kvijaya40

Contemporary issues related to human development , regional and global.

Category: Indian politics

GETTING INDIA BACK ON TRACK?

GLOBAL FINANCE CAPITAL AND YOJANA BHAVAN
Review of the book ‘Getting India Back On Track’
Edited by Bibek Debroy, Ashley J. Tellis and Reece Trever,
Published by Vintage Books, Random House India, April 2014

1.Introductory:

Published just before India’s sixteenth Loksabha elections, the 314 page book ‘Getting India Back on Track: An Action Agenda for Reform’ has a forwarding note by Ratan Tata, the icon of Indian capitalism. Such icons have disappeared from USA and most other developed countries, long ago. In India they survive, thanks to its backwardness and the English speaking elite classes with their vast media power.

State monopoly capitalism has taken over the economies of most OECD countries: They jointly try to enforce a new imperial order, with the support of a global financial market, presently regulated by IMF-WB-WTO combine. According to Ratan Tata, Getting India Back on Track was brought together by some of the ‘most incisive policy minds working on India, who are experts, commentators, and practitioners….’ .It is a product of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace-CEIP (1), a Global NGO sponsored by French Government: The book is, naturally, consistent with its founding objective of providing professional help to developing countries in the building of capitalism.

Tata himself is a trustee of this unique NGO network or think tank of policy research centers operating from Russia, China, Europe, the Middle East, and the United States. Its mission, as stated in the website, is to “advance the cause of peace through analysis and development of fresh policy ideas and direct engagement and collaboration with decision makers in government, business, and civil society… Working together, our centers bring the inestimable benefit of multiple national viewpoints to bilateral, regional, and global issues.”. It provides policy inputs to not only World Bank and IMF but also to NATO for helping to hold the world together under their hegemony.

‘Getting India Back on Track’ means putting back on rails, the reforms and economic restructuring programs that were getting derailed, thanks to numerous political expediencies, global as well as local. Introductory chapter of the book by its general editor, Ashley J. Tellis, Senior Associate of CEIP and a senior bureaucrat in US Government, is titled “Completing Unfinished Tasks”, gives fairly detailed instructions for returning the country to a path of high growth, when a new Government assumes power after Loksabha elections.

The 28 page introductory essay by Tellis paints the so-called Indian socialism of yesteryears as a disaster, reviews the ongoing reforms with great enthusiasm, and concludes with a highly diplomatic warning: “Neither India nor the world-and especially its partners such as the United States-can afford to watch fortune elude New Delhi for another five years.” However, the last article, ‘Rejuvenating Foreign Policy’ by C Raja Mohan, a well known defense analyst and columnist in Indian Express does not reveal any such diplomatic sensibilities, when he simply insists: “revitalizing strategic partnership with United States must be the foundation on which the new government pursues its great power relationships”. Between these two articles are sandwiched, some sixteen chapters contributed by those, who are considered as experts on Indian development.

2. Perceptions at macroeconomic level.

First chapter, by the young Indian economist Ila Patnaik repeat the well known World Bank sermon on the virtues of maintaining macroeconomic balance in a national economy. The second Chapter titled Dismantling the Welfare State is by Surjit Bhalla, a seasoned investment analyst and a board member of NCAER, considered as the think tank of Indian reforms; it simply ridicules the welfare policies of Indian State. This chapter examines the efficacy of redistribution in Indian economy and tend to conclude that, “re-distributive politics have made India a welfare state before its time. Bhalla seems to forget that vast majority of the Indian workforce are employed, even today, in the informal sector and are denied the benefits of even permanent employment (2).

Those who enjoy the benefits of minimal social security are less than ten percent of Indian workforce, just the reverse of the situation in developed societies. Bhalla have not looked at the real problems of India’s welfare politics at the national and state level or from the broader perspective of Human Resources Development and Management, needed for a nation building. He simply pleads to improve the effectiveness of PDS and MGNREG schemes by preventing leakages through the Adhar route, initiated by UPA Government with lot of fanfare and then kept under suspended animation.

Bhalla, like the Adhar experts, looks at ICT as a tool for tightening of administrative controls from top and not as a tool for expanding and deepening of the democratic process. Evidently, he does not know about, what large sections of the working class in the informal sector of Kerala, could achieve by way of minimal social security with the help of tripartite labor boards and welfare fund schemes starting from the grass root level, even before the enactment of MGNREA. Even in implementing MGNREGA, left governments were far better than the others, with Tripura judged as the best performer among all states. It is not surprising that there is widespread opposition from state governments against the move to dilute the act.

3. Managing, natural resources energy and environment

Four chapters are dedicated to the use of resources; land (Chapter 10), water (Ch-11), energy (Ch-12) and environment (Ch-13). Barun S. Mitra and Madhumita D. Mitra, who have jointly authored the chapter on land, appear to be social activists with very little exposure on the ground realities related to India’s land resources. They want land to be an easily trade-able commodity with minimal of regulation and transaction costs. They simply share the impatience of big investors, especially the foreign ones, in matters related to land acquisition and management. They lament on the extremely slow pace of implementing the Land Acquisition Rehabilitation and Resettlement (LARR) Act of 2005 that entitles state governments to short-circuit several land related statutes for the speedy implementation of Special Economic Zones. In the name of deepening democracy, the authors even suggest settling of land and environmental issues directly with local governments, bypassing the authority of State Governments.

Tushaar Shah and Shilp Verma who have jointly authored the Chapter on water management are well known experts in ground water management. Both are Fellows of Integrated Water Systems and Governance Group of UNESCO-IHE, a UN institution operating from Netherlands and they were involved in the rehabilitation of irrigation systems in India as well as abroad. The chapter praises the great achievements in the management of irrigation pumping systems in Gujarat by investing Rs.1200 Crore in separate irrigation feeders with the objective of preventing theft.

Neglect of management improvements, governance reforms and institutional innovations are identified as the root cause for the poor management of India’s water resources. The article explores different models for the integrated ground water management in Eastern India consisting of UP, Bihar, West Bengal and Odisha and projects including a solar version of the same. The need for strengthening of Central Water Commission (CWC) is rightly emphasized for pursuing such adventurous ideas but, the authors fail to see the even more pressing need for capacity building at the state level by creating its subsidiaries at the state level and federating them into a central body.

The chapter on energy, by Sunjoy Joshi, a former IAS officer and climate change enthusiast, highlights the rapidly increasing energy dependence on imports. He points out that energy import constitutes a quarter of India’s current accounts deficits and puts the blame for the deteriorating situation on the so called half-dismantled planned economy. He makes some casual remarks on the problems of power sector which has turned extremely inefficient under the impact of quarter century of reforms dictated on from outside (3). He has nothing much of a solution other than leaving everything to the global market players and market forces.

In sharp contrast to the energy chapter, Chapter on “Manging the Environment” by Ligia Noronha of TERI has made several positive suggestions. She briefly reviews the prevailing unsatisfactory ecosystem management practices related our rivers, forests and coasts and then suggests a five point agenda for the next five years. She is of the view that, “the central government needs to apply the principle of subsidiary to the case of environmental management in India to ensure that different levels of government take responsibility for those dimensions of environmental quality within their jurisdictional boundaries, leading to better environmental management across the board….

