The bloodbath at the bourses on Black Friday, the day after the 67th Independence Day of the nation, that saw the Sensex plunge by 769 points, was not the first occurrence of its kind in the last nine years of the UPA regime. If my memory serves me right, the selection of Manmohan Singh as the leader of the UPA in 2004 was also greeted by a similar reaction by the stock markets. Congress’s return to power at the centre was given an instant thumbs-down by the people with the Sensex plunging by more than 700 points in one trading session, forcing the regulator to suspend trading a number of times on that day. If the stock market later regained some of the fat, it is not because people developed any great confidence in the government and its Finance Minister, whose budget exercise of 2005, with its loony fringe benefit tax, was perhaps the most inane budget of independent India, but because of the change in perceptions of the people of India.
The general election of 2004 brought home a new realization. There are now three Indias. The India of the professional politician and the crony capitalist is a country that has no connection with the India of its ordinary citizens. The professional politician of any political party and the crony capitalist is living in a make-believe world of his own where there is no poverty, no hunger, no shortage of electricity, a world of plenty for himself and his adherents. If one were to search for a symbol to denote this First India, one could do no worse than look at Antilla, Mukesh Ambani’s 27-floor personal home in South Mumbai, estimated to have been built at a cost of one billion Dollars. It is only in such a dreamlike scenario that the First Indians can live like the princes of the erstwhile feudal India.
The Second India consists of the young urban middle class whose spending power suddenly spurted due to a rise in the employment prospects of young graduates in the IT sweatshops, thereby leaving a surplus in the hands of families that till then were struggling to make two ends meet. The market dynamics released by this IT revolution created new demand for goods and services that had a multiplier effect on the economic growth of the country. Demand for infrastructure sent land prices vertically north resulting in the immediate enrichment of people living in close proximity of the cities and towns. This money further fuelled the demand for more goods and services creating a spiral that attracted capital from all over the world, greedily looking for windfall profits from the India story. The “good times” appeared to be here forever, as more and more luxury products manufacturers made a beeline for India to set up their shops. In this race for instant gratification there was no time for any of these two Indias to think of The Third India.
Left out of the India growth story is the vast majority of Mahatma Gandhi’s “naked, hungry mass” of the rural poor, the adivasi Tribal, and the voiceless resident of the sprawling urban slums. This is The Third India, whose disenfranchised citizen, more often than not, finds that at election times his vote has already been cast. Even when he is permitted to exercise his franchise he discovers that the person he votes for turns out to be completely different from the person he promises to be. Under their various party labels all politicians are one, combining and splitting for their personal advantage and not for the sake of the people. In the past he has experimented with almost all the political parties, only to discover that not even one of them is loyal to him.
His vote is extracted from him with promises of Ram Rajya, Garibi Hatao, secularism, and with such “welfare” schemes as MNREGA and now with the National Food Security Bill.
Knowing that it is his vote that makes and breaks political fortunes, the third Indian’s frustration has led him to such rebellions as the Maoist insurrection in the so-called Red corridor, only to find that his rebellion is termed more dangerous than the external threat from the enemies of India. The Times of India reports that Mumbai’s Commissioner of Police would like the government to crush this rebellion by “imposing curfew, slapping collective fine and taking to task sarpanch and elders in villages found to be giving food and shelter to Maoists.” Calling them “snakes” he would like them “to be searched, driven out or neutralized by putting collective responsibility on villagers as even ‘passive neutrality’ of locals is advantageous to the Maoists.” He admits that the building of roads, bridges and other infrastructure has led to no improvement in the quality of life of the locals. Yet, he does not see that as the reason for their ‘passive neutrality.’ Such, unfortunately, is the response of the First India to the problems that haunt the entire country. The open rejection of the writ of the Indian State by the separatists in Kashmir is being handled with kid gloves while the Maoists are crushed with all the firepower that the state can command.
