With no one Noticing, BJP is Bringing One-Party Rule

Neue Wache- a building in Berlin, Germany- was erected in early 19th century. In the initial years, it was a memorial to Liberations Wars but later served as the site of annual celebrations by the then powerful Nazi Party. The building houses a sculptor, ‘Mother with her Dead Son’. This very statue is a reminder of the costs of war, war that was seen and projected by Hitler as a means to achieve dominance. Hitler may have died after having drastically failed to realise his ambitions, Germany endured endless sufferings. No family existed that did not lose its member in war. The costs of Hitler’s ambitions were paid by common people, and the statue where a grieving mother is holding her dead son symbolizes this.

It is very simple to understand that the overly ambitious, divisive and great-at-oratory leader plunged not only Germany but all other countries into darkness. Nations have learned their lessons, and a large-scale war has been averted ever since. Indeed, countries have fought proxy wars and the places which were at the heart of these conflicts could never recover from the damages. Iraq, Yemen, Syria and many more countries have only produced war refugees and asylum-seekers, not farm or industrial goods.

What about the present political environment in India? Although analysts have taken note of economic gloom and negative GDP growth, are we realising what’s in the making? Is there a more dangerous thing that seeks our attention?

The signs are all here, and sadly no one is noticing what’s coming. The ruling BJP has, time and again, echoed its stance of making a ‘Congress-mukt Bharat’, and to a large extent, they have achieved it. Now one must try to make sense of why the BJP is so adamant at wiping off Congress from the Indian political landscape. It’s because Congress is the only political party that can replace the BJP; the others can only co-exist with the BJP and can never throw it completely out of power. The BJP’s design and party’s long-term goal has virtually nothing to do with India’s socio-economic well-being, the only goal is to remain in power.

And the party has been making all attempts to attain the goal. It is for a reason why the PM and his team invoke militaristic pride every now and then. If there is one thing that is sustaining BJP’s win in national and state elections, it is their clever way of invoking ultra-nationalism. While many are talking about this chauvinism, no one is actually realising where it can take India in the long-run. What do you think will be the electoral outcomes in next 15 years? Indeed, no one can correctly predict, and hence assuming that the BJP will maintain the current trend is not advisable. But what will happen if say people start voting for some other party, which comes out with a slim majority to form government at the centre?

Do you think the BJP will concede? The answer is available; we only need to read the signs. The PM was wearing a military uniform in his recent address on Diwali; why would he do this? A chief of defence staff (CDS) has been appointed to ‘address fragmented approach of armed forces and bring synergy’. In another scene, a section of the film industry is finding political patronage by making films on wars where historical facts can be distorted to instill a sense of militaristic pride in the Indian audience. And lastly, other leaders of the BJP- from national to local levels- have been endorsing a majoritarian stance so that in any event of electoral failure, mass can be mobilized in the name of militaristic and majoritarian pride.

The coming years in Indian politics are quite worrisome. If voters continue to back the BJP by sacrificing their personal growth, BJP can go for misadventures like the Nazi Germany that will ultimately cost India irrespective of whether we win or lose such unwarranted wars. And if voters ultimately decide to shun the BJP, the party will then use the section of populace that blindly backs their ideology to create unrest and maintain the one-party rule. From many in India Inc. to overly sentimental backers, BJP will use them all to ensure they cling on to power. The costs will be borne by the country and its wider population.

We Celebrate Change, and Then We Forget

The results are out, and the President-elect of the US, Mr. Joe Biden, is being hailed as ‘the agent of change’. It is being anticipated that the politics of prejudice that his predecessor practiced and propagated will now be replaced by inclusiveness and fairness. But is it not premature to think of such positive changes? True, Mr. Biden replaces a man who was not fit for the role but whether or not Mr. Biden is fit and competent can only be assessed during and after his stint as the US President, not today. The point is that Trump’s incompetence can be no validation of Biden’s competence.

The other protagonist of the story is the VP-elect, Ms. Kamala Harris. Her nomination as the party’s VP candidate and subsequent win can only be hailed as America’s success in being a land of opportunity for immigrants. That women are making a mark in US politics and a woman of colour can assume the VP office is also a conclusion that can be drawn. However, this does not and cannot allow analysts and commentators to prematurely and impulsively declare that the office of VP will now be run with utmost competence- it can be, but only time will tell.

