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How Congress has failed Manmohan Singh in order to appease crown prince Rahul Gandhi

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ManMohan

By Amulya Ganguli 

The Narendra Modi government’s chief economic advisor, Arvind Subramanian, has said that the rate of poverty reduction from 2005-06 to 2011-12 was the fastest in the country’s history. The reason, according to him, was “fast GDP growth”.

Rarely before has the Manmohan Singh government received such a handsome compliment on its performance. Although it has been known that an estimated 138 million people were lifted from below the poverty line when the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) was in power, Subramanian’s praise is the first by someone not associated with the present government.

What is worth examining, however, is why the Congress itself has been reticent about this achievement although the party’s senior general secretary, Digvijay Singh, a “loose cannon” in his own words, did acknowledge once that millions of the “poorest of the poor” had been elevated into the lower middle class category because of Manmohan Singh’s “right” policies.

Notwithstanding this realization, the Congress has generally been silent about its own government’s excellent record in the matter of poverty reduction whereas one would have thought that it would have been trumpeted by the party during and after the election campaign.

The reason for this quietness cannot be unrelated to the party’s first family’s fear that an acknowledgment of this remarkable feat will, first, turn the former prime minister into a hero at the expense of the crown prince, Rahul Gandhi, and, secondly, that it will underline the success of the reforms process.

The exaltation of the putative “regent” over the heir-apparent was evidently unacceptable to the Congress. After all, the former was only expected to keep the seat warm for the dauphin and not put up an admirable show of governance.

Moreover, the fact that the poverty reduction tapered off from 2011-12 would point to the period when Congress president Sonia Gandhi’s aggressive espousal of costly welfare programmes led to the government taking its foot off the accelerator of reforms, as the former finance minister, P. Chidambaram, has said.

It will not be besides the point, therefore, to speculate that if Sonia Gandhi hadn’t opted for the various populist measures on the advice of the left-of-centre National Advisory Council headed by her, the high growth rates would have led to further poverty reduction and, perhaps, enabled the UPA to return to power for the third time.

Yet, sadly for the party, the left-leaning ideological inclinations of the first family, and also of a sizable section of its members, led to its worst-ever defeat.

What is strange, however, is that like the proverbial Bourbons of France, the Congress seems to have learnt nothing and forgotten nothing. Not only has it refused to recognize the root cause of its defeat – the folly of junking reforms – the party is now determinedly turning even more to the left in a manner which has made finance minister Arun Jaitley mock it for positioning itself on the “left of Marx”.

But the Congress will do well to remind itself that the poverty reduction began within a year of its return to power in 2004 not because it was pursuing socialistic policies, but had restarted the reforms process under its original promoter of 1991, Manmohan Singh.

What is more, the process took off although the communists, who are dead against pro-market policies, were then an ally of the government. As a result, the reforms proceeded haltingly, as when another ally, the DMK, rejected the move to disinvest the Neyvelli Lignite plant in Tamil Nadu, and subsequently when there was firm opposition by the Trinamool Congress and others to allow foreign investment in the retail sector.

Even then, notwithstanding the slow pace of reforms, the lives of the “poorest of the poor” were gradually improving as they moved up into what Modi once called the “neo-middle class” with aspirations to rise further.

The Congress, however, still appears to believe that poverty alleviation is best achieved not through economic growth, but by the distribution of doles and subsidies. Behind this belief is probably the calculation that the largesse will be seen as the bounty of the munificent dynasty which presides over the party’s destiny and that gratitude for the benevolence will translate into votes for the Congress.

It is this feudal mindset which baulked at the possibility of Manmohan Singh receiving all the applause for lowering poverty rates, thereby making it nearly impossible for Rahul Gandhi to step into his shoes, as was being speculated at the time.

It is obvious enough that the party cannot but suffer if the interests of a family are put above those of the organization. Its travails will be all the greater if the family members lack the intellectual acuity required at a time of economic change, which is reflected in the expansion of the middle class to accommodate social sections which were earlier outside its fold.

The BJP has understood the change that is taking place, which is why its government has continued to allow foreign investment in the retail sector although the party is against it. This is the difference between a political approach and one based on feudal subservience.

While Modi had the gumption to go against his party, Sitaram Yechury of the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) had the honesty to admit that his party erred in opposing the nuclear deal in 2009.

The Congress, however, has only said that its defeat was the result of its failure to communicate its achievements. It is a half-truth because it is still unwilling to do so lest it should hurt Rahul Gandhi’s prospects. (IANS)

(Amulya Ganguli is a political analyst. The views expressed are personal. He can be reached at amulyaganguli@gmail.com)

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Then It Was Emergency Now It Is Democracy

The Emergency happened 43 years ago and both, Mrs Gandhi and the Congress, lost power because of it in 1977

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Then It Was Emergency Now It Is Democracy
Then It Was Emergency Now It Is Democracy. Pixabay

An all-out war of words broke out last week between the BJP and the Congress on the 1975 Emergency. Observing June 26 as a ‘black day’, several BJP leaders targeted the Congress at events held across the country to highlight the Emergency’s excesses. Leading the charge with a sharp attack on the Congress was Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Addressing BJP workers in Mumbai last Tuesday, the prime minster said the country still refers to June 26 as a ‘dark period during which every institution was subverted and an atmosphere of fear was created’.

