Socialist residuehttps://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/socialist-residue/

Socialist residue

In the drawing rooms of Lahore last week I met old friends who told me that I had become a hate object in the eyes of the ‘liberals’ they knew in India.

In the drawing rooms of Lahore last week I met old friends who told me that I had become a hate object in the eyes of the ‘liberals’ they knew in India. I took this as a compliment since I know that many of these liberals are crypto-communists in disguise and I despise communists. Just as I despise Nehruvian socialism because I believe that it is entirely because of it that India remains mired in poverty,illiteracy and squalour to this day.

Having grown up in those socialist times I was witness to how,in faithful imitation of the Soviet Union,we allowed high officials to live in splendour while ordinary citizens barely eked out an existence. I remember with horror the endless shortages of everything. Sometimes it would be sugar that disappeared,sometimes milk and sometimes bread. As for things like domestic gas and telephones,you could only get a connection if you knew an MP or an official ‘above the rank of joint secretary’.

What made India an even more wretched place than the Soviet Union or China was that our homegrown socialism did not even provide for the building of decent schools,healthcare and basic public services for ordinary citizens. It is my conviction that India would have been way ahead of China if we had not clung to our socialist ways for 20 years longer than the Chinese clung to Marxist economics. So,like an alert watchdog I keep my beady eye open for all signs of socialist residue and write about it as often as I can.

In recent days many things have caught my eye. While crossing the Wagah border and crossing back I noticed that there was less red tape and meaningless form-filling on the Pakistani side than on ours. Why do Indian citizens need to fill arrival and departure forms at all? Why do we need another set of forms for Customs? When are we going to realise that these are useless procedures and a criminal waste of paper? And,speaking of Wagah,may I add that it is about time that we stopped the evening pantomime of belligerent hostility that is now only a tourist attraction. It makes both India and Pakistan look silly and immature.

Advertising

The day after I returned to the homeland I opened my newspapers to see more socialist residue in the form of the Bharat Nirman campaign. More than 80 per cent of Indians are forced to use private health services because public services are so appalling and we are to believe that someone called ASHA is the ‘unsung hero of our health system’. And,that ‘at the national level,there are 8.8 lakh ASHAs,supported by the National Rural Health Mission. There is thus one ASHA for every 1,000 rural inhabitants in almost every part of the country’. What I find even more distasteful than this shameless whitewash of non-existent health services is that you and I are paying for the Sonia-Manmohan government’s election campaign.

To use taxpayers’ money to promote the leader and the leader’s supposed achievements is a practice we copied from the Soviet Union,Maoist China and North Korea. It reached its apogee during the Emergency when Indira Gandhi was projected (Kim Il Sung style) as the ‘great leader’ and her son Sanjay as the little great leader.

Unfortunately,when state governments noticed how public money could be used for political propaganda,they followed slavishly. And so you would have seen last week that your newspapers came enveloped in full page pictures of Jayalalithaa in a dark blue sari along with these words from Selvi J Jayalalithaa,‘I am for the people and of the people.’ In addition,there were two full centre pages in my newspapers that gave me a detailed account of the ‘historical achievements’ of the Tamil Nadu government in the past two years under the ‘dynamic’ leadership of Puratchi Thalaivi.

In more mature democracies this kind of thing would simply not happen. In more mature democracies the elected representatives of the people would not be living in luxurious bungalows in Lutyens Delhi either and if they do in our dear Bharat Mata it is entirely because of the residue of those awful socialist decades. And,while I am in this mood to take on my leftist-liberal critics,may I conclude with the observation that they are the most illiberal people alive. Anyone who dares to disagree with their dogmas and their rigid political opinions is instantly condemned as a renegade and a betrayer of the faith. I have met men of religion who have allowed apostates more leeway and many,many ex-communists who remember the former Soviet Union and Maoist China with more horror than I remember those decades of Nehruvian socialism. So I am quite proud to be seen as a scourge of socialists.

Follow Tavleen Singh on Twitter @tavleens

Download the Indian Express apps for iPhone, iPad or Android