It is not new that we celebrate change but then forget that we celebrated it as we believed it will make our lives better. The fall of dictators in some middle-east countries was initially hailed as a moment of change; however, what ensued were prolonged wars, bloodshed and political turmoil and instability. The so-called change only made matters worse for the very inhabitants who saw it as a positive event.

Many other countries also corroborate this point. Pakistan has been ruled by civilian governments as well as military ones, and every time there was a change, people anticipated good to happen to them. However, little progress could be made. Another instance is PM Modi’s emphatic win in 2014 general elections. Even his staunch critics would have, somewhere in their hearts, expected something good after the not-so-good UPA-2 stint. But what has followed is a theocratic style of governance that finds support in populist and majoritarian politics, thereby taking the limelight away from inclusive development and economic prosperity.

Now the same things are happening in the US. Undeniably, Biden’s campaign pitch was more inclusive and optimistic than Trump’s. Undeniably, Kamala Harris rise is extraordinary. But that does not automatically mean that the next 4 years of administration will be great and devoid of any policy failures. Indeed, Trump made mistakes, just like UPA-2 in India; however, the new administration in the US must be assessed on how they deliver on their promises. It is not only equality, but also foreign relations, economic growth and such other things on which the new administration must be assessed in future.

Only then we must celebrate the change. Otherwise, this premature hailing can lead to the new incumbents forget that more than the failures of past administration, it is their own new policies and approach that matters. And hence, let’s celebrate if you so want, but do not forget.

Not Any Other, This is Class Gap Alone

Politicians can convince us otherwise, but what India faces is a class gap. Consider this- when you, as an ordinary man, visit any government office or a public sector bank and struggle to get your work done, it is never the faith, caste or gender of the staffer to blame. The reason why many Indians fail to avail important services is because the ones responsible to diligently discharge their duty consider themselves a class apart. This class gap is almost the same for all Indians, however, people with some means use their resources to tide over difficulties, and it is for the ones with limited or no means to suffer endlessly.

India is under self-rule for many decades. There have been a few successes, for example, our literacy rates have improved and the middle class is growing. But where do we go from here? Even this middle class lacks a truly dignified life. And failures greatly outnumber achievements. From access to drinking water to quality and affordable healthcare for all Indians, we have failed miserably. Visit any public sector bank and you will experience the helplessness. While many Indians have accepted this as a norm to survive in India, they have inadvertently forgotten that it was for their own well-being and progress that we celebrated the self-rule.

On the other hand, the politician has astutely exploited things like faith, caste and gender to fool the people into believing that any supremacy in these respects can eventually lead to ordinary man’s emancipation. Socialism and communism have lost their true values in India and what has won is class supremacy of a few. There is no denying that socialists and communists have both failed to learn with times and deliver what they openly promise- equal society. They failed to adapt to modern times and revise their methods in accordance with prevailing conditions and aspirations of people. In fact, it was a blend of the pluses of socialism and capitalism that India needed post-independence.

Another key thing to note here is that this class gap has been eternal, and only the constituents change. For example, a man may have retired as a secretary with central government with no hiccups in socio-economic progress in his personal life; however, his future generations may still have to struggle should they find themselves on the other side of the elite wing. Even after so many 5-year plans that have had some elements like irrigation, healthcare and education as perpetual areas of focus, there has not been an iota of success. Farmers are not thriving, healthcare serves only the rich and any reforms in education have yet to produce the number of doctors, scientists and economists we need.

The worst thing amid all this is that politicians have failed to recognize, let alone fix this class gap, and the wilful default of government staffers and such other persons in powerful positions has gone unpunished. On the contrary, these modern day politicians have stoked faith, caste and gender enmities to keep the class gap intact. The presently ruling government at the centre is using all they can to keep the majority faith busy in faith supremacy alone and has convinced them that they should forget any personal growth since the greater objective is far more sacred. The ordinary man, blinded by this shrewd tactic, has forgotten that the self-rule, which Indians had celebrated in 1947, was to curb the class gap and lift them out of desperation and indignity.

It’s time new-age politicians re-invent their ways. It’s time they address the class gap and start a new class struggle- nonviolent, pragmatic, well-planned- to enable the ordinary man rise above such day-to-day struggles. The message that it’s not faith, caste or gender supremacy but equal society that must be achieved has to be disseminated. It is to be told that persons from all faiths, castes and genders have equally misused their elite status and have equally suffered. It is class struggle alone that India needs today, any other promise is a fraud inflicted upon the non-elite by the elite wing.

