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Booming economy, stagnant politics January 29, 2006

Posted by naxalwatch in Uncategorized.
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Friday January 27 2006 15:52 IST

Sushila Ravindranath

The other day I happened to be talking to one of the captains of our industry. I expected him to sound on top of the world. After all Indian economy is rocking and his particular industry is doing extremely well. But he sighed, “It’s all so surreal!”

Why ? He says whenever he has anything to do with the government it leaves him utterly depressed. “Who says corruption doesn’t exist,” he asks. His point is as long as you have nothing to do with administration, things move along smoothly. The states, which have everything going for them, have difficult governments.

Take Maharashtra, for example. The country’s once most dynamic state is fast losing it. It has an accessible Chief Minister but there is so much infighting in the party that no decision gets taken. Karnataka is in a bigger mess. Tamil Nadu’s politics of vendetta and the deep-rooted dislike of the two major leaders for each other scares off many potential investors in spite of a dynamic Chief Minister. Andhra has a Naxalite problem. And Kerala still has union problems. The problem-free states unfortunately don’t matter to the investor.

The problem is, business still needs government although not as much as it did before. For instance, the government tightly controls land. It controls infrastructure. It has to provide roads, electricity and water. It is not possible to start a mega project in the private sector without the government’s blessings.

The headlines of the last two weeks make one empathise with what the industrialist is saying. While everything in India (well, a lot of things) has changed in the last 10 to 15 years, the quality of politics seems to be at a standstill. It’s difficult not to laugh when MLAs are given a free holiday so that they are not purchased by other parties. Such holidays were common occurrences in an earlier era. Remember Chandrababu Naidu keeping his MLAs hidden away when he was taking on his father-in-law, NTR? One would have thought that the anti-defection bill would be a deterrent. But our MLAs and MPs sing to their own tunes.

Bihar Governor Buta Singh has been indicted by the Supreme Court for recommending the dissolution of the Bihar assembly. The judges have held the dissolution unconstitutional and illegal. But Buta Singh seems singularly unaffected, if one goes by his statements to the press. Then the widely-televised sight of Congress workers in Hyderabad genuflecting before Rahul Gandhi. Everything is so reminiscent of what one keeps hoping was a bygone era.

There is no closure of any sort in Indian politics. The guilty is never punished and cases drag on forever. For an entire generation that grew up post Bofors, what kind of values are we giving? I won’t be surprised if 20 years down the line, we are still discussing Quattrocchi and the frozen or defrozen or refrozen accounts. No one seems to want to know what really happened. It’s more a question of causing embarrassment to the people in power or otherwise.

The portrayal of politicians remains in our movies remains the same as it was in the 70’s, even though the entertainment industry has undergone spectacular changes and is today world class. The politician is always a powerful villain who does unspeakable things to the ordinary man. Have you ever seen a minister or politician shown in a good light in our films? If they are good and noble, they are invariably killed off by a rival. Has one ever paused to think why?

In the 70’s, the businessman had almost as bad an image as the politician. Remember in the Socialist era it was mostly the wheelers and dealers who flourished. The rules were so draconian that unless you knew how to fix, you disappeared. Proximity to Delhi was the most important skill you had to possess as an entrepreneur. Managing the environment led to success. So when India opened up and let foreign companies in, there were loud howls of protest from the business community. Everybody wanted a level playing ground. Many thought that the government should have allowed internal competition before allowing the foreigners in. There were fears that we were going to be colonised by monster multinationals this time round.

But what really happened? The Indian manufacturing sector, in a remarkably short time, got its act together. Survival became the name of the game. To survive, the industry learnt new tricks. It shed the flab, which it had been accumulating for years. It started paying attention to hitherto-ignored concepts such as quality and productivity. The country quietly became the hub for software exports and back room operations of the world. Slowly but steadily it is also becoming the production hub for many products including automobiles. Nobody ever doubts any longer that India is an emerging economic superpower.

So why is politics not moving on? We still have 80-year-olds dreaming of becoming Prime Ministers. We still worship dynasties. We still have a Left which draws its inspiration from Cuba rather than China and we continue electing them to power in two states.

So should we blame the politicians or ourselves?

sushila@epmltd.com

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