Monday, June 28, 2004


Times of India, June 27, 2004

I sometimes find it hard to believe how many of my close friends are leftists. The reason, I suppose, is that I was a socialist once, and old associations don't die easily. Also, I admire your courageous idealism even though it is misguided, and your undoubted personal integrity. This election has reminded us of the left's historic role - it is to make the right sensitive to the needs of the poor and to humanise capitalism in the process. You now have a historic opportunity to do it.

You must have been surprised by the hostility that greeted the Common Minimum Programme. Although you may dismiss the Indian middle class (of which, btw, you are a part), the truth is that it would happily pay to lift the poor if it had the slightest faith that the money would reach the poor. Sadly, the government's delivery mechanism is a leaky bucket.

We both agree that the best way to lift the poor is through good primary schools and primary health care. Hence, your proposed education cess looks attractive. But ask yourself: why don't you send your child to a municipal school? It is because they are rotten. Only 7 per cent of primary schoolchildren in West Bengal can write their name in Bangla. Some 30 per cent of teachers are absent in Bimaru states and 50 per cent don't teach, and most beat their pupils. Unless we first reform our schools (by giving parents' associations a voice, for example, in the teacher's pay) you are only wasting our hard earned money. We already spend around Rs 1 lakh crores on education (which is higher than most countries as a per cent of GDP) and estimates show that a third is wasted.

In the past weeks, you have opposed labour reform, wanted loans waived to farmers, and asked for a roll back of the modest LPG price increase - all this in the name of the poor. Consider this: labour reforms will only hurt the lazy among organised labour (which is only 7 per cent of India's total labour) but it will improve the lot of the 93 per cent. Also, it is the rich farmers who default on loans, not the poor. Finally, it is the middle class which uses cooking gas while the poor use kerosene. It sounds suspiciously as though you champion the labour aristocracy, the rich farmers, and the middle class. For 40 years you supported the license raj, knowing full well that it helped big business houses against new entrepreneurs. There is no bigger indictment of the Indian left - in the name of the poor, it has done so little for the poor.

This brings me to your historic role. If you genuinely care for the poor, then help the state to improve the delivery of services to the poor. The problems of India's poor will not be solved by ideology but by good implementation. And this needs mental application. Since the 1970s the Economic and Political Weekly has been highlighting the horrendous leakages in the employment guarantee schemes. Focus on the how, not the what. It is easier to abuse the bourgeoisie, but more difficult to come up with real answers to real problems.

I sometimes think that you hate businessmen so much that you would keep everyone poor rather than allow a few businessmen to get rich. It is time you reconciled to the market as the only workable economic system. You may dislike businessmen, but you must value competitive markets. Finally, ditch your naive faith in state control. Our nation is groaning under the weight of red tape. Stop being statist - it makes you sound like Murli Manohar Joshi !.


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Medical Blog said...

Also, it is the rich farmers who
default on loans, not the poor.

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