The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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- Everybody, except the communists, wants a prosperous India

Everyone would like to see a strong and prosperous India with enough opportunities and good living for all. There are different routes. But the experience in many countries is that improved productivity, efficiency and quality in producing goods and services, including health and education for the poor, open economies and competition, achieve rapid growth with equity. From their actions in the year they have run the United Progressive Alliance government from outside, the communists appear to be against this route. They would rather redistribute wealth. They do not accept that individual incentives lead to growth, and that the communist method will keep the economy at low levels of efficiency and productivity.

Many suspect a much more ominous plan behind communist obduracy. Their well-thought out strategy for India might replicate their successful strategies in gaining West Bengal. It begins with frightening away existing industry and new investment through militant labour actions. It includes stimulating law and order problems with acts of random violence. On seizing power, they capture mass votes, as in West Bengal, by land reforms. They place their cadre in strategic positions in government at all levels so that they have an unbeatable electoral machine. Meanwhile, industry and investment flee and the economy deteriorates. After achieving full control over the state machinery, they stop labour militancy and violence to attract investment, as in West Bengal.

The communists are for restraint on consumption, more simple lifestyles and heavy taxes on the rich. They have opposed disinvestment in public sector shares. They fomented the violent labour agitation in Gurgaon. They would rather bankrupt the oil companies than permit end prices to rise despite input cost rises, thus gaining brownie points with voters. They are sabotaging power-sector reforms by demanding amendments in critical portions of the Electricity Act 2003. They oppose improved efficiencies in the public distribution system. Their thrust for a colossal national giveaway through a guarantee of employment to all families along with many other actions show that they are working to a plan. They are opposed to any rapproachment with the United States of America. The plan is to frighten investment, bring industrial decline and use the chaos for gaining power nationally. A 'Third Front' will give them this power.

Some elements in the communist agenda, reflected in the national common minimum programme, were doubtless appropriate. The communists pushed for the social issues in the NCMP. But a 'human face' to reforms is not a communist innovation. It has been in the semantics of reforms from the Narasimha Rao days. His 'middle path' was a reflection of his concern to go forward at a pace that would not hurt the poor and vulnerable. But without reforming government, no amount of money will deliver services to the poor. The communists are silent on this.

Indeed, India under different governments developed a consistent reforms model that is unique. The rupee is not yet fully convertible despite the many who have wanted it done since the early Nineties. The economy is still closed to foreign investment in selected sectors. We have resisted any attempt to cut our protection for agriculture. We have not changed labour laws and continue to have the same laws even in the special economic zones, unlike China. Our public sector remains largely as it was, both in ownership and in government control. Little is privatized. Even the sale of shares in stateowned enterprises was spasmodic and is now halted. Subsidies on many products like fertilizers, power, kerosene, LPG and so on, continue. Price control on pharmaceutical drugs remains, although now somewhat more flexible than before. Basic commodities like coal remain under government ownership. Import duties remain higher than in most other countries. Electricity under mostly government ownerships, with communist help, bodes to be in permanent darkness. Higher and professional education remains largely with the government and is heavily subsidized.

Despite all the rhetoric in favour of the poor (starting with Indira Gandhi's Garibi Hatao), we have yet to successfully deliver health, education, nutrition, gender equality and upward mobility to the majority of the lowest among the scheduled castes and tribes and religious minorities. This failure is not the result of any cold-blooded rationality of our reformers to push ahead with reforms even at the cost of the poor. It is because of the inability of our administrative system to spend the allocated amounts and deliver such social services to the needy.

The poor prefer quacks to the government health centres, except when the ailment is so serious that it needs hospitalization. Subsidized foodgrains and oils get diverted from the poor for whom they are meant, as do kerosene and other goods. Government schools are in a shabby state. Our cities and towns are vast festering sores of filth and congestion. I have not heard any communist even whisper that we badly need administrative reforms in India to improve the quality of life and opportunity for the poor as for others. Communists are against improving efficiency and productivity even for benefiting the poor.

Communists do not believe that better management can actually help the poor. They would rather procure, store, transport and deliver as rations, millions of tonnes of foodgrains. They are unwilling even to countenance any alternative that will avoid this complex logistical and inherently corrupt effort.

The communist approach to the public sector (although not in Bengal where they are now in the reconstruction phase after having destroyed its economy) is that, however much of a drain, the public sector units must survive. They would like petrol, diesel and kerosene prices to be pegged even when the input crude prices are exploding. They do not care if electricity is sold below cost and huge losses incurred by state government enterprises. They want all subsidies and infructuous government expenditures to continue. They have only one approach to the government's financial deficits: tax the rich. They refuse to accept that high taxes are counter-productive and do not lead to higher revenues, while they push back growth.

In the world of more openness to ideas, markets, goods and services and increasingly, to people, the dominant motivation is materialistic and consumption-oriented. This may be good or bad. But the shift is inevitable. No country has tried to stop it except Myanmar, North Korea and Cuba.

In our domestic policies, all parties except the communists appear to favour strong action to stop the terrorist movements labelling themselves Maoist or Naxalite. They are against weeding out illegal Bangladeshi immigrants and sending them back to Bangladesh. This protects their Muslim vote-banks (which include Bangladeshis). This also explains their pro-Arab and anti-Israel stance.

Except the communists, all parties seem to have recognized the realities of a unipolar world. The US dominates the world in every respect. Both the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Congress have simultaneously developed stronger relations with the US as with Asia and our neighbours. The communists would rather improve relations only with China and the Muslim world. For them China is no threat and our nuclear explosions could not have improved our strength in relation to China. The enemy for them are the US, and the Western and capitalist countries.

There appears to be a sinister method in the Indian communist conspiracy of not promoting the national interest, and destroying it so that the communists can pick up the pieces.

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