Monday, July 16, 2012

Power & Politics / The Sunday Standard/ July 15, 2012

The aam aadmi’s voting finger is way stronger than any foreign hand

Policy paralysis seems to have vanished. The buzzword in the corridors of power in Delhi is ‘Just do business’. Talk to businessmen, listen to them and keep them in good humour. Ignore the aam aadmi. Pamper only the khas aadmi. North Block’s market-friendly mandarins have been instructed in no uncertain terms that the health and wealth of the nation is safe only if they can bring broad smiles to the sullen faces of corporate leaders heading for bankruptcy or looking to roll back their mounting losses and shrinking ratings in Fortune’s list of richest Indians.

As Pranab Mukherjee indulges in votepiling in various state capitals, his previous ministry has been instructed to demolish his left-of-the centre legacy. Fast-tracking reforms means allowing the rich and the famous to have easy access to bank funds, policy-making institutions and to formulate India’s economic diplomacy. Photographs of top corporate honchos lining up in front of the new finance ministry bosses reflect the change in Delhi’s business environment. The mandate and message are quite clear. All ministers and the civil servants have to win a war of perception even if they fail to deliver. It doesn’t matter if no decision is taken at any of the meetings; they must meet, discuss and disperse to tell the world that things are moving in the right direction. Last week, when important ministers from Mauritius and Singapore visited India, they didn’t ask for land to set up new plants. Instead, they pleaded for their investors to be given preferential treatment in tax concessions. It sounds quite ridiculous but is sadly true. Our ruling establishment, both in the Opposition and the government, fumes over any domestic criticism of their policies and leadership. But when it is a foreign-based institution or an individual who makes adverse comments, they rush into intensive care to identify faults in their vital organs. Suddenly, the government seems to be in hurry to revisit its environment regulations, GAAR guidelines, undertake massive disinvestment of public sector undertakings, reduce interest rates for corporate borrowings and prune subsidies on foodgrains and petroleum products. These measures are aimed at building foreign investor confidence. Even after losing elections in the states and local bodies, the UPA leadership is desperate to win back the endorsement of the non-voting elite class based in India and abroad—the retention of a seat on the high table of international economic diplomacy and corporate forums provides better dividends for individuals, even it means marginalising its presence in the hearts of the masses.

When a foreign magazine termed our Prime Minister an underachiever, the Congress party went into overdrive to dismiss it as a motivated charge. The magazine had made no startling revelations about the achievements or failings of the UPA government that were not known earlier, or exposed by the Indian media. But it was a shocker for the Congress, which had taken foreign institutions and media as its permanent admirers for the past decade. Many Congress leaders have been copiously quoting the foreign media in the past to bolster the India Growth story. But the party has forgotten that the only permanent interests of foreigners in India are commercial. As long as the ruling party was able to give them unlimited access to the Indian power system and markets, they were unsparing in singing paeans of fulsome praise for our great ‘reformist’ government. Since most of the so-called developed economies are failing due to wrong policies, they, along with their lobbyists, are blackmailing the Indian establishment to surrender. Never before has the government met with such negative publicity abroad as it has in the past few months. In what appears to be a coordinated move, most Western media has been making uncharitable remarks about India’s politics and economics. Instead of admitting their lack of understanding about our complex coalition politics, they are determined to paint India as a banana republic. Most foreign think-tanks have badly misread the contours of India’s urban and rural economy. They have been projecting a rosy picture about the fundamentals of Indian corporates. Since their reports were based on inputs received from their own kind, they proved totally false as the UPA came under coalition pressure.

Indian politics is all about winning votes, and not getting a few positive editorials in foreign publications. Do leaders like Obama, Merkel, or others bother about what the Indian media thinks of them? They don’t even read us. But not only do our leaders get heart attacks over such reports, they buckle under pressure and resort to solutions which force their parties to pay for their follies. Those with stakes in the future of their parties have now realised that pandering to videshi sentiments is perilous. They want politics and economics for the desis, of the desis and by the desis. Those who differ may be shown the door by aam aadmi.; Follow me on Twitter @PrabhuChawla

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