By Praful Bidwai
20 June, 2004
The Hindustan Times
markets were everything, flesh-and-blood people wouldn't matter. Politics,
even social life, would become meaningless. This applies a fortiori
to India's share markets, in which less than two percent of our households
invest, accounting for just four percent of our savings. Dalal Street
is only distantly related to the real economy, and even more remotely
to the social processes that shape it.
The United Progressive
Alliance would do well to remember this as it strains to soothe the
part-rigged, part-speculation-led volatility in the markets. More importantly,
it must know its mandate is to move India from "market-driven politics"
(the title of Colin Leys' excellent book) to politics as if people mattered.
Besides a resounding rejection of Hindutva, that is the cardinal message
of the electoral verdict. (See Platform, May 28).
Forging a people-oriented
politics against the forces of neoliberal globalisation, while tapping
energies from diverse sources, including the market, is an exciting
project. The UPA's Common Minimum Programme encapsulates this in many
ways, although it falls short of defining its inspiration as an emancipatory
Social Democratic Vision. Yet, that's precisely what the "six principles
for governance" spell, including social harmony, empowerment of
the underprivileged, a "safe and viable livelihood" for all,
equality of opportunity, especially for women, Dalits, Adivasis, OBCs
and religious minorities. The CMP marks a considerable improvement even
on the United Front's 1996 common programme.
implemented, the CMP will ensure the UPA's survival for the full term.
More important, it will inflict a decisive defeat upon retrograde forces
of communalism and social conservatism. The first 100 days of the UPA's
rule will set the tone for this transformation and its imprint upon
society and politics. Three areas of the CMP are of critical importance:
economic measures, social policy, and an independent foreign policy
orientation. The UP must deliver something tangible in the coming weeks,
not months. What is the very minimum the government must do?
The greatest economic
promise lies in the pledge of Employment Guarantee Act to provide "100
days of employment S on asset-creating public works programmes every
year S for at least one able-bodied person in every rural, urban poor
and lower-middle class household"-and "in the interim, a massive
food-for-work programme". The rationale is frankly Keynesian.
No less important
is the commitment to significantly step up public investment in agriculture,
rural infrastructure and irrigation, and double the flow of rural credit
in the next three years, with an emphasis on small and marginal farmers.
This must be front-loaded, through the writing off of burdensome loans,
and pumping-in of massive credit for the coming kharif season. The enactment
of a National Minimum Wage Act for agricultural workers-our most underprivileged
people-is vital.Two measures are of key value: correcting fiscal imbalances
and reducing regional disparities. The
first involves eliminating the revenue deficit, now over 3 percent of
GDP, and pruning subsidies for the affluent. (The CMP promises a "roadmap"
within 90 days.) The second is imperative for balanced development through
stepped-up public investment in backward areas, enforcing priority
bank lending (now well below stipulated norms), enhancing minerals royalties,
reducing interest on loans, and transfer of Centrally-sponsored schemes
to the states.
can be financed-if the UPA raises direct taxes. These currently account
for an abysmal 3.5 percent of GDP, utterly unacceptable in our mass-deprivation
society. Our rich have to contribute more than a miserable 1.6 percent
of GDP through income-taxation.
Social policy presents
a challenging agenda in health, education, culture, food security, panchayati
raj, welfare of women and children and Dalits and Adivasis. The CMP's
commitment to raising public spending in health from the current 0.85
percent to "at least 2-3 percent" of GDP is long-overdue.
It will prevent India's further slippage into a cesspool of disease,
stunted growth (of half of our children) and waste of human life. It
must be implemented at the earliest. The government must not hesitate
about widening control of essential drug prices-no matter what the "markets"
The UPA must ruthlessly
cleanse all educational and research institutions of "obscurantist
and fundamentalist elements". This means detoxifying communalised
textbooks and getting them rewritten by unbiased and thoughtful scholars,
dissolving the existing Councils of Social Science and
Historical Research and reforming the UGC, whose numerous committees
has been saffronised. The government must not allow itself to be deterred
by semi-literate ranting about "witchhunts". The real culprits
are those who subvert a pluralist and multicultural vision of India
and introduce outrageous courses in astrology and karmakand. It is equally
vital to revive the National Literacy Mission.
In culture, a complete
overhaul of the Akademis, the museums, the Archaeological and Anthropological
Survey and the IGNCA is imperative. The existing bodies must be dissolved
forthwith and incompetent and communal elements systematically weeded
out. Any delay in this and
in purging Doordarshan and AIR of bigotry will cost us dear. There's
no other way to halt and reverse Hindutva's Long March through the institutions.
No less important is legislation to ban Togadia-style hate-speech and
a big opportunity. The chargesheets in the litigation must be rectified
to reinstate the conspiracy charge-what else caused the Babri demolition,
prepared over long years by BJP-VHP leaders? A bold effort must simultaneously
be made to negotiate a just temple-plus-mosque solution. This must happen
within the coming 60 days. Nothing else will take the wind out of the
communalists' sails. The UPA would be ill-advised to wait for a judicial
Repeal of POTA with
retrospective effect brooks no delay. The UPA has rightly refused to
treat Naxalite violence as "merely a law-and-order problem",
it's "a far deeper socio-economic issue". This must be translated
into practice. As also the pledge that "false encounters"
will not be permitted.
The test of independence
of foreign policy is already upon us-with the installation of Iraq's
Interim government. This is a puppet regime which cannot conceivably
enjoy "sovereignty" while the military occupation continues,
when it cannot change any laws or policies of the occupation
regime and has no control over the US-led forces. It is of the utmost
importance that India does not recognise this government or send troops
to Iraq-irrespective of manipulated UN resolutions.
The UPA has rightly
reiterated its commitment to Palestinian nationhood-in sharp contrast
to the NDA's blatantly pro-Zionist policy. But it must do more to help
the Palestinians in their grimmest hour since 1967. Today, the threat
of their national territory being broken up into countless Bantustans
looms large. The UPA must reverse the NDA's attempt to construct an
exclusive strategic triad with Israel and the US, re-examine weapons-purchase
agreements, and cease intelligence-sharing, joint military exercises
and counter-insurgency "cooperation".
It's only thus that
the UPA can actualise its pledge "to promote multi-polarity in
world relations and oppose S unilateralism", while putting relations
with Washington on an even keel. Sustaining the India-Pakistan dialogue-for-peace
process is a major imperative today. Equally important is reducing the
grave regional nuclear danger through risk-reduction measures, most
importantly,non-deployment of nuclear weapons. The first step in India's
re-assuming its advocacy of global nuclear disarmament is to withdraw
support to the US's Ballistic Missile Defence programme and reject its
offers of cooperation.
The UPA has a historic
opportunity on its hands-to transform domestic politics and India's
global role. It must not squander it through indecision or pusillanimity.