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.

Does ‘Vocal for Local’ resemble China’s ‘Giant Leap Forward’?

Detractors can say that while India’s Vocal for Local campaign has been started by a political party that vehemently rejects communism, the Giant Leap Forward (GLF) was started in late 1950s by a communist regime, and hence any comparison is innately flawed. Here, it is important to note that all definitions of capitalism, socialism and communism that have ruled textbooks and discussions for decades now seek alteration owing to some late developments. For example, the communist China became more liberal, less protectionist under Deng Xiaoping, while the capitalist US has become protectionist under Trump.

That said, let’s begin with why the much-hyped vocal for local campaign of PM Modi may leave India poorer. The GLF’s failure and resulting Great Chinese Famine hold the cue.

When Chairman Mao Zedong launched GLF, he foresaw China becoming self-sufficient in production of steel, back then a product seen as fundamental to economic growth. What Mao did was he moved labour from farms to ‘backyard furnaces’ to augment steel production in China. Barely equipped with proper infrastructure and technical expertise, this plan backfired and what heightened the pain was that public officials suppressed the failure of the plan for long in order to stay in the good books of Mao.

Compare this with what the Indian PM seeks from his vocal for local pitch. He wants Indians to produce goods that were hitherto imported from other countries, especially from enemy countries including China. In simple words, he wants Indian banks to cut their dependence on point-of-sale machines imported from China and rather use locally produced products. He also wants Indians to shun platforms like TikTok- we will not talk about national security concerns here- and move to locally made platform.

The debate here is local v foreign and the PM has projected India as capable of being a self-sufficient or self-reliant nation. But let’s be rational. Why did we need to import in the first place? It’s because we do not yet have the expertise to produce similar goods locally and match price and quality of imported goods. India is an IT behemoth and our techies grab the largest chunk of professional visas in the US and other developed countries. In simple terms, we are good in terms of techies but lack when it comes to producing some goods, and let’s accept this.

Mao miscalculated results of his GLF campaign and the same public that backed his efforts with an ultra-nationalistic fervor was the biggest loser in the end. Now consider another program that ran parallel with GLF- the ‘Hundred Flowers’. Here, Mao encouraged criticism of government policies for a short period, however, in the end identified criticizers and persecuted them. Can you find a resemblance? Intellectuals rarely get rewarded in the Modi-regime. From RBI heads to ECs- anyone who critiqued the government was shown the door. It means that while there was no one left in China to warn Mao of the inevitable failure of his short-sighted backyard furnace plan, in India, anyone who will advocate that India should not be ultra-protectionist, at least for the sake of the poor, will risk being seen as anti-national.

The losers, however, in the end will be the general public. Inflation has breached the acceptable threshold and contraction in GDP growth is inescapable. Add to this the impact of import-substitution. From toys to auto components, import duties have been hiked with a view to ‘promote’ the local industry. We all have read how imports remained stuck for weeks at ports owing to delayed custom clearances and unwarranted red tape. All this is doing nothing but making goods and services expensive in India.

There is another element to this. The government has also restricted FDI from countries bordering India citing national security concerns. Do we forget that many startups, from Swiggy to Paytm to OYO, are funded by investors from neighbouring country? These startups have been burning cash for years and have yet to turn profitable. They, however, employ a considerable chunk of labourforce. Does India have any farsighted plan to employ these workers should these startups choose to shut shop?

There is much to write. However, let’s conclude with some notable failures of GLF. Infrastructure was hastily developed without much technical expertise that resulted in the unfortunate dam collapse incident a few years later. Unsubstantiated farming techniques were employed to increase output, however, it resulted in drastic fall. All this calls for a well-planned policy for import-substitution instead of ceding to the popular call of ‘boycott’.

