The Indian Express
The Sunday Express
New Delhi, Sunday, September 01, 2013
Let’s talk about Sonia
By Tavleen Singh :
Such an ominous sense of bad times and foreboding hangs over political Delhi today that it is hard to remember that Sonia Gandhi took power in a happy, hopeful time 10 years ago. When she first chose Manmohan Singh to govern India on her behalf, the economy was booming, foreign investors were flocking to our shores and young Indians were coming home from studies abroad instead of staying on. Remember? Remember how economic analysts predicted that by 2050, at the latest, India would enter the ranks of middle-income countries and would become able to offer all her citizens a release from the unrelenting horror of poverty?
This dream of prosperity is what Sonia has killed in the decade that she has been India's de facto prime minister. She has killed it by changing our economic direction and taking us back to the times when Indira Gandhi sold us a more diminished dream—'Garibi hatao'. With the passage of the food security and land Bills in the Lok Sabha last week, Sonia has made it clear that this is all she wants for India. Not prosperity but just the removal of poverty. She seems uninterested in India becoming a rich and prosperous country with fine, modern cities and a growing middle class. Could it be because such things threaten dynastic democracy?
It is easier to persuade Indians mired in poverty and marginal farming that dynastic democracy is in their best interests because like in feudal times, they will be looked after. They will be given cheap food grain and they will be given the right not to sell their land so that they can continue being subsistence farmers forever and ever. Of course they will have to do without roads, electricity, clean water, modern health care and sanitation, but so what? They can go to the ration shop and get their cheap food grain. And they can go to court and demand that their children be allowed to attend Delhi's Sanskriti School, currently filled with the children of politicians and bureaucrats, because they have the right to education.
Sonia's 'rights-based governance' and her vaunted 'concern for the poor' has brought the Indian economy to its knees. And there is no chance of it reviving because who is going to invest in a country in which the new land law makes buying land almost impossible? Under the new law you would need the consent of 80 per cent of the local population to acquire land for a road or an airport and then you would need to spend years 'rehabilitating' the affected families. Sonia's acolytes went public after the land Bill was passed to declare that the law would make up for 'centuries of injustice done to Indian farmers'. Incidentally, when farmers discover that they cannot sell irrigated land as easily as before, the proverbial you-know-what could really hit the ceiling. But by then there will be a new government in Delhi.
After the damage done by this one, we must hope that it will be a government with a happier economic vision. But since our leading opposition party has supported two of the most retrogressive laws ever made, the BJP does not deserve this chance. Narendra Modi is the only political leader, since Jawaharlal Nehru, who has articulated an economic vision that is new and definitely not socialist but how can he implement it with the Congress party's B team as his A team? He needs to ask himself this question.
There were ways to oppose both the very flawed new laws that Sonia and Rahul have taken proud credit for. Why did the BJP not try and find them? Why did they not point out that if we spent the Rs 125,000 crore we will be spending by next year on food security on sanitation, better school meals and rural health care, we would end malnutrition and create desperately needed public services? Why did they not oppose the land Bill on the grounds that it would make it impossible to build the modern infrastructure without which India cannot move forward? These are questions that will be asked over and over again in the years to come. Meanwhile, we must reconcile ourselves to the sad reality that Sonia Gandhi's socialism has ensured that India becomes the sick man of South Asia.
This is a terrifying thought in the week that we caught Yasin Bhatkal, allegedly responsible for nearly every jihadi terrorist act in the past decade. What does jihadi terrorism have to do with our economic collapse? Everything. In the 21st century, a country's strength is measured as much by its economic might as it is by its military prowess. So an economically weak India is easy prey. Is it any wonder that the pall of gloom that hangs over India gets darker every day?
Follow Tavleen Singh on Twitter @ tavleen_singh