Saturday, 9 June 2012

A political addenda to the economic blueprint

Politicians will do anything to win elections; even good things ! You can't blame them , for after all that is the objective in politics. As I observed in the previous post, an economic blueprint is of no use unless a political way can be shown as well. So the task is to show that an economic plan will win an election. Or at least not lose one.

I believe the time is ripe for that in India. The Congress government is almost certain to lose in the next general elections due in 2014. They have no plan to win it. No amount of cash doled out to the voter is going to help them win. Therefore they have nothing to lose. Ideal conditions to try something drastic.

Make a fresh beginning. Manmohan Singh should retire and a grateful nation should say thanks for a lifetime of public service. Pranab Mukherjee can be kicked upstairs. Chidambaram, Anthony , Pawar etc are to exit with a 21st century Kamaraj Plan. For the lack of any other leader, Rahul Gandhi should take over as Prime Minister. He should form a new cabinet - 50% from the political class and 50% from technocrats and experts who are complete strangers to politics (imagine Sreedharan as Railway Minister). Form a government of national unity, giving a couple of Ministerships to the BJP and the Left as well - this may not happen, but no harm trying. This government has a two year mandate to do things .

Bribe the states to fall in line. No state is opposing any of the measures on grounds of ideology or conviction - every opposition is simply politics. The best way to overcome them is to bribe the states. Every state that wholeheartedly supports the entire agenda of the government will get say Rs 2000 crores as a dole. Fund this by running a one time deficit. States that still do not want to toe the line are welcome to stand alone, but the rest of the nation will go ahead.  If and when they join, they won't get the Rs 2000 crores.

Form a "conclave of experts". From all walks of life - social workers, businessmen, government officials, environmentalists, politicians, etc etc. Say about 50-100 eminent Indians. Appointed; not elected. The government should "sell" the plan to them. Debate and incorporate the sensible changes they recommend. Make them inclusive in the plan. Appeal to their nationalism that single point agendas (like say an environmentalist opposing any dam whatsoever and not  taking any responsibility for economic development) cannot work. There are no easy solutions. Some tradeoffs must be made. The governing principle is 75% agreement (since all cannot agree), but 100% commitment once the plan is finalised. The plan then goes through Parliament for adoption.

For two years banish any strike or agitation against any aspect of the plan. The conclave of experts have to commit that they will not agitate outside the conclave (that's what 100% commitment means). Opposition or ruling coalition parties who wish to strike are welcome to do so; the government simply ignores them and goes on ahead, daring anybody to bring down such a young, new, active government. It is unlikely that Mamata Banerjee or Mayawati or any of the usual trouble makers will increase their seats in a new election; so what's the joy in bringing down the government. The one likely gainer can be Jayalalithaa who will probably have to be "bought" by more dole to the Tamil Nadu government.

The government fully backs the bureaucracy and the judiciary to take quick decisions and implement like crazy( a bit of Sarkozy style hyperactivity would help). No bureaucrat would be punished for taking risks or taking a wrong decision - he would only be in trouble if he was corrupt. Sack the current grandstanding Comptroller and Auditor General who sees a scam in going to the loo and replace him with an eminent person from industry. Equally judiciary is "bribed" with doles to take a fast track for economic issues. The principle would be that its OK to get it 20% wrong , but quick, rather than hoping for the mythical 100% right and getting nothing done. Create a frenzy of activity - it tends to be self fulfilling and gathers a momentum of its own.

What about corruption ? It will never go away anywhere in the world. In India, contrary to public opinion, personal enrichment is a small part of corruption. Much of corruption is to create the war chest to fight elections. And the bulk of the spend is not in campaigning like in the Western world. Most of the spend is doling out cash and liquor to voters. But that has never won anybody an election. Everybody does this; so you can only lose by not doing this, but will never win only because of this. This can be lessened by moving towards proportional representation, instead of the first part the post system. Something to do immediately after winning the next election. This is an idea I wholly borrowed from Dr  Jayaprakash Narayan, an extremely impressive politician from Andhra Pradesh, where he is a MLA. For those interested, you can watch to him eloquently arguing the case here - incidentally it will also be an eye opener that such politicians also exist.

