Wednesday, 4 January 2012

Political Commentary For 2011 - The Year Gone By

I must convey, with shame, the miserable plight of the citizen as 2011 unfolded itself. The nation was forced to hear a capricious clamor against political drama that saw its ebbs and flows, and was left hoping for some kind of respite. The respite came. It came from a man who people called a Gandhian, for some strange reason, and a Socialist, for even stranger reasons. The movement he led, and the team he formed (or was it a team that came together?), started widespread protests against the injustice caused by an ever-elusive Lokpal Bill. It magnetized a nation towards its movement. And movement it was! - it swiftly moved towards protests against the Congress. Although I hold the view that it did not have any non-partisan roots to begin with, it was now showing off its opposition to Congress as a manifestation of its "principle" of opposing "wrongdoers." Whether or not Congress forms a bunch of wrongdoers, Team Anna is now cloaked in bias.

The recent efforts, by Congress, in particular, in passing the Lokpal Bill in both houses of the parliament was laudable. I oppose strongly the view that it was they who "made sure the bill wasn't passed." Furthermore, I think Team Anna's "Jail-Chalo" ("Jail-Bharo" being its early variant), and a 3-day fast along with a constant hollering of its staunch supporters was quite unjustified, as the bill at the time was being discussed with sufficient, if not much more, rigor within the precincts of the parliament. They drew embarrassment after witnessing crowds in numbers that didn't meet their expectation. Mumbai found at least a decent proportion of mass, thanks to the older men and women who felt it a privilege to see a "Gandhian" in action. I heard people on TV say quite clearly, "I never saw Gandhi when I was young. I'm here to see Anna, who is like Gandhi; and he will free our country from corruption." No, he will not. There is a parliament in place for a reason. The powers bestowed upon the parliament are to be upheld. The constitution, our country's founding document, needs to be upheld until the very last breath. And with regards to freeing a country of corruption, it won't happen. Just like criminal law doesn't bring the crime rate to zero, laws against corruption will not halt it. It can certainly be curbed by a proper system that lies on a foundation such as that of Lokpal.

The parliamentary sessions throughout the year saw obstructionism at its best. The parliament is in place for unfettered reasoned debate, and not for political parties to push forth their malignant agenda. In those days where the parliamentary proceedings proceeded as civil, there was a case of dwindling attendance. That such a historic and monumental, if not near-holy, emplacement finds itself struggling to invite discussions and debate for the country's progress is quite abhorring. The people of India will not tolerate such indifference and disregard towards the duties conferred upon them.

The row over allowing for a Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in retail was yet another whip that cracked the pot. That the decision went in favor of the kirana shops, as Jug Suraiya calls them, or the bania, a term preferred by the "Swaminomicist" Aiyar, is indicative of the petty and trifling considerations given to the citizen - the consumer, in this case. With the help of the organized vote-bank - the kirana lobby - the BJP  successfully held a nation-wide bandh - all at the expense of potential profits for the consumer, and for a community widely used for political mileage (not this time though) - the farmers. The advantages of allowing FDI in retail are aplenty, and if the kirana shops survived, if not equally flourished, while the Indian retail giants burgeoned, my view is that they will hold their own despite the arrival of foreign retail giants. There are live examples to be had - China, Germany and South Africa.

The plummeting confidence in investing in Indian markets led to a crash of the rupee. Seeing new lows every time it touched them was heart-wrenching. There was much demand by the politicians and corporations for the RBI to intervene in the currency markets, but some very relevant arguments were presented against such a move. Swaminathan Aiyer, in an article in The Times of India (18/12/11), said in response,

"This would be a terrible mistake. The rupee's fall is not a technical monetary phenomenon. Rather, it signifies a loss of confidence in India by foreign investors, and by Indians too."

He went on to add a very crucially relevant precedent,

"Caution, please. Remember that exactly the same arguments were put forward in Thailand by businesses and banks in 1997 to prop up that country's falling currency. That propping up helped only temporarily, emptied Thailand's treasury and sparked the Asian financial crisis. We must not fall into the same trap."

Although the rupee is now only very slightly improving, it will take much time for the investors - both foreign and national - to gather courage in response to any light that is to brighten the economic scenario. It is a slow but definite process.

These issues, and a few more, are still awaiting a blast of fresh air. The year 2012 could bring forth reforms; and could certainly free the country of its policy paralysis; It could well bring a powerful, yet accountable, anti-graft law; and could also improve the economic situation. It could bring FDI in retail to the shores, and subsequently ameliorate the farmer's plight. However, to think that is a mistake. The year will not bring forth any of these. Only a national government can. Political parties working together in unison will hold the key for advancement in each facet, be it cultural, political, economic, scientific, or social in 2012. And I think it a mistake to cherish the "Anna movement," which surlily puts, so falsely, the government and the citizen at odds with each other. Its downfall has already been espied by the whole of India. I think the age-old virtue of unity, and to agree to disagree still works wonders. To tolerate such cockamamie division of the people of the country, and to put one against another, is to encourage it. We can do with a bit of coming together.

Oh, and yes, one other thing that would most certainly help - so aptly and effortlessly phrased by Jug Suraiya - getting on with the job.                                                        


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