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Modiji, enough of politics, focus on economy now!

By T C A Srinivasa Raghavan
January 07, 2020 12:31 IST
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'With the big political job done, the time has come to pay attention to the economy, which is the main problem now,' argues T C A Srinivasa Raghavan.

Illustration: Dominic Xavier/Rediff.com
 

Between May 2014 and November 2016 the Modi government was in continuity mode and everyone complained that it wasn't going fast enough.

After that it has adopted 'bash on regardless' mode, which has sometimes been hugely disruptive.

Whether it was demonetisation or GST or triple talaq or Article 370 or the latest amendment to the citizenship law, the government has chosen to force change in a series of sudden and massive strokes rather than gradually.

Even the JNU fee hike was massive -- which is tenth in the order of smalls -- from Rs 20 per month for a single room to Rs 600!

To understand this behaviour, we perhaps need to understand what the Germans call zeitgeist and, simultaneously, the push exercised by a government's political benefactors.

To see why and how, go back to 1969.

In July that year, Indira Gandhi had split the Congress party and was running a minority government with the help of the Communist Party of India.

To please them, she nationalised 14 of the biggest banks in India.

Then she abolished privy purses, via which the rulers of non-British India were promised a monthly stipend in return for joining the Indian union.

She said she was abolishing privilege.

Between 1971 and 1973, she nationalised the coal industry.

Her coal minister Mohan Kumaramangalam was a former Communist.

In 1973, she even nationalised the grain trade.

Mercifully this lasted only for a few months.

The foreign oil companies were also nationalised between 1974 and 1976.

All this was Disruption with a capital D. India hadn't seen anything like it.

The reason why I have two explanations for why governments sometimes disrupt so massively.

One is elemental, the other is tactical.

The latter requires the government to please someone whose support is critical to survival.

Or someone who provides the ideological moorings of the ruling party.

But for this to succeed the first should already have happened, namely, a massive change in the zeitgeist or the spirit of the times.

A good politician senses this when it happens and exploits it.

Indira Gandhi detected the hankering for redistribution of wealth that had developed by the late 1960s, and capitalised on it.

In that sense, it is important to understand that the problem of massive disruption is not caused by the government alone, but the mood of the country itself when it changes.

The correct question to ask, therefore, is why a new mood comes about, and whether it is the politician who creates the new mood or the new mood that creates the politician.

For instance, until the end of the 1960s, neither socialism, nor the self-conscious secularism we see now was very evident on political platforms.

No one talked very much about these things.

In fact, any attempt to use these ideas as a political tool was intensely disliked and dismissed by the people.

Those who insisted, like the Jana Sangh, were regarded as nuts who were best ignored.

The Jana Sangh's electoral performance till 1989 is witness.

So what changed? As I said earlier, the most important driving force at the end was the Congress party's dependence on the Communists.

Together, these two hugely exploited the spirit of the times in favour of redistribution and India became overtly socialist.

In 1976, Indira Gandhi even inserted the term 'Socialist' into the Preamble of Constitution.

She also inserted secular.

The driving force

I think something like the change in mood that happened vis-a-vis Socialism has now happened with Secularism also.

Whatever the proximate and longer-term reasons for it, Indians are now overtly non-secular.

But political bargains aren't always one-sided.

By 1974, a huge economic crisis, together with her brute majorities in Parliament and assemblies, had both forced and enabled Indira Gandhi to discard the Communists as she no longer needed them.

She was able to stabilise and consolidate the economy after that, albeit in Socialist, shortage mode.

Compare this to the present.

In just seven months into its second term, the Modi government has pushed through everything that it and its ideological partner want -- triple talaq, abolition of Article 370, and the new Citizenship Act.

But now, with the big political job done, the time has come for it to pay attention to the economy, which is the main problem now.

In probability theory, this is called variable change, meaning you change the variable if you can work out that doing so will stack the odds in your favour.

Indira Gandhi used it with great success. Now Mr Modi too. In fact, he must.

She nationalised. He must de-nationalise.

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T C A Srinivasa Raghavan
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