Jul 12, 2008

India - P.Karat and M.Singh

The nuclear deal: better late than never and a poetic outcome for India, the PM Manmohan Singh and Communist leader Prakash Karat.

Only in India was the 90th anniversary of the Russian October revolution celebrated. In Russia, they were busy drilling oil and rounding up the usual political suspects; in China, the Communists were busy planning and implementing their economic, political and nuclear strategies for the next 50 years. In India, left leader Prakash Karat was busy planning and celebrating the onset and survival of Communism. That was in November 2007. Just seven months later, Mr Karat may have just managed to sign the death warrant of the last Lenin-Stalin-Mao style communist party standing in the world. Better late than never. What caused Mr Karat to sign traditional communism's death warrant? Arrogance and ideology or is it vice-versa? Most likely both; in that communist history repeats itself; which is why deeply ideological communism is an extinct species.
Let us examine what has happened. There is a historic agreement with the US ostensibly regarding the use of nuclear technology, energy, etc. The deal is BIG because for the first time in post-independence India, a major agreement is being signed with the US; India had signed several major partnerships with the now defunct communist Soviet Union. Think about it. For 60 years, supported, influenced and instigated by the Indian Communists, India signed treaties, made agreements, abandoned principles in order to fawn at the feet of foreign hand communists. Lest people forget, we even changed the name of the film From Russia with Love to From 007 with Love. That is the extent of decision making we had signed over to the foreign Communists.
Make no mistake about it. The nuclear deal is a mega turning point and the Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, deserves a lot of credit for it. For four and a half years, he and the Congress party have been justifiably criticised for really doing nothing. Actually, that is wrong — there were several negative policies, some in the economic arena (fringe benefits tax, wasteful expenditure on populist programs, lack of co-ordination with the RBI, messing up of foreign exchange policy — the list is long) and others in the social arena (corruption via licensing, education policy, reintroduction of reservation raj, etc.). Positives: hard to count on even one finger. Yes, the economy had grown at a fast pace, but that had precious little to do with the largely misguided polices at the centre.
Then along came the nuclear Indo-US agreement. Actually, the deal was initiated by the BJP and the UPA has taken it forward. Which is why it is both pathetic, and surprising, for the BJP to now oppose its own proposal. Obviously, political considerations are relevant; obviously the BJP has to play the role of an honourable opposition. But political wisdom would suggest that the BJP vote with the government. If it does, by the time elections roll around, the nuclear deal will be forgotten and new considerations, and most importantly political sleeping partnerships, will take over. But if the BJP votes against the deal, then all will not be forgiven.
The political opposition will come from the middle class, now some 40 per cent of the Indian population. The middle class beats its own drum, unmoved by the pyrotechnics of the Communists, the BJP, or the Congress. The next election will most likely be won by the coalition that appeals most to the middle class; this should not be forgotten. And the middle class, for self-interest reasons, does not believe in ideologies except the ideology of economic opportunities, a level playing field, and fairness in politics and enterprise. [This is not to say that there aren't people in the middle class who are corrupt, believe in licensing, believe in reservations, etc; it is just to say that the class interests are opposite to the beliefs of the communists and rent-seeking members of the rich class.]
For India the nuclear deal is a trend-setting one. The full impact of Manmohan Singh's role in the Indian economy, affairs, and politics, can be assessed with the following fact: he was present at, and leader, of the two most important decisions in post-independent Indian history. The economic reforms initiated by him and PM Rao changed the course of modern India, and helped accelerate the development of the middle class. The nuclear agreement will have a similar effect on the economy, and on India's role in the world. What Nehru could not obtain with his non-alignment movement, Manmohan Singh would have achieved for India and its political leaders for decades to come.
If the deal is so historic, why did the Congress party wait until literally the last hour? It did not make sense to do so, and many commentators said so when the Congress caved in to the unreasonable and traitorous demands of the Communists last year. In 2007, the Congress itself was on an arrogant high — the economy was booming, inflation was low, and major leaders of the party actually thought that their (lack of) policies had initiated the economic boom. Globalisation has dashed that wishful thinking; and democracy did the rest. Indian voters thrashed the Congress in every election over the last year. Nothing succeeds like failure in setting the mind straight. The fear of being loathed and vanquished must have weighed on the Congress leaders. What they should have done last year they did this week. A historic week. Better late than never.
The author is Chairman, Oxus Investments, a New Delhi based asset management company. The views expressed are personal.

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