Home » Posts tagged 'Congress'
Tag Archives: Congress
Dear Dr. Shashi Tharoor,
I first got interested in diplomacy and the United Nations as a teenager, around the same time you emerged as a strong contender for the post of UN Secretary-General. Regardless of that result, I was fascinated by your career as the most successful Indian in the field. My fascination soon turned into fandom as I was inspired by watching your interviews and speeches. I memorised your TEDtalk, I aspired for the Tufts MALD program, I rattled off your remarkable achievements in casual conversations ; so much so, that my friends started referring to me whenever they heard or read your name. You were my idol.
And then you decided to enter Indian politics. That decision gave millions of people, like me, hope that our rotting political system can change. You were our ideal MP – highly educated global thinker, eloquent speaker and a seasoned politician; a combination of competency, experience and integrity rarely seen before in Indian politics. Regardless of which party’s ticket you ran with, people would have voted for you in 2009 – as evidenced by your thumping margin of victory despite being an outsider to Thiruvananthapuram politics.
But 2014 is a whole new ballgame.
The mood of the country has changed, hopefully irrevocably. Over the last few years, the UPA and most state governments, across party lines, have engaged in open and blatant abuse of power. Corruption, nepotism, misgovernance and votebank politics have become alarmingly routine. But, more importantly, the emergence of a strong media determined to showcase stunning exposés and the mass awakening against corruption, led by Anna Hazare, has led to dizzying levels of political awareness in India. People want change. We will oppose identity politics, we will reject dynastic politics, and most of all, we will punish brazen corruption. You, of all Parliamentarians, should recognise this trend and join us in eliminating these archaic and immoral practices.
But, these days, the more I listen to your interviews, hear your speeches and read your tweets, the more it seems you have lost your once fiercely independent voice. Before you joined Indian politics, you have openly criticised the Congress Party, its “true dynastic tradition”1 and its corrupt core. In your book, From Midnight to Millennium, while recollecting Rajiv Gandhi’s term you wrote that after a promising campaign, “the rot set in…Compromise followed sellout as New Delhi returned to business as usual”  as this government too was charged with massive corruption. Do you honestly believe that Sonia Gandhi, the woman you are so loyal to now, and the other Congress stalwarts who continue to rule today, were not involved in what you yourself call, the “sellout”? Yet, just last month, despite the deluge of corruption scandals over the last few years, you unambiguously defended the UPA’s term harping on outdated phrases and a spasm of extravagant statistic-listing in The Indian Express . You call India a “thriving, entrepreneurial and globalised economy”, when inflation, investment levels, balance of payments, the Rupee’s value and other key economic indicators have all worsened exponentially. You declare that the UPA is responsible for substantial employment generation, despite The Economic and Political Weekly and even a government study terming these numbers grossly exaggerated  . You even go so far as to state that “the UPA governance has changed the face of our society”. Yes, Dr. Tharoor, it has. And the face of our society is mutilated beyond recognition.
Please realise that every day you continue to endorse and defend the Congress Party, you lose your own moral high ground and become part of the herd of mindless politicians this country has unfortunately elected. It is, quite frankly, insulting to see educated ministers not having the courage and honesty to admit obvious lapses in governance and then absolve the UPA government of all corruption cases without trial. It is, quite frankly, embarrassing to see experienced parliamentarians, including yourself, acting like court sycophants, falling over each other to praise ‘Rahul baba’, a man with no notable experience or achievement . Let the other obsequious partymen sacrifice their self-respect and dignity at the altar of the Nehru-Gandhi family. You, Sir, deserve more. You have accomplishments of your own throughout your glittering career as a diplomat. You deserve respect from common people like me. And we need educated, independent and sensible voices in Parliament. Please do not sacrifice our hopes of change by succumbing to the Congress disease of sycophancy and dynastic politics.
I do not ask you to jump into the Modi camp either. It doesn’t need extensive research to know that you are ideologically against what the BJP stands for. I am no fan of the BJP; I believe the BJP has been a grossly irresponsible opposition party guilty of insulting Parliament through regular disruptions and corruption at the state-level on countless occasions. As a Bangalorean, I was thrilled when the BJP lost the Karnataka elections last year. Because it proved to me, as it did to you, that Indian voters were ready to punish, in your own words, “flagrant financial malfeasance…charges of nepotism and crony capitalism, real-estate and mining scandals, policy paralysis” . But in your Project Syndicate article, you took that premise and somehow managed to come to the conclusion that it bodes well for the Congress. You are far too experienced a politician for me to expect that you do not recognise the massive failures of the UPA government, or the current political climate against the UPA. The Congress-led central government is guilty of everything the BJP-led Karnataka government was, but on a larger, more devastating scale.
