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The Hindutva rate of duplicity - The Indian Express

Sunil Jain ()
25 February 1997

Title : The Hindutva rate of duplicity
Author : Sunil Jain
Publication : The Indian Express
Date : February 25, 1997

Fortunately, for the economy, the BJP is not close to coming to
power in the near future. Whatever one's view of the party's stand
on Hindutva (I personally endorse part of it), its vision of the
economy is confused or duplicitous, depending on whether one wants
to be charitable or not. A view best expressed by the German
ambassador Frank Elbe at a recent seminar in the capital when he
gave his advice to politicians: "Don't try and believe it is
possible to live in two worlds at the same time." It was a thinly
veiled jibe at Jaswant Singh, the finance minister of the
short-lived BJP government at the Centre.

So, while it is nice to hear that we have a party which is
interested in saving the nation's industry from being sold out to
foreigners and which is nationalistic enough to have faith in its
people, the rhetoric is beginning to sound like that of the Left
parties. And though that is not disqualification in itself, it
does obscure the main issues at stake.

In an argument which would warm the hearts of many, Jaswant Singh
bemoans the over-dependence on foreign capital in the
infrastructure sector. While that's fine, the issue is not of
whether the Narasimha Rao Government fell head over heels for Enron
Power Corporation's Rebecca Mark, and afforded her all kind of
concessions. The issue is about reforming state electricity boards
and charging consumers the full price for what they buy. That is
something the BJP has to come to terms with. Without this, no one
will be foolish enough to invest in the power sector. It might come
as a surprise to this nationalist party that no Indian entrepreneur
is willing to invest in the power sector, the way things are today.
Yet, Singh's party, as he will agree, has in fact been in the
forefront of agitation's against price hikes in areas such as
electricity and coal.

Though Singh probably does not oppose foreign investment in
infrastructure on the grounds of national security (imagine a
situation when Bill Clinton asked Rebecca Mark to shut off the
country's electricity supplies), he's making it legitimate for
others to do so. Indeed, a private airline operator in the country
has been known to making similar arguments while trying to convince
people that the Tata-Singapore Airline deal is bad for the country.
His argument is that the joint venture could end up hiring Chinese
pilots to fly in India. The sentence is left hanging, waiting for
you to conjure up the horror of Chinese pilots flying over all
kinds of 'sensitive' areas and gathering information.

It feels equally nice to have a party which is arguing for
realistic budget allocations for the defence forces. And few can
resist the lovely argument for slowing down disinvestment in public
sector units: don't sell the family silver to buy the day's
groceries. Once again, Singh has confused us with his loquacity.
For one, with a return of less than one per cent on public sector
investment as compared to 13.5 per cent for that in the private
sector, only an optimist would regard these units as family silver.

The issue here is to take tough decisions to privatise these units,
and that involves retrenching labour. Similarly, no one wants to
raise prices of commodities or services which figure prominently in
the daily budget of millions of households. And the continuing
lack of capital investment in agriculture is as much of a nightmare
for any government as it is for Jaswant Singh.

This is probably what Elbe was referring to: you can't have all of
this together. If you want more investment in agriculture, you've
got to cut something somewhere else. Similarly, if you want the
revenue deficit to fall, sacrifices have to be made in a host of

Question BJP leaders such as Singh and he'll probably tell you that
this is there in their manifesto for the last elections. That they
are not in favour of having the public sector in areas such as
running hotels and making bread. But while that's all very well,
the question is whether the BJP will actually support a move to
close down some of these units.
These are tough decisions and none of this is made any easier for
the government of the day if respectable politicians such as those
in the BJP decide to highlight all the problems without even
deigning to address the solutions. This kind of irresponsibility
is not something that one expects from a party which is hoping to
come to power soon.

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