Citizen Kejriwal announced last week that he was not against capitalism but only against ‘crony capitalism’. This was so astounding a statement from a man who used his 15 minutes in office hounding private companies and flinging charges at major industrialists that I resolved to investigate further. This required careful analysis of the speech he made at the CII meeting in Delhi. The more I analysed, the more I heard the sound of music in my ears. Arvind Kejriwal in concise and clear terms espoused causes this column has espoused ever since I discovered more than 20 years ago that India’s biggest political problems were its economic failures. In this space I have stated ad nauseum that I believe India could still be the richest country in the world if we follow the right economic polices.
By ‘right’ I mean right ideologically as well because I think it has been proven that countries that have capitalism and democracy as their pillars do better than those that do not. I also believe that the Indian economy has been destroyed by Nehruvian socialism that invested unlimited power in the hands of officials. So it delighted me to hear Kejriwal declare that business is not the business of government and that the government’s business is only to create an atmosphere conducive for businessmen to do business efficiently.
It delighted me to hear him say that as chief minister of Delhi he visited industrial areas in the city and was appalled by the absence of basic infrastructure like roads and electricity. And my delight knew no bounds when he spoke out vehemently against the licence raj, adding that he totally disapproved of the inspectors that continue to terrorise businessmen big and small. It was an outrage, he said, that the smallest businesses were inspected by as many as 50 inspectors.
As someone who has often said that the worst victims of the inspector raj are India’s poorest citizens, I could hardly believe what I was hearing. No other politician in India has linked the importance of economic reforms to the rights of the poor. And the Sonia-Manmohan government has in its second term in office done the opposite by making economic reforms sound like the enemy of India’s poorest citizens for not being ‘inclusive’ enough. The truth is that nobody is more harassed by inspectors and licences than poor villagers who come to big cities to make a living by starting small businesses on the pavements of Delhi and Mumbai. When they are found not to have licences, their meagre goods are confiscated and trashed by inspectors regularly. The word ‘hafta’ comes from the mean streets of our big cities.
Had this crusader against corruption noticed these things because of his crusade against corruption? Had I totally misunderstood his economic ideas? Had his strident and illogical outbursts against gas pricing been motivated by a sincere belief that Mukesh Ambani owned the government? No sooner did I begin to ask myself these questions than images of Prashant Bhushan, Yogendra Yadav and Medha Patkar blotted them out completely.
Citizen Kejriwal cannot possibly be sincere about his economic ideas if his closest associates are as committed to ‘socialism’ as these people have shown themselves to be. Bhushan is so rabid a Marxist that he spits out the words ‘private corporations’ every time he uses them. Nearly always he charges them with ‘looting’ the wealth of the people. Yadav is more genteel but admitted in an interview recently that he was a socialist and that socialism was the economic creed of the Aam Aadmi Party. As for Ms Patkar, she has spent her entire time in public life opposing development of every kind.
So if Kejriwal is sincere about his belief in capitalism, he is mixing in very odd company. As for his crusade against ‘crony capitalism’, what worries me is that he seems not to have understood where the crux of the problem lies. You do not need a Lokpal to tell you that the only thing that we need to do is reduce the discretionary powers of big political leaders and high officials. It is because they have these powers that they can hand out spectrum, valuable mines and prime real estate to their friends and family. Make this process transparent and most corruption in public transactions would disappear.
The kindest thing I can say about the economic thoughts of Arvind Kejriwal is that he needs to think some more about his ideas. He may discover that the last thing India needs is a super-kotwal in the form of a mighty Lokpal because with him would come thousands more officials who will only add to the problems businessmen already face. He may even discover that India is rated by international agencies as one of the hardest countries in the world for business.
Follow Tavleen Singh on Twitter @ tavleen_singh