Political Alternative or a Military Coup- India Must Brace Itself

First things first. Although Germany had surrendered in May 1945, the WW2 in the Pacific came to an end only in August after the US had dropped nuclear bombs on Japan. It is a well-documented fact that Japan did not anticipate such devastating defeat and the subsequent occupation of the country by the US. The point is that things may occur unexpected. But the job of thinkers and analysts is to warn the stakeholders of any such probable events, and this is why discussing any possibility of a military coup in India makes sense, though this may be very distant and extremely unlikely.

But before we talk of this ‘strong’ term- coup d’état- let’s first consider what is relatively in the offing. That the Modi-led cabinet cannot rule prudently is a shared viewpoint of almost all non-partisan intellectuals and analysts. A seemingly-better-alternative-to-BJP wins in state polls even when BJP plays the faith card. Delhi and states in the South and even INC’s victory with slim margins in few states corroborate this argument. PM Modi, however, remains the preferred choice of most Indians and this is because of the lack of alternative in national politics.

On the other hand, the economy is in a freefall, joblessness is high, prices are rising and there is no visible improvement in law and order or in border situation as was anticipated by Indians when they boarded the Modi bandwagon. Any fair analysis will predict that the sole pillar of BJP support is the Hindu majoritarian political stance of the party. But do you think that the public at large will continue backing this stance in the long-run? That the ordinary man craves personal growth more than faith supremacy alone was validated in Delhi state elections. What will happen when the presently-concealed-by-oratory situation comes out in the open and the public realises that the Modi oratory isn’t enough for personal growth?

Here, we must consider the first part of this article’s heading- political alternative. Just one late development is enough to understand how badly the country needs an alternative. LJP, a party that was part of NDA in Bihar and allied with JD (U) and BJP to run the administration is likely to side with the winning coalition in 2020. In fact, politics has stooped so low that Nitish, who fought the elections alongside RJD and cursed BJP in the run up to 2015 state polls, shunned his allies to join hands with BJP. This is just one of many such immoral, unethical power games in the current political setup that have made/ will make the ordinary man disenchanted, but the lack of alternative is helping BJP and others maintain a winning streak.

Isn’t it understandable that this is the most suitable time for aspirants to give the country what it urgently seeks- a political alternative? The Emergency and 1977 general elections were a watershed moment; it was the dawn of regional parties and non-Congress PMs. What 2020 and next few years will bring is the similar opportunity for wise and ethical men to challenge the might of Modi and fill the void that has emerged due to INC’s inability to seize the moment. In coming days, we are set to see further GDP contraction and an invisible class struggle that can pave way for a new breed of politicians to reduce the gap between classes and bring inclusive development.

Now, it’s time to discuss the second part. In the absence of any such political alternative in near future, the countrymen may be left with no other choice than to feel disillusioned with civilian politics. The Modi cult or that of other BJP politicians isn’t eternal, and some late developments in the country- indeed, under the patronage of BJP- can decisively shift the mood of the public towards high-handed, centralized administration and this is when they might look at military as a good alternative. Take a look at Pakistan’s history- the first coup in 1958 was a product of events that included making Pakistan an Islamic Republic, failure of judiciary, cult figures in politics and military, and a general sentiment that politicians were weak and corrupt.

India is facing too many threats simultaneously, and it is in light of these threats that a military coup may in some distant future become a reality. From Chinese border incursions to Pakistan-sponsored terrorism and record-breaking unemployment rate and rising inflation, there are so many failures that presently stand concealed behind majoritarian politics, however, will in near future dominate the political discourse. Believe us, all the news- from unscientific ways to deal with the pandemic to silent subversion of the constitution to more-than-judicious veneration of military to growing class gap, where the state employee is an elite and private sector worker a nothing- we read and often pay no attention to will shape the landscape of the country.

And so as it seems, the country must decide on what it seeks and deserves- an alternative led by civilians with ethical intentions or a coup of some sort. We may choose to ignore it now, just like Japan ignored many of its misadventures in WW2, or the US in Vietnam War, but the national political scene is somewhat fragile and a course correction will take place- sooner or later.

BJP is a Regressive Idea- Take a Cue from Socrates

Terming anything regressive for the sake of it or to mislead the ordinary man is a different thing but doing it to defend the present and future interests of all citizens is different. Against this backdrop, let’s note why the presently dominating Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) is counter-productive to the socio-economic landscape of India. And this emanates from the way the party recruits its leaders, alongside the modus operandi that shrewdly markets and sells a glossy-looking but degenerative ideology.

