No more petitioners: No more petitioners
The Congress party emulates North Korea when it comes to dissent, so the Finance Minister was brave to say what he did at last week’s launch of a new book by the editor of this newspaper. So astounding was his admission about mistakes made by his government that he was pursued by TV anchors and asked to clarify.
P Chidambaram repeated what he said at Shekhar Gupta’s book launch, which is that he believed that Congress leaders had failed to notice that Indian voters had changed. “India has moved,” he said, “from a petitioner society to an aspirational one. Treating people as petitioners is a mistake… even the poor demand a better life and are no longer resigned to their fate.”
If I were asked for a single reason to describe Narendra Modi’s appeal, I could not find a better one. Modi noticed long ago that even poor, rural people now had middle-class aspirations, and in Gujarat he tried to meet them. A story he has repeated often in this campaign is of how when he first became chief minister, a group of farmers came to him and asked if they could at least have enough electricity in the evenings for them to be able to eat their dinner in peace.
It was this that inspired him to find ways of providing 24-hour supply of domestic electricity in rural Gujarat. Another story he has told often is of how Adivasi farmers came to him to ask for a better road because the bananas they were exporting to Mexico got damaged in transit on bad roads.
The Finance Minister is among a handful of people in the Sonia-Manmohan government who genuinely believes in the urgent need for economic reforms. Sadly, because of Sonia Gandhi taking the North Korean approach to criticism, nobody told her that she was spending too much money on supposedly helping the poor.
Nobody pointed out that even the poorest Indian would find it impossible to lift himself out of poverty with MNREGA’s 100 days of annual employment. Nobody told her that malnutrition in Indian children will not end with her expensive and unwieldy food security law. So it was these acts of noblesse oblige that she and her son made the pivot of their election campaign and there is every indication that the average voter is not interested this time.
Anybody who travelled during this election will tell you that the old ‘aam aadmi’ has virtually vanished except in some small communities like the Musahar (rat catchers) community in Bihar. And even in such desperate poverty the voices I heard asked for jobs and development, not charity. Even they are not ‘petitioners’. Nobody appears to have told continued…