….This would also allow for greater public voice in the design of programs, enable feedback for the fine-tuning of policies, and reduce the number of layers of bureaucracy, thus making clear jurisdictional responsibilities for enforcement and service,.”. These recommendations are sound, perfectly rational and scientific but calls for capacity building at various layers of Government and also democratic decentralization of administration as in socialist societies but, unlikely to be accepted by a bourgeoisie society dominated by big monopoly capital.

4. Burden of agriculture and poverty of Indian peasantry

Indian capitalists and their professional advisers look at the Indian peasantry as a burden and liability. The chapter titled, Revamping Agriculture and the Public Distribution System is the contribution of Ashok Gulati, who had held positions like Chairman of the Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices. He looks at Indian agriculture mainly from the point of view of its capacity to contribute to GDP and comments with a sort of wry satisfaction: “With all these positive signs -overall production, trade, grain stocks, and investments in agriculture -the picture seems reasonably optimistic, and even rosy at times. But at the same time, one also hears about farmers’ suicides and farmers complaining about returns in agriculture not being good enough to keep them in agriculture.” Gulati takes a summary view that ‘considering the size of the country and and its diverse agriculture’, this ‘could also be true in some pockets.’

It is surprising that, eminent Indian economists like Ashok Gulati and others refuse to look at the common Indian peasantry as a deprived class under the bourgeoisie landlord regime that look at Indian agriculture mainly as a resource for earning foreign exchange needed for its own comfort and expansion. They oppose the subsidized supply of irrigation, power and fertilizer to farmers and insist on the immediate switch over to direct transfer system for subsidies, through the Adhar, an untested high cost system based on imported computer hardware and software.

Mounting inefficiencies and anomalies that have developed in the administration of the support systems, including technology development and R&D, mostly managed by Central Government, with very little role or participation of state and lower level governments and farmer collectives, are hardly of any concern for these experts (4). The article makes a casual reference to the greatly successful Amul cooperative model in Gujarat but does not even mention on the success of cane sugar cultivation in Maharshtra on a cooperative basis. There is no mention on the prospects of repeatability of these models to other crops and regions.

The chapter have failed to take a view on resisting the imminent threat of WTO treaty on farm products. Despite the advice and media campaigns by India’s bourgeoisie experts, the new BJP Government of Prime Minister Modi have so far refrained from signing the WTO treaty on farm products, which would have opened the flood-gates of cheap farm exports from OECD countries, supported and subsidized by their well organized R&D and technology inputs provided at the national level. (5)

5. Urban development and the transport sector

Somik Lall and Tara Vishwanth who have authored the chapter on Managing Urbanization are experts from the World Bank, who have studied extensively the urbanization problems of third world countries. This chapter has made a realistic assessment of urban development in the country and examines the present situation, based on the performance of the $24 billion Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM), launched in 2005.

JNNURM, with massive inputs from multilateral agencies and touted as the panacea for our urban development problem, is now facing a serious crisis according to these World Bank experts: “The lack of municipal capacity, allowing only a minimal role for local bodies in preparing city development plans or detailed project reports, was noted” by the latest appraisal report in May 2011 (6). There is an urgent need of large capacity building and augmenting of manpower resources at various levels in order to overcome these problems..

Obviously this could not be done because of the overriding conditions on cutting down the size of Government and reducing staff strength and staff expenses by state governments. Most of the JNNURM investments like its KSRTC experiment in Kerala have failed to achieve their basic objectives. JNNURM assuming the responsibility of centralized bus purchases and similar reforms make little sense. Authors suggest more detailed studies on the failures of JNNURM in achieving its declared objectives. The basic problem appears to be the absence of appropriate state level organizations to work with the JNNURM of Central Government.. .

Lopsided policies in the transport sector, have further worsened the slum situation in towns and cities. Rajiv Lall, noted columnist in business journals and Ritu Anand who was the Chief Economist of IDFC have written the chapter on Modernizing of Transport Infrastructure. It argues for the speedy expansion of National Highways and Indian Railways through the PPP route with little or no involvement of lower level governments. Experiments with the PPP route were a failure all over the world and India is no different. Contractual and regulation problems faced by the PPP route in the country are discussed in some detail in this chapter and it appears there are too many of them for which there are no easy solutions. Roads other than NH, waterways, coastal shipping, ports and shipping are outside the scope of this chapter.

6. Crisis in the manufacturing sector

Chapter-4, titled Revisiting Manufacturing Policy is authored by Rajiv Kumar, well known Indian economist and author of several books on Indian economy: It has not attempted any sector-wise or sub-sector wise analysis of the totally disappointing performance of India’s manufacturing industries, under the quarter century old reforms. To quote from its opening page:”With a gross value addition of $226 billion, India’s manufacturing sector looks tiny when compared with China’s at $1.9 trillion. Consequently, its share of global manufacturing is a mere 2.2 percent, compared with China’s 18.9 percent. Employment in absolute terms has declined in the formal manufacturing sector from 55 million in 2004-05 (12.2 percent of India’s total workforce) to 50 million in 2010 (10.5 percent). Share of manufactured exports in India’s total exports has also declined from 74 percent in 1991 to about 61 percent in 2011-12.”

This is not surprising: Reforms had removed, at one stroke, all quantitative restrictions on the import of industrial goods and technology: Instead, a calibrated tariff regime was put in place, aimed at, (a) liberal import of technology and capital goods at very low customs duty, (b) easy import of intermediate goods and components at fairly low tariff and, (c) discouraging import of consumer goods and consumer durables, by enforcing very stiff import duties. This sort of import regime was desired by our big capitalists and their associations and it was progressively implemented during the nineties.(7)

Impact of this calibrated liberalization on Indian industry has not been fully studied yet, as revealed by Rajiv’s article. Public Sector Units like BHEL, SAIL, MAMC, HEC, HMT, ITI, BEL, Shipyards and others serving the capital goods sector were the first hit by the new regime. Highly skilled employees were offered VRS or simply retrenched. Reforms blocked or delayed their expansion-diversification schemes. Tens of thousands of small and medium entrepreneurs who had built the capability to serve the capital goods industry sector closed shops.

R&D institutions like the CSIR, ICAR, ICMR and others which were already underutilized due to their foot-lose relationship with agricultural, health, defense and infrastructure sectors were pushed into irrelevance. The budding electronics manufacture was simply wiped out. Industries manufacturing consumer goods and consumer durables having technology collaboration with leading foreign companies had a big boost initially but, collapsed as their principals decided to push their own brands and products in the vast Indian market.

Reasons for the crisis in manufacturing industry are far more basic and fundamental and the measures suggested by Rajiv Kumar, such as diluting labor laws, improving administrative efficiency etc are unlikely to bring any results. Screw driver technology has virtually taken over several sectors of Indian industry, and that is why India does not have a healthy automobile industry, even though its roads are flooded with cars and bikes of all makes and brands.

China presents a different picture because, its industry was encouraged to serve the national economy and develop itself by serving the domestic needs of modernizing its own agriculture and basic infrastructure like electric power, railways, shipping, telecoms etc including national defense and security. The so called investment and export led growth, forced on our country by global advisors and blindly practiced by it for the last quarter century, has proved to be disastrous and destructive for Indian manufacture. Instead of telling this real story, Rajiv Kumar goes round and round repeating the need for developing a vibrant manufacturing industry for the country!