I do not discount your significant contributions as Member of Parliament, Foreign Minister and Human Resource Minister. But as a well-wisher and a patriot, this is my plea: please, leave the Congress Party.
Contest as an independent and voice your independent opinion in parliament. Continue all the good work you have been doing in your constituency . I have heard first-hand that Thiruvananthapuram has changed for the better since 2009 because of your active and sensible leadership. Continue raising India’s international profile using your invaluable experience as a former UN diplomat. Your proactivity and sensitivity as Foreign Minister was instrumental in nurturing important diplomatic relationships with states across the world as evidenced by numerous testimonies . Continue contributing to our policymaking in Parliamentary committees. Your initiatives have found support across party lines primarily because your reasoning is backed by a career of political and developmental expertise. And finally, continue giving us hope that capable and honest individuals can exist in Parliament. In fact, beyond setting an example, you could lead the charge and promote the idea to other qualified, educated, and most importantly, honest people across the country.
I have faith, Sir. I have faith in you and in our country. Millions of my peers do to. Please do not disappoint us.
A well-wisher, desperate for change in India.
UPA Government & The Indian Welfare Economy
“Congress Ka Haath: Na Tere Saath Na Mere Saath”
The United Progressive Alliance govt. (“UPA”) for all its internal security failures, multi-billion dollar scams and absolute chaotic-handling of the economy; continues to be portrayed as the grand old party serving best interests of 300 million poverty stricken people of India. On the face of it, UPA govt. does have policies that should benefit the poor in the form of loan waivers, free electricity, and fertilizer subsidies for farmers; subsidized food schemes and guaranteed rural employment schemes to rural poor, and mid-day meals to school children; to name a few. But recent economic data and research conducted on Congress’ fiscal ‘benevolence’ has made people turn the Congress election tripe into a legitimate question: “Congress Ka Haath, Aam Aadmi Ke Saath?”
First, let us take a look at the fuel subsidies program over eight years from 2004-2012 under the UPA. Fuel subsidies comprise a major portion of the UPA government’s subsidy program. Specifically, petroleum subsidy increased to 1.9% of GDP in 2013 compared to 0.6% in 2004-05 when the first UPA govt. came to power. An IMF study on ‘The Fiscal and Welfare Impacts of Reforming Fuel Subsidies’ in India , points out that most of the benefit received from price subsidies on petroleum products goes to higher income groups, who consume greater amount of fuel products. Now imagine if the same $19 Billion of budgetary expenditures were used to improve public transport, city infrastructure, local trains, buses, etc; you would significantly increase the opportunity cost for the higher income groups of using private transportation. In effect reducing demand for diesel and petrol, fuels that comprise more than 70% of this $19 billion fuel subsidy or ~$12 billion.
With the Rupee’s steep depreciation recently, it is important to notice its fiscal impact on fuel subsidies. A fall of Re.1 against the USD has a fiscal impact of almost $2 billion on the deficit. So how beneficial is the fuel subsidy to the Indian in the lower income deciles?
The math is simple: the cost of fully compensating the poorest 40% of households in India is less than 0.2% of GDP (for fuel consumption). The Aam Aadmi living in the lowest income deciles, allocates only around 1.6% of their total monthly expenditures on fuel consumption. In contrast, higher income groups allocate almost 6% of their total expenditures on fuel consumption. The fuel subsidy costs the exchequer almost 2% of the GDP. After compensating the poor for kerosene/LPG related subsidies, the government spends $11.9 Billion on petrol/diesel subsidies. Essentially, the UPA govt. is spending 1.2% of India’s trillion dollar GDP on financing/subsidizing the automobile industry – “Congress Ka Haath Aam Aadmni Ke Saath?”
Now let’s look at the UPA government’s flagship welfare program- the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee (MNREGA) scheme. The scheme, controversial amongst economists, has seriously skewed the rural labor market, having artificially increased rural wages (to be discussed later). More importantly though, the scheme has tapered off and is plagued with implementation issues, malpractices, leakages, inefficiencies and most importantly it has consistently failed in achieving its budgetary targets. Although the scheme guarantees 100 days of labor to rural households in exchange of Rs. 100/day, the average days worked nationwide, under the scheme, currently stands at 35 (source: Parliamentary Q&A). The budgetary expenditure allocated to the scheme has not been met in the last three fiscal years. Other than the operational failures and poor implementation, the scheme has also distorted the labor market across India. Manufacturing, agriculture, mining and power industries are facing labor shortages as the poor who would otherwise go to labor-intensive industries for jobs are instead making similar wages under the easy-to-achieve employment guaranteed under MNREGA . The scheme provides people with stipends for digging holes and filling them later, while the country reels with labor shortages in growth-inducing industries that are a key driver of development in an emerging economy – “Ho Raha Bharat Nirman?”
