Fifth column: An end to socialist elitism?

Modi does not see poverty as romantic or alluring. Having lived in poverty, he knows the indignities it imposes if you are not a tourist.

Written by Tavleen Singh | Published:June 15, 2014 12:32 am
One example of elitism concealed in a socialist tradition will suffice to explain what I mean, even though there are a hundred. One example of elitism concealed in a socialist tradition will suffice to explain what I mean, even though there are a hundred.

When the Prime Minister made his first speech in the Lok Sabha last week, it heralded the end of an era even more definitely than when he won the election. Political pundits of Leftist persuasion have lamented the end of Nehruvian socialism ever since the coincidence of Narendra Modi being sworn in as prime minister on the eve of Jawaharlal Nehru’s death anniversary. What they never mention, because of undying Leftist fealty to the Congress since Nehruvian times, is how elitist this ‘socialism’ has always been.

One example of elitism concealed in a socialist tradition will suffice to explain what I mean, even though there are a hundred. While the vast majority of India’s citizens live in unsanitary, makeshift housing in squalid towns and villages, their elected representatives live in accommodation that only billionaires can afford in Lutyens Delhi. From this salubrious vantage point, the poverty in which their constituents live seems so romantic to our political leaders that Rahul Gandhi took distinguished foreign visitors on his poverty tours. He even ordered his partymen to make poverty tourism a part of their routine. These orders were rescinded when MPs started taking their cooks, goose down pillows and air-conditioned tents along on these field trips.

Modi does not see poverty as romantic or alluring. Having lived in poverty, he knows the indignities it imposes if you are not a tourist. In his first speech in Parliament, he said eradicating poverty was a priority. He spoke of education as being the most vital tool to eradicate poverty. He went on to speak of the need to provide urban public services in rural India so that all Indians could aspire to a life of dignity. His words were music to my ears. Ever since Sonia Gandhi imposed her ‘Lady Bountiful’ economics on the last government, this column has objected stridently.

Human beings, no matter how poor, want a life of dignity and this is something the Prime Minister understands well. From this comes his commitment to an India that has clean, sanitary towns and villages in which every Indian has a pucca home with running water and electricity. It seems a simple enough dream, but it was not one that Sonia and her NGO advisors could see, because in their romanticised vision of poverty, all that needs to be done for the poor is to throw crumbs their way. Nobody noticed that no matter how much cheap food grain and rights to jobs and education they flung at the poor, it did not make up for the absence of real jobs and real schools. The irony is that they called these policies ‘inclusive’ when they were not just elitist, but disdainful.

Meanwhile, Sonia’s NGO advisors and her NGO environment minister closed down projects that could have created real jobs in some of India’s poorest states. No government has been more well-disposed to the NGO sector than the one just gone and the result is that there is now an NGO for every 600 Indians. Most of these NGOs are frauds, so this columnist was delighted to read the Intelligence Bureau report that exposes their fraudulence. But NGOs were useful to the last government because they provided a useful veil for the elitism and corruption that lay beneath.

Scan through the names of the recently defeated younger Congress MPs and you will see that they are nearly all heirs. If that is not corruption already, then ask yourself why so many politicians want their children to inherit their constituencies? Is it not because politics has become a profitable family business? Unfortunately, this venal commerce has been embraced by nearly every political party, including the BJP. One reason why the advent of Modi was opposed by senior BJP leaders was because they saw that he might put an end to the ‘socialist’ elitism that they have become so accustomed to.

So will everything change now that Modi is Prime Minister? It will not be easy to end a political culture that has become engrained deeply in political parties across the country. But a good beginning is to start dreaming a new dream for India and this thankfully has already happened. The Prime Minister reminded MPs that they were guardians of the hopes of more than a billion people and not in Parliament just to enjoy the fruits of power. Next time he draws their attention to this, he should add that people are no longer as patient as they once were. They are impatient, angry and desperate for the development and change that he promised during the campaign. The veils of ‘socialism’ that concealed the deeply elitist and corrupt nature of our political culture have now fallen away, so it is very, very important that those who sit in the Lok Sabha remember who voted for them and why.

Follow Tavleen Singh on Twitter @ tavleen_singh

For all the latest Opinion News, download Indian Express App

  1. I
    Jun 15, 2014 at 8:15 pm
    Does not sound apolitical
  2. I
    Jun 15, 2014 at 8:19 pm
    Nehru's superficial understanding of India (like a typical westerner), his exploitation of hi to ascend to power and then dump him, put a billion people at risk.The point about political heirs, including the BJP is an excellent observation, including the oldies in BJP who feared Modi. For the first time in post independence India I have hope.
  3. K
    Jun 19, 2014 at 9:58 pm
    Its called corny socialism. But then all socialism is corny, benefits the elites than the meritorious and hard working.
  4. A
    Jun 15, 2014 at 7:59 am
    Fifth colum is music to my ears at the very least! Ms Singh has travelled around the country, seen the page of time and known people. She knows and she knows things very well!
  5. K
    Jun 15, 2014 at 10:56 am
    Ms Singh, brilliant piece of writing, as always. In fact, the elitist culture has destro India. In reality all political parties, including the communists, though preach socialism in public practice elitism in reality. Hope Mr Modi will bring about much needed changes in the thinking. People need only infrastructure to develop and not doles which the Sonia led NDA has been practicing. Modi began on the right note. Hope this will be sustained despite the strong under current within BJP to bring back the elitist culture.
  6. N
    Natarajan Arunachalam
    Sep 15, 2014 at 9:25 am
    Hema, If you wait then you will miss the train. Act. Educate yourself, your family to the global standards. Poverty is automatically eradicated and high standards of life is within your reach. Dont wait for the Govt..A.Natarajan.
  7. A
    Ashish Sharma
    Jun 15, 2014 at 5:21 am
    Civil amenities in rural India need to be installed as first priority towards clean and hygienic potion. SG and RG could never eradicate poverty, as their politics fed on poor people being kept poor, through subsidies, (unimaginative) Right acts, and MGNREGA (designed to leak as a shower). The new government, while alleviating the educational standards of our government run schools, must also create jobs for the youth so educated.
  8. S
    Jun 15, 2014 at 12:20 pm
    Agree with this article 100%. Failed socialist and communist policies have hurt the poor and pushed more Indians into poverty. It also hurts others (like me) when so many fellow Indians are in poverty. It hurts my self image. And I know this affects how others view India. In addition, it makes India a weak nation that is constantly being attacked, sometimes brazenly.
  9. Load More Comments