7. Health education and employment

India presents a confusing picture on the health front. True, the best and world’s most expensive health care is available in India provided one has the purchasing power. In Chapter 7, Confronting Health Challenges, AK Shiva Kumar makes some international comparisons between India and other countries, including SARC countries: “We find that health outcomes in India are far from equitable. Differences in morbidity, mortality, and nutritional status linked to differences in socioeconomic status caste, class, gender, and geography persist ….. It is a little-known and sad fact that health conditions in India are similar in some respects, and even worse in others, to those prevailing in sub-Saharan Africa….Close to 43 percent of children under five in India are moderately or severely underweight; the proportion sub-Saharan Africa is 21 percent…India’s health performance is particularly disappointing because it has fallen behind Bangladesh and Nepal on many health indicators, despite a higher per capita income and two decades of rapid economic growth.” (8)

It is clear that building super specialty hospitals with five star facilities in the corporate sector is not the solution to overcome this backwardness: Their contribution to improving public health care is marginal and consume bulk of the critical resources by way of expertise and manpower. Moving towards a system of universal health care is the only solution and Shiva Kumar points out that; “Almost every country in the world that has achieved universal health coverage or is working toward it has done so through the public assurance of comprehensive quality public health care for all. Though treatment is nearly free in India, only 22 percent of the population in rural areas and 19 percent in urban areas access government facilities for outpatient care.” (9)

Improving the quality of public health-care system and winning over the confidence of people is seen as a near term possibility by Shiva Kumar: He pleads for an attitudinal or cultural change as the first step for moving toward a system of universal health coverage: “Indian society, including both the central and state governments as well as the influential middle class, should more firmly embrace the concept of universal health coverage.” (10). The influential middle class as well as the English speaking intellectuals may not get enthused by such counsellings: However, he has put forward valuable suggestions for a joint initiative of Central and State Governments for building up a credible public health care system for the country, that need serious consideration by the working class movement as well.

Lavish Bhandari who has done extensive work on inequality and socio-economic performance at the level of states, districts and cities of India is not a specialist in education by theory or practice. He leads “Indicus Anlytics, India’s economics research firm” and has Phd from Boston University in economics.

After a detailed review of India’s educational system as it emerged after independence, he concludes Chapter 6 titled, “expanding education and skills”, with a totally pessimistic note: “The absence of an overall vision is the primary flaw of the education regime in India today….At the primary and upper primary levels, improved quality can best be achieved though greater community participation and parental involvement in overseeing delivery and content. At the secondary and tertiary levels also he suggests fundamental revolutionary changes and believes that it could be done through action by the central government, and none requires any changes in the laws” (11).

This is a simplistic approach, considering the cultural and linguistic diversity of India. Central Board for Secondary Education (CBSE) in Delhi, directly administered by Central Government, was responsible for the policy distortions that have accumulated in India’s education system, during the past few decades: English speaking elite classes have used CBSE for the virtual shift-over to English medium special schools from the traditional system of neighborhood schools. This was a silent counter revolution that has simply redefined education in our country as a passport for migration in search of foreign jobs. Takeover of university and professional education by the corporate sector with the help of the English speaking intelligentsia was the next logical step. Brain drain and skill drain have increased; a major impediment to economic progress. (12).

Chapter 5 by Omkar Goswamy is on job losses in the national economy and the future manpower requirements for supporting specified GDP growth rates. He is a manpower consultant operating from Delhi, and Chairman of CERG Advisory, a corporate consulting firm.

Goswamy’s comments on the so called labor market flexibility in the Indian context is rather interesting: “Despite the existence that prevent unfettered entry and exit of labor in the organized sector, the fact of the matter is that India has a reasonable labor market flexibility. For one, the vast unorganized sector, which account for more than 90 percent of India’s 470 million workers or there abouts, has absolutely no entry or exit barriers Moreover, the legal right that allegedly prevent extra hiring in the organized sector such as sections 25(N) and 25(O) of the ID Act 1947 or provisions of the Contract Labor Act 1970-are often overstated.” (13)

In the projections for future employment scenario in the country, no shift whatsoever, from unorganized sector to organized sector seems to take place. And, Goswamy even concludes that if the average growth rate hovers around 4.5 to 5.0 percent per annum, India will never generate a demand for labor even vaguely in line with its future supply. Tables, he had created and presented, illustrate that the additional job creation needed by Indian economy for a 7 to 7.5 percent GDP growth will be only an insignificant fraction of the total workforce. (14)

It means, around 90 percent of Indian workforce will continue to work in the unorganized sector as of now and there is little scope of reversing this ratio and getting on par with the developed countries even by 2040. This raises the most fundamental question: how, from where and for whom Indian reforms should begin?

8. Rule of law and quality of governance

Chapter 14 and Chapter 15 are attempts to evaluate the status of rule of law in the country and the quality of governance by Indian state: The first one titled “Strengthening Rule of Law”, was jointly authored by Devesh Kapur a Chemical Engineer from Banaras Hindu University tuned expert on Indian diaspora and Milan Vaishnav, an associate in the South Asia Program at the Carnegie Endowment. The next one, Correcting the Administrative Deficit, is by Bibek Debroy, Professor at the Center for Policy Research New Delhi and co-editor of the book under review.

The chapter on rule of law points out the numerous basic deficiencies in India’s legal system, starting with its antique statutes and ending with lack of autonomy and accountability. Indian courts hardly follow modern management systems and according to the authors, “the clogged, dilapidated plumbing of Indian courts has led to multiple efforts to create alternative systems”. India with 1225 police officers per million population is one of the least policed country in the world. They take note of the cultural gap between a tiny, very selective Indian Police Service (IPS) and a large, ill-trained constabulary under the state governments and stress the urgent need for organizational and structural changes.

The chapter on administrative deficit has repeated the need for decentralization and transforming of India’s highly centralized administration into a federal entity, expressed in most other chapters of the book, barring the one on education, where it was needed most. Debroy argues that, unwarranted decision-making has concentrated in New Delhi, leading to widespread corruption and scams, and this can be brought down only through decentralization of the administration. According to him, neither the attraction of big pay scales nor the threats by way of vigilance inquiries have discouraged the corrupt bureaucrats and ministers. The need for central authority is conceded but it appears that India is excessively centralized even compared with China.

Debroy argues that consultations at the time of national planning or inter-ministerial meeting etc are no substitute for “decentralized governance which consists of political decentralization, administrative decentralization, fiscal decentralization and economic decentralization. Decentralized governance could also extend to the efficient provision of goods and services and optimal levels of governance …… Decentralization also implies the devolution of authority within individual states and the empowerment of the third, more local tier of governance ; we will focus on central-state relations.”. (15)

Debroy had concluded that management of central-state relations should be one of the most important agenda items for the new government. Toward the end of the chapter, he recalls briefly the outcome of past debates on central-state relations and argues that these could be the long term goals because implementing them may call for constitutional amendments (16). Thus, after building up a fierce argument in support of decentralization and federalism, he settles down for a fairer deal by the current finance commission.