Meanwhile the current government just says no to building a war chest for elections. The Congress breaks ranks and refuses to bribe the voter with cash and liquor (remember it cannot win by doing this). Instead it tries to stand on the planks of freshness, action and two years of solid work.
Will this win Rahul Gandhi the next election. Maybe, maybe not. But he's not going to win it currently and he has nothing to lose. And maybe, just maybe, it might win him the election . The Indian voter is not an idiot. In the absence of any other compelling reason, he votes on caste lines, or whoever bribed him or sheer anger at the incumbent or fractures his vote. But give him a compelling reason and he votes in a wave irrespective of any other considerations. Remember 1977 after the emergency. Remember 1984 and the Rajiv Gandhi wave. Even the last elections in West Bengal is an evidence of the wave.

A fresh competent government may create a wave. Somebody trying this may lose, but will still go in a blaze of glory. Really worth a try.


Deepa said...

The post sounded like a utopian dream till I saw the video. I discounted it for my gullibility as I can easily be swayed with ideas that sound good, but have to say more people of his nature should join him, and not let him languish amidst the hooliganism in the name of politics.

A couple of years ago we had a stream of young politicians. Agreed they were second generation politicians, but they had good degrees, appeared to know what Indian youth was expecting from them. I particularly remember a clip of Milind Deora hanging out with college students playing guitar (He is quite a rock star actually). Not to say that makes him a good politician, but it gave the impression that this young group will learn and grow and you at least have some normal people up there now. They may not be brilliant statesmen ever but at least they were not riddled with archaic, politically orthodox mind sets. Little did we realize they may not be ambitious enough. They are all happy working on their portfolios, but they don't seem like harbingers of a radical change. Can't blame them really, but there was a sense of disappointment. I will however raise my hopes again with Mr. JP Narayan, especially because he talks not only about the problems, but solutions too and pretty viable ones. Question is, how do we find for him a collective political will for a change?

Ramesh said...

@Deepa - Yeah , I know; there's a lot of wishful thinking. But the circumstances are appropriate now for even utopian dreams to have some chance of fulfillment. Congress is in such a condition that they can do anything desperate. And it requires only one man to get convinced - Rahul Gandhi !

JP Narayan is a very impressive guy. But he is too small for making a nationwide impact. It needed a huge big charismatic leader. It could have been Vajpayee, but power came to him too late in life. Rajiv Gandhi had it and squandered it - he may have still achieved but for his tragic assassination. Rahul Gandhi has the opportunity simply because of his birth. The young crowd like Milind Deora are all sons of politicians and none, save Rahul Gandhi, has the charisma to make it big.

TMM said...

Do you think charisma alone will get this country anywhere. I'm no fan of RG or any one else from opposing camps. But what (apart from the Nehru-Gandhi(nakli one) connection) does RG have. Do we have the promise of leadership/vision in this (not so) young man??
If you look back into history his great grand father was all charisma (with a very large dose of delusion of grandeur) and his soviet style economic planning, cronyism has led this country into the morass it is in today. Do we want yet another 'charismatic' leader. Give me a Vallabhbhai Patel equivalent today (do we have any). Unfortunately the venerable Sardar (the original one and not the mum-moan variety of today)was the best prime minister we never had!

Deepa said...

@Ramesh- Wishful thinking aside, I personally don't think Rahul Gandhi has even the intellectual understanding of his position and we he can do with it. For example, instead of trying to do lame gimmicks like travelling in a rickety train, if he had changed the face of Amethi even, it would have meant something!

