By Vijay Darda | 21-10-2013
By popular corporate perception, India embraced the market mantra in 1991 when it opted for the reforms route. An idea was then sold that we should kiss good bye to all socialistic spending as growth would lead to a trickle-down effect and tackle all the economic problems including poverty. So, the organised voices in the public domain scream foul whenever they come across anything that goes against the grain of this market mantra. For the pro-reformists any social spending is a big no-no, even when they claim that their heart bleeds for the poor. They want that everyone should wait till his or her turn comes in the market environment, and meanwhile perish if it so happens. So, when anyone talks of welfare schemes or subsidies, they attack it on the grounds of inefficiency, and leakage and corruption. The state run public distribution system plagued by local corruption is always cited as the example. Even otherwise, globally, socialism is a dirty word. It is an ideology that has been failed by the socialists. They keep telling us that it is something that was good as a concept in the past, and need not be revisited now.
It is in this climate that the Congress president Sonia Gandhi has been winning her socialist battles in the reform era. The beauty of her successes is that it does not come with the burdensome baggage of lofty speech making, and an overdose of ideological posturing. No one has yet said that she is a Lohiaite, modelled on the icon of Indian socialist — Ram Manohar Lohia. On the contrary, she has a remarkable economy with words, and her performance is action-packed. She has studiously avoided all jargon in her public expressions, and depended on simple messages. She works behind the scenes with a determination and commitment that is difficult to match. All the rights based legislations that have been propelled by her — the right to work, the right to information, the right to food security, and the right to education have met with all kinds of mocking challenges. The challenges have been internal within the government and the party as well as external from other parties and within the parliament.
But she has steered through all these, and put in place an architecture of rights that would be the envy of the old time socialists. Above all, she has ensured that there is money where her mouth is. Thus the government is committed to thousands of crores under each of these rights-based schemes. The result is prosperity at the bottom of the pyramid. Never before has someone achieved so much for poverty alleviation, with as little propaganda. In sum, she is not just a bleeding heart socialist. She is actually a performing and practising socialist. With a passion that comes from a real feeling for the poor, she has told the market liberals in no uncertain terms that she does not have the patience for the trickle down effect to reach the poor. For her, the equation is pretty straightforward and simple. Even as the upper crust of the society lives in super luxury, the poor man should have a right to food, without any ifs and buts and delays. This is non-negotiable for her, and this is her practising socialism.
We have had debates about the number of people below poverty line, and the definition of the poverty line itself. But there is no denying that the number of poor people has come down, and the previously visible signs of poverty and deprivation are all but vanishing. In the current economic slowdown, the corporate have been battered by the decline in spending in urban areas, but then they have found prosperous markets rural areas where Sonia’s socialism has made its impact on India’s millions. No wonder marketing managers are trudging into the semi-urban and mofussil markets to lure customers. Maruti now holds camps in places like Ramganj Mandi to sell cars to eager rural families.
So, it is very easy for critics and cynics who ignore these signs and then mock at Rahul Gandhi, the Congress vice-president for making a campaign pitch at an election- related meeting in Madhya Pradesh out of an extremely private episode involving his mother and Congress president Sonia Gandhi’s tears. They have never had much use for India’s poor. For them, the poor are an unwanted element on the Indian scene, and they believe that the country would be much better off without them. But then socialist Sonia has always thought otherwise, and that is why there were tears in her eyes when she realised that with her immediate health problem ( probably an attack of asthma, and not anything serious that her detractors wish) she would not be able to vote on the Food Security Bill in the parliament.
The debate over subsidies and the use of government resources has always been skewed in this country. The same market liberals who frown at the subsidies for poor, never question either the government or the corporates about the big ticket subsidy they get in terms of huge tax concessions under the ‘revenue foregone category of the budget running into lakhs of crores’ as well as the loan waivers that come through the writing off of the non-performing assets of public sector banks.
Through her socialist approach, sans the ideological bunkum, the Congress president has successfully restored this sense of balance in the government’s spending. She has ensured that if the rich profit from the government’s policies and resources, then at least the poor are not deprived of two square meals. She first ensured that the rural poor have at least the right to a bare minimum income through the Mahatma Gandhi’s NREGA scheme and then has followed it up with the food security law. Her son Rahul is on the mark, when he talks about these schemes at election rallies, more so when most of the Opposition parties have always found fault with these ideas when these have been mooted. It is quite a different matter, that for the protagonists of the divisive and acrimonious public discourse, such talk is not to their liking.