Rolling Out Reforms

If not now, then when? If not here, then where? That was how loyalists to the Nehru dynasty reacted in a subtle call to action on premiership. They seem to be working overtime with the sole objective of making the Nehru dynasty a lasting reality in India’s parliamentary culture while competing with each other to show their sycophancy that sometimes borders on vulgarism, as the count-down for the 2014 Parliamentary Poll has begun. They are restless. They want to see Rahul Gandhi in the throne even before the election and in the process embarrass the party they belong to and the present incumbent as well. Public Relations Managers of Sonia Gandhi’s Congress faced a tough time to dismiss the speculation of Singh quitting as rubbish as rumoured in a section of the press in the last week of December. Sycophants abound. They come in droves to make quick buck. This is the general scenario in every political establishment, even left-parties are not free from this virus. But too much enthusiasm for the loyalists may be counter-productive in the long-run as also in the short run.

Congress has no issue other than projecting Rahul Gandhi as the next official boss and their parliamentary  rival—Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)—looks visibly worried with the emergence of Kejriwal’s Aam Admi Party (AAP) as many poll analysts think AAP could possibly damage their prospects in at least 30-40 urban constituencies across the country, jeopardising their smooth sailing in the muddy waters.

Reform is the buzz word in Rahul Gandhi’s camp as if massive destitution and pauperisation of vast masses due to what they call second generation reforms is not enough. They now need third generation reforms to liquidate whatever remains of the government control over the corporates. Over the last few years they have accelerated reform at rapid pace in social sectors in allowing the market to play a decisive role in all vital policy matters and making the Manmohan Singh government at the same time a ‘lame-duck’ in real sense. Education, employment, income distribution, social security and public health—every aspect of these crucial social sectors is today decided by market forces. In other words education is big business oriented. So is health. They are looting the country like anything in the name of providing quality education and health-care though the ground reality in these spheres is as dismal as it was before.

Unlike the Chinese they don’t say they are reforming the system with Indian characteristics, protecting national interests. They are truly internationalist in the spirit that foreign investors are given red-carpet treatment in siphoning national resources. And they call it reform and development. Of all the reforms the industry is basically interested only in the reform of labour laws. Other things are taken for granted. Indian labour laws enacted against the backdrop of World War II economy have long outlived themselves. Instead of making them more progressive as per latest ILO norms, they are hell bent on adding more regressive and punitive teeth to the existing laws that are heavily biased against labour. By reform of labour law what all they mean is how to woo the business community by arranging tough measures in hiring and firing at will.

Captains managing different Chambers of Commerce suddenly look jubilant as they hope to rain jobs in the new year, notwithstanding steady economic decline. Maybe this is a message to the voters. Maybe, this is a message to the powers that be. Despite shutting down of labour-intensive industries one after another they think they could create 8.5 lakh new jobs in 2014 and somewhat surprisingly assured a pay hike of upto 20 percent to best performers. Certainly they are not talking of new jobs in the manufacturing sector where even the reduced level of job potential is threatened almost daily. Already major auto-makers in the country have reported drastic down-turn in domestic sales projecting no prospects of new jobs in the coming months. In truth the auto industry has been witnessing negative growth for some time, promising no future for casual and contract workers.

Business houses don’t expect any major breakthrough in labour-intensive manufacturing industries. Their jubilation hinges on the issuance of new banking Licenses, IT, High-Tech Health Care, Infrastructure and Costly Education sector. In other words the expanding upper middle class is their target. Nobody bothers about unskilled millions being systematically up-rooted from villages by the juggernaut of reforms—they have nowhere else to go. The poor don’t count in their high-tech environment.

In BJP’s declared scheme of things what matters is how to turn India into a global power a la Modi Model. Maybe, this is the biggest joke of the era. Both militarily and economically India is not even a regional power and it will not be one for decades to come. Even India’s small neighbours don’t take this self-styled big brother seriously.

The emergence of AAP factor in Delhi politics suggests among other things that people are restive, searching for an alternative; they are tired of corrupt Congress and equally apprehensive of the notorious BJP that brazenly advocates an economy for the rich. Everybody is looking for a sane voice that could tell the nation that corruption and development cannot go simultaneously. But AAP is neither left nor right. Nor can it fulfil the rising expectations of the aggrieved across the country. But amidst political chaos one thing is certain—left, official left to be precise, has no role to play in the unfolding Indian drama.

Vol. 46, No. 28, Jan 19 - 25, 2014

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