The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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A new bug has bitten the the Opposition — ‘Manmohan bashing’. This has continued relentlessly over the last few days, much like the debates in Parliament over the nuclear deal. Accusations hurled freely, with no empirical backup, were the norm in the House then, and continues to be the ‘style’ of the discourse today too, as our parliamentarians discuss the Indo-Pak joint statement carelessly, aided and abetted either by the jingoistic visual media or by the hysterical English-language electronic media during their boring talk shows. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, thinking out-of-the-box and operating differently from the usual bureaucratic way of maintaining a comfortable status quo, will leave an indelible mark on the politics of the sub-continent.

The threat by private airlines to strike unless the government bailed them out since they were in debt was another farce that was played out before the unsuspecting public watching telly during the weekend. The best shows were the food shows — inspiring, funny and promising, with all the truths there for us to see and savour! The airlines have now backed off from the strike claiming that they merely wanted the government to restructure the price of aviation fuel and settle other such matters. The press helped them to successfully remodel their claim and strategy, much like a PR company. Our private players looked like spoilt, high-flying rich kids who have been denied their demand for a free lollipop and so have put on a huge sulk to blackmail their parents. It was so embarrassing to watch them as they tried to play the games that their automobile counterparts in the United States of America play. It appeared as though they were desperate to make the government feel vulnerable, and extract some dole in the process. I always thought that the private sector was against subsidies and believed in the forces of the free market.

Strange country

During budget time every year, many of the movers and shakers of the corporate world have attacked the government subsidies for the poor. They called the national rural employment guarantee programme, for instance, an expensive ‘sop’ handed out by the government for populist reasons. Midday meals have been criticized. Agricultural subsidies have been censured by the private players even though their mentor country, which celebrates the free market genuinely, subsidizes its own agricultural sector. Surely, giving subsidies to the underprivileged is better than subsidizing privileged private companies that over extended themselves and so became hugely unprofitable? In this scenario, the government airline has a far greater right to ask its ‘owner’, the government, for a bailout. Sadly, there is no consistency in the intellectual debates on such issues. The cry to unshackle the corporate sector is now countered by pleas for bailouts. Maybe, a joint-sector model is the future of our country if free market players are unable to take the highs with the inevitable lows.

The strange reality in India is that whenever an individual performs, delivers or acts outside the borders of status quo politics, the rest in the larger ‘club’, who have not made it, pounce on the person, usually surreptitiously, in a desperate effort to destroy the credibility and dignity of that individual. This happens in politics, in business, in the service sector, everywhere. If you are under attack and being abused, accused and more, it means you have arrived. That is the insane way in which India celebrates its best and its brightest. Examples from the realm of politics are Manmohan Singh, who was deemed ‘weak and malleable’, Sonia Gandhi, who was damned by the Opposition for decades, and Rahul Gandhi, who was pooh-poohed as an incompetent ‘heir’. When the trajectory changes, critics become sycophants.

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