9. In conclusion

Not only Debroy but also most other chapter writers have pleaded for decentralizing of administration and or reorganization of the Indian state on federal lines. Central Government had amassed too much of unwarranted power during the early years of planning, as explained by Debroy.

JP movement of the seventies had challenged this trend, demanding a harmonious blend of jana-sakti and raj-sakti. Left had looked at India as a multinational country: A federal Government at the Center, decentralized administration and more autonomy for State Governments were the core part of their political ideology. Federalism was the very backbone of regional parties. Rajiv Gandhi had even amended Indian constitution for creating a three tier Panchayati raj, which could not take off. BJP has explicitly admitted in its latest election manifesto, the urgent need for revamping of central-state relations: It has, now, topped up this with a promise of cooperative federalism in the Presidential speech (17).

However, there are the vested interests, who are scared of upsetting the apple cart: The big business in India, supported by global finance and large sections of our intellectual classes, especially the English speaking intelligentsia, who are quite comfortable with most of the powers, financial, economic and political, concentrated around Delhi and the national parliament.

The book, Getting Back On Track, hardly gives any direction for the modernization of India’s agriculture, for the development of its industry and infrastructure or building up a system of governance that suits the country of continental dimensions. Its sponsors are the agents of global finance capital, who have chosen Ratan Tata as a collaborator, in order to wean away the people of India from the Gandhi-Nehru tradition of Swaraj and Socialism and a development model based on technological self-reliance. They occupy several important tables in the Yojana Bhavan but would love to have it demolished or demobilized at the earliest.

And fortunately, compared to the years of freedom struggle, Indian working class and their trade unions are far better equipped today, intellectually as well as organizationally: They are sure to see through the book and its contents and use them for advancing their own struggles against the tyranny of global capital.

Notes and references

1. See web site http://www.ciep.fr/sites/default/files/atoms/files/plaquette-ciep-en.pdf
2. This is based on the ‘Report on conditions of work and promotion of livelihood in unorganized sector brought out in 2008, by the National Commission for small enterprises in the unorganized sector’. This report is an eyeopener on the so called Welfare State theories about India. Five Year Plans, Planning Commission and Public Sector Enterprises were meant as instruments for protecting the national economy from neocolonialism and not for building welfare capitalism or socialism. .
3. World Bank Report June 2014 by: Sheoli Pargal and Sudeshna Ghosh Banerjee http://dx.doi.org/10.1596/978-1-4648-0233-1
4. For a detailed analysis of this mismatch, see my article “Indian Agriculture: Search for Patriotic Alternatives”, in Perestroika Glasnost and Socialism, published by Partridge India, 2013
5. Now there is a India-US understanding to defer the issue indefinitely
6. See p-168 of the book under review
7. My article ‘The Public Sector in India’ published in the Marxist of Dec 1988 had pointed out the thrust and direction of India’s public sector investments. They were addressed to the core sector and served as the technology generators of the nation and helped to retain its economic independence in good measure. The reforms instead of further building on this skilled manpower and expertise resorted to its wanton destruction through VRS and closures. Big capitalists had preferred the consumer goods and consumer durable sector with foreign collaboration which were far less risky and enjoyed a highly protected market.
8. See p-123
9. See p-128
10. Page 129
11. Page-118
12 See my blog: CBSE for equity and excellence? : https://kvijaya40.wordpress.com/
13. Page-96
14. Tables 2and 3 on page-94 of the book
15. Page-273
16. Page-274
17. Blog: Cooperative federalism of Modi Government https://kvijaya40.wordpress.com/

22-1-2014/EOD

COOPERATIVE FEDERALISM: INDIA NEEDS A FEDERAL RAIL BOARD

INDIA NEEDS A FEDERAL RAIL BOARD
By Engr. K Vijayachandran F.I.E

 

The first rail budget of Narendra Modi Government has disappointed the people and of most Indian states. Though the Prime Minister passionately intervened through visual media and expressed his solidarity with his rail minister, Sadananda Gowda, market sentiments stuck to the negative note: Shares registered an average loss of 3.5 percent in a single session.

It appears, the Railway Board , the Rail Ministry like most other central ministries and even the PMO continue to be infested and dominated by foreign financial consultants and agents of multinational corporations, as in the UPA days. Delhi reality is that, even before a Central Minister and his personal staff settle down in the new office, these experts and advisors are ready with policy papers and policy announcements.

Confluence of opinions on government budgets and policies by the lay public on one hand and market sentiments on the other, as in the case of IR Budget 2014, is rare and rather unprecedented. Possibly, the market down-slide was speculative and got sparked off by the unreasonable hypes, triggered by the regime change. However, the reasons for negative reaction from the general public were genuine. People were expecting announcements of new schemes, introduction of new trains, and for the expansion of rail systems that were long long overdue.

Census 2011 has counted a total of 598,110 census villages and towns in the country and there are only 7172 railway stations in the country. This means bulk of our population centers are unlikely to have a proper rail link. After the British left, only only 11,000 route KM has been added to the Indian rail system. Most this 20 percent increase was effected during the first four decades of national independence. During the twenty five years of economic reforms; annual addition was only around 100 KM or at the best around some ten new railway stations per year.

In fact this new additions did not even compensate for the closure of rail stations in the name of financial losses. With the stress on express and super fast trains and neglect of passenger trains, a large number of rural railway stations have a deserted look today and are facing closure. At the same time. many of the large stations look dirty, ill-maintained, user-unfriendly and overcrowded, despite the best efforts of the employees whose strength was being arbitrarily cut down at an average rate of 17,000 per year during the past two decades.

Planned retrenchment was resorted to on a large scale on the plea that, IR was a losing concern and has outgrown the real social needs. But rail penetration in the country continues to be far below the international experience, on the basis of geographical area as well as population. India has 60 route km of railway per million people, and 20 route km per 1000 sqkm of land area. This is far below that of USA (803/22), France (603/63), Germany (520/117) or Japan (192/63). China was far behind India in rail penetration at the time of its revolution, but it has more than doubled its route rail length during the past sixty years to around 65,000 KM.

Despite the cutting down of employee strength and slow down of network expansion during the two decades of economic reforms initiated in late nineties, IR had continued to increase its output in terms of passenger as well as goods traffic. Number of rail passengers crossed the 8.2 billion in 2011-12, a 6.4 fold increase in six decades, and in terms of passenger-km the increase was nearly 16 times. In goods traffic, IR was concentrating on long-distance bulk goods and its output increased to 667 billion ton-km, an 18 fold increase during the same period. (1)

With its 13 million skilled employees in 16 zonal railways, 8 manufacturing units, 12 public sector undertakings and a dozen or so service organizations, IR is mammoth business organization with an annual turnover of over Re. 123,000 Crore. It is a major resource base for the country with regard to engineering and technology development. Its potential to contribute to the economic development of the country is substantial even outside of rail development. But this is not being put to use, even for the expansion of rail network, as needed and desired by the people Indian states and their elected governments. IR budget presented in the Indian Parliament two days ago is an open confession of this sad reality.

