Democracy throws up an icon always in inhospitable moments. One emerges as an icon even after years of faultless service in public domain without a thought that he has become one. Jayaprakash Narayan was an example of how a Sarvodaya leader could channelize suddenly the political aspirations of the time against Emergency, a monumental act of crackdown on dissent. For two years opposition was in stilted whispers, not the way the voice of so-called intolerance is being heard now.
It was not the fear of Sedition law under Section 124(A) that ranged JP and the Janata Party against Indira Gandhi. It was something more – the startling assault on basic freedoms that happened as they feared. Even then JP felt that social development and change had to happen within, through legislations, and not from without. He could never condone the political alibi of the Indira regime that his andolan was a threat to the pro-poor, progressive ideology of the Congress and ipso facto justified the assault on basic freedoms. JP’s movement essentially downed the curtain on the authoritarian tendency of a government to tinker with the Constitution and citizen’s rights. He was an icon for a cause, not one with an agenda.
There is a new messiah JNU has thrown up – Kanhaiya Kumar – who appeared to be a whiff of fresh(mostly stale) air to English media channels though he sought, among other dubious exhortations, “azadi from hunger” without explaining why it remained so for 68 years when mostly ruled by a grand old party. With it came a host of ‘azadis’ from casteism, religious dominance, manuvadi etc when an inescapable nexus of bureaucratic corruption, vote bank appeasement, and kickback regime had left the economy staggering with 10 lakh unemployed graduates tumbling into the market every year, stagnant eastern states sending a large fleet of its people elsewhere for jobs, farmers seeing no break of a dawn. He was a godsend for the Left (with its 4 p.c. vote share in 2014) which was breathless in a vacuum already and badly in need of resuscitation. For the grand old party he was the pivot around whom their flailing campaign had to take off. Little did (not that he could’nt comprehend) he realize that he was being courted by the very forces responsible for all the ills he had no fingers left to count.
Modi bashing was the immediate carrot dangled before him and he latched on to it gleefully. For instance, people of his ilk could never understand the contours of an economic policy taking shape under Modi which was a break from the stifling past. Setting the babus on track was the first. (And is still going on the latest being babus told to expeditiously dispose of individual complaints.) Spectrum and coal auctions, electrification of 18000 villages within 1000 days, increase in road laying in terms of km, rail lines and traction, highway development, followed as a corollary to it. Perhaps the one to have the profoundest impact was Jan dhan accounts (its 21 crore accounts have aggregated over Rs.34,000 crores, mostly Aadhaar seeded) and the Aadhaar bill which makes digital transfer of subsidies and relief amounts to the poor effective and free from middlemen. For a country besieged with red tape and loot, it was a refreshing break from the past despite impediments and complaints in its wake. All these are followed by a series of schemes such as crop insurance for farmers, beti bachao beti padhao, and a greater share of the revenue for the states from the central pool.
In fact Central schemes have been reduced from 62 to 27 leaving a larger share of the revenue for the states to implement. With a section of farmers in UP berating the bouncing of relief cheques recently digital transfer appears to be the sole medium of rooting out middlemen. Yet results don’t happen overnight.
For the restive lot of the Kanhaiyas who feel ruffled by the unverified threat of scholarship stoppage the country’s precarious state would be no reason for instrospection but an invitation to imagine manacles on their freedom. He has no answers for poverty except the doctrinaire ones handed down the generations by the Left. (One wonders whether he even knows them except the rhythmic, slam bang slogans.) Nehruvian Congress dabbled with it in the shape of a mixed economy with PSUs slowly sliding into the red though farm growth was substantial in states like Punjab, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh in favourable conditions but licence raj had all but cramped industry except the top guns. So much so that Chandrashekhar govt . had to sell gold to pay debt and growth rate was abysmal. It was Narasimha Rao who shrugged off the past to go in for economic liberalization and free market only to let it be taken over by cronies in 10 years of UPA rule. Again an urgent need to break away from the past.
A restive pot that India has always been the time honoured need now is governance, not time-worn mantras. Mantras feel like an aphrodisiac for the present in rejuvenating the aimless but ultimately the same questions of governance return to haunt them. For decades deliveries mattered less than deliverables leading to 40 per cent of the BPL population without access to banks, jobs, statutory benefits and embroiled in backwardness. On March 22 the Prime Minister was engaged with a coordinated plan to radicalize the babus, redeploy those retirees who got plum posts without work under the previous regime for monitoring of the flagship schemes of the present government. The malaise of misgovernance or lack of governance, as evidenced in MGNREGA, needs immediate attention and reordering. Results will show the quantum of progress made but the direction cannot be questioned.
Startups need a tax holiday and less interference as part of a conducive environment to get going which encompasses the flow of FDI but a business friendly market is antithetical to doctrinaire slapdash of the Kanhaiya kind. He may be the unverified brand that Cong- Left camp might desperately need to alter the discourse but a developing economy operates under a different spectrum.
Of course they cannot realize it any more than the Socialist citadels that had vapourised out of its own ineptitude, not the least of it being the huge violations of human rights that have remained the central theme of history.