The number of Indians who comprise this Third India is an estimated 67% of the population. This is a figure given by the government while pushing its ill-advised Food Security Bill. This translates in absolute numbers to about 83 crores. Sixty-seven years ago, when India achieved independence, the total population of the country was 35 crores. Today, the Third India alone consists of 2 ½ times the entire population of the nation at the time of independence. What can be a greater indictment of the policies and governance of the Congress, a party that has ruled for 60 of the 67 years? There is failure on every front. Nehruvian socialism followed by Indira Gandhi’s dictatorial style of governance, has damaged every institution, but especially the bureaucracy, which was once considered the steel frame of the administration. Indira Gandhi purged the party of all independent minds, and short of sending them into Stalinesque Gulags, she pushed them into political wilderness from where they could never return on their terms. After Indira the party apparatchiks seriously believed that all they had to do to win elections was to put a Nehru-Gandhi face in front. The Congress has progressed from socialism through totalitarianism (during the Emergency) to crony capitalism and is fast sliding into token populism. Today it resembles a private family enterprise whose ultimate objective is “profit” for the shareholders. Its adherents have only one motive in mind. That motive is personal pecuniary gain.
Once again the country is getting ready for another general election due in April 2014. The Congress, having failed on every account, is desperately looking for a scheme with which it can beguile the Third India and extract its vote. It has managed to bring a Nobel Prize winning economist to support its Food Security Bill, and this Bharat Ratna has been so enchanted by Sonia Gandhi that he has started to dabble in politics by publicly rejecting a frontline opposition candidate who is currently topping all the opinion poll charts.
The Congress party, in its latest incarnation, is looking more like a langar, promising free food to the unfortunates who happen to constitute the Third India. But the langars run by the Gurudwaras are epitomes of selfless service, providing food to all without distinction, and managed purely by volunteers who are driven by compassion and altruism. The Congress kitchen, (langar is too holy a word for it) on the contrary, epitomizes selfishness and bad management of resources. Along with this is the continuous harping on secularism, a word that has been given a completely new meaning by the Congress and its allies in the UPA. It is a word that is used to frighten the minorities into a siege and ghetto mentality, scaring them into voting en bloc. Religious and tribal leaders are openly courted and wooed to peddle their influence among their followers and herd them together like cattle at election time.
While the First and Second India are too absorbed in self-gratification and would like to maintain the status quo, it is the Third India that will pay the bill for the economic disaster forecast in that bloodbath on Friday, the 16th of August. The foreign investors who are pulling out of India are not going to wait till the next elections in the hope that a new government that means business will come to power. Money has a habit of disappearing at the first sign of trouble and in today’s wired world billions can be transferred out with the press of a button. These investors are not going to come back soon, even if a clean, honest government gets elected. India has experienced such events in the past. V. P. Singh rode on a wave promising clean, efficient government, but was soon vandalized by Mandal. Vajpayee’s five years of NDA rule had given India much to be hopeful about despite continuous conflict with Pakistan that saw a terrorist attack on the Parliament, the hijacking of an Indian airplane, and the war in Kargil. The rather uncharacteristic surrender at Qandahar, and the failure in the dialogue with Musharraf at Agra did not dent the enthusiasm and the economy continued to outperform. But the elections of 2004 saw the Second India abstain from its responsibility as it was too busy with its own gratification, while the third India got herded into a post-Godhra siege mentality and voted the NDA out. The stock markets were quick to recognize the folly of the electorate and responded unequivocally. UPA 1 rode on the surpluses left by the NDA and managed to present a credible balance sheet in 2009 when it won an even larger mandate. What the UPA has done with this mandate does not require any recounting here. The cupboards are now completely bare; the Current Account Deficit has reached unprecedented levels; and the rupee is on a slalom having sped past the Finance Minister’s age, and threatening soon to overtake the Prime Minister.
By the time a new government (and I sincerely hope that it is not a Congress government) takes charge in 2014, the damage done in the past ten years would have reached levels that would take ages to undo. People’s impatience for quick results will put extra pressure on the new administration and its performance will be scrutinized microscopically. The vicious circle is likely to repeat itself and another UPA could be back sooner than we realize. To guard against this, the Second India has to look for something more than instant gratification and undertake the responsibility of exercising its right to vote. Instead of whiling away time in air-conditioned malls or before the idiot box, it has to stand in the dust and heat on Election Day and cast its vote. The third India has dutifully been discharging its responsibility even though its vote may have been manipulated. But, when officials like Satyapal Singh, the Police Commissioner of Mumbai, advocate how to handle this third India, their utterances raise the hope that this time they will not be able to manipulate the vote of these citizens.