It is now proved beyond reasonable doubts that, the economic reforms and structural adjustments forced on the country as part of the globalization drive, was an utter failure and a disaster in the case of IR. Starting some two dozen express and super-fast trains or opening up of ultra-modern rail corridors with bullet trains through the FDI and PPP routes, will not solve the basic problems facing IR. Only way to reach out the half a million Indian villages through a national rail network is to re-build IR on a federal basis, as visualized in my earlier blog (2).

Modi Government could have used the occasion of presenting its first rail budget as an initial step toward implementing the concept of Cooperative Federalism propounded in the Presidential address of Pranab Mukherjee (3). Instead, it has taken to the surrealistic game of flaunting toys like bullet trains that makes little sense in the current national context.

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References:
1. Calculated based on data from IR website: http://www.indianrailways.gov.in/railwayboard/
2. Paper titled, “Indian Railways: In search for a New Vision”, published in my book, Perestroika Glasnost and Socialism ISBN 978-1-4828-1353-1, published by Partridge. The book examines the possibilities of improving the efficacy of Indian State by reorganing it on federal lines based on the experience of USSR. The paper was republished as a WordPress blog: https://kvijaya40.wordpress.com/2014/02/13/indian-railways-go-round-and-round/
3. See my just previous last blog  on Cooperative Federalism

COOPERATIVE FEDERALISM OF MODI GOVERNMENT

 

CENTRE-STATE RELATIONS AND COOPERATIVE FEDERALISM
By Engr K Vijayachandran F.I.E

Views of Prime Minister Modi on the re-defining of Central-State relations are seen reflected in the presidential speech of Pranab Mukherjee: “India is a federal polity. But, over the years, the federal spirit has been diluted.”.

In order to correct the situation the President had promised to “re-invigorate fora like the National Development Council and the Inter-State Council” and introduced a novel concept of Cooperative Federalism, possibly intended to deepen the economic relationship between State and Central Governments. He did not elaborate on how the concept will translate itself and help to rectify the distortions.

Our constitution makers had looked at the development and upkeep of basic infrastructure, physical as well as social including language and culture, as the joint responsibility of Central and State Governments. For a newly liberated multinational country of continental proportions a federal type governance was most appealing.

However, roles of state and lower level governments, as well as those of Inter-State Council, National Development Council, Planning Commission and other policy making institutions at the national level, built up during the early years of national independence, as well as that of Loksabha and Rajyasabha, were drastically eroded in recent years, thanks to the highly authoritarian economic reforms.

Central Government, along with its elaborate Committee of Ministers and PMO, had virtually taken over the sole responsibility for infrastructure development, with the help of foreign and Indian monopoly capital, leading to numerous scams of national shame. Even the Planning Commission was charged of breeding crony capitalism. And, despite massive doses of privatization and foreign direct investments and experimenting with PPP concepts, Indian reforms have failed to deliver results.

Experience of India’s Power sector, where reforms had an early start, is typical: Indiscriminate import of equipment and systems are causing costly breakdowns in our national and regional grids. Reforms have inflated capital costs and further increased the financial losses of State Electricity Utilities. They have turned totally dysfunctional: Uninterrupted quality power at lowest possible costs is not their motto anymore. (1)

Electricity generation using imported fuel is on steady increase, while our own fossil fuel reserves remain under-utilized. Role and functions of Central Electricity Authority (CEA), the federal organization that was in charge of power sector as per the 1948 Electricity Act, was taken over by Power Ministry and virtually re-assigned to international consultants in the pay role of global capital and MNC monopolies.

Prices of electricity are increasing all over the country and its quality deteriorating: Solution lies in reversing the reforms initiated in the early nineties for force-opening up of the national market for electricity as well as power equipment. Federal character of the power sector need to be urgently restored in national interests.

In the telecom sector, the two legged policy of having state-wise circles and centralized technology development by Central Public Sector Units was given up, in order to force open the national telecoms market. Net result is abject dependence on imports in the telecoms sector, not only for hardware and software needed for the modern communication systems but even for their maintenance. The only silver line in the cloudy communication system are the great achievements in space communication technologies developed by ISRO, despite imperialist boycotts.

Reforms had struck telecoms sector, when the ICT revolution based on microchips and Internet technologies started its sweep. Instead of mobilizing the technology resources of central and state public sector organizations as well as academic R&D institutions market oriented solutions like state wise auctioning of spectrum rights was resorted to by the Center leading to massive scams and corruption.

It is time that we restructure India’s telecoms sector on a federal basis with an expanded role assigned to central and state public enterprises. Does it fit in with the concept of Comparative Federalism of Modi Government?

Indian Railways is, possibly, most suited for exploring and enriching the idea of co-operative federalism suggested in the Presidential speech: IR is a leviathan insensitive bureaucratic organization, presided over by a cabinet minister, supported by one or two ministers of state, and then the Railway Board, its Chairman and half a dozen board members etc etc, and all connected up in series and in parallel (see-https://kvijaya40.wordpress.com/2014/02/13/indian-railways-go-round-and-round/ ).

There are fifteen zonal railways, each administered by a General Manger, who looks after the construction and operation of rail lines and related systems of the zone. The nature and number of complaints with regard to their performance indicate, that they will perform far far better, if IR is organized state-wise, as in the case of P&T, BSNL, DD, CEA and good old Electricity Boards etc etc, and several other central government functions.

It will be even better, if these state-wise zonal organizations are converted into public sector undertakings, with equal shareholding by IR on behalf of Central Government and then by the concerned State Governments, as in the case of Delhi or Chennai Metro. A full fledged rail minster and a skeletal rail department in every state, for servicing and supporting this joint enterprise will greatly enhance the policy planning and management capabilities in the country with regard to rail development.

This sort of structural reforms will bring the administration and management of our on-rail resources in the country closer to the people, and their elected Governments at the state as well as lower levels. Rail penetration continue to be very low in our country and only very few towns and villages were connected to the rail system after national independence.

Water tight division of responsibilities between central and state governments and the three lists annexed to Indian constitution, viz Central, State and Concurrent are a colonial legacy, inherited from imperialists. An earlier blog of mine, ‘Third Front and RE-Envisioning of Indian Unity’ (https://kvijaya40.wordpress.com/2014/02/16/third-front-should-re-envision-indian-unity-12/ ) examines the several areas where economic relationship between Central and State Governments could be immediately deepened within the existing constitutional framework, by taking the route of cooperative federalism.

Cochin International Airport Ltd (CIAL) virtually owned and managed by GOK, erroneously quoted as a PPP model, is a splendid example for the potential of Co-operative Federalism. Air Kerala the dream project of State Government and a project of great relevance to the regional economy could take off instantly, provided it is promoted as a subsidiary of Air India. And the much talked about Palghat Rail Coach factory will roll out immediately, if it is re-envisioned as a JV of Kerala and Indian Railways.

Like IR, there are several CPSEs and Central Government organizations which have distinguished themselves as technology generators for the national economy. I had the good fortune of brokering a deal in 1987, between GOK and ISRO: Kerala High-Tech Ltd (Kel-Tech) promoted with Dr, Kasturirangan as Chairman is today, a proud partner in BrahMos Aerospace, an Indo-Russian Joint Venture (www.brahmos.com) (3).

