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Congress Left High and Dry

September 17, 2005 15:41 IST

When asked about his government's record on reforms, Mr Chidambaram, somewhat innocently but perhaps disingenuously, asks, "If reforms have slowed down, how are we registering high growth?"

Interpretation: It is the great leadership of the Congress that has allowed economic growth last year to be 6.9 per cent, and this year to be near 7 per cent; that has allowed the Sensex to be higher, and Indians to be richer, and for India to have a woman tennis player in the top 40. One might also add, according to Mr C's logic, that if my temperature is normal today, I will stay well

I would like to disagree with the finance minister, and document that the economy inherited by the UPA in May 2004 was the best ever, especially by Mr Chidambaram's (Mr C) standards of what a good economy is; that the record of the present UPA government, to date, is the most anti-reform since the Janata experiment in 1977-80; and third, that, surprisingly, true reformers are to be found outside of the Congress and among the people it loves to blame for its surprising anti-reform record-the Left.

"Reform, perform, or perish", not what Mr C said but what the leading Communist of India has stated about what economic policies need to be followed. And, unlike his colleagues in Delhi, aka as "coffee shop revolutionaries", Mr Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee (Mr BB), chief minister, is actually fast implementing reforms in West Bengal.

The reason for the urgency-Mr BB faces the electorate early next year. If the UPA were to also face the electorate, it might also put a fast pedal on reforms.

An alternative view is that the anti-reform record of the Congress is precisely geared towards elections next year-only Congress-style, they hope to get there with populism under the leadership of an inexperienced First Family member, Rahul Gandhi. So we might get a genuine choice soon: Rahul Gandhi or a non-Congress Prime Minister, Mr BB or Mr Chandrababu Naidu?

But first, the record of the economy 1999 to 2004 (the NDA period). It is useful to contrast it with the universally acknowledged reform period of the Congress, 1991 to 1996.

In March 1999, the consolidated fiscal deficit   was 10.8 per cent of GDP, thanks to Mr C's agreement (albeit a reluctant nod) on more pay for bureaucrats to produce less, this consolidated deficit catapulted to a
record 12.3 per cent of GDP in 2001-02.

At the time the NDA left, the deficit was down to 9.9 per cent of GDP, and around 8.1 per cent in 2004-05 (before the Congress got a chance to make it worse).

It has been contended, especially by Congress experts, that poor rural India did not participate in the NDA era growth, and that jobs were created only for the urban elite of Delhi and Bangalore.

A new aam aadmi deal was needed and that is why the Congress "won"-albeit with the same number of seats (140+ in a 545- seat Parliament) as Narasimha Rao in 1996! Long live Goebellian lies.

According to NSSO data, job growth between 1999 and 2003 was 2.2 per cent per annum, higher than the 1991-96 Congress-delivered job growth of 2 per cent per annum. Rural job growth in the two periods was equal-at 1.8 per
cent per annum.

Agricultural growth during the NDA period was about the same, despite worse weather.  Interest rates became considerably lower in the NDA regime, are in large part responsible for the high growth economy today.

What has been the Congress's response to this booming, shall we dare say shining, economy? Under the traditional Congress pretence of garibi hatao, the government has launched itself  into a traditional tax and spend

Tax rates have been raised for corporations, populist schemes like the fringe benefit tax and employment guarantee programme have been introduced; and ultra-populist schemes like job reservations in the private sector have been suggested.

Anti-reform measures are across several fields. The education department is just as ideologically bad as before, corruption is widely believed to be higher despite Dr  Manmohan Singh's presence as PM, bureaucrats get
fired for blowing the whistle on widespread corruption in Congress-ruled states, and "free" electricity is provided to the farmers (read friends of the Congress) in states ruled by the Congress.

The rot continues. The minister of petroleum brazenly and arrogantly believes that the way to improving corporate governance is by appointing Congress party officials to the boards of directors of public sector corporations (what bets that this is the reason why major elements of the Congress do not, and never will, want to sell the family (all puns
intended) jewels?)

The rot goes on. Just witness what the Congress did in 1984 to the Sikhs -the start of the institutional riot. And then the cover-up after the Nanavati report implicated several Congress party members, including a
Cabinet member, for instigating riots.

And the secular badge of the Congress is demeaned by its activities in supporting  reactionary elements within the Muslim community-does nothing stop it from attempting to gain votes?

But back to Mr C's assertion about reforms, and the anti-reform reality documented above. The ad nauseam lie of the Congress has been: we want to reform, but cannot, because the Left won't let us. But the leader of the Left is fast implementing economic reforms.

By calling the Congress's bluff, Mr BB has left the Congress high and dry. Just for that, he deserves our vote for PM.

Surjit S Bhalla