First, the party has practically no leader who has the acumen to run the administration. Here, we need to know that oratory is a poles apart skill and cannot be likened to good administration. Had oratory been the indispensable attribute of a capable and productive leader, the founders of pyramid selling schemes would have delivered a perfect world where jobs were abundant and standard of living impeccable. In Gorgias- Socratic dialogue by Plato- Socrates argues that in comparison to an expert, a rhetorician is always ‘more convincing’ when persuading an ‘ignorant audience’. Socrates even equates rhetoricians with tyrants.

And it is here- in a nation that has yet to bring millions out of poverty and make health and education accessible for all- that BJP found the perfect breeding ground for rhetoric politics. With this approach, the party in its present form has recruited rhetoricians in its ranks, leaders who can be flawless at delivering speeches but clueless when it comes to run the administration. From CMs to cabinet ministers, the party has filled positions with leaders that bring to the table nothing but oratory and feel-good superficial ideas.

Second, the party is set to be even more regressive in years to come and there is a very strong argument in this favour. Presently, the high ranking officials in the party deploy hate as a means to garner support only when the need arises, typically around the time of elections. But the new recruits in the party, especially the youth seeking career in politics, know that the easiest way to make a quick impact is polarization and politicization of issues that place one community against the other. One does not need a vision to lift poor out of poverty but only an ability to incite hatred and bigotry.

Third, the party can never shed its roots that date back to pre-independence India. The predecessor to the party was Bhartiya Jana Sangh, the political arm of RSS. Founders included Syama Prasad Mukherjee, the man who was inducted by INC as minister even with his conflicting ideology. Mukherjee’s politics- where he opposed the Quit India Movement, demanded Bengal’s partition, and even allied with Muslim League to form provincial government- was not politics of good governance but that of rhetoric. The same legacy was carried forward by the man who was central to BJP’s ascendance on the national scene, Lal Krishna Advani. At a time when INC was losing ground, Advani exploited faith to garner support.

The problem here is that BJP leaders are now so inclined towards rhetoric that they have turned a blind eye to fallouts of such politics. Today, from health to education, orthodox and unfounded concepts have taken precedence over science and reasonableness. Here, vested interests are making profits even as the ordinary man is being deprived of any socio-economic progression. From unproven remedies for diseases to elite reinvigorating the dismantled caste order to dictatorial stance towards dissent, the ordinary man is losing, and the worst part is that the rhetorician has easily convinced him that all troubles will eventually do him some good.

BJP’s advance is counter-productive to the ordinary man. And Socrates’ critique of rhetorician is enough to understand this.

The Distorted Concept of State

Humans have an inherent propensity for forming associations. These groupings are formed to further the interest of members of the group, and this alone is the intent. It is then understandable that whosoever says that the group, and not its members, should hold precedence, should thrive no matter how bad the condition of members is has some vested interests. The point is when the fundamental unit of the group is its member, how can the group justify its existence without having done something good for all members?

Now consider modern states across the world. Indeed, there are no natural borders that separate them and residents of two or more states often share similar features including faith, colour and race. When people decided to form these modern groups called ‘state’, the intent was good. It was perceived that by having a separate national identity, demarcated borders and by having in place a defined system of governance, all constituents would thrive. Modern states, as recognized today, owe their existence to the same concept of forming a group for the furtherance of interests of members.

But the question is whether these modern states deliver on their promise? A few of them seem to have accomplished the objective. For example, Nordic countries have proved that states do act as facilitators of personal growth of constituents given that governance is good and inclusive growth is sought. But the same idea of having a state to better manage the affairs of the constituents has proved counter-productive in many other cases. The key reason behind this failure is glorification of the concept of nationalism, so much so that the citizens of modern states have been taught, often by propaganda, to believe that their interests hold no value when a choice has to be made between their well-being and that of the nation.

While it may seem a little difficult to understand how this distorted concept of state and nationalism has deprived the ordinary man of development, let’s understand this with an easy example. When some men join forces to work for an enterprise, the hierarchy is comparable with that in the state. The manager acts as a bridge between labourers and owners, and the objective of the enterprise is to generate revenue for the betterment of all these stakeholders. Workers must abide by the norms as citizens abide by the laws of the country. The owner is entitled to some revenue and must distribute some among these workers. But what if the owner seeks absolute precedence of the interests of the enterprise over that of workers?