Why not put the concept of Co-operative Federalism on the fast tract, instead of PPP that has proved to be a virtual non-starter?

********

 

Notes and references:
1. Power situation worsens, Government looks helpless: page 139, article by author, Perestroika Glasnost and Socialism ISBN 978-1-4828-1353-1, Partridge 2013
2. Today, India is mostly dependent on imports from China for its telecoms hardware and software Indian telecoms industry has virtually lost its lead to the Chinese thanks to our mindless reforms.
3. This totally non-conventional project was the brainchild of Engr. Sudhakar and a dozen of his ISRO colleagues. It caught the imagination of the Communist leader KR Gowri, the then industries minister of Kerala. With the color of Government changing the project did not have a smooth sail but managed to survive several layers of pettiness spanning over a quarter century thanks to its technological relevance.

 

MULLA PERIYAR SCRAP BOOK -PART 2

 

STOP SCARE MONGERS, PUBLISH DR. GHOSH REPORT
Engr. K Vijayachandran F.I.E

Kerala legislative assembly was aggrieved on the Supreme Court verdict of 7th May, on Mulla Periyar Dam (MPD). Kerala Government’s MPD folio  is 35 years old: Sri OOmmen Chandy is the eighth or ninth Chief Minister, piloting the case.

Having exhausted all possible doors of litigation, the members of Kerala Legislative Assembly have unanimously appealed to the President of India and to the Federal Government, to ask the Supreme Court to reverse its latest verdict on the 119 year old MPD, using provision No 143 of the Indian Constitution, considering the environmental impact of raising the maximum water level to 142 feet and the consequent threat to life and property of four million people, living downstream.

Environmental damage is a totally new argument in the 35 year old MPD litigation: But the threat to life and property of people has been dealt with exhaustively by the print and visual media of Kerala and even a horror film, named DAM 999, with plenty of Hollywood clippings and bloated dead bodies swimming all around . It was exhibited in the Cinema houses of Kerala with very little impact and banned later by TN Government.

Supreme Court, with the help of its five-member Empowered Committee (EC), had evaluated the safety of MPD operations threadbare. In fact a major part of its lengthy information-rich report relates to the safety concerns raised by the media and Government of Kerala, within and outside the court. EC has studied in detail, (a) the hydraulic safety, (b) the structural safety, and (c) the seismic safety of MPD operating at 142 feet level in every detail, and also got done an elaborate dam breaking analysis. The results were found OK and MPD declared safe by the highest judicial establishment in the country.

These studies conforming to international standards were made available for the review and scrutiny of all concerned, including GOK, before presenting them in the open court. The Supreme Court judgment was all praise for the elaborate work done by the EC and its subcommittees: “The reports and investigations, tests and studies (ITS reports) are contained in 50 CDs and 4 DVDs. The report of EC consists of 8 Chapters. Chapter I has the title “Dams – An Overview”. Chapter II deals with three aspects, viz., (a) Use of Periyar waters; (b) Evolution of Periyar Project; and (c) Mullaperiyar dam Dispute in the Supreme Court. ….

……Chapter VI is appraisal and analysis of the reports of technical investigations, tests and studies. Chapter VII records conclusions. Chapter VIII deals with general observation with the title, “Way Forward-Towards An Amicable Resolution”. Two notes, one from Justice K.T. Thomas, member of the EC, and the other from Justice (Dr.) A.R. Lakshmanan, member of the EC, on Chapter VIII of the report of the EC are also appended to the report.” (para 185 of the SC report)

It took little more than two years for the EC to collect and collate field data and compile its eight chapter report with the help of numerous experts, specialist institutions and task forces. SC judges took another two years to organize hearings and analyze the massive volumes and filter through the numerous law points, relevant as well as irrelevant, that are typical of India’s archaic legal system, to finalize its 158 page judgment of May 2014.

MPD judgment is monumental proof for the technological as well as the legal maturity of India’s Federal Institutions. Unfortunately they are being rubbished by opportunist politics under pressure from vested interests, who stand benefited by the billion dollar real estates built on the land vacated by the reservoir thanks to prolonged low level operations of MPD.

Local media, print as well as visual, were playing up Kerala patriotism by blindly supporting these illegal occupants of reservoir lands. Environmental and other consequences raising the MPD level once again after three decades of low level operations were brought to public attention, even as early as in June 2007, when the Hindu newspaper published the extracts from an official study report by the  expert committee headed by Dr. D Ghosh, appointed by GOK. I had dealt with this in detail in an earlier blog: https://kvijaya40.wordpress.com/2014/05/07/mulla-periyar-scrap-book-i/

Surprisingly, there was no follow up on this seven-year old news-report either by the Hindu or by any other media who are normally over-enthusiastic on any environmental issue. It looks strange that GOK did not show the courage or wisdom to place Dr. Ghosh’s report in public domain or place it before the Supreme Court in support of its demand for restricting the MPD level.

Dr. Ghosh had studied in detail the environmental and other consequences of raising the MPD level beyond 136 feet: His report should be released immediately and placed in public domain.

eod/11th June 2014

 

OPEN MAIL TO SRI KEJRIWAL C/O TIHAR JAIL

Open mail to Sri Kejriwal, C/o Tihar Jail, Delhi
Dated 27-05-2014

Dear Sri Kejriwal,

Corporate planners and their bosom friends in the media are celebrating Modi victory through TV shows, editorials, cartoons, news reports and news analyses. The Hindu published a cartoon lamenting on the helplessness of APP with you in Tihar Jail as Modi swears in as PM, and wrote an editorial commenting on your lack of ideology: ” AAP has its task cut out in proving to the country that it represents certain idea that will continue to remain relevant…”

It is for you and those who have flocked around you to explain this “certain idea” unambiguously. And, who are leading AAP, and who have helped it to win the four Loksabha seats and register the two percent vote share?

They, for sure, are not the aam admi, the real victims of corruption in our country: They are senior bureaucrats, retired bureaucrats, ex-servicemen, lawyers, auditors, financial experts, engineers, doctors and other high income professionals, men of letters, poets, artists, journalists, philosophers and other free wheeling intellectuals of India, noted for their selfishness and opportunist positions on every policy issue that affect the life and welfare of the aam admi. Often, even their perceptions on development are unpatriotic.

Mushrooming of super specialty hospitals in private corporate sector and simultaneous decline of primary health care units and other public health care institutions, and marginalization of indigenous systems of health care are the order of the day. This is seen as development by our elite classes, whereas developed nations, including USA, are moving away from market based solutions for health care. AAP and its intellectuals have hardly debated this issue in public.

All  sorts of specialty schools in private as well as public sector are mushrooming in our country, whereas in developed countries community managed neighborhood schools deliver compulsory primary education in languages spoken by lay people. AAP intellectuals are hardly heard debating on the basic policies on education and human resources development in our country.

Our elite classes, driven by narrow self interests, promote all sorts of educational institutions, private universities and teaching shops in the name of development. These are primarily addressed to job opportunities abroad. Best of our brains and talents are exported. Even the good old phrase of Brain Drain stand expunged from our development dictionary. Centers of higher learning in our country operate under the pulls and pressures of foreign job markets: How do you intend to correct this distortion?

