By RAJEEV SRINIVASAN
The Economist magazine of June 3 carried a survey of Indian business; the points made by their India correspondent sound wearily like those made by sundry pundits over the last decade. In summary, they say severe structural obstacles prevent India from re-emerging as the world’s pre-eminent economic power, as it was through much of history.
The obstacles often mentioned are: an end to liberalization and privatization; dismal infrastructure; Byzantine labor laws that end up killing jobs; and a crisis in education. I would add another, even greater threat: politicians’ persistent vote-bank-oriented populism as well as support for anti-national groups.
In this context recent wins by Marxists in elections in West Bengal and Kerala assume great gravity. For, every one of the problems mentioned above is exacerbated by Marxist actions. There is some method in the Marxists’ madness, of course: they need to perpetuate poverty in India. They reason, correctly, that the masses would laugh at their silly socialist slogans as soon as they claw their way out of poverty.
Besides, India’s Marxists are missionaries for China: they once used to say explicitly, “China’s Chairman [Mao] is our Chairman.” Now they are more circumspect, but they actively participated in the virtual takeover of neighboring Nepal by Chinese-funded Maoists; they enthusiastically colluded in the de-facto occupation of a large swath of Indian territory from Andhra Pradesh to the Uttar Pradesh border by Indian Maoists; incidentally, they have also encouraged the demographic conquest of much of Assam and West Bengal by illegal Bangladeshi immigrants, quite in fitting with the Sino-Islamist axis.
The Marxists have fought tooth and nail against every reform that would let loose the “Indian Tiger.” They have opposed disinvestment by the Indian State, although it has shown good results, and although they themselves practice it in West Bengal. Marxists are the champions of labor laws that discourage investment and employment; for instance, in Kerala, they raised labor costs so high that paddy cultivation has come to an end there.
Marxists have, intentionally, decimated India’s competitive advantage in education. I once had the dubious pleasure of hearing a top Marxist honcho advocate that there should be more government schools, whereas the public is voting with their feet in droves by preferring expensive private-sector schools. Experts are unanimous that the few islands of tertiary excellence like the IITs and IIMs will be swamped by mediocrity unless primary education is improved.
A casual observer can see that in nations like Thailand, Singapore, and Taiwan people have prospered through widespread education and private enterprise. Marxists and other Stalinists in India strive to ensure that their dirigiste policies will not allow Indians to follow suit. Their electoral wins are a tragedy for India at a historic moment.
Rajeev Srinivasan wrote this opinion from Angkor Wat, Cambodia.
No, the momentum for reform is too great
By SUGRUTHA RAMASWAMI
It is fashionable in some quarters to lay all the blame for India’s woeful infrastructure and its throttling bureaucracy at the feet of socialism and Marxism. Any impediment to economic growth is allegedly the fault of the Nehruvian-Stalinists, according to some. If that were indeed the case, what prevented Narasimha Rao’s liberalization-obsessed regime and the Bharatiya Janata Party’s capitalism-favoring regime from making significant changes to those areas wilting in the vice-like grip of the old order?
The solution to any problem can be arrived at only if its source is accurately identified. This is not to let off the hook the erstwhile regimes that converted the economy into a license-permit raj under the garb of gareebi-hatao socialism; politicians who caste-ized and communalized electoral politics; or the self-serving bureaucracy that refuses to change its role from controller to facilitator. (Incidentally, the “steel frame” was tailored by the colonial regime to subjugate rather than rule in benign fashion.) Nor is this to let off the hook the ideologically ossified Left intellectuals and their brood of fellow politicians who promote agendas that bode ill for the country’s economy and security.
But we owe the average Indian a well-researched problem definition and solution. He has come into his own today, drawing on his legacy of historical and cultural consciousness of entrepreneurship, creativity, and individualism. The Indian, rich or poor, is in no mood to get off the economic liberalization highway, whether the exit is on the Right or Left. He has no patience for ideology; he wants better structures, working systems, fewer controls, and more facilitation, and certainly does not want to be force-fed tired and worn-out mantras about development. The average Indian has seen the future, and he wants to prosper like other Asians. The politician who woos him is well aware of this fact—whether Left or Right or Center. The solution to India’s problems of infrastructure and red tape lies much beyond the socialists and the Marxists.
Kerala and West Bengal have always been more than kind to their Marxists; there is nothing more significant in terms of ideological trends in the current electoral outcomes as compared to previous elections. The Red-romance watchers are perturbed by a sequence of events starting in 2004. First in line is the victory of the “Gareebi Hatao” slogan against the “India Shining” slogan. Next is the not-so-insignificant support from the communist MPs that the coalition depends upon. This is followed by the communists not missing a beat whenever they use that fact to bulldoze the UPA government on issues ranging from foreign affairs to privatization. The current state-assembly victories present a new worry only when placed in this line of events. Otherwise, it does not.
Sugrutha Ramaswami is an IT professional in New Jersey.