OPINION

Monthly Archives: AUGUST 2016


Dear Prime Minister, Remember the nineties? And Arjun and the eye of the fish?
13.08.16 - preet k s bedi
Dear Prime Minister, Remember the nineties? And Arjun and the eye of the fish?



Till the eighties, terms like GDP and growth rate were for pink papers, deficit was a meaningless concept as the government could always print more money and job creation meant the government hiring more people. With low growth, high inflation and no job creation, we were inching towards a precipice. And crashed into it in 1990. 
 
Though packaged as a correction of social inequality, the Mandal agitation was really a wake-up call announcing that government just did not have enough jobs and opportunities for the armies passing out of schools and colleges. Job creation had to be planned.  
 
It was left to the two most colourless men running a minority government to change it all. Whether by circumstance or design, they plunged so completely into reforms that economy became everyone’s business. In hindsight this was their smartest move. They  by-passed the political class entirely and made economy a topic of discussion on every dinner table. You had a great chance to that, by the way, but you blew it with a million different agendas. 
 
They devalued the currency, disbanded the ‘licence raj’, brought down the list of sectors reserved for government from 21 to 3 and allowed private domestic and foreign investment into most sectors including infrastructure for which there was a dire need but no money. They and their successors nurtured the telecom sector such that it could lead India into the  BPOs and knowledge revolutions in the future. 
 
Duties were cut drastically giving us access to the best possible technology and products. Domestic companies were forced to shape-up or ship out. Foreign companies were free to enter the country, buy or otherwise set up manufacture. With easy possibility of setting up manufacture, the stipulation about transfer of technology by foreign companies became irrelevant.  The changes were iconoclastic. 
 
Suddenly we realised as citizens what it meant to be living in a sub-continent. From four or five now there were dozens of brands in each category. Forcing product, packaging and marketing innovation that would make sure that no one was left out of the loop. 
 
The beauty of the reform process of the nineties is that all three parties ruled during the nineties and helped maintained the momentum. The biggest surprise was the dream budget of Deve Gowda and P Chidambaram in 1997 in which the duo reduced income and corporate taxes and abolished Dividend Tax?  Am sure you remember the Sensex went up by 6.5% before the end of the Budget speech. And they were running a government nowhere close to majority. 
 
In his time Vajpayee went out on a limb securing the telecom industry which had seriously miscalculated at the time of the auctions and allowed them to migrate to a revenue sharing model instead. A wise move that helped maintain momentum of growth. He also launched the golden quadrilateral project, pushed the river-linking project, disinvested in Maruti, VSNL, IPCL, BALCO etc. His was also a minority government.
 
This may interest you. The one immediate spin-off was in the creation of jobs. In the 6 year period from 1993-94 to 1999-2000, 1.88 cr jobs were created averaging to 2.5 lacs jobs a month. Compare that with a total of 1.35 lac jobs created in all of 2015, and 4.9 lacs in 2014.   Other indicies were understandably slow to move up in a country as large as India. Growth rate went up modestly from 5.8% in ’93-’94 to  6.4% in ’99-‘00 and poverty rate dropped from 36% to 26%, good but not spectacular. However, the Sensex did go up almost three times in the same period. 
 
Benefits of the reform process accrue on a hockey stick curve but with a lag. The nineties laid the foundation on which the country would grow at levels over 9% in the following decade.  But the hockey-stick curve assumes momentum. Which in turn means continuation of the reform process. That is how China managed to keep growing well beyond 10%. We failed to do that.  And the blame for that is largely yours.  Virtually every effort of the UPA l government was blocked by you. 
 
The natural corollary to production and infrastructure reforms would have been to focus on the distribution side and allow FDI in multi-brand retail which would have created more skill-sets, generated more employment, reduced prices, reduce tax evasion and built alternative distribution channels which could act as a self-correcting mechanism against hoarding. But you opposed it. And the country missed an opportunity. Sooner or later you will have to agree to it. It is too sensible an idea to not be pursued.
 
So what made the nineties click? There maybe many reasons but there is one. 
 
The three governments did not allow themselves to be distracted into other priorities. Beginning with Rao, Deve Gowda and even Vajapyee who, in fact had to tackle tough internal and external challenges including Kargil, none of them wavered. They realised that reform is no part-time activity. It defines how you think and assumes a consistent, progressive global vision and an honest intent.  
 
Reform needs consistent, single-minded focus by the entire government. It does not sit well with multiple, often conflicting objectives like kindling patriotism, rediscovering ancient wisdom and attempting social re-engineering. That is a severe self-created limitation you have created for yourself. The sooner you jettison your baggage, the better for you. And India.
 
How can you make the best of the situation today? Assume you are running a minority government which needs to get consensus on virtually every issue. Make phone calls, talk to the opposition, meet them, give and take ideas. In democracy it is not your majority that makes things happen but your keenness to carry people along. 
 