Centers of higher learning, universities and research institutions in USA and other developed countries are, as a rule, owned and managed by governments and they mostly take up directed research in public interest. That is an example for us to emulate. But our own universities and research centers are getting increasingly funded by foreign institutions, public as well as private. Do you have a plan to regulate and restrict this wrong trend in national interest?

In our earlier development regime, there was an emphasis on self-reliance: restrictions on import of goods as well as technology were common. With liberalization, volume of imports of white goods, directly or via screw driver technology with very little value addition, has increased several fold. This has virtually killed our manufacturing base as well as industrial R&D. What sort of policy change, AAP has in mind for reversing this destructive trend?

On agriculture and agrobased industries, as well, reforms have brought in destruction. Despite the recent rapid growth of GDP, farmer suicides was on the increase. Indian farmers look helpless on the face of a massive technological revolution that is sweeping the world. What solutions or ideas you have for salvaging our farming communities?

Even after seven decades of national independence more than ninety percent of our work-force is engaged in the informal sector: Those who enjoy the benefits of formal employee-employer relationship or enjoy a minimum of social security support is less than ten percent of our workforce, compared to around 90 percent in the developed world. Despite the reportedly faster economic development during the last two decades this ratio has only deteriorated. What are your proposals for overcoming this fundamental backwardness?

Our constitution makers had seen the development and upkeep of basic infrastructure like transport, communication, energy, environment, technology, national security, and even culture as the joint responsibility of Central and State Governments. However, the role of state governments as well as those of Inter State Council, National Development Council, Planning Commission and other policy making bodies at the national level, has been drastically eroded thanks to the economic reforms. Central Government has virtually taken over the sole responsibility for infrastructure with the help of foreign and Indian monopoly capital, leading to the numerous scams of national shame. Capabilities of key public sector organizations have eroded in this process and governing capacities of state and local governments have further deteriorated. People are losing faith in our system of governance due to poor quality and shortages of infrastructure: Do you have a perspective for reversing the trend?

I have no ready solution for any of these issues and have raised them as a practicing engineering and management consultant and as a person in close touch with the TU movement in the country. As the Hindu editorial and cartoon pointed out “AAP has its task cut out in proving to the country that it represents certain idea”.

You have the courage and the tenacity to fight for public causes and that is why you traveled from Delhi to Varanasi and then back to Delhi for the Tihar jail. Wish you well; I send this mail for offering my cooperation in defining your ideas a little more closely.

K Vijyachandran
Columnist and Author of Perestroika Glasnost and Socialism: ISBN 9781482813531

MODI WAVE AND INDIAN DEMOCRACY

UTTAR PRADESH: THE LEVERAGING OF MODI WAVE
K Vijayachandran

In the sixteenth Loksabha polls BJP could increase its vote share in UP to more than 42 percent, it was only17 percent in the previews polls. Even more, with a 42 percent vote shre it could win 71 out of 80 or nearly 90 percent of seats. True, in Gujarat, Rajastan, Uttarkhand, and Madhya Pradesh BJP has won 100 percent or close to 100 of seats but UP has the distinction of highest yield of seat per vote, despite the size and other complexities of the sate.

BJP’s best record in UP was 57 seats and that was in 1998, when it polled 36 percent of votes. And the vote share has been declining in subsequent Loksabha polls. In the last State Assembly elections its vote share had touched an all time low of 15 percent. The big story of how this trend was reversed with a little bit of corporate planning (and corporate resources!) as narrated by Amit Shaw, 49, a professional business planner and BJP boss of UP was reported in the Economic Times of 18th May.

BJP had not contested panchayat or cooperative elections in the state for nearly two decades and according to Shaw, BJP had little or no contact with influential people at the gram pradhan level. At the district level SP and BSP leaders were more popular than those of BJP. In fact, his party had to be built up from the bottom: To reach out maximum people in a short time, Shaw conducted programs in 13,000 college campuses to register volunteers. In fact, Rahul Gandhi had started such exercises on similar lines, inspired by modern management methods.

Shaw had assembled a 800 strong volunteer corps under him, largely from fresh recruits, and they were equipped with 450 GPS-installed Modi vans with campaign material and a 16 minute video. These squads were dispatched to the remote villages, or the so called dark zones in UP -areas that do not have access to any form of media. Local leaders had initially resisted these moves but they could be easily won over by the superior corporate culture.

“Shortly after taking charge, Shaw conducted day-long meetings in groups with the party’s MLA and MP candidates who had lost elections previously to know the reasons for their defeat .. for it was more important to know why they lost elections.” Shaw carried out extensive due diligence before finalizing names and was ruthless during ticket distribution. The criteria was simple: deny tickets to those who had contested and lost in the past, since lack of success was evidence of their unpopularity. Preference was given to local aspirants who were easily approachable.

For electioneering the eighty constituencies were divided into eight zones under which there were twenty two clusters each cluster having three to five constituencies. There was a strategy for the state as whole, then for the zones and clusters and finally for the specific constituency. Shaw and his team drafted a four-level corporate-style detailed plans for maximizing the number of seat-wins under the given socio-political environment and resources position.

Based on ‘social engineering or social equations’ largest chunk, 28 out of 80 tickets were given to OBCs, 19 to Bhrahmins and 17 to Thakurs. Tickets were also given to representatives of backward communities such as Nishad, Bind, and Khushwaha who don’t dominate a particular constituency, but are present in large numbers along the Ganges to help consolidate (caste based) votes across constituencies. There are no reports on any Muslim candidate being sponsored by BJP.

That was how BJP launched a well planned campaign against caste-based politics in the 16th Loksbha polls in UP. And, results were spectacular: BSP with its SC + Brahman base, despite polling nearly a fifth of the votes polled, did not get a single seat! SP of Yadavs and Muslims got only five seats, despite polling more than 20 percent of votes. Congress polled 7.5 percent votes and could return only Sonia and Rahul!

Varansi which witnessed a sort of public trial of the Election Commission of India, jointly by BJP leaders and the visual media, elected Narendra Modi as Prime Minister of India with a thumping majority of 3.7 Lakh, defeating Kejriwal who could poll only a little over two lakh votes. With Congress polling some 76,000 and CPI(M) less than three thousand, Varanasi has made a sort of history.

Plans for using Uttar Pradesh in order to leverage a Modi wave at all India level have proved to be a grand success. According to the Economic Times, each of the one lakh polling booths in UP was provided with a Bolero, capable of transporting ten people, as part of the strategic plan, developed and implemented by Shaw and his corporate colleagues. With all these hardware and software inputs, costing quite a billions of Rupeyah, Loksabha elections in UP have added a totally new dimension to Indian democracy.

21-05-2014

 

Sixteenth Loksbha Polls: Part-2

Elections 2014: The gathering storms

K Vijayachandran

 

With the fifth phase ending on 17th April, polling was completed in a total of 232 Loksabha seats. There was fairly heavy turnout in most constituencies. Barring a serious land mine explosion by Maoists in Chattisgarh, sporadic violence in Naxal-hit areas of Jharkand, Bihar and UP, two cases of booth-capture in Madhya Pradesh, and an attempted booth-capture by Trinamul in West Bengal, polling was generally peaceful during these initial five phases. Turnout pattern across the country did not show any abnormalities.

