Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Right way to go

By Jug Suraiya

India’s political spectrum is incomplete: it lacks a credible right- of- centre party which represents private enterprise. A capitalist party. To talk about capitalism in the midst of a a global economic crisis caused by unbridled greed in the fountainhead of the market economy, the US, might sound as inane and insensitive as Marie Antoinette's remark about people eating cake if they couldn't afford bread. With the American government having had come to the aid of stricken financial institutions in a move similar to nationalisation, the US has been renamed the USSR by those who would celebrate the death of capitalism and the rebirth of socialism. Such doomsayers overlook one point: it was capitalism not socialism which enabled the western economy to scale the heights from which it has, temporarily, fallen. Far from being dead, capitalism is merely gaining its second wind to lead the race again. (Even as the US government bails outbankrupt organisations, the founder of 'barefoot capitalism', Grameen banker Muhammad Yunus has started operations in the US to rescue small businesses through microcredit schemes, suggesting that the evils of capitalism are best solved not through state intervention but through more capitalism, appropriately applied.)

In India, with the vote of the aam aadmi the cynosure of all political ayes, no party can afford to talk about economic liberalisation. Economic reforms have remained on the back burner for the greater part of the UPA government's tenure, thanks to Left opposition. But despite the populist rhetoric churned out on his behalf, India's aam aadmi remains an endangered species. In Maharashtra alone, debt-ridden farmers on an average commit suicide at the rate of two every day. State intervention, in the form of much-touted loan waivers and employment guarantee schemes, has been unable to break the lethal, centuries-old stranglehold of the rapacious moneylender, whose usurious rates of interest continue to ruin millions of rural households through successive generations.

Both in order to break the shackles of its age-old poverty and to rise to the challenge of the global economic crisis, perhaps what India really needs today is what it does not have: a liberal capitalist formation, like the Swatantra Party of old. Contrary to popular belief the BJP has not filled this political vacuum. Far from espousing competitive free market dynamics which are the hallmark of true capitalism, the BJP with its base of petty traders represents monopoly interests which are anathema to economic liberalism.

As the success of Grameen banking has shown in Bangladesh and elsewhere (which now hopefully includes the US) the proper deployment of private capital to generate enterprise and wealth is not an exploitative privilege of the rich; it is the enabling prerequisite for the poor. Poverty alleviation measures based on state capital (loan waivers, employment schemes) are like leaky sieves; corruption and inefficiency drain almost everything away, leaving little or nothing for the targeted recipients. Private capital, through microcredit and other non-state financed systems, has to be efficient in order to survive.

It is too late for this election. But perhaps for the next polls which could well be sooner than anyone wants corporate India should think of forming its own secular, economically liberal party to contest at the hustings for its legitimate space in the political sphere. Why should India Inc fund this or that party, be it the Congress or the BJP or any other, which time and again not only fails to deliver on business expectations but also on providing succour to the common man? It's time aam aadmi and corporate India realised that their mutual fortunes are inextricably interlinked: if rural India prospers so does India Inc; if rural India hurts so do the sales figures of India Inc. So next time around might we see a party which stands for the common, capitalist good of corporate India and aam aadmi? Right on.

(Courtesy: Times of India, for comments please write to secondopinion@timesgroup.com)

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