Pratap Bhanu Mehta : Thu Jul 11 2013, 04:26 hrs
A story of destructive governance and citizens who did not speak out
First, the UPA came for the roads sector. They destroyed contracting. They slowed down road construction. They left highways half built. We did not speak out. After all, the only reason the NDA could have started the golden quadrilateral is because they wanted to spread Hindutva.
Next, they came for the airline sector. They let Air India suck more money from taxpayers. They let bad regulation destroy the private sector. They let crony banking sustain bad bets. They ensured India would never be an aviation hub. We did not speak out. After all, flying is what birds do, not humans. Besides, aviation is bad for climate change.
Then they came for the power sector. They confused creation of mega capacities with actual generation. They had no rational pricing plans. They were arbitrary in the awarding of licences. They could not make up their mind whether they wanted to protect the environment or destroy it. We did not speak out. After all, the only power that matters is political. Electricity be damned.
Then they came for education. They promulgated the RTE after 100 per cent enrolment. They expanded capacity, but cut-offs still rose. They regulated in such a way that there was a glut in some subjects and a shortage in others. They confused university buildings with building universities. We did not speak out. After all our, our low quality education left us incapable of speaking out.
Then they came for industry. They turned the clock back in every way and waged open war. Ensure that regulations become more complex and uncertain. Ensure that input costs rise. Ensure crummy infrastructure. Promulgate a land scam policy known as SEZ and sell it as industrial policy. They encouraged FDI. But they forgot which one they wanted: outbound or inbound. But we did not speak out. After all, India is a rural country.
Then they came for employment. There was some growth. But they decided that the only good employment is that which has the hand of the state. So the NREGA’s expansion was seen as a sign of success, not failure. By its own logic, if more people need the NREGA, the economy has failed. But we did not speak out. After all, the more people we have dependent on government, the more we think it is a good government.
Then they came for agriculture. First, they create artificial shortages through irrigation scams. Then they have a myopic policy for technology adoption. Then they decide India shall remain largely a wheat and rice economy; we will have shortages for everything else. Then they price everything to produce perverse incentives. But we did not speak out. After all, why worry about food production when the government is giving you a legal right? Is there anything more reassuring than social policy designed by and for lawyers?
Then they came for institutions. They always had. This has been Congress DNA for four decades. They drew up a list of institutions that remained unscathed: Parliament, the IB, bureaucracy and you name it. They then went after those. They used institutions as instruments of their political design. They demoralised every single branch of government. But we did not speak out. After all, this was reform by stealth. Destroy government from within.
Then they came for inflation. They confused a GDP target of 10 per cent with an inflation target. Inflation will come down next quarter, we were told. Then they tried to buy us out. Inflation: no problem. Simply get the government to spend even more. Then they pretended inflation is a problem for the rich. Then they simply stopped talking about it. We did not speak out. After all, for some, inflation is just a number
Then they came for the telecom sector. They got greedy and milked it. They got arbitrary and retrospectively taxed it. But we did not speak out. After all, new communication can be a threat to government. Besides, we can always revert to fixed lines. More digging is good.
Then they came for financial stability. They produced a large deficit. They brought the current account deficit close to an unsustainable point. They nearly wrecked the banking sector. They created every macro-economic instability you can imagine, which makes investment difficult. But we did not speak out. After all, what would you rather have: macro economic stability or a free lunch?
Then they came for regulation. It was back to the 1970s. More arbitrary regulation is good. More rules are good. Uncertainty makes business more adept. The answer to every administrative problem is enacting a new law. Multiple regulators are good because they represent the diversity of India. We did not speak out. After all, just like the religious confuse piety with mere ritual, the virtuous confuse regulation with outcomes.
Then they came after freedom. They promulgated more restrictive rules for everything: freedom of expression, right to assembly and protest, foreign scholars. They used sedition laws. They kept the architecture of colonial laws intact. They said they stood against communal forces. But then they let Digvijaya Singh keep the communal pot boiling. They matched BJP’s communal politicisation of terrorism at every step and then some. We did not speak out. After all, if they are not Hindutva forces, they cannot be a threat to peace and liberty.
