxation and a few other measures, which was not welcomed because they don’t fit into the pattern of the international financial framework. I am sure this new Government will quickly reverse that, because the BJP is a trader’s party. They understand the problem of traders better than they understand anything else and they would not like the trading community to be hurt in any manner. The first budget may also signal reduction in taxation, may be a small reduction, but reduction in taxation for the corporate sector and for the rich people on the American pattern. All this will add to investment coming in. Mega projects, which are the favourite of the new Prime Minister, like bullet trains, joining rivers, all these big projects infrastructure he has always been talking about. Now, investment can come in from American companies, from the western world, because those countries and companies also have nowhere to invest. There is no return from anywhere in the world and people are looking to India as a good destination. So if he just clears the hurdles unwittingly created by the Congress Government and gives the picture that we are a fair and just economy as far as laws are concerned and will not go back on our promises, money will come in.
Then the issue comes, what are the projects, what are the size of projects, are they viable, that is the tricky part of it. You can have a bullet train in India, but how will it pay for itself? You can’t increase the fares to the level the bullet trains will need. So they have to be subsidised. Whether train service subsidy is worth it, we don’t know. Linking the Ganga and the Cauvery is a project that will take 20 years. Whether it is desirable or not from the environmental point of view is a matter for Rajendra Pachauri and company to decide. Suresh Prabhu under the Atal Bihari Government was also given this task and they were working on it. It is true that a lot of river water is being wasted going to the sea and something has to be done to harness it. But whether we can copy China which is making mega mega dams, I don’t know. Whether it is even desirable, I don’t know.
But the fact is that these are the things they can do in 3 months, 6 months, 12 months. But then what? How does it bring relief to the common man, who is crushed under inflation. Now how do you tackle inflation? The only inflation they can tackle is food grain inflation, because the Government has got a stock of wheat and other grains, they can release them in the market, so prices will be go down a little. Vegetables, what can the Government do? The price of vegetable differs from every 10 Kms-100Kms. The central Government can’t do much about it. Then petrol and diesel. The advisors of this Government like Jagdish Bhagwati, Arvind Panagariya and other western people, they will always say they should pass through, they don’t like subsidy at all. So whenever the international price of crude goes up, they will say increase the price of petrol and diesel. Already, Bhagwati and Panagariya have made a statement that cylinder subsidy should go back to 6 cylinders instead of 9. So how exactly they can control inflation is something which I can’t understand.
And another part which people miss, suppose they reduce the inflation, which means inflation in the rate of increase of prices. Reducing inflation does not mean reducing prices. It means prices will not increase at the same level. The present level will remain, there is no question of prices going down. So the problems on which they have to come power, or at least I think people have voted for them, thinking that prices will come down, we will get relief — rich and poor can’t get relief at the same time. In fact that’s what the previous Government tried. They tried to give a fillip to the corporate sector and they started schemes like the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Gurantee Scheme (MGNREGS) and the Right to Education (RTE) etc. But it didn’t seem to work. Because in India what happens is, anything that you try to do to help the poor will also be appropriated by the rich. Take MGNREGS as an example. You made a scheme whereby every village person will get employment, every family will get employment, but how do you operate it? Through the collector? No, you say, through the Panchayats. Twenty Panchayat members, they become the bosses. There is a lot of leakage and you never know where the money is going. One of the theories is that in this election even MGNREGS has gone against this Congress Government. We don’t know the truth, but the facts remains : it is very very difficult to really reach, help, ensure money, relief to the poor.
What are the innovations? The new Prime Minister keeps on talking of the Gujarat model, but we don’t know what that model is. At least I read so many books and magazines and yet we want to know what is that model? How has it helped the poor in Gujarat? I just read one article by one correspondent writing from Baroda and he said the city is as dirty as any city in India can be. So what is that model? The only thing that they can show off is that the share market will go up, the corporate sector will go up, investments will come in, new factories may come in. Now how much employment that can generate is a long shot. After all, now it is modern technology, factories are automatic. What needed two thousand workers now requires only two hundred workers. How many factories can you put up? Agro based — I heard Vandana Shiva in a programme some days ago, she correctly said every second man in India is a farmer, half of the population depends on land. So what is your exposition on farming? I have not heard anything from the BJP. I have not heard about anything about it in their manifesto. What are the agro techniques that you are giving so that people can be employed in the agriculture sector and increase their income? These are long term problems. Of course the new Prime Minister is quite smart because earlier he was saying, give me five years now he is talking about ten years, fifteen years, in one speech even twenty years. So he probably understands the problem, that in five years it will be difficult to deliver.
But with a clear mandate, with a clear vision they can make an effort. The first three months and the kind of budget they present will show us in which direction they are going. My guess is that their direction will be towards trade, industry and the richer sections of people, which I don’t think is very good for the country. Even the 1991 reforms have not taken the country forward. In twenty three years the country really has not gone forward. The poor have remained poor. The minorities have remained in a lurch. Social harmony is still to be restored in the country, whether it is the Hindu Sikh divide of the 1984 riots or the Hindu Muslim divide of the 1992 Babri Masjid or the Godhra matter. The Christians are also under pressure. Under the Atal Bihari Government. in Orissa there were murders of Christians. I don’t think social harmony is anywhere near.