If Rao, Gowda and Vajpayee could manage with minority governments, surely you can do so with a brute majority.
 
All you need to do is to remember Arjun and eye of the fish.




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Rise of the rowdy class: It’s time for SAD to look within
11.08.16 - Nirmal Sandhu*
Rise of the rowdy class: It’s time for SAD to look within



A clean-shaven Akali leader is still an unusual sight, hard to associate with the Shiromani Akali Dal. However, when Navdeep Goldy manhandled Amritsar’s Deputy Mayor last Thursday and pointed a gun at him right in the presence of the Deputy Commissioner, all doubts about his being an Akali ‘kaka’ disappeared. In recent years such lumpen elements have been nurtured in the Akali political culture. 
 
Taking law into one’s own hands, disregarding authority, using force to settle issues and having one’s own way are qualities that make young Akalis stand out. Goldy reportedly escaped with his gunman’s AK-47 and the DC did not have the nerve to get him arrested right there after a criminal act of assault had happened.
 
One still associates Parkash Singh Badal with a bygone era when impolite talk was viewed disapprovingly. Today’s Akal Dal has evolved under Sukhbir and every tehsil and district level leader wants to sound as ‘powerful’, aggressive and brash as the Deputy CM. Goldy represents the new face of Akali politics. Having Akali Dal membership was once a privilege and a duty to work for public good; today it is a licence to abuse authority and break the law.
 
A political party and a government have to be run in accordance with the established laws and democratic norms. Neither the Akali Dal nor its government hesitates in bending the law for convenience. If top Akali leaders like Sukhbir Badal and Bikram Singh Majithia pursue the politics of intimidation, then party workers can’t be expected to be civil, nice and well-mannered.
 
Time was when the Akali Dal enjoyed tremendous respect and goodwill of villagers in general and Amritdhari Sikhs in particular. The Sikh religion had so much sway in the Khem Karan-Patti-Khadoor Saheb-Tarn Taran belt under the influence of Sant Kartar Singh that Akali candidates would win every election. Jathedars then were less clever and calculating than today’s lot but they did maintain a certain level of character and decorum.
 
In recent years the Akali Dal has witnessed a moral decline, which is reflected in the way governance is carried out. Grants are diverted, financial figures are fudged and public money is distributed as a political largesse without a CAG scrutiny. People are burdened with taxes so that the Badals can win elections through free atta-dal, free power, free pilgrimage etc. Memorials are being built while school and hospital building crumble.
 
As a consequence of misgovernance, the Akali leadership has lost the respect not just of ordinary villagers but even of Amritdhari Sikhs. The incidents of sacrilege, inaction against the police officers responsible for the Behbal Kalan firing and disregard of Dhandrianwale’s complaint against his known assailant all have spread disenchantment with the Akali style of running a government.
 
On June 3, 2016, Chief Minister Badal was denied a "siropa” at the Golden Temple by an ‘ardassia’, Balbir Singh. Badal downplayed the incident, but it is indicative of the collective Sikh anger. The SGPC did not forgive Balbir Singh, who lost his job but rose in public esteem. People felicitated him for what he did and collected money for him. 
 
Lumpenisation of the Akali Dal began under Sukhbir. His sole goal was to win elections, whatever the cost, and he took his job so seriously that he opened the party’s doors to all– atheists, law-breakers, drug addicts and even convicts. The youth wing inducted spoiled and not-so-spoiled brats who have frequently shamed the leadership with their ignoble deeds. Making the SHOs report to small-minded, low-level leaders, appointed as halqa in-charge, has not only destroyed the police as an institution but also made life miserable for those who asserted their legal rights. Corruption and crime have flourished. Criminalisation of the Akali Dal surfaced on December 6, 2012, when an Akali leader shot dead an ASI in full public view at Amritsar after repeatedly harassing his daughter. Then a former Akali sarpanch kidnapped and paraded naked a 13-year-old girl at Tur village in Tarn Taran district. The police, as expected, sided with the accused. 
 
While all non-Badal Parivar members holding key positions have swallowed their self-respect and accepted the place assigned to them in the hierarchy in order to enjoy the fruits of power, Pargat Singh and Navjot Singh Sidhu have spoken out, though a bit late in the day. The Badals have surrounded themselves with self-servers and self-seekers who say what they want to hear. Criminalisation of the Akali Dal, erosion of the rule of law, bad governance, promotion of nepotism and family rule and institutional decay will be part of the legacy Badal leaves behind. Badal is no democrat or respecter of merit. Had he allowed democracy to prevail in the SGPC and ensured appointments on merit, including that of Jathedar of Akal Takht and SGPC chief, unrest among Punjabis would not have gone that far. His misrule and petty politics to grab and stay in power have impoverished Punjab and divided and weakened the Sikhs.
 
*Author is Associate Editor at The Tribune.
Illustration by Sandeep Joshi.  (Courtesy : The Tribune, Chandigarh)  




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