Atanu Dey On India's Development

Just deserts: India Deserves the Congress

| 3 Comments

In an opinion piece in the Financial Times of April 15th (hat tip: Sudipta), Razeen Sally writes that “the Congress deserves to lose the elections”. Right up front, Sally wrote about “the do-nothing, zero-reform record of Manmohan Singh, prime minister, and his government.”

I have an excerpt from the piece below the fold. I agree with the particulars that Sally (who is director of the European Centre for International Political Economy) mentions supporting the argument that Manmohan Singh is a singular disaster but I cannot agree with the title of the piece.

The Congress party has been in power for decades, an order of magnitude longer than any other party. India is in dire straits, never mind the hype to the contrary. The Congress party brought it about. But they were not thrust upon India by divine intervention or providence. The people of India exercising their democratic right repeatedly voted them into power. A certain segment of Indians in their wisdom (or crass stupidity, depending on how you look at it) have determined that anyone, no matter how demented or retarded, as long as they had the last name Gandhi, was divinely ordained to rule India and have exercised their choice in voting for the Congress party. They will most likely do so again, sickening though the thought is.

The Congress party can be blamed for a lot of things but they are not exceptional in their greed for power. That is common to the human lot. If blame has to be assigned at all, it must surely lie within the Indian public. Regardless of whether the Congress deserves to win or lose, the sad fact is that the Indians deserve the Congress. That’s just deserts.

And now for the extended excerpt from Razeen Sally.

The government’s response to the present global economic crisis was to introduce further market-distorting restrictions, including higher tariffs, anti-dumping duties and assorted non-tariff import barriers.

Finally, the Congress party entered the general election campaign with pledges to expand its hugely wasteful rural employment guarantee programme and increase food subsidies.

The government has squandered the boom years, left the country more vulnerable to malign global economic conditions and compromised prospects for a healthy recovery. But Manmohan Singh and his “dream team” have been given an easy ride: they have escaped blame, especially outside India. The conventional excuse is that their hands are tied by Sonia Gandhi and her Congress coterie, and by coalition politics.

This explanation just does not wash. Mr Singh has impeccable academic credentials and is by all accounts incorruptible. He deserves credit for his performance as finance minister in the 1990s – although credit should also go to Narasimha Rao, then prime minister, who took the tough decisions.

But Mr Singh has proved a hopeless decision-maker as prime minister. Sadly, he proves the rule that academics should generally be “on tap” but not “on top”.

The whole reform programme relies on the prime minister himself. Mr Rao and A.B. Vajpayee proved their mettle, despite heavy political constraints. Mr Singh has failed; he should bear much of the blame. The Congress party does not deserve to be re-elected and the dream team does not deserve to continue in office. An alternative BJP-led government may do better if it has a decisive leader with a core of able reformers. It will not if its leader follows the dictates of short-term opportunism and messy coalition politics.

Nevertheless, the failures of the Congress-led government should be put into a larger institutional context. The Indian state, led by a venal political-bureaucratic elite, remains unreformed. State institutions – the political class, political parties, parliaments, the bureaucracy, the judiciary – have got worse at both national and state levels. Since the late 1980s, “stealth” reforms have taken place outside the state. But India cannot be expected to grow fast with such shaky foundations. The upshot is that much-needed market reforms cannot continue to skirt round the reform of the state itself. Politically, that is the hardest nut to crack.

It’s all karma, neh?

  • http://www.sundarmail.com Sundar

    Congress top leaders (Nehru family) have constantly been weeding potential leaders out to enable them to continue family rule.
    It is unfortunate that a capable man like Pranab Mukherjee could not become Prime Minister.
    If Sonia loses two major elections, we could hope for a leadership change and better Congress.

  • AshishL

    You are both right and wrong. Yes, India deserved the Congress. After all it was the party of the Independence movement and people have richly rewarded them for that. But that is the past. India does not owe today’s Congress a debt any longer and this is part of the political transition we find ourselves in. One hopes that the country can complete the transition away from the Congress with the minimum of political instability.

  • soumen.chakrabarti

    This endless cribbing and comparison between morons in one political party and morons in another political party is seriously boring. Caught in a flood with the water running five feet deep, a child would rationally clutch at a six feet adult than a four feet elder sibling. In other words, there is a story here. But if you have adults floundering around you in 262 feet of water without any knowledge of swimming, you are history no matter who you clutch at. I.e., there is no story there. In India, the intellectual elite’s interest in elections is no different from rubberneckers ogling at a good-going disaster. Almost anything else is a better use of time. Outsource democrazy to the proletariat and be happy.