Iraq War


India Elections

US Imperialism

Climate Change

Peak Oil


WSF In India







Gujarat Pogrom






Join Mailing List

Submit Articles

Contact Us


Speedily Implement The CMP

By Praful Bidwai

20 June, 2004
The Hindustan Times

If 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.

If successfully 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.

These programmes 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" say.

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 punish hate-acts.

Ayodhya presents 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 verdict.

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.