Fifth column: A defeated agendahttps://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/fifth-column-a-defeated-agenda/

Fifth column: A defeated agenda

PM Modi needs to remember that if it becomes easier to do business in India it will help jobless, self-employed, very poor people much more than rich businessmen like Ambani and Adani.

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The Congress party has decades of experience in political manipulation and so they have manipulated the Prime Minister Narendra Modi into following their agenda.

Is the Prime Minister in danger of being misguided by a petulant, dethroned prince? I ask the question because of something very worrying that he said in his interview to the Press Trust of India. Asked what he would say to the opposition charge that he was “pro-corporate” and the charge from big business that nothing had changed to make India more business friendly, this is what the Prime Minister said: “If opponents are accusing us of being pro-corporate, but the corporates are saying we are not doing enough for them, then I take it that our decisions and initiatives are pro-people and in the long-term interests of the nation.”

Bad answer Prime Minister, very, very bad answer. It is ‘pro-people’ to strengthen the hands of Indian corporations because they create wealth and jobs. They have been demonised by Nehruvian socialists because Jawaharlal Nehru hated the word profit and believed that it was the State that had the sole right to create wealth and jobs. So was created a punitive licence raj and officials were given the task of creating wealth and jobs through public sector companies that mostly served to drain India’s resources. It is only when they proved incapable of creating wealth and jobs and instead created a vast infrastructure of corruption and nepotism that a Congress PM was forced to end the licence raj. He ended up demonised by his party.

In the past few years every effort was made to bring back the licence raj in different ways, and so we went back to cronyism and corruption. This is what India’s voters voted against. During the election campaign, Rahul Gandhi and Arvind Kejriwal made speech after speech accusing Narendra Modi of working for ‘Ambani-Adani’ and they ended up being totally rejected by the electorate. The man who was finance minister in Sonia Gandhi’s government and whose column sits next to mine on this page himself admitted that an “aspirational” new generation of Indian voters had come into being and they wanted jobs and cars and homes. They were no longer satisfied with the handouts that became the leitmotif of Rahul’s mummy’s economic policies.

Her former economic advisors routinely write articles (including in this newspaper) whining about how the “rights-based” economic policies they created are being dismantled. The truth is that they have not been dismantled fast enough. If the hundreds of thousands of crores wasted on MNREGA had been spent on rural roads, hospitals, schools and other assets, India would today have looked like a halfway developed country. Instead we have poured money into giving people a hundred days of work a year that will serve to ‘alleviate’ poverty but not end it. Another ‘right’ was that to education, so instead of the government fulfilling its fundamental duty to give India’s children a decent education, India’s children were given a ‘right’ they were mostly too poor to exercise. These were stupid ideas made by economically illiterate do-gooders employed by an extra-constitutional prime minister.

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The acknowledgment of this was the best answer the Prime Minister gave. Asked what he had to say about Sonia Gandhi’s charge that his government was showing “obstinate arrogance”, he said, “Perhaps she is referring to the fact that earlier extra-constitutional authorities were the ones really wielding power, whereas now power is wielded only by constitutional means.” Soniaji’s clever little “inner voice” allowed her to rule India with a great deal of obstinate arrogance for a decade and allowed her to do this without any accountability. Poor old Dr Manmohan Singh was blamed for everything bad that happened while the Gandhi family took full credit for what they thought were the sort of schemes that would make Rahul prime minister.

The Congress party has decades of experience in political manipulation and so they have manipulated the Prime Minister into following their agenda. To speak of policies that are ‘pro-people’ is just stupidity. If our labyrinthine systems of governance become simpler and less corrupt, rich and poor Indians benefit, and if it becomes easier to do business, nobody benefits more than India’s poorest business people: street hawkers.

From my street people friends in Mumbai I have learned that since the BJP government took power, the police violate their right to livelihood more than ever. They have no choice but to earn a living through selling flowers, corn and other such things on Marine Drive and every time the police catch them doing this, they are arrested, beaten up and their goods are confiscated and destroyed. Now this is something that the Prime Minister needs to worry about instead of worrying about whether his policies are ‘pro-corporate’ or not. He needs to remember that if it becomes easier to do business in India it will help jobless, self-employed, very poor people much more than rich businessmen like Ambani and Adani.

Follow Tavleen Singh on Twitter @tavleen_singh