PS: National security is paramount. At the same time, policy stance of the government has to be rational, not populist.

proclamation of financial emergency – the only way out of this nationwide crisis

let’s talk real. majority of citizens are struggling with their finances. factories, offices, shops are shut. since there is no way for anybody, save those employed with various governments and government bodies, to make money, the onus lies on governments to provide relief. agreed, a few big corporates will pay salaries during the lockdown period from their reserves and some bosses driven by ethics and morality will also do so.

but india is a big, big country. nearly 90 percent of total workforce is employed in the informal sector and most of the employers will find it impossible to pay their workers due to nil cash flows and unavailability of reserves earmarked for such situations.

amid all this, the governments are charging for electricity and other supplies. they are doing so since the employees of the state and state-owned enterprises will be paid their salaries in full. but is this justified? at a time when companies are laying off workers and not paying salaries due to exigencies that are beyond the control of employers, how can the state pay its employees in full? how can state-owned enterprises, from public sector undertakings to public sector banks to institutes and bodies under various ministries pay their employees in full?

and if they are doing so, this is against the principles of equity. moreover, the state doesn’t earn from commercial activities. a bulk of its revenues comes from taxes and other levies. even the poorest of poor contributes to the exchequer by paying indirect taxes when a bucket or biscuit is bought. it is this money that is used to pay the state staff.

let’s talk about public sector banks. although they undertake commercial activity, we know they rarely do so in the best way. this is the reason they are supported regularly from budgetary resources to save them from sinking. institutes, bodies and associations under various governments and ministries too are funded from budgetary resources.

now when the very foundation of the budget, the taxpayer, is under severe stress, is the state justified in paying its employees in full? although a handful of state governments have declared some cuts in such expenditures, they aren’t enough to tackle the crisis. the only answer is the government proclaiming financial emergency by using powers under article 360 of the indian constitution. after all, the provision has been added to tackle emergencies and the current crisis is deserving of such action since what is happening is unprecedented.

article 360 gives power to the state to issue direction and “any such direction may include a provision requiring the reduction of salaries and allowances of all or any class of persons serving in connection with the affairs of a state.”

nation’s resources belong to every citizen, rich or poor. and hence, equity must be brought without any delay.

how to read 2019 lok sabha poll results

there are three major players in 2019 lok sabha elections- the ruling bjp, main opposition party congress and a vague third front, which can comprise of various regional parties led by leaders including Mamata Banerjee, Mayawati, Naveen Patnaik and others. There can be a number of outcomes. One can be either the bjp or congress attaining absolute majority in the house and forming the new government with ease. however, chances of this are extremely slim.

In the second scenario, a pre-poll alliance, nda or upa, may attain majority. However, if any of the factions, nda or upa, falls short of majority, it will be comparatively easier for upa to muster support from those who may play the kingmaker. Last scenario is of the undeclared third front hitting the majority mark with combined seats from all parties in this faction. This can lead to a probable fight over the office of prime minister and key ministerial berths.

having noticed what may happen in the impending elections, let us also look at how 2019 lok sabha polls will serve as a reminder to all political parties in future parliamentary polls.

bjp’s campaign is focused primarily on nationalism and majoritarianism. even the party understands that they haven’t fared well on economic count and hence, the campaign has been diverted towards patriotism and a threat to india from evil foreign forces that the bjp says can only be averted by it. although the recently released manifesto of the party talks of better days for farmers and poor, this has been relegated to the backseat with main emphasis on ram mandir, influx of refugees and j&k focused article 35a.

congress’s campaign is populist and relies on connecting with those who are still marginalized after end of 60-months rule of bjp. the party manifesto isn’t tilted towards majoritarianism and focusses largely on the poor living conditions of  many indian households. the manifesto, however, appears inclusive on its face and this can appeal to minority religions, primarily islam.

now if the bjp emerges after the election as the party with highest number of seats and does form government, one can note that today’s india has moved beyond basic political themes and internal security and nationalism have captured the imagination of voters. this will serve as a testimony to indian voters tilt towards a centralized government with a strong figurehead.

in the second scenario, if the congress emerges as the largest party and does form government by seeking or without seeking support from other winners, this should serve as a reminder to political analysts and other stakeholders that poverty alleviation is still the single most important theme in indian polity. this shall also serve as a reminder that indians place trust in underdogs (first the teaseller,and now someone who has been made a subject of mockery by the bjp) and doesn’t like leaders presented as kings.

this is the only learning that one can and must take from 2019 lok sabha polls outcomes. rest will only be trp-generating content.