I tend to agree with TMM above, I am wary of charismatic leaders, I think a collective will can lead to some real change. A charismatic leader gets a lot of attention too and the person becomes more important than the issues. We've spent far too many years following retrograde policies simply because some people could not accept that Nehru could be wrong.

Ramesh said...

@TMM & Deepa - Totally agree. Vallabhbhai Patel was easily one of the greatest of leaders. And that charisma is usually a route to megalomania . But my point is that a practical economic plan has a chance of implementation only if embraced by a man with charisma to sell it. My endorsement of Rahul Gandhi is only from this one narrow viewpoint - he has thus far displayed no qualities of a great leader and I am sick of the hereditary feudal politics of India. But he is the only possible way forward in the current position of the Congress and so I hold my nose and endorse , if that would mean a robust economic plan can be implemented.

Narasimha Rao was also an unlikely leader, but look at what he achieved.

J said...

I seem to be late to these doubleheader posts... I totally agree with the need for inclusive growth but along with agriculture and manufacturing I thought you might highlight technology and innovation driven growth. Did I miss it? As far as the political side, unfortunately given the task at hand we need someone who meets all of the above - intellectually capable, shrewd politician, and charismatic to carry the crowds along with his plan. Seems from what you write there is no one out there that fits that description. But it seems so pessimistic to throw up my hands so I applaud your effort at articulating a solution. If more citizens do it then something will come of it.

Sandhya Sriram said...

Other than being well qualified and having a Gandhi tag behind his name, i think both RG and Congress are yet to find the right foot prints and get their act right.

of course, is the best available of the lot today, but thats because thats the only way votes can be won in this country which is unfortunately true as well.

Maybe, if he underpins himself with a solid team below, both good economists (there are many even within the government) and good political strategists (now this is a lot that he will have to find - the once upon a time - Cho kind of lot - that have a great skill in influencing political direction).

and he should land key project implementations with possibly reputed people from the corporate sector (Nilekeni types - i pass for a moment that he is still struggling with the absolute scale of the task and His own crippled powers in influencing all the levers)

But i also feel none of this will happen. By creating a leadership vacuum at the centre, congress has undone its biggest strength in the past many decade - iconic leadership vote power and in the process, the states have become very very powerful. it is a herculean task for Congress or any party for that matter to take the whole nation head on and they are but at teh mercy of the mismanaged state politics and this can only make them weak rather than strong.

anyways, nice to atleast wish for the best :-)

Connecter said...

I disagree on Rahul Gandhi as an alternative. He lacks leadership and continued to be a failure state after state. Except for the Gandhi tag, he does not deserve to hold any position. Country certainly lacks a good and strong leadership and 2014 elections is interesting to be watched globaly. What is bothering is the bright and educated lot of politicians not getting their due break at bigger stage.

Ramesh said...

@J - Yes technology as well, but I wanted to keep the number of initiatives small; so left that out. My political argument (never mind the debate on Rahul Gandhi) is that the opportunity is ripe for the Congress to try something different for in the current trajectory, they will surely lose. The thing about politicians is that anything that wins elections is good ; so why not try ?

@Sandhya - You echoed my thoughts. There is a precedent in Italy. After decades of hopeless coalitions they have turned to a technocrat non party government, when faced with a massive crisis. By all accounts, Mario Monti and team are doing quite well.

@Connecter I understand the disagreement with Rahul Gandhi, but that's only a tiny part of my argument. Anybody in Congress could stand up and do this, but it is unlikely that anybody else would be allowed to succeed by the bosses. Hence Rahul Gandhi.

Vishal said...

and that is why perhaps, Pranab da is getting the kick upstairs. Clearing the way forward. The problem then would be how to tackle the great bunch of advisors aroung Madam G and Prince (King) G. Mind you there might be a few confident stupids inside the current govt. who still think RG will make them win 2014 elections even with status quo.

Ramesh said...

@Vishal - I think Pranab da i going upstairs because he wants to - tired after a long long innings.

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