Column, Economy

Are the political duopolists in New Delhi colluding?

Or, will the mainstream political parties from national to local get truncated in the middle, like how it happened in the Mandal years?

By Krishnakumar S.

NEW DELHI: From the Mundra scandal to the Harshad Mehta scam, scandals associated with corruption have not been something unfamiliar in India. But, the scale and scope of the same has changed phenomenally in the recent years, that it has become a serious public concern.

Even before one could make sense of allocation of the 2G spectrum, the coal block allocations painted the government black. As the government ran for shelter from the Parliament, the “Kejriwal revelations’, (it was known far before) on the DLF-Vadra link, has brought to the fore the triad of the politician–businessman-contractor nexus behind the booming realty sector of the suburbs of Delhi.

Not to be found partial to the BJP, Kejriwal has dragged the President of the rightist party too into a series of allegations. The stories and investigations which have been pouring in ever since seem to be giving credence to his allegations. This raises a serious issue, as to whether the political duopolists at New Delhi are in collusion to share the spoils? With the reluctance of the rightist nationalists and even the broad left to take up the  DLF-Vadra issue and Digvijay’s confession that the Congress refuses to drag the relatives of the BJP leaders, even when there was clinching evidence, seem to be pointers to the duopolists being in collusion. But will these political duopolists succeed?

Even as reform was initiated in the country in the course of the nineties, everyone wondered how in a country which was so acquainted and etched to the Fabian socialist subsidies and employment programs, and, land reform and public sector, could the government ever think in terms of economic reform?  Given the low levels of social development, the retreat of the state was perceived to be a political harakiri of sorts.

Even as per recent statistics of NFHS, 79% of the children below three years are anemic in this emerging economy. But, the government deftly rationalized the process of reform by taking cover under the rhetoric of government failure, and portrayed the efforts to be of good intent towards pulling down the license-permit raj, which was working antithetical to the interests of the entrepreneurs.

All of us who had to wait in the queue to get an inland letter card at the post office were waiting for the miracle to work to liberate. But alas! It seems things have literally gone from bad to worse. The scope of dealmakers and wheeler-dealers in collusion with the shady chocolate capital from the Mauritius foreign capital havens have made the scene worse.

India, which had a very small number of billionaires in the nineties, have many now, observes Walton and  Gandhi, in their  recent study based on the findings of Fortune 500. Investments from realty to minerals to water and coal have generated these riches. In fact, it is those who have been able to barter resources from governments of the day and extract economic rents out of the same, through cronyism manipulation of the system, who have made it rich.

The skeletons coming out of the cupboards of the politician-bureaucrat- businessman nexus reveals the same more clearly now.  Please don’t even pretend that the post-reform rise of riches in the Dalal Street has been due to some sort of Steve Jobs sort of entrepreneurial innovations. In fact, that is an exception than the rule. Even when the post-reform period has left unscathed the social composition of the Indian industrialists, it has viciously pushed people out of the tiny plots of land out of which they were eking out a hand-to-mouth existence.

For all their minor corruption, in the pre-reform period, the local leaders in the polity could be counted upon to air the concerns of the people. The sudden transmogrification of these local political leaders into wheeler-dealers of the nouveau riche in the post-reform period created a huge vacuum, necessitating the likes of Kejriwal to take to task the junior Ambanis at BSES for inflated bills slapped on the urban consumers in Delhi.

At the other end of the spectrum, in the interior of Rajasthan, in villages, the struggle for decent wages is lead not  by registered political parties, but non-governmental agencies imbued by ideals of liberal humanitarianism like the MKSS. Wherever no such intervention is there from such organizations, the political threat and challenge  of Maoism looms large.

Though the initial years of reform was witness to the process of Mandalization which  transformed leaders like Lalu and Mulayam into big players in the Indian political theatre, the expectations generated by them were least fulfilled.  The widening distributive disparities and growing consciousness about the same even resulted in the anointing of a Dalit woman as the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh (something unthinkable before). No minor achievement for the polity of a country, whose Father of the Nation once wanted a Harijan girl to become the President of India.  But increasingly people are even feeling alienated from such political formations, for every party in the country is fast cajoled into the web of cronyism of the nouveau riche.

An illustration is in order here. The recently opened Taj/Yamuna Expressway no doubt reduces the distance between Delhi and Agra drastically.  It would appear to be a marvel of sorts for the international travelers from US or Europe, and even for the citizens from      the rest of the country.

But, some studies reveal that it is even less than ten percent of the land acquired for this purpose that has gone into the making of the expressway, the rest would be utilized by the corporate group involved towards sprucing up real estate development as well as various other activities. Has there been any transparent discussion about the same in public? In my trip through the expressway, a senior citizen of the locale was heard saying that if the Samajwadis have the Sahara Group, now the Bahujanwadis have the Jaypee Group. Was this the route of empowerment which the people expected from those political formations, which got strengthened due to the disillusionment with the process of reform and the exclusion which it engendered.

It is in this political vacuum that the non-governmental and apolitical organizations are making their entry, sometimes it seems to be maverick to political observers from afar.  But the collusion of the political duopolists in New Delhi against these groups through multiple methods of coercion, violence and deceit is being watched by the politically volatile middle classes as well as the poor alike.

Will they be able to survive the attacks of such organizations? Or, will the mainstream political parties from national to local get truncated in the middle, like how it happened in the Mandal years? Only time would be able to reveal the direction in which political churning would happen. But, it is too early to rule out the challenges posed by these new political formations.

(Krishnakumar S. teaches economics at Sri Venkateswara College, University of Delhi).


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