Indeed, the enterprise can produce and sell more should the workers opt for extended shifts. Indeed, the profits can be higher should the workers stick to same wages despite an available possibility of pay hikes. The owner, when workers commit themselves blindly and not rationally to the enterprise, becomes the sole beneficiary. And the same happens when citizens of the state are compelled to place the state above everything else. What happens is elected representatives or the monarch colludes with capitalists and other powerful men to deprive the ordinary man of what he otherwise legitimately deserves.

The revenue that is collected in the form of taxes levied on even most basic needs is spent less on the betterment of citizens and more on fortifying the state. The money that can be used for health, education, sanitation and such critical aspects is diverted to buying more weapon systems. The state that was formed by its members with a view to prosper and live a dignified life becomes more a liability and less an asset.

Consider the state of India that was formed in its present form when Indians acquired the right to self-rule from the British. The Indian Constitution begins with ‘WE, THE PEOPLE OF INDIA’ and then declares the intent to constitute the state with a view to further the interests of the people. Indeed, it is here that we must know that people hold precedence over the state. And when the makers decided to have fundamental rights as justiciable rights and fundamental duties as symbolic, they once again made people primary and the state secondary. It was the very intent of the makers to remind the people of India that the state was constituted for them, that they were the building blocks and not the other way around.

Slowly, over the course of years and with different political parties at the helm, the country acquired the status of being a regional powerhouse and then a strong player in the international scene. The country now has a nuclear arsenal and modern military equipment to boast of but what about the promise that was made to the ordinary man when the state was formed? Was this ordinary man told in advance that he would have to sacrifice his child’s education, health and access to clean drinking water, good roads and such other basic necessities in order to let the state achieve hegemony? Was he told that the elite and the powerful will live lavishly even as tens of millions will stare at poverty even in the 21st century?

India fared still better. Countries, for example North Korea, that chose to give the people the least and the state the maximum failed miserably. But that is no excuse for China, India, the US or others to exploit the innocence (read ignorance) of ordinary members of the respective state and further the interests of the state alone. Ultra-nationalism cannot be the tool to divert most of the resources that belong to the people for the exploitation by the elite in the name of ‘national security’ and ‘state dominance’. Citizens, often ignorant that they made the state by agreeing to be a part, deserve to be educated about the same.

PS: National security does matter and it can never be argued that this field can be left neglected. But when the choice is between acquiring latest weapon system (during peace times) and laying of roads (to connect the hamlet to schools), the latter must be preferred.

New Farm Bills are reminder of British Raj and Gandhi’s Champaran Satyagraha

India is a free country led by representatives elected by voters. In theory, this means that the last man is not only represented in the legislature, his interests are also taken care of. The new farm bills that have now become a binding law break this trust on many counts. And while the common man is only aware of the debate around ‘freedom to sell the produce anywhere in the country’, there is so much more that lies beneath.

The ruling party is busy convincing farmers that they are now ‘free’ to sell their produce anywhere and this would eventually mean getting better remuneration. Let’s consider this aspect later and first talk about what they are calling as contract farming – a way for farmers to enter into highly remunerative deals with corporates. Really? Will the farmer win? Go a little back in the past to see how OYO Rooms- an Indian hospitality chain- lured hoteliers, mostly with modest resources, into signing so-called ‘lucrative’ and ‘revenue multiplying’ deals.

Hoteliers were relatively better aware of commercial and contractual aspects as a major chunk came from cities. In the end, however, the hoteliers feel cheated. Many have alleged that OYO abused its dominant position and manipulated contractual obligations in their own interests, thereby leaving hotel owners with losses. Think of the farmer. Barring a select few, most of these do not have even basic understanding of contracts and laws governing them. Do you expect the corporate to enter into a morally and ethically equitable contract with the farmer? Indeed, this is nothing but wishful thinking.

Now also consider how the British forced Indian peasants into growing indigo. The Mahatma’s first major agitation in India had this issue at its core. The peasants of Champaran pleaded with Gandhi to become their voice against oppressive methods employed by British landlords. What do you expect the corporates will do? Will they even care about soil losing its nutrients due to unsustainable farming practices? Will they ask the farmer to grow crops that are best-suited to the region or those that can fetch lucrative returns? Will they adjust to uncertainties in farming including monsoon or will they abuse the contract to protect their own financial interest?