Finally, the Food Security Bill, soon to be tabled in the Parliament is expected to have the worst impact of any other welfare scheme designed by the UPA so far in the last 10 years. The scheme provides for subsidies to almost 60% of the population on primarily food items such as grains and cereals. This scheme on paper seems Godsent. Poor who are unable to provide for a square meal a day for their families will get to meet their most basic needs. Chetan Bhagat, a popular Indian author, correctly asked how can your financial data, economical retorts and arguments compete against the picture of a malnourished hungry child in an Indian village?
Well it can, because food-related expenditure of a rural household has dropped from 63% two decades ago to 48% today. On average, cereal related expenses were less than 12% of monthly rural household spending. In urban Indian households this number falls to 7.3% spent on cereals. The numbers just don’t add up. The government through FSB will only provide rotten cereals at a cost to the exchequer that is needless and would’ve been better spent on improving downstream infrastructure, removing supply chain bottlenecks, to provide the poor with essential diet ingredients like fruits and vegetables necessary for wholesome nutrition, at cheaper market prices.
The government intends to spend $13.2 billion in the first year itself on investments related to increasing production yields in agriculture. A noble idea for a country the size of India, but the supply chain bottlenecks in the distribution of food grains are unable to hold the current production levels, let alone create space for another increase.
The storage capacity for wheat is currently at 20 million tonnes, while the stocks are around 50 million tonnes. Where does the rest go? Worldwide export? No. Energy production? No. Sold over the market? No. It’s left to rot in government warehouses, or worse, open spaces from where they’re usually fed to animals or sent abroad to poorer nations for a pittance. Then why is the government spending Rs. 60k crore on production when grains worth Rs. 50k crore are wasted every year? Wouldn’t it be better to invest in the distribution supply chain before investing precarious funds on production? And yet despite clear supply chain issues, the government through its whimsical FDI policy, lack of taxation guidelines and overall ineptitude at assuaging foreign investment concerns has left this area of reform in a complete mess.
There are many other misinformed decisions of the UPA government that have in fact ended up hurting the poor. Infrastructure: that would single-handedly provide employment for millions and solve one of our country’s biggest problem, continues to lag behind other sectors. Projects worth up to Rs. 70,000 crores are currently stalled due to uncertainty over regulation and environment clearances that are hard to come by. And what is an absolute slap to the poor’s face is that the UPA govt. have reduced the poorest-of-poor to survive on Rs. 17/day. If you can survive on Rs.18 a day without receiving any government schemes reserved for the poor, kindly contact me so I can outsource my monthly budgeting to you and pay you more than Rs.17/day for your services.
P.S.: Enjoy this 2009 ad film released by the UPA government describing its achievements and plans for next five years: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CWOf3mkKnIQ
One of the comments pointed out that the official poverty line of the Govt. is Rs. 27-32 (Rural-Urban), as suggested by the Tendulkar committee. I accept that the figure that I used (Rs.17) was incorrect in the usage but my argument for the Rs. 17 figure is presented in the comments section. Thanks for pointing it out.
The India Today group has been running opinion polls before general elections for several years now and their track record is surprisingly not that shabby.
They conducted the first of such polls for the 2014 General Elections with a dummy variable: Modi as PM candidate. The results were significant but far from surprising.
When Modi was not projected as the PM candidate by BJP the seats allocations were: 179 for BJP; 132 for Congress; and 232 for the 3rd front. On the other hand when Modi was projected as the PM candidate both the number of seats to BJP and Congress increased. The benefit, however, was greater for BJP: 41 more seats to BJP; 23 more seats to Congress; and 64 less seats to the 3rd front.
The logic behind this is very straightforward: Modi polarises the electorate. Majority muslims fear his rise to power and vote for Congress instead of their local party. Even though they might hate Congress, they are willing to put up with them as long as Modi does not achieve the PM mantel. The others vote for Modi because of his track record in governance and the image he has been able to cultivate for himself as a man of action and not just of words. After UPA IIs deplorable performance, many people yearn for a strong leader which they see in Modi. For this they are willing to neglect their local/regional loyalties and vote of BJP.
Nitish Kumar’s strategy: Back fired?
Nitish Kumar, the current, popular Chief Minister of Bihar, recently broke his alliance with BJP over their insistence of portraying Modi as the Prime Ministerial candidate. He had hope that he would be able to blackmail BJP, being its chief ally, into not having Modi as the PM candidate. However, according to the survey, this turned out to be good news for BJP. If JDU (Mr Kumar’s party) were to remain in alliance with BJP, the Bihar votes would remain with them. However, the preference for Modi is so great that the voters will ditch their loyalties to JDU and vote of BJP diminishing JDU’s power considerably.
The fact is: People either hate him or love him. The ones that hate him are willing to settle for anyone but him, and the ones that love him simply will not compromise.