Without naming the Nehru-Gandhi family, Modi said the Constitution was misused at the behest of one family. He further went on to say that the mentality of the family had not changed even now after 43 years of the Emergency. ‘Whenever the family feared loss of power, it keeps shouting that the country is in crisis,’ the prime minister added. Expectedly, the Congress hit back with equally sharp criticism of the Modi government, equating Modi to Aurangzeb. It alleged that the prime minister was even crueller than the Mughal emperor as Modi has “enslaved democracy” in the country for the past 49 months with an “undeclared emergency”.

The 21-month period from 1975 to 1977, when the then prime minister Indira Gandhi had declared Emergency, was indeed a dark chapter in India’s democratic history. This was the third national Emergency – the first one was in 1962 when China invaded India and the second was in 1971 during the war with Pakistan – and the only one to be declared citing the “internal disturbances”.  During the 1975 Emergency, opposition leaders were arrested, civil rights curbed, elections postponed, anti-government protests crushed and press censored. It shook India to its core as the freedom to liberty, dissent and express ceased to exist. All this is well-known and in public domain. Therefore, what was so special about the 43rd anniversary of Emergency that the BJP observed as ‘black day’?

Bringing back memories of the Emergency days was clearly aimed at striking at the Congress’s weak spot. It was also meant to neutralise Congress president Rahul Gandhi’s frequent ‘murder of democracy’ gibes directed at the Modi government. This was not entirely unexpected in a pre-election year; neither was the Congress’s equally sharp response by likening Modi to Aurangzeb. As 2019 general elections approach, not only the political exchange between the two parties will gather momentum, but over the next 10 months, election-driven rhetoric, name-calling, inane allegations and historical debates will increase. Reminding Congress of the Emergency is just the beginning.

Congress on Friday promised to create one crore jobs across the southern state
Congress- wikimedia commons

While terming the Emergency as an ‘aberration’, the Congress has never expressed any remorse about the dark chapter in its history or condemned it. Claiming that during Emergency, Mrs Gandhi targeted the rich, black marketers, hoarders and zamindars is no justification for curbing civil liberties and press freedom and neutralising the opposition. The hesitation to admit Emergency as a major mistake has denied the Congress an opportunity to reassert its commitment to democratic values, though it was the primary builder of democracy in India after independence.

The Emergency happened 43 years ago and both, Mrs Gandhi and the Congress, lost power because of it in 1977. Since then, the Congress has ruled at the Centre several times without resorting to emergency measures. On the contrary, it has shown its commitment to democratic order and liberal values far better than the current BJP-led government. The Emergency of 1975 and the violations of civil liberties and press freedom were all real. But its parallels can be drawn with the contemporary situation, which is marked by erosion of institutional independence and integrity, rising intolerance and increasing mob violence which stems from the ideological support of the ruling party.

The right-wing assaults on constitutional institution and individuals’ democratic rights are for real, though there is no Emergency in force in India today. While conventional opposition leaders and parties have the liberty to become more than conventional Opposition and there is also the rising wave of resistance to right-wing assaults on individual rights and institutions, it is also true that there are whiffs of Emergency sentiments in the air and the strains of the Emergency doctrine and pulsations of fear are quite obvious. The Congress is not entirely off the mark when it accuses the Modi government of ‘undeclared emergency’ as the freedom of the media, people’s freedom of expression and their right to live without fear have come under new kinds of threats.

There is no overt press censorship but the government has tried to muzzle and manipulate the media through various means. A section of the media has either caved in to the fear of administrative power or fallen for the lure of money-power. Apart from the media, there have been sustained attempts to weaken and misuse other constitutional and non-constitutional institutions, including the judiciary. Interestingly, all this is happening when the BJP is in power and questioning the Congress’s commitment to the principles and practice of democracy, while the BJP has diluted its own commitment to the philosophy of parliamentary democracy, liberal values and press freedom.

This is quite surprising because while the taint of Emergency continues to haunt the Congress, the BJP, despite its proud status of a party whose leaders were at the forefront of the struggle against the Emergency 43 years ago, is not deterred to misuse the levers of power against its political opponents, ‘difficult’ sections of the media, and independent or ‘inconvenient’ voices that question the government on various issues. With scant regard for critical debate and plurality of views under the current ruling dispensation, what we are seeing now is some kind of a role reversal. Mrs Gandhi subverted institutions to retain power. The BJP is trying to do the same by weakening the same institutions.

Also read: India sends Emergency Fuel Supplies to Sri Lanka

The Emergency should serve as a warning to political parties: threats to democracy and people’s constitutional rights – either directly or indirectly – create resentment and negative public opinion against government. The Emergency created a unity among opposition parties that never existed before and became the cause of Mrs Gandhi’s defeat. It is too early to say whether the Modi government’s attempts to misuse democratic institutions for his party’s narrow interests and the right wing attacks on institutions and rights of citizens will help create similar kind of opposition unity, which will determine the outcome of 2019 elections. (IANS)