Anyone convincing the farmer that contract farming will open floodgates of innovation, better infrastructure and remuneration is doing the same thing as was done by the PM when he declared a so-called 21-day war against coronavirus. Did coronavirus go away? Did demonetization put an end to black money? Did GST prove a boon to small businesses? Forget promises and assurances and think rationally this time.

Lastly, any discussion on the so-called new freedom to farmers to sell produce outside of APMC premises is flawed. This was already happening and a few corporates were buying directly from farmers. Yes, there were charges imposed by state governments but that is the discretion of state governments in India. When a packet of Parle-G can have a portion of tax in its retail price, are APMC levies so unfair? The central government, by bringing the new law, has first, impinged on state list subjects; and then, has given a new glossy-looking sanction to trade outside of APMC only to make corporates appear more acceptable.

The farmer community is at loss, realise it before it is too late.

Nothing Less than a Class Struggle is what India Needs

Answer this. Was it the society that led to a nation or a nation that gave birth to the society? The society, with man as the primary building block, is at the heart of anything that came up later- nations or governments. Men, who gradually moved from hunting and gathering to agriculture and permanent settlement, came up with the modern ideas of demarcated borders, nationalism, a well-defined system of governance- be it the monarch or elected representatives- for their own well-being, and there’s nothing unlawful or unethical in what they sought.

And so here we are today- with elected governments and many other systems in place to call ourselves a society run by rules. But where’s progress of the basic unit- the common man? One needs to realise the reality. Public sector bank staffers treat common depositors as undesirable liabilities; government agencies are yet to come clean on the way they serve the common man; public transport system is overwhelmed; such basic amenities as roads, clean water, electricity are a luxury even in today’s India; and the press is busy reporting subjects that have least bearing on the lives of common people.

At the same time, however, the common man has been given some superficial things so that he can overlook his own pain and distress. He gets blinded when the rich and powerful- be it the politician or the capitalist- asks him to think of the country first, his faith first, his caste or sect first before his own progression. The famous words of John F Kennedy, former US President, ‘Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country’, are nothing but a political slogan and at best suited to countries where the common man has at least attained some progress with respect to his basic household needs.

Take developing countries, including India, where millions are poor and suffer at the expense of the rich. Consider this- in the ongoing pandemic, countless school-going students are being deprived of education, which has become a privilege only for those with means- a smartphone and internet connection. Migrant labourers were brazenly shunned by the political class even as the Prime Minister was tweeting about the benefits of yoga. The fund constituted to ‘fight the pandemic’ saw generous donations from business houses that gradually raised prices of goods and services to pass on the burden. The common man was poor and has been left poorer.

Medical services are inaccessible to the common man; commodities ranging from petrol to milk are adulterated; medicines are exorbitantly priced to cover the perks of doctors and retailers; the agents responsible for fair distribution of foodgrains at subsidized rates are becoming richer by depriving the poor; much more is happening in the lives of the common man- from the very poor to middle class- that is nothing but breaking of the trust that was placed when we shifted from being a society where resources belonged to all to being a nation. The rich are becoming richer while the common man struggles with no social and financial security.

Amid all these pains, let’s remind you that any call for religious or caste supremacy is a sham. These are things cleverly designed by the elite- including politicians, state employees, capitalists and rich traders- to keep the common man busy even as they plunder the country. India today needs a class struggle- ethical, non-violent and inclusive- more than it needs the so-called other things as advocated by the elite. And this struggle has to deliver social and financial progress of the basic component of nation- the common man- by combining the good, rational concepts of capitalism, socialism and communism.

Ask for it- Price Freeze and Financial Emergency

Governments can help you feel good and reassured through rhetoric. The harsh fact, however, is that retail prices of many basic goods including food products, beverages and appliances are on a rise amid an unprecedented economic crisis. Consider this- big producers can pledge huge money to government relief funds, however, can they justify raising exorbitantly the MRPs of their goods?

Don’t forget India is still a developing country, no matter how greatly politicians project. A large section of population remains poor and the middle class is fragile. Pandemic and bad governance have dealt a severe blow to financial growth and majority of companies have resorted to pay cuts and layoffs. The only truth amid all the glorification and chest-beating by politicians is that incomes have come down and prices are rising. Stagflation is what this is termed in the financial world.

