Sunday 26 January 2014

The Nehru era returns, this time as AAP (Sunday Guardian)

everal of those who are members of the year-old Aam Aadmi Party were not born that sorry day in 1964 when Jawaharlal Nehru finally gave up clinging to life. As in the case of Atal Behari Vajpayee in 2003, had Jawaharlal Nehru demitted office in his prime in 1958, his reputation in history may have been a tad better. From that year, he began to lose focus and made a series of mistakes, including the dismissal of the world's first popularly-elected Communist government in Kerala in 1959, and the diplomatic and military disaster that culminated in the PLA's victories in 1962. Believing those around them who wail that they are indispensable and therefore in a sense indestructible, all too many leaders continue in office well beyond the period when their health or their common sense equips them for such a role. History, whether written by historians within the country or outside, has indeed been kind to Nehru, omitting the fact that he continued with the colonial system of law and administration in a context where these constructs impeded rather than encouraged progress. So total was his faith in what the British left behind that even a Girija Shankar Bajpai, who lobbied long and aggressively in Washington against Indian independence, was given the lead role in the determination of foreign policy. About the only "de-colonisation" which took place was the replacement of the Union Jack with the Tricolour, and brown folks inhabiting the stately official residences and offices which formerly were the preserve of white overlords.
Despite strenuous efforts by the British to choke Indian business to a pygmy status, in 1947, private business houses in India were more than the equal of those in Japan or even most countries in Europe. The House of Tata, the House of Birla, as well as several others saw independence as the gateway towards spreading across the globe, thereby giving jobs and prosperity to millions. However, this was not what Nehru had in mind. He chopped and pruned private Indian industry such that by the time he passed away, Japan, South Korea and even Thailand had a business sector that was far more vibrant and diversified than their Indian counterparts. Interestingly, after a few tentative steps at reform beginning in 1992 and continued since then, the Manmohan Singh government has steadily returned the economy and the country towards the Nehruvian period of the state having a smothering degree of control over private industry. The high interest rates, high taxation and high degree of regulation that has been the signature tune of Manmohan Singh and his principal economic sidekick Palaniappan Chidambaram have destroyed manufacturing in India and slowed down the growth of the services industry. Successive — and carefully chosen — governors of the Reserve Bank of India, including the present, have delighted the overseas competitors of Indian companies by the way in which they have boosted interest rates.
Kejriwal and his party seek to revive the 1950s in India, despite the fact that a considerable degree of silt has been deposited in the banks of the Jamna since then.
The manner in which he has re-introduced the Licence Raj has given Manmohan Singh the distinction of being the first Nehruvian in India. However, that sobriquet is in danger of being snatched away from him, for a challenger has come up who has even more contempt for the Indian private sector than he has, and who regards the whip of control preferable to the use of non-coercive reason as being the best way to manage the people of India. This Nehruvian par excellence is Arvind Kejriwal. He and his party seek to revive the 1950s in India, despite the fact that a considerable degree of silt has been deposited in the banks of the Jamna (Yamuna) since then. Were Arvind Kejriwal to achieve his obvious ambition of becoming the Prime Minister of India (rather than a mere Chief Minister), he would choke private industry in India as effectively as Jawaharlal Nehru did.
The police in Delhi do not seem to like Kejriwal. In fact, the tenets he and his associates espouse would make the police even more powerful than they are in a country where colonial-era law and practices is still the norm. The more things change, the more they seem to remain the same.

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