Nyay and 'AnNyay' in Indian Politics
The other day Congress leader Rahul Gandhi addressed a rally for its Thodupuzha candidate in State Assembly elections 2021, Mr PJ Joseph leader of Kerala Congress (Joseph) Group. He asked the audience whether a car if it has the best engine, interiors and automobile technology will work. It needs the fuel or petrol to get started. The Kerala economy is now like a car without petrol and Chief Minister is cranking the keys but not able to start it. He likened the petrol in the car to money in the hands of people. If people have money or cash in hand the economy will run. More shirts and other commodities will be produced. Through the Nyay scheme which Congress first mooted in 2019, all families below the poverty line will get Rs 6000 per month for a year that will increase their annual earnings by Rs 72,000. He also talked about the Mahatma National Rural Employment Guarantee Programme (MNREGA) that enabled the country to attain 9% GDP growth in 2009.
Nobel Laureate Abhijit Banerjee in an interaction with Rahul Gandhi a year ago through social media of Congress pointed out that cash should not be restricted to those below the poverty line(BPL) but to bottom 60% of the population. Alas even Nobel prize winning economists also tend to support 'populism' over sustainability!
Assuming only those only in BPL category were to be given cash doles, how will the government fund the expenses of giving over Rs 4000 cr a year? Earlier, political parties used to promise several lakh new jobs if they come to power. May be realising the fact that Covid-19 has left many marginalised families without cash, they are now offering cash in their hands. There are no reliable methods to find out how this will kick start the economy and lead to more demand for goods and services which in turn will add to the coffers of the government in terms of taxes.
The other day when we were going in our scooter in the city, my daughter Diyah noticed so many election hoardings. She asked me who should ideally win the elections? It is a difficult question to answer. But I had to tell her some basic lessons in economics rather than politics that I have learnt. I recalled the writings of Edward De Bono in his book I am Right, You are Wrong. "A good politician knows the game of getting elected and knows the media game: how to get noticed but never to commit gaffes, for a single gaffe can destroy a political career. Being good at playing the game of getting elected is not the same as being in good government." In simple terms, the strategy or the methods to do good governance is radically different from the strategies required to win an election. A political party survives by winning elections not on sustainability issues.
No politician ever gets sued over not providing the promises they made in their election manifestoes or campaigns.
Kochouseph Chittilapilly, an Indian billionaire who became a success through his brand V-Guard, has now joined Twenty20, a CSR initiative led political party that is contesting the state legislative assembly elections of 2021. He says he was amazed by the work done by the Twenty 20 initiative of Anna-Kitex group headed by Sabu Jacob. They have built good roads, quality houses for the poor and ensured best governance practices in the panchayat offices of Kizhakkambalam. The panchayat members are paid an honorariam of Rs 15,000 from Kitex apart from government salary. Whether they become a success at the state level or national level remains to be seen.
Kochouseph pointed out in an interview that of out of every one rupee spent on building a road or bridge, only 30 paise is actually spent on it. In Kizhakkambalam, the entire rupee goes into building of the road. PV Narasimha Rao, the former Prime Minister of India once said bribe is the lubricant for the governmental machinery to move in India! But even as everyone shouts at the top of their voice about corruption, nobody tries to find out why corruption happens in the first place or try to find methods to solve it. If more money came in to the hands of politicians through legal means, will they try other ways to make money? Kizhakkambalam is an example. When each panchayat member gets Rs 15,000 in addition to what he is getting as government salary, why should he seek bribes or indulge in corruption?
Nyay and AnNay
Coming back to the Nyay initiative of Congress to provide Rs 6000 per BPL family. There is an oft quoted story about giving a fish to eat to a hungry person. It will satisfy his hunger until the next meal time. Give him a fishing rod and teach him to fish, he will never go hungry throughout his life. Our politicians most often promise fish to the hungry and may not even deliver it when it was much easier to give them fishing rods. For a country like India which has already become the 5th largest nation in terms of Gross Domestic Product (GDP), the politicians could as well think of giving fishing rods rather than fishes to the poor. What are those fish roads- good quality education, developing skillsets, employment opportunities, ease of doing business, rationalising taxes and developing infrastructure. This is what China, South Korea or Taiwan has done. Since this will not win elections, Rahul Gandhi or Pinarayi Vijayan or Narendra Modi will play the election game. Elections become one more good opportunity for celebration just like the thousands of festivals that dot our calendars.
One active member of CPM once told me what ever be the good or bad of politics, democracy is the only better option in front of us. He may be right. But democracy may also be an excellent way of ensuring that nothing much gets done, as Edward De Bono noted.