Then they came for virtue itself. They preached, from the very summit of power: avoid responsibility. It will always be someone else’s fault. They legitimised being corrupt: you are entitled to it if you are the party of the poor. They encouraged subterfuge to the point that members of the cabinet were subverting each other. They pretended that integrity is a word that does not mean anything. To independent thinkers, they said: why think when there is 10 Janpath? We did not speak out. After all, virtue and thinking can both be outsourced.
Then they came for the poor. They visited their houses and slept in their homes. They liked the experience so much they decided to become growth sceptics. Enact policies that keep India in poverty a little longer. But we did not speak out. After all, once the poor have been used as an argument, all else is immobilised.
Then they came for the citizens. They used the secularism blackmail to reduce our choices. If you are not with us you are evil they said. Then they infantilised us. You are not capable of exercising choices so we will make them for you. They acted as if we were so stupid that the three topmost leaders felt no need to justify themselves to us. But we did not speak out. After all we do have the vote.
The writer is president, Centre for Policy Research, Delhi, and a contributing editor for ‘The Indian Express’
Some additions to the above:
Then they came for states. They looked at all states in the country and found out that they have pockets where they got their maximum vote share. They liked retaining them so much that they decided to break them down just on the eve of elections to maximize their gain and minimize the gain of opposition. But we are not speaking out. After all, what was India but a loose amalgamation of over 600 princely states unified into one.
Then they came for national security. They looked at all borders and neighbors of the country and told themselves that non-alignment is just another name for inaction and chose to take no decisions at all. But we did not speak out. After all, who cares about national security when personal future is not secure without any dependence on government.
Vasanth Ramadurai •
On another side, perhaps I would add…
Then they came for those who decided to speak out. Lathis & water cannons were used on students who protested the brutal rape of a young girl. People who requested a LokPal Bill were hounded into silence. One corrupt minister replaced another in the cabinet – with utmost disregard for people’s faith in democracy. They mistook our patience as powerlessness. After all, they know a lot of us have a very short-term memory & they will prevail come 2014.
last but not least – Congress ruined India, But we did not speak out. After all we are Indians.
Just one point… WE DID SPEAK OUT but the FIREWALL called MEDIA, BLOCKED it out, and let their own PAID/TWISTED logic spread…
Pioneer, 25 September 2012
India’s freshly-minted millionaire club lost a whopping 18% of its membership as the economic slowdown coincided with the exposure of multiple scams that tripped the gravy train of our crony capitalists. Most citizens would be shocked to learn that despite the global financial crisis ruining millions worldwide, the number of high net-worth individuals in India rose from 84,000 in 2008-09 to 126,700 by 2010 in the halcyon UPA years.
India’s top 100 richest are collectively worth $276 billion, whereas China’s total just $170 billion; also, India’s richest three surpass China’s top 24 billionaires. Amidst a manufacturing slump, economic slowdown and rising unemployment, one wonders how such staggering wealth accumulated in the hands of a chosen few.
As the Supreme Court noted while dealing with Coal-gate, the well-connected in the UPA regime have benefitted unduly from privatisation of public assets. Should the Hon’ble Court take a broader view, it may discern a link between the earlier privatisation of electricity distribution in several cities, which enabled private firms to make massive profits at public expense while taking over public assets for free, and the subsequent allotment of captive coal mines to the same and similar crony firms for sale of power at commercial rates!
The cussed refusal of some firms to redress customer grievances is now upsetting the Delhi chief minister, who thrust electricity privatisation on the capital and championed steeper tariffs without public audit or justification, because state elections are due. It is pertinent that when the British Raj delegated power to Indians, it first gave them charge of municipal services. Surely we must ask if regimes that cannot handle schools, sanitation, water and electric supply are at all legitimate.
