WHATEVER be the form of government, winning elections and governance have largely depended on catchy slogans, especially the economic ones. Whoever said ‘man does not live by bread alone’ must be repenting how he went so wrong. From ‘workers of the world unite’ in 1848 to ‘achhe din’ in 2014, slogans laced with a tinge of economy and prospects of coins jingling in your pocket have enthused millions to choose a government or throw the unwanted ones out.
A year before the 1992 US Presidential election, 90 per cent Americans approved George Bush’s job-creating economy. Bill Clinton’s campaign strategist, James Carville, re-hashed a phrase and coined a new slogan “It’s the economy, stupid”. What was meant to be one of the three political agendas (the other two being ‘Change vs more of the same’ and ‘Don’t forget health care’), turned out to be a winning slogan. In 2016 again, most of the (stupid) Americans heard things like ‘need more job creation, taxation is in a mess, interest rates need correction, house for all…..’
Sounds familiar to what we have been hearing since Independence in India that is Bharat? Politics all over the world has been in transition forever, piggyback riding on economics.
India’s priority after Independence was revamping the economy in the backdrop of poverty, refugee influx, joblessness, archaic agricultural methods and lack of industry, not to speak of defence un-preparedness and total absence of tax/revenue system. Even then, ironically, the only thing that tormented the then Prime Minister was corruption, of all the things. Since then, subsequent Prime Ministers have made fight against corruption their raison d’être for their very existence on this universe and occupy the most powerful hot seat. In 1947, India adopted a made-in-India variant of Keynesian economics, aping much of what the USSR did or said. Huge investments were made in public sector entities. Then came a phase of massive reforms in agriculture. While the Left movement considered land reforms as their exclusive prerogative, the Congress party used it an economic tool to move closer to the rural masses. So while the country was in transition, there were two economies, the public sector creating huge job opportunities and the agriculture, sustaining the rural masses. All this resulted in neither growth nor capital formation. India became infamous as a country free from British Raj but subservient to licence-quota-permit Raj.
Then came the second phase of transition, once again politics piggyback riding on economic slogan. Indira Gandhi’s experiments with socialism resulted in appropriating more of Left agenda like nationalisation of banks, doing away with the privy purse and bringing in draconian land ceiling laws. All this was encapsulated in a small two-word slogan, ‘Garibi Hatao’.
Subsequent Prime Ministers and finance ministers tinkered with the idea of riding two horses, one that of socialism and the other that of encouraging private sector. Meanwhile, the proverbial fight against corruption continued just as the stranglehold of licence-quota-permit raj and the inspector raj. Indian economy’s travel and transition from Marxism to socialism and then to mixed economy continued.
With the advent of Mandir-Mandal phase in politics, it was time for another economic slogan and transition. The PV Narasimha Rao government came up with slogans like ‘Mixed Economy’ and ‘Look East’. Clearly, the idea was to make a course correction and bring politics back to the economic template. In 1990-1991, India faced a huge balance of payment crisis compelling the government to borrow heavily from international financial agencies like the World Bank and the IMF to overcome the crisis. Needless to say, like the much-despised moneylenders in Indian cinema, these international financial agencies extracted their pound of flesh, coercing us to make radical changes in our laws. The government called it structural adjustments, the economists said it was neo-liberalism, but the politicians knew it was another transition.
THE next two decades witnessed a flip-flop between soft socialism to hard capitalism, from empowering the poor to encouraging entrepreneurship. Finally, a government headed by an economist ended up in corruption charges amounting to trillions, policy paralysis and fostering crony capitalism. So, with the next phase of transition, another economic slogan emerged, ‘Achhe Din’ (reminded of happy days are here again?).
From Marx, Mao, Stalin, Keynes and Shining India we have seen the transition like nobody’s business. But that is what governance and economics is all about. No? It’s politics, stupid!
The author is Secretary General of Forum for Integrated National Security (FINS). Email: firstname.lastname@example.org