Price Freeze- a policy action by which the government prohibits and penalizes any increase in prices of goods during the period of disaster- is the only way out. Yes, prices that prevailed in the beginning of March 2020 have to be declared, by law, the upper limit for at least next few months. Any price increase for specified goods has to be declared illegal with immediate effect and all recent hikes must be recalled immediately. Products must include all foods and foodstuffs, all clothing, light bulbs, appliances used in preparation of food, basic electronic goods and basic tools.

Critics can argue that price freeze can have a detrimental impact on the economy in the long-run. Let’s not get into that argument since this price freeze has to be for a limited term. Moreover, most companies have yet to cut salaries of top executives and once done, it will bring down costs for them. Believe it or not, producers and traders are profiting at the expense of consumers and governments are mute spectators.

Second, ask for proclamation of financial emergency. Do you think it is justified to charge you the usual tariff for electricity when your income has dropped? Government companies, public sector units, public sector banks and other similar establishments haven’t cut down on their operational costs of which salaries and perks are a major chunk. Is it justified for the state power company to charge high tariff from consumers to fund salaries of their staffers when consumer community is experiencing financial crunch? No. Ask for proclamation of financial emergency that must compel governments to reduce their revenue expenses and transfer some relief to ordinary people.

Price freeze and financial emergency, however tough-to-implement they may sound, are policy actions that can help the common man find at least some relief amid a severely harsh time. A well-intentioned and well-managed scheme can make these two things work. Ask your government for these measures.

The Fall of Many, the Rise of Oligarchs

Two datasets are out in the open. One, the Indian economy in FY ending 2020 grew at slowest pace in a decade (coronavirus not to blame), and two, some richest men of India saw their wealth soaring in the same period. India suffered contraction in quarter ending June but billionaires, including chairmen of Reliance Industries and Adani Group, are getting richer. All this may seem normal on its face but we need to know what lies beneath this disparity where the country is becoming poorer but a few aren’t.

In virtually no time, Reliance’s Jio has become the undisputed jewel of India Inc. Foreign investors are rushing to buy stake in the enterprise and their analysts know that Jio will give great returns. What began with a disruption in the telecom industry by luring the mass with free voice calls and data has now spread in many sectors. Reliance can now be a common man’s grocery, clothing, internet, digital payment and toys (Hamleys) supplier, and much more, all at the same time. From ports to airports and green energy to edible oil, Adani is almost everywhere and is setting new records with deals like airport takeovers and world’s largest solar contract.

Why did we refer to the term ‘oligarch’ in the title? Oligarchs are typical to Russia and former USSR, and their rise was fueled by the nexus between politics and industry. Oligarchy means ‘the rule of the few’. These private players are dominant forces in the economy and no matter what happens to health of the nation’s economy, they manage to thrive, and thrive well.

The second part of the title says ‘the fall of many’ and these are the small and medium businesses in the Indian economy. Now that they are under intense pressure, the government has only one relief for them- borrow more. This vicious measure will result in small businesses shutting shops and banks reeling under their NPAs. Soon, and it’s already happening, small grocery stores in the neighbourhood will face death at the hands of ‘oligarchs’ who will have both- better bargaining power and economies of scale. Oligarchs will decide what the mass buys, where they buy it from and what price they pay for their purchases.

And this rise of oligarchs doesn’t come without clandestine sponsorship of the ruling government. Now if Facebook wants its WhatsApp payment business to get regulatory approvals, it must not only show bias towards the ruling party in its conduct of normal business operations, it should also invest in the business of the oligarch, the oligarch who in turn funds the ruling party. That’s nexus, easy.

But what about the popular support? India, indeed, is a democracy where elections must be won to hold on to power. And this popular support is derived by playing the nationalism card. It’s too simple. Shun all rationality and pragmatism, and issue a clarion call of nation-first. Urge people to reject imports and go for local alternatives backed by the argument that lesser the imports, greater will be the prosperity. But why not answer this- by keeping competition over price and quality out and giving local provider a free rein to pass off substandard and pricier goods in the market, who are you really allowing to prosper?

From rail projects to renewable energy to 5G infra, the oligarchs can now prevail without having to face competition over price and/ or quality. Who, however, is at loss when competition disappears and a select few control everything? It’s the common man. And in such a scenario, small and medium firms too have no option but to bow out. Just think why the farmer, who produces and sells for little to the middle-man, never thrives but the middleman does? Because the middleman has a better bargaining power and this is the same when small businesses compete with oligarchs.

The informal economy of India is collapsing but the wealthy few are becoming wealthier. We are already in the phase where we are facing the threat of oligarchy, the rule of the few.