Coalmine squatting by private capitalists stunted the growth of the power sector and the economy and denied mines to Coal India Ltd., forcing it to lay off over four lakh skilled workers, ruining their families. CIL is now likely to supervise extraction at the cancelled coal blocks. Government must expedite clearances needed by CIL for its own mines, and scuttle the mischief of subsidizing imported coal for private players.
Last week, the UPA imposed FDI in multi-brand retail, causing Trinamool Congress to quit the Government, and serenading the unpredictable UP stalwarts Mulayam Singh Yadav and Mayawati for survival. Perhaps the Rs. 60 cr spent by Wal-Mart on lobbying in India, as per its disclosure to the US Senate, impacted the decision.
Yet the centre cannot claim that state governments can decide whether or not to allow FDI in their respective states. As several opposition members have argued, under the Bilateral Investment Promotion and Protection Agreements (BIPAs) that India has signed, it will have to offer national treatment to investors. This means states will have to permit big retail, or face court cases.
News reports suggest Wal-Mart may come to India within 12 to 18 months. It is notable that its chief Michael Duke may soon be charged under America’s Foreign Corrupt Practices Act for hundreds of illegal bribes paid by its Mexico division from September 2005 to May 2006, and the subsequent cover-up by successive executives. ANew York Times report says Wal-Mart captured nearly 50 per cent of Mexico’s retail market in 10 years in this manner.
Currently, India’s retail market is estimated at around $400 billion, with over 12 million retailers employing 40 million people. Wal-Mart has a matching turnover of approx. $420 billion, but employs just 2.1 million people. This means 38 million people (families) plus related ancillary traders face disaster.
Executives at Amul, India’s largest dairy cooperative, say FDI will hurt both farmers and retailers. Citing the International Farm Comparison Network, Managing Director R.S. Sodhi says milk producers in America received only 38 per cent share of the consumer’s dollar spent on milk; UK milk producers got 36 per cent. But Indian milk producers get over 70 per cent of the consumer’s rupee; those linked to cooperatives get over 80 per cent.
Worldwide, foreign retail hurts local shopkeepers, farmers and consumers. Farm incomes decline because big retail creates a formidable chain of middlemen – quality controller, certification agency, packaging consultant, who cut into the profits. Consumers are wooed with cheaper rates, but prices rise once the local competition is driven out.
FDI in multi-brand retail does not create backend infrastructure like cold storages to save food grains from rotting. FDI is already allowed in storage, but no investment has been made, even by Indian brands. The Planning Commission has noted that lack of capital forces farmers to ignore cold storage facilities even where they are available, mainly because of high rentals.
The transport of goods from farm to mandi and local markets or processing centres is critical to retail trade. The road transport sector handles nearly 73 per cent of the goods traded and contributes nearly 5 per cent of the GDP. It is an unorganized sector managed with small capital; roughly 18 crore population directly or indirectly depends on it. Big retail always monopolizes transportation of goods and could crush this entire sector.
Then, over 70% of the revenue of big retail stores derives from non-food items; the nature of sourcing and pricing of these items deserves wider study. Also, the UPA has totally ignored the fact that in recent years small retailers have vastly improved their shops and customer services.
In food processing, big retail forces farmers to alter crop selection. Thus, to service potato chip companies, farmers may skip the Dal season, which indirectly affects the prices of Dal, cereals and vegetables. Big buyers often force farmers to reduce prices, face contract cancellation on grounds of ‘quality’, face last minute changes in contracts, and so on. Then, over 90% of India’s farmers have less than 2 hectares of land; 79% are landless or own less than 1 hectare. Large corporates do not like doing business with small producers; they focus on few large farmers and compel the others to submit to a larger contractor or sell the land and quit.
With FDI in retail notified, fresh dangers loom in the form of increased foreign ownership of Indian public sector banks (currently capped at 20 percent); FDI in pensions, insurance, and so on. The very aspects of the Indian economy that gave confidence to the middle class and the poor are set to be undermined.
The author is Editor, www.vijayvaani.com