With the next phase, scheduled for 24th April and covering 117 seats, India’s 16th Loksabha poll will cross the half way mark: It will take another fortnight for the finish, and vote count is scheduled for 16th May.  Quality of candidates as well as character and content of electioneering across the regions reveal great diversity, very typical of a multinational country. Ideological orientation as well as the structure and composition of coalitions and political formations were in a flux, as election tempo picked up across cultural and geographical regions.

Elections in the twenty constituencies of Kerala, my home state, showed a mixed trend: No two constituencies had witnessed identical or even similar trends. One was different from the other and there were no signs any wave or even a common general trend. Unlike in other constituencies that registered an increase in poll percentage, there was a decline in voter turn-out in the two constituencies dominated by Muslim politics. the Congress led UDF seems to be restless with reports on infighting and blame sharing, as the Left Democratic Front (LDF) looked confident of a conspicuous come-back.

Candidates as well as electioneering in Kerala were at sharp variance with those in other Southern states. A friend of mine living in Bangalore wrote to me on their poll day morning: “Today I woke up with a problem: How to defeat in my constituency two candidates, one is bidding for a sixth chance to solve the problem of the nation, by building a temple in Ayodhya. And another wanted to build modern temples like Infosys and making many trillionniers like himself and he was bent upon solving the problem of this nation, by giving every Indian a Unique Identity Number!” That sort of exotic fights are hardly sustainable or even conceivable under Kerala polity.

Bollywood star Hema Malini is contesting from Mathura, the city of Krishna, as a BJP candidate. And she is sure to beat the other candidates of Congress and BLD, according to Manorama News: Could we, in Kerala, ever imagine Hema Malini replacing Innocent and contesting from Chalakudy and then defeating PC Chacko, who did a commendable job as the Chairman of the Parliamentary Committee inquiring into 2G Scam? Unlike Vadodara and Varanasi, not only Modi but even his wife Yesodabehn would have been treated moral outcasts in every one of the twenty constituencies of Kerala, despite their cultural diversity.

Minister Sasi Tarur is unlikely to be forgiven for the unaccounted death of his Desdemona-like wife, despite his reputation as a senior bureaucrat at the UN, while Christi Fernandez despite his long tenure as an IAS officer in Gujarat and under Modi was seen politically OK by the Left for fighting KV Thomas, a sitting minister at the Center and a Professor of repute.

Kerala has contributed to neighboring Tamilnadu several Left candidates and despite Mullaperiyar a couple of them will possibly win. Feedbacks from Kovai, Dindigal, Madurai, Tiruchi and Kanyakumari indicate that Left candidates have a good chance of winning a few seats thanks to the four or five cornered fights. News reports on campaign trends more or less confirm this possibility (1). Despite the big media support enjoyed by environmental enthusiasts and anti-nuclear activists these social activists found it impossible to unfold even their manifestos.

Campaign in the so called national media, under the intellectual and cultural leadership of the English speaking visual media, was focused on the sole issue of next Prime Minister. This seemed to be a clever strategy, jointly underwritten by Indian corporates and global finance. Big money has flowed into the campaign in a well organized manner. There was no Modi wave anywhere in the country including Gujarat, where BJP polled less votes in the last assembly elections and Modi was a highly controversial leader in his own state. There were no signs of any waves in the West, South, East or North. Even then, the London Economist came out with a clever editorial head line, just before election was flagged off: Can anyone stop Narendra Modi?

India Today TV and several other English and Hindi speaking channels had already launched, in unison, their 24X7 interviews on whom do you want as next Prime Minister: Modi, Rahul or Kejriwal? They arrogated themselves as the ECI and positioned the three Prime Minister candidates. There were then long discussions by experts on the views of laymen and laywomen collected from the interviews in suburban trains, long distance trains, flats, work places, house tops and tree tops. These were then broadcast as great exercises in democracy, and as proof for the existence of a non-existent Modi wave.

Even the existence of UPA, NDA, Regional parties or Left parties and their programs and policies did not find a place in such exercises because the total focus was on the question: Who should be the next Prime Minister of India? And everybody knows that, apart from Modi and Rahul, nobody was aspiring for the post. However the English speaking media had selected Kejriwal, the leader of AAP, also as an aspirant for that post, possibly even without consulting him!

The fact that, ECI was organizing this elaborate exercise for electing the 16th Loksabha got submerged under such meaningless mass campaigns and nobody even reminded the people that Manmohan was India’s Prime Minister twice, without facing a single Loksabha election. The English speaking national media played its mis-information role cleverly, by suppressing facts as well as fabricating news on a massive scale.

The so called national media propagated the view that Left is on the decline, even in its own traditional strongholds and published reviews in support of this view. Even the Hindu, which has been fairly objective in political reporting till recently, has published a review piece in its op-ed page on the so called “waning influence of the Left “, with three supporting articles that were hard on facts. With the recent changes in its editorial policies, Hindu is in no way different from the other Left-baiting national media (3).

In sharp contrast, the factual campaign reports from Tripura and West Bengal (4,5,6) are quite encouraging : This is not surprising, taking into account the political isolation of Mamta at the national level thanks to the semi-Fascist polices pursued by her government, reminiscent of the internal emergency of seventies. Mamta is facing a serious political crisis in West Bengal and her TMC and BJP are getting ready for a Fascist alliance at the national level.

Both NDA and UPA are in a flux and the political parties that constituted these alliances have started seeking realignments under the impact of the election trends. There are signs of revolts within BJP and Congress: In fact NDA and UPA do not exist any more, and there could be any number of alliances at the state level soon after the Loksabha elections.

It is unlikely that the joint tally of Congress and BJP together will cross the 200 mark and the Left will improve its presence in Loksabha substantially: That is why a joint initiative at the national level by the Left and the regional parties make plenty of practical sense. And there are clear indications of gathering storm in Indian politics as polling enters its concluding phases.

BJP and the national media, acting as the agents of Indian corporates and global finance, are trying their best to confuse the public with endless debates on the choice of Prime Minister: a question that will be easily settled within a couple of days, after ECI constitutes the 16th Loksabha as scheduled.

22-04-2014

 

Notes and References

1. This report gives a good coverage of CPI(M) campaign in the nine constituencies in TN: http://peoplesdemocracy.in/2014/0420_pd/secular-democratic-alternative-possible-left-campaign-tamilnadu

2. This report gives a good insight into the digital plan for launching the Modi wave: http://peoplesdemocracy.in/2014/0420_pd/walled-gardens-bjp-propaganda

3. This lengthy OP-ED piece in the Hindu of 16th April with inputs from three well known correspondents was very untypical of Hindu traditions. This author had sent a long note on this aberration, which was not even acknowledged.

4. This report on West Bengal campaign is indicative of the new self-confidence of LF in West Bengal: http://peoplesdemocracy.in/2014/0420_pd/lok-sabha-poll-campaign-west-bengal

5. http://peoplesdemocracy.in/2014/0420_pd/polling-east-tripura-concludes-peacefully

6. http://peoplesdemocracy.in/2014/0420_pd/our-alternative-based-alternative-policies

 

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