India forgets to remember the 30th year of reforms
Typically, the liberalizer pleads with leftists to seek their approval, or at least approval, of reforms.
The dispensation from power is in no mood to remember and praise the architects of the reforms – former Prime Ministers PV Narasimha Rao and Manmohan Singh (who held the finance portfolio in 1991). Even Congress, headed by the duo, seems to view liberalization as a sin rather than an achievement. In any case, party chairwoman Sonia Gandhi, to say the least, never liked Rao, so recollection from the big old party is out of the question.
Let us retrace the path of 30 years of liberalization. It can be roughly divided into two unequal periods: onset and bloom (1991-2004); and half-hearted reversals and reforms (2004-21). The first 13 years, which saw four governments, were characterized not only by the beginning, but also by the consolidation of bold reforms. Almost all political parties and coalitions – including the Indian Communist Party as a member of the United Front (1996-98) – benefited from power during this period and none of them defeated liberalization in any way. major at any time. Unsurprisingly, at the end of the first period, “reforms are irreversible” became conventional wisdom.
But 2004 saw the revival of socialism and a strong reaction to reforms in Lutyens’ Delhi. Red and Pink leaders and activists have tried to block economic reforms, create mechanisms to strangle businesses, and find ways to increase public spending (read waste). Due to the 13 years of reforms, however, the economy had acquired a certain resilience, which not only withstood the depredations of the Communists (who supported the UPA regime from outside in 2004-08) and the Council. National Consultative (NAC), but increased at a steady rate during the first four years. It is worth mentioning that the NAC, led by UPA President Sonia Gandhi, included an assortment of professional revolutionaries, green terrorists, bleeding hearts and pure Luddits. What made them really dangerous was the fact that they were Sonia Gandhi’s handpicked advisers in shaping public policy; and she was the de facto ruler of India.
Most of the time during UPA I, communists and NAC fanatics planted landmines in the economy. Over the years, a lot has stumbled upon landmines. The proposed food safety legislation is one such landmine; NREGA is another monstrosity, making serfs free citizens, who perpetually look askance at the gigantic landlord, the state.
Narendra Modi’s regime had to restart and accelerate liberalization. Some efforts have also been made, such as the privatization of public sector enterprises and banks, but they have not yet materialized; the nation has yet to see a big bang reform.
Perhaps this is because of the power of the Lutyens state – the entrenched politicians and decision-makers who are socialists by instinct, education and training. On the contrary, they have made the life of the businessman miserable in recent years by making strict compliance, tighter regulation, and government agencies much more empowered. Perhaps toxic public discourse, still conducted in a left-wing idiom, is hampering liberalization. Or it is the influence of the Swadeshi fanatics. The result, however, is undeniable: a struggling economy, gasping for air for reform.
It is curious that 30 years after the start of liberalization and the transformation and improvement of the basic structure of the economy significantly, economic reforms have neither a political constituency nor a large committed part of the makers of ‘opinion. Liberalization has been accepted as a nation-building instrument, rather than an economic philosophy attached to the idea of freedom.
Worse yet, generally the liberalizer obsequiously begs leftists to seek their approval, or at least approval, of the reforms. His plea is: listen, we don’t believe in your ideology, but we concede that his goals are laudable; and, by the way, these are also our goals. Since the economic philosophy we believe in actually helps achieve your goals such as poverty eradication, please appreciate the effectiveness of the market economy. It is the sum and substance of their message to their “left friends”. The latter, however, disdainfully reject such pleas. The liberalizer proposes, the intellectual of the left disposes.
Politicians, for all their shortcomings, should not be fully blamed for not embracing liberalization wholeheartedly. Because they do not operate in a socio-cultural vacuum; they are influenced by the climate of opinion which they can hardly afford to ignore. Unless there is substantial and virtuous climate change, there is little incentive among politicians for faster, bolder and deeper economic reforms in the country.
The author is a freelance journalist