Mired in trou­ble

The Pak Banker - - Front Page - Pra­ful Bid­wai

LAST Sun­day, the Congress party held a rally in Delhi to cel­e­brate the United Pro­gres­sive Al­liance gov­ern­ment’s dis­as­trous de­ci­sion to open up multi­brand re­tail to for­eign di­rect in­vest­ment. This proved that the party has lost its ba­sic po­lit­i­cal in­stincts. In fact, the Congress has done what no other In­dian party has done: openly claim own­er­ship of a right-wing mea­sure that favours a tiny elite but hurts mil­lions. The near­est any­one came to do­ing this was the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), with its “In­dia Shin­ing” cam­paign of 2004, which be­came a ma­jor fac­tor in its elec­toral de­feat.

The Wal-Mart-style hy­per­mar­kets to be pro­moted un­der the new pol­icy will de­stroy street-ven­dors and petty shop­keep­ers, who can­not match gi­ant cor­po­ra­tions in at­tract­ing the up­per mid­dle class con­sumers through preda­tory pric­ing. It will also make farm­ers and other sup­pli­ers de­pen­dent on cor­po­ra­tions which have ev­ery rea­son to squeeze them.

Go­ing by western ex­pe­ri­ence, hy­per­mar­kets will grad­u­ally elim­i­nate com­pe­ti­tion and turn against the con­sumer too. For­eign-con­trolled re­tail will pro­mote a re­pug­nant cul­ture of greed and waste­ful con­sumerism that’s the op­po­site of en­vi­ron­men­tal sus­tain­abil­ity and so­cial and eco­nomic eq­uity.

Yet, by link­ing the FDI de­ci­sion to the Congress’s “his­toric achieve­ments” such as the Green Rev­o­lu­tion in the 1970s and mar­ket-fun­da­men­tal­ist ne­olib­eral poli­cies since 1991, So­nia and Rahul Gandhi have wiped out the dis­tance the Congress had taken from the UPA and Man­mo­han Singh.

Un­der the division of labour preva­lent since 2004, the So­nia Gandhi lead­er­ship pro­jected a left-of-cen­tre im­age which fit in well with the pro­gres­sive ini­tia­tives pro­posed by the Na­tional Ad­vi­sory Coun­cil. Her em­pha­sis on eq­uity and in­clu­sive growth was at odds with Singh’s poli­cies. Now, that au­ton­omy from Singh – chipped away grad­u­ally through re­peated di­lu­tion and re­jec­tion of the NAC’s pro­pos­als on rights to food, ed­u­ca­tion and health­care, and through a change in the NAC’s com­po­si­tion – has van­ished.

The Congress, which promised to be aam aadmi-cen­tric, has been re­duced to chant­ing the mantra of GDPism, the ridicu­lous be­lief that GDP growth is de­sir­able in it­self, re­gard­less of its em­ploy­ment and in­come ef­fects. Econ­o­mist Si­mon Kuznets, who de­vel­oped the con­cept of the GDP, dis­ap­proved of its use as a mea­sure of over­all na­tional well-be­ing be­cause it fails to dis­tin­guish “be­tween quan­tity and qual­ity of growth, be­tween costs and re­turns, and be­tween the short and long run.”

The Congress’s right­ward shift erases an­other les­son: the party has done well in elec­tions when­ever it adopted a left-of­cen­tre stance. It’s now cul­ti­vat­ing for­eign cor­po­ra­tions and a nar­row up­per class stra­tum and alien­at­ing the masses just when its main op­po­nent, the BJP, is ex­tremely vul­ner­a­ble.

Re­cent me­dia ex­poses of BJP Pres­i­dent Nitin Gad­kari’s shady busi­ness deal­ings have made his po­si­tion un­ten­able, as borne out by great tur­moil in the BJP. The com­pany Gad­kari con­trols, Purti Power and Su­gar, is owned by 18 shell com­pa­nies, a ma­jor­ity of which have ad­dresses in slums, and many of whose di­rec­tors are Gad­kari’s em­ploy­ees, in­clud­ing his chauf­feur, be­sides hav­ing Rashtriya Swayam­se­vak Sangh (RSS) con­nec­tions.

The key to Gad­kari’s rise in the Sangh Pari­var is money laun­dered and routed through Purti. Purti has ben­e­fited hand­somely from Gad­kari cronies such as Ideal Road Builders, whom he favoured as Ma­ha­rash­tra’s PWD min­is­ter in 1995-99. The IRB, which had only built 10 km of roads in six years, was given con­tracts worth hun­dreds of crores and be­came Ma­ha­rash­tra’s big­gest toll-road com­pany. As if to re­turn the favours, its main owner loaned INR164 crores to Purti.

To their dis­grace, the BJP-RSS have un­con­vinc­ingly de­fended Gad­kari. The RSS chief, at whose be­hest Gad­kari was ap­pointed party pres­i­dent, made the amaz­ing state­ment that “it’s not im­por­tant how much money has been earned; it’s im­por­tant ... whether it has been put to good use or not”. Such ra­tion­al­i­sa­tion of cor­rup­tion couldn’t have been more bla­tant.

The Gad­kari ex­pose’ high­lights nasty per­sonal ri­val­ries within the BJP. Gad­kari has com­plained to the RSS that the per­son who leaked dam­ag­ing ev­i­dence against him is party na­tional gen­eral sec­re­tary Arun Jait­ley. Jait­ley prob­a­bly has his eye on the party pres­i­dency, and is closely al­lied with the RSS joint gen­eral sec­re­tary Suresh Soni. Al­though the BJP con­sti­tu­tion was re­cently amended to al­low a sec­ond con­sec­u­tive term to the pres­i­dent, it looks im­prob­a­ble that Gad­kari will get it when his first term ends in De­cem­ber.

Gad­kari’s em­bar­rass­ment has pro­duced hid­den glee among his many ri­vals and de­trac­tors inside the party, not least for­mer party pres­i­dent Ra­j­nath Singh, Gu­jarat Chief Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi, and Jaswant Singh and Yash­want Sinha. Gad­kari riled Modi by ap­point­ing his bete noire San­jay Joshi as elec­tion co­or­di­na­tor in Ut­tar Pradesh. In re­tal­i­a­tion, Modi re­fused to cam­paign in the UP elec­tions and even­tu­ally had Joshi dis­missed from the party’s na­tional ex­ec­u­tive.

Gad­kari, a novice to na­tional pol­i­tics, never en­joyed much cred­i­bil­ity, leave alone re­spect, in the BJP. He was con­sid­ered a clown, and duly acted out that role through a se­ries of footin-mouth com­ments. Many of his de­trac­tors have cho­sen to tac­ti­cally ally with Gad­kari be­cause they are loath to see ei­ther Modi or Jait­ley be­come the party pres­i­dent.

Var­i­ous BJP lead­ers are mak­ing dif­fer­ent align­ments to pro­mote in­di­vid­ual in­ter­ests. Some are even cam­paign­ing for the 85-year old LK Ad­vani to be made party pres­i­dent. Yet oth­ers are root­ing for Modi. Many are watch­ing the RSS’s moves. The RSS has tight­ened its con­trol over the BJP, and ap­pointed three se­nior lead­ers (in place of one) as co­or­di­na­tors of its re­la­tions with the BJP.

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