A PNA dispatch
Sick Comedy of Indian Politics
Archives: January, 1998

Filling the Vacuum
The sick comedy of Indian politics and the need for a new platform
By R.D. Singh

India is passing through unprecedented socio-political and economic crisis. R.D. Singh dwells on the political spectrum and challenges the bizarre scene it presents.

India looks poised for a change. The trends are obvious, and people’ anxiety to have clean politics and economic freedom is very much in the air. Unhappiness over politicians’games and power politics is mounting. The 11th Lok Sabha faced an immature death through no fault of the people, and an unwarranted election has been foisted on an unwilling nation.

Now the same political players who put an end to the previous Lok Sabha are in the electoral fray with a one-point programme to capture power by hook or crook. Opportunistic alliances are in full swing. Group interest is reigning supreme as parties hunt for political allies. This is where the polity has gone wrong.

The 1998 election brings to the fore the pre-eminence of group psychology. Different parties have forged alliances or made fronts to promote their group interests. Having lost their support base amongst the electorates, they are hunting for allies as the key to electoral success. Alliances are being forged for short-term gain without ideological conformity. The pre-election alliances and earlier coalitions of different parties look comical and disgusting.

The Congress Party, having ruled the nation for 40 years under the charismatic leadership of the Nehru family, brought India to the brink of political decline, moral decay and economic disaster. Once again it clamours for power after bringing down two governments. Deeply faction-ridden, the party is heavily depending upon a Nehru family widow to put it in the citadel of power.

The fervently Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party has also thrown to the winds all claim of being an ideological party that believes in a value-based polity. It has been doing all the nasty things it has been accusing other parties of doing. The alliance of the party with Jayalalitha in Tamil Nadu as well as courtship of Muslims is telling, and shows that the BJP is prepared to cross any limit for electoral gain.

No party is talking about principles and the economic problems of the people, though only at the end of January all political leaders irrespective of their political affiliation howled for five days in a special session of the Parliament, shedding crocodile tears about the need of upholding principles in ideology and personal conduct in politics.

Ideology and the economy have been the major casualties in the Indian polity. We had uninterrupted democracy for 50 years with stable governments for most of them. But we did not make any headway in providing the minimum necessities to the people.

This practice continues today. Instead of coming forward with a definite plan to alleviate people¹s sufferings, Congress and the United Front are making secularism and religious communalism election themes, with the BJP harping on stability and nationalism.

Liberalisation no answer
On the economic front, all parties except BJP uphold the policy of liberalisation and globalisation as a panacea for all ills. The BJP promotes the private investor economy but with nationalist controls. The policy of liberalisation and the market economy has, however, accentuated poverty and widened the gap between the haves and the have-nots. The rupee has not only touched record lows in relation to the dollar, but industrial production has dropped. Likewise, imports have shot up and economic growth has fallen from 13 percent to less than six percent.

Regionally, Southeast Asia is still reeling under economic depression. The screaming and woe of the Asian markets have spread with unprecedented ferocity. The economies of Thailand, South Korea and Indonesia collapsed, and all three countries had to take billions of dollars in loans from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to gain breathing time. Prior to their collapse, the IMF regarded South Korea and Thailand as capitalist wonders.

Prof. Amrtya Sen, an eminent economist, had cautioned long ago against neglect of the social sector and joining the bandwagon of globalisation. Yet after the recent collapse the IMF is still prescribing heavy doses of globalisation and market liberalisation.

South Korea had the world¹s most impressive economic growth rate until 1996. Massachusetts Institute of Technology economist Alice Amsden observed that only when the South Korean government, under pressure from international institutions, loosened control on banks and speculative pressures against its currency, did the economy go into a downfall.

Nobel Laureate James Tobin holds that events like those in Southeast Asia call into the question the claim that liberalisation and globalisation of financial market are the path to progress and prosperity.

Liberalisation is no answer to appalling poverty and growing unemployment. Indian politicians who jump on the liberalisation bandwagon are thus taking the country down a destructive path. In almost every region of India there is immense scope for generating employment. Craft workers and artisans were the base of the rural economy. If revived and encouraged, they can provide sufficient work to people in their homes, reversing the migration of rural youth to cities in search of jobs.

Agriculture’ low profile
The Congress Party took up land reform and poverty alleviation programmes on its agenda. Its land reforms have failed in solving agrarian problems, however, and have instead created bitterness amongst different communities. Agrarian violence is now a major law and order problem.

The average landholding in the state of Bihar is 0.87 hectare. A little more or less is the average in other states. Small holdings have become unremunerative. There is pressure on land with the increasing population. Due to lack of facilities for modern farming, and appropriate markets for agricultural produce, farmers are in great distress. Subsidization policies in turn have caused a heavy drain on India¹s finances.

Agriculture is the strong component of our economy, yet no party gives adequate attention to this sector. Nor has any government solved the people¹s agricultural problems and raised their economic standard even though this is the duty of government.

Poverty alleviating programs in turn have proven a flop and spread corruption. Former PM Rajiv Gandhi publically admitted that not more than 15 percent of every rupee actually reaches the people.

A new platform
The national scenario looks grim and distressing. But it seems that a new trend is emerging to reverse the political decline and restore morality in public life. People in general and intellectuals in particular have started questioning the efficacy of the existing political structure. Restructuring of political power has already started. Panchayati Raj (local government) has come to stay. One party rule is over. Regional aspirations have become a powerful force in national life. The election commission has been playing a greater role than ever before in containing the misdeeds of political parties and making the elections somewhat fair.

When Chief Election Commssioner T.N. Seshan started the drive of cleansing the electoral process, he received the unprecedented support of the people. He was able to tame all parties, and laid down a sound foundation at the administrative and psychological levels for his successors to pursue the goal of fair and clean elections more vigorously. The judiciary has also come out from its holy precincts and nailed executive and political leaders whenever they falter.

The space created by the fall of Congress and other parties has opened up opportunities for benevolent people with holistic vision and comprehensive economic policies to fill the vacuum. A new platform is the need of the hour for moralists and right-thinking people so that they can join hands and offer an alternative to the current, exploitative socio-politico-economic system. The deep urge for such a platform amongst intellectuals as well as common people is reflected when we talk to them.