Diagnosing the doctor

Diagnosing the doctor

[Published in
THE TEHELKA, 3 April 2009]

Dr. Manmohan Singh has survived a full five year term in office as PM, which itself is an achievement in the post-Indira Gandhi era of coalition politics. It is a different matter that he jettisoned a more respectable and ideologically sound support from the Left Front in exchange for an opportunistic support from the Samajwadi Party on the issue of Indo-US Nuclear Deal when he was facing a confidence motion in Parliament last year. For him the Deal was a prestige issue and defending it he was his most assertive self, a rare sight, even launching a frontal attack on L.K. Advani for his role in supervising the Babri Masjid demolition.

Dr. Manmohan Singh will be remembered as the harbinger of neo-liberal economic policies of liberalization- privatization-globalization in this country first as Finance Secretary, then as Finance Minister and finally as the PM. However, it is ironical that towards the end of his term as PM he is abdicating his responsibility towards the desired results of these policies, even though his Party is desperately trying to project these policies as success by launching the ‘Jai Ho’ campaign. But isn’t ‘Jai Ho’ just another name for ‘India Shining?’ Actually, he gave indications of his shaking confidence in these policies in two meetings of CII, much before the global recession set in abroad and Satyam happened at home, by making utterances which scandalized the corporate barons of this country. He suggested that CEOs must consider placing voluntary ceilings on their salaries. He said that the gap between the rich and poor would produce social unrest. He said that for an unemployed youth a 9% growth rate didn’t mean anything. He added that CEOs must not treat their wealth for personal consumption only but should consider using it for general good of society. He invoked the much forgotten ‘trusteeship principle’ of Mahatma Gandhi, which probably no politician in independent India has ever mentioned. Now, these thoughts would make a very sound policy if the objective was to create a humane and equitable society instead of elevating the growth rate. But coming from Manmohan Singh, these appeared out of place. He probably didn’t take them seriously either. It was more of a frustration on account of his inability to control farmer suicides in spite of maintaining a very good growth rate of the overall economy. His abovementioned statements go against the basic training that he has got as an economist and probably his colleagues Montek Singh Ahluwalia and P. Chidambram, who were with him in implementing the LPG policies, wouldn’t endorse these utopian ideas. Nevertheless, any economist would agree that the effect of neo-liberal policies has been the widening gap between the rich and poor. In fact, before the Mumbai attack, Manmohan Singh has said more than once that naxalism is a bigger threat to India than terrorism.

Dr. Manmohan Singh failed to prevent the spread of either naxalism or terrorism. His government’s policy of using brute force to crush these forces has produced backlash. Irom Sharmila continues to fast in her ninth year in custody at the Jawaharlal Nehru Hospital in Imphal demanding the repeal of Armed Forces Special Powers Act. She came to New Delhi in 2006 but there was no positive response from the government. The government doesn’t know how to deal with people who take up arms and it doesn’t know how to deal with the most imaginable form of peaceful protest. It goofs up by keeping Dr. Binayak Sen in jail as a naxalite sympathizer, without any concrete evidence against him and denying him bail. On the other hand convicted persons like Navjot Singh Sidhu, Shibu Soren and Sanjay Dutt have no problem in pursuing their political goals.

By continuing to support the American policy of war against terror in addition to the economic policies of LPG, Manmohan Singh has helped the difference between the BJP and Congress Party disappear. The post-Mumbai response of the government appeared to be to deny the plank of terrorism to BJP in the forthcoming elections. Its tough stand against the civilian Pakistani government forced the Pakistani politicians to retract from their initial cooperative response and stalled the Indo-Pak peace process, an area in which Manmohan Singh probably made the most significant contribution along with Musharraf. The resumption of Srinagar-Muzaffarabad bus service in 2005 and opening of various trade routes produced a thaw in relationship. We also learn that the two governments were on the verge of a solution on Kashmir which was arrived at taking into confidence the Hurriyat. Manmohan Singh was able to achieve so much, as no PM in the past, possibly because his heart ruled over the traditional bureaucratic-military thinking in this matter. This is also probably the only area where he took decisions as an ordinary human being, his family affected by partition like that of Musharraf, instead of as a modern trained expert.

But he has compromised India ’s sovereignty by signing the Indo-US nuclear deal. His own planning commission doesn’t think that nuclear energy has a future. He was an ardent supporter of renewable sources of energy, like any right thinking individual, until he got invited to Washington DC in 2005. He became ambitious by the encouragement received from George Bush and possibly saw India ’s destiny as a great world power in this cooperation. By agreeing to become the junior military ally of the US and Israel , he reversed the policy of Nehru-Shashtri-Indira-Rajiv of maintaining a respectable distance from the US and being the leader of Non-Aligned Movement. Eager to sign the deal with US, he lost out not only on Iran but also on Myanmar . India was hoping that by stopping to support the cause of Aung San Sui Kyi, Myanmar might consider giving its gas to it. This would have made it easier for it to turn down the Iranian offer and hence please the US . In the end Myanmar gave its gas to China and India lost face on the issue of support to pro-democracy movement in Myanmar . Manmohan Singh has demolished the peace loving sovereign supporter of the people of third world image of India and made it the target of Islamic fundamentalists. His government couldn’t control the terrorist incidents in the country and his police continued to implicate innocent Muslim youth thereby producing further alienation among Muslims. The Batla House encounter will remain a blot on his government, on which in spite of widespread demands for a judicial enquiry, including from within his own Party, ultimately nothing happened. It was his bad luck that just when the Maharashtra ATS was beginning to unravel the Hindu terror network, attack on Mumbai took place, which compounded matters further.

The coming generations of democratic India will remember the Manmohan Singh government for RTIA and NREGA, two of the most pro-people Acts legislated so far in independent India . Sonia Gandhi probably deserves the credit for these more than the PM. Manmohan Singh was supportive of the attempts to scuttle the RTI Act in the name of making amendments until Sonia Gandhi intervened again. But these two Acts will have the same transformative effect on governance as probably the implementation of Mandal Commission report had had on the politics of this country, even though presently the bureaucracy, the judiciary and the ruling class with vested interests are working overtime to kill the spirit of these Acts. The RTI and the social audit provision in NREGA have opened a window for the common citizen where she can participate in the democratic system rather than merely be a voter once in five years and a mute spectator in between two elections.

Dr Sandeep Pandey

(The author is a Ramon Magsaysay Awardee (2002) for emergent leadership, member of National Presidium, People's Politics Front (PPF), heads the National Alliance of People's Movements (NAPM) and did his PhD from University of California, Berkeley in control theory which is applicable in missile technology. He taught at Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Kanpur before devoting his life to strengthening people's movements in early 1990s. He can be contacted at: ashaashram@yahoo.com. Website: www.citizen-news.org)

Published in THE TEHELKA, 3 April 2009