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The BJP's lame excuses on FDI are hardly credible

December 01, 2011 10:34 IST

There is palpable disappointment within a section of Young and Aspirational India that has come to identify with Centre Right economic thinking and had looked up to the BJP to advance that agenda in the years to come, says Shashi Shekhar.

The flawed debate over the recent decision by the Manmohan Singh- led United Progressive Alliance government on foreign direct investment in retail has revealed a familiar routine. A prime minister with no political capital to stake or a political constituency to please puts out a politically controversial proposal.

The real power centres within the Congress party maintain an all too familiar silence. While Rahul Gandhi slams India Shining on the one hand, Sonia Gandhi laments the disruption of Parliament. Both maintain complete radio silence over the decision on FDI in retail at a much touted first public speech by Sonia Gandhi since her recent indisposition.

While parallels are already being drawn between the stand-off over the Indo-US nuclear deal and this one, it is clear that the division of labour between the Congress Presidency and the Prime Minister's Office is one of political convenience.

The Congress Presidency stakes little capital to own up to seemingly unpopular decisions that need a political case to be made. The Prime Minister's Office comes out looking the martyr over doing the right thing, no matter how half-baked the proposal may be and no matter how disingenuous the claims to national interest might actually be.

It is clear that the political impulses of both the Congress and the BJP over this issue will be defined to a large extent by the mood in Uttar Pradesh. It was not too long ago that Reliance had to shut shop in Uttar Pradesh over its attempts to operate large format organised retail outlets.

One already hears voices of dissent from the Congress' UP unit. The BJP's over the top opposition to the decision on FDI from its main faces in UP and the lame excuses forwarded by its Parliamentary leadership in Delhi to explain past support to the issue of FDI in retail sound hardly credible.

It is one thing to split hairs on the difference between a manifesto and a vision document. Given that the current BJP President Nitin Gadkari is big on vision documents and given the buzz of one such vision document being authored by a committee chaired by a Bangalore-based entrepreneur one wonders how seriously these vision statements from the BJP must be taken if its leadership in Delhi lacks the conviction and courage to own up to them a few years down the line.

Most importantly, the BJP's top leadership in Delhi stands guilty of not having denounced the threats by some within the party to burn down private property.

With a self-made entrepreneur in Nitin Gadkari as a president, who himself runs large format retail stores, one would have expected a more nuanced position from the BJP in Delhi rather than this extreme opposition that puts its forward looking state governments in a spot over having to choose between pragmatism and taking on the party line.

It was mischievous of the Congress to put Narendra Modi on the spot by planting a story over his alleged support to the decision on FDI in retail. One can hardly expect a Narendra Modi to step up and take on elements within his party on an issue that the Congress itself is half convinced about while the Congress party's top leadership tries to have it both ways with its strategic silence.

As the deadlock in Parliament continues, there is palpable disappointment within a section of Young and Aspirational India that has come to identify itself with Centre Right economic thinking and had looked up to the BJP to be the vehicle to advance a Centre Right agenda in the years to come.

It is hardly expected of the BJP to bail out the prime minister from his political difficulties or for the BJP to make a political case for FDI in retail that the PM himself and the Congress presidency have failed to make. But for the BJP to express vehement opposition to the decision while at the same time failing to articulate clearly what exactly it stands for as far as an economic agenda for the future goes, compounds the disappointment.

Those who swear by a mythical Centre Right agenda are left with few choices. They can vote for a Left Liberal Congress while choosing to be content with its lip service to Middle India throwing up a Nuclear deal here, a FDI in retail.

On the other hand they can continue to find themselves on the sidelines of the political debate lamenting the BJP's incoherent drift and the absence of a Centre Right party of their dreams.

A more purposeful response on their part would be to engage the BJP's Delhi-based leadership directly to force the issue. Today the BJP's extreme positions on economic issues are coming from Delhi-based leaders with no experience of having managed a real economy or presided over an era of real job growth.

It is time the BJP's leadership in states that have demonstrated pragmatism balancing various interests to deliver on real economic progress took control of the party's advocacy on economic issues.

The flawed political debate over FDI in retail once again reveals how far we are away from getting to a Centre Right political movement. Perhaps politics will continue to be a lagging indicator of the change we wish to see.

It is foolish to look for a Centre Right revolution in politics when we haven't seen any evidence of one lurking in the socio-cultural and intellectual realm.

For a viable Centre Right political movement there needs to be a real political constituency. Such a constituency will not emerge till Centre Right thinking becomes mainstream seeping through popular consciousness. For such a popular Centre Right narrative to emerge one needs to see Centre Right values and ethics being projected through characters in popular books, movies and television shows.

There is hardly any evidence of such a socio-cultural revolution underway. On the other hand much of popular culture either reinforces the Left Liberal narrative in subtle ways or provokes raw, ideologically sterile anger of the Anna Hazare, Arvind Kejriwal variety.

Till such a broader socio-cultural shift happens, it is foolish to expect a Centre Right political revolution.

Shashi Shekhar is a social media commentator on Indian politics and public policy. His blog can be found at http://blog.offstumped.in

Shashi Shekhar