This Election, do we really have a choice?

By Abhishek Saha,

The Hindu recently carried a lede story titled ‘Congress-BJP war of words unabated’. The report said that Union Finance Minister P. Chidambaram attacked the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi ‘as a promoter of crony capitalism and big business’. Following this, senior BJP leader Ravi Shankar Prasad retorted by saying that “the biggest scams took place under the UPA government because of crony capitalism by the Congress in general and Mr Chidambaram’s in particular.”

This kind of rhetoric that has been doing the rounds for quite some time now, especially in the run up to the elections, reeks of falsehood. It is not only superficial but also misleading.

Consider P. Chidambaram’s statement—“Narendra Modi is a promoter of crony capitalism and big business”. True, agreed.

16th Loksabha

Gautam Adani,  a man with a net worth of 2.8 billion US dollars, had leased out 7,350 hectares of land from Gujarat government since 2005 at a throw away price of to build his ‘cash cow’ India’s largest port by volume and a 4,620-megawatt coal-fired power plant. The prevailing rate of the land was 27 rupees per square metre but the Adanis got it at 60 paisa per square metre. (ibid)

How the land was acquired by the Gujarat government is something yet to be proved because, villagers in that area claim (and have filed numerous cases in Gujarat High Court with one case even reaching the Supreme Court in which the Adanis made an outside the court settlement) that their land was signed away by the respective Headman without their knowledge. (ibid)

Adani’s proximity and support to Narendra Modi is an open secret, and in the latter’s tenure as Gujarat Chief Minister, the Adani group’s revenue has risen from 765 million US dollars to 8.8 billion US dollars. (ibid)

And this rise in the fortunes of Adani and other capitalists occurred in Gujarat when, as Rohini Hensman notes in her research paper The Gujarat Model of Development:

Gujarat has one of the highest poverty levels of all the Indian states. Huge swathes of land allocated to corporates have displaced lakhs of farmers, fishermen, pastoralists, agricultural workers, Dalits and Adivasis. During Modi’s tenure, 16,000 workers, farmers and farm labourers had committed suicide due to economic distress by 2011 (Mishra: 2011). Gujarat has the highest prevalence of hunger and lowest human development indices among states with comparable per capita income, its implementation of NREGA is the worst among large states, and Muslims, “in particular, fare poorly on parameters of poverty, hunger, education and vulnerability on security issues”(Shariff: 2011) .

But then, Mr Chidambaram, what good have you and your government been up to?

If you, of all people talk about cronyism and favouring big business, then fingers will be raised at the around 6 trillion rupees of tax concession that the UPA II has offered to the corporates in the last fiscal year, and in the one before that. Questions will be asked about your constant manoeuvre towards neo-liberal policies since the 80s, which is nothing but a naked support for privatisation and favour towards the big capitalists.

People will ask you about all the negotiations that were being discussed in the Radia tapes. People will want to know, how and why Indian Airlines met its doom-day—no matter how desperately you might want to give it a complicated financial shape, facts and figures regarding the complicity of Praful Patel being a minister for the Jet Airways and later the Kingfisher Airlines is no longer a secret. The Kingfisher Airlines, which received the uninhibited favours from your ministry, hasn’t paid salary to its more than 200 employees since August 2012, when on the other side Vijay Mallya and his son were splurging on bikini-clad models for their annual swimsuit calendar.

Next, consider Ravi Shankar Prasad’s comment: the biggest scams took place under the UPA government because of crony capitalism by Congress.

Talking about scams, something that is completely missing from this entire discourse on scams is that the provocative thing called ‘corruption’ is nothing but the fallout of a mad, mad pro-corporate neo-liberal regime, where the Indian bourgeois class has been allowed to make profit by hook or by crook. Judging and criticising only the receiver end of corruption has to be changed, because it originates from the corporate lobby which is eager to (as well capable of) buy their way into any government institution. Much can’t be done by tackling corruption as a segregated issue. To cure the system, the disease must be wiped out right at its root.

The BJP and the Congress, two equally dedicated believers in neo-liberal economic policies, have once again played brilliantly on the issue of ‘delivering growth’ to the nation and have captured people’s imagination in the process. The common man is devastated by the earth-shattering figures of the scams of the Congress government. However, the common-man fails to realise that when the very foundation of an economic policy lies in unprecedented deregulation, uncontrolled privatisation (even of some of the most basic economic and social activities) and mindless globalisation, their effect can never be pro-people, or to say the least, has never been pro-people in India’s post-Independence period. The individual doesn’t matter be it NaMo or RaGa; following pro-capitalist economic policies pursued since the 60s (though the watershed year is considered to be 1991) will see to it that no leader whosoever he or she is, can deliver any good to the average Indian.

We might boast of growth (a high GDP in some in some phases) but in no way can we claim that neo-liberal policies have helped us attain holistic development. Rather, our economy languishes with an agrarian crisis, inflation, exposure to external economic shocks, and imbalanced employment generation (agriculture contributes to 17 percent of our GDP while it employs more than 50 percent of the workforce; whereas the IT sector which individually contributes to 4.5 percent of the GDP employs only 0.2 percent of the workforce).

Apart from the economy, socially speaking we fare very poorly in other development measures. A study by acclaimed economist and Rajya Sabha member Arjun Sengupta found that around three-fourth of Indians (a staggering 836 million people, according to 2004-05 data) fall into the category of ‘poor plus vulnerable’—keeping as margins people who have a consumption level below the official poverty line to those who have two times as much as the poverty line. 2.5 lakh farmers have committed suicide since 1997-2012 and 42 percent of the country’s children are malnourished. This, when Mukesh Ambani owns a 2 billion US dollar worth residential property in the heart of Mumbai city.

And, add to this war of words between the two strong national parties on financial issues, the completely confusing economic perspectives of the mango-man Arvind Kejriwal—he is apparently against crony capitalism, but then he doesn’t like the State to do business. It’s worth knowing what Kejriwal plans for the Indian economy when at the outset he speaks on such superficial terms. What does he want—unregulated private players, without State intervention, and yet no cronyism? Doesn’t the arrogance that the Indian capitalist class has shown till now bother him? But then, he seems to know pretty well Mukesh Ambani’s cunning regarding the gas prices. Then why doesn’t he openly talk about state intervention in the economy? Whom is he trying to woo?

Where do you draw the line, Mr Kejriwal?  Seriously.

Abhishek Saha is a postgraduate student of Journalism at the Asian College of Journalism, Chennai. He can be reached at abhsaha@gmail.com, www.abhisheksaha.com

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