The Congress governed for ten years. They could have done much better. They have lost. They have lost the candle at both ends. They were a party which was known for fairness, for secularism, for social harmony. In the last ten years they could not show that they could even maintain that. And whatever they tried, the National Advisory Council, mostly mixture of some advisors and all — these schemes also flopped as far I can see. Now there is the new Government. Can you scrap MGNREGS? It will give a bad signal. Can you improve MGNREGS? How? The problems are much bigger and just to say the old Government was corrupt — corrupt means you are talking about top corruption of 2G and 3G and all — that does not affect MGNREGS. MGNREGS corruption is at grass root level. How are you going to remove that? And the real corruption for the public is at the ration card level, passport level, Regional Transport Office(s) (RTO) level…how is the Prime Minister going to correct all that? Unless the entire Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) — which went into this election in an unprecedented manner — if they become swayamsevaks to improve the life of the people, I cannot say. But what I normally know of the administrative structure of this country, it will remain the same. You may transfer one officer from here to there, but the system will remain the same. Delivery is very difficult. It will be definitely better if they find innovative schemes which will include the poor and minorities so that they get some relief. The signals that we are getting on the way they won the elections does not inspire confidence that this Government can do any better than the last Government. For five years there is no question of elections, but what will happen after five years?
It will be a frightening day for me if I am told that the BJP has won because the Hindus have voted for it and the Muslims have not voted for it. I still somehow can’t believe it. According to me it is the prospect of employment, the prospect of prosperity, the prospect of growth which attracted youngsters to this party, not Hindu communalism or any anti-Muslim stance — all that really doesn’t matter. And I don’t know, the Prime Minister, earlier he spoke against Pakistan etc, now he is talking a different language. Probably he has understood that if you have to run this country you can’t fight with neighbours. You can’t fight with everybody and run a country like this. It is not possible. And he invited all the SAARC people for his swearing in. It is a good sign. To start improving relations with the SAARC neighbours and with America and China is definitely right thing to do.
I am of the belief that everybody has a vote bank. It is all right for the BJP to say that the Congress and regional parties are using Muslims as a vote bank. According to me, the BJP is using Hindus as a vote bank. Hinduism is an old ethos of five thousand years. They are saying Hindutva. What is Hindutva? Hindutva is a vote bank of the Hindus. They go on fighting them over Muslims and try to take their votes. These are all short term strategies. They won’t work. In the long term only those parties will succeed who think of the poor, underprivileged, how to bring relief to the poorest of the poorest of the people. And the earlier these people do it, the better it is.
The Congress, the Hindu faction — the BJP, RSS — and the Left, all three are important for this country. All three must play their role and all regional parties must play their role. That is the matrix of India, which in the long run will help India grow in the right direction. That will keep peace in the country. If anybody tries to outdo the other, even the present Government must reach out to the opposition. I do not know what they are thinking. They have won the election but the election is only for five years. They have not got a mandate for fifty years. They must reach out to the Congress, they must reach out to the Left, and they must reach out to the regional leaders. Even though they have lost the elections, the parties are there. They must call all-party meetings more frequently to make them feel that you are the part of the process. Parliament of course will run on its own rules but outside Parliament there is a lot of work to do. And, unless we have a society in which the Chambers of Commerce, trade unions, the Naxalite-Maoist movement — people who are leading that — unless they are all brought into the mainstream, no central Government can do much in this country. Of course you can pamper the corporate sector, get a lot of money, spend big money on projects, which is the part of the story, but not the whole story.
Before the World War, income and wealth were always restricted to a few hands. After the World War, a feeling grew in America that it is not very fair. People who are working hard for a living should be able to enjoy their income and live a good life. The taxation rate should be adjusted accordingly. The rich should be taxed more and the people who are the working class should be taxed ‘average’ and fair. This went on till the late 1970s, till Ronald Regan came to the scene. He reversed the cycle in favour of the rich. And the last 35 years in America have shown that the rich are getting richer, the working class is struggling and today the result is that one per cent of the American public is enjoying power and wealth and income. The rest are struggling. This sorry state of affairs, the commentators in America are commenting on this. The Republican Party is obviously in favour of the rich. The Democrats — even the best efforts by Obama — are not able to really address this problem. Do you think we can do any better in India, especially with a Government like the BJP? The BJP is a pro rich party. It is a pro trade and industry party. As it is in India, according to the same economist who has said in America, one per cent of the Indian population is controlling nine per cent of income. Even this is the only part of the truth. Out of this one, point 1 per cent ( .1) would be controlling the 90 per cent of the 9 percent. Concentration of economic power and wealth has reached unprecedented levels in India. If the new Government again gives tax concessions to the rich, the middle class will remain where they are — struggling for their job, travelling in a train, travelling in a bus, not able to educate their children properly without taking a bank loan, without borrowing money they cannot attend to their health problems, forget about improving their life style. And the rich will get richer, keep their money here. If the money is too much, they will keep it abroad. If the money is too much, they will buy land. We are into the capitalist era again. The BJP has not clearly said what its agenda is. The Congress of course have been saying the right things but doing the wrong things. That is why they are in this mess. But the BJP will not even feel apologetic. They will say this, that let the rich become richer, let the business community prosper and the poor will automatically come up. This is a long-long haul. If America cannot do it, I do not think India can do it.