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BJP Can Look to Rao’s 1991 Architecture

21-12-2019published_dt 2019-12-21T11:36:05.627Z21-12-2019 17:06:05 IST
2019-12-21T11:36:05.627Z21-12-2019 2019-12-21T11:36:05.627Z - - 04-10-2022


 There is anxiety all over about the economic slowdown in the country. While the government persists in denial mode, data flowing out into the public domain show that sector after sector is staring at a seriously challenging situation. Consumption has contracted and is at an 18-quarter low of 3.1%; rural consumption is in a deep southward dive and is double the rate of the urban slowdown; credit off-take by micro and small industries remains stagnant; net exports showed little or no growth; GDP growth is at a six year low with the first quarter of FY20 registering just 5 percent. Unemployment is at a 45 year high. The political leadership of the government, however, is yet to show signs that it has come to grips with what ails the economy. Much less evidence is available to believe that it has a strategic vision to address the challenges.


The problem is rooted mainly in the BJP’s unexplainable reluctance, over the years, to develop its own coherent set of ideas about the country’s economy. The rejection of Nehruvian ‘socialistic pattern of society’ is clear since the days of the Bharatiya Janasangh. Its advocacy of what can at best be loosely termed as a capitalist, free market framework remained untested in practice. The party's economic ideology and its articulation were limited to mainly critiquing the Nehruvian model from the fringes of political spectrum. BJP's flirting with Gandhian Socialism did not last for more than a few months after its founding. In economic policy, the Party mainly adopted Neti Neti (Not this, Not this), without articulating what was its own Niti.


The issues that catapulted the Party on to the centre stage of the country’s political discourse and then to the seats of power both in the centre and the states had little to do with the articulation of an economic road map and its endorsement by the electorate. Nor was anytime the economic direction the country ought to take figured as a serious point of debate and discussion in the highest platforms of the party. So much so when, for the first time, a dyed in the wool non-Congressman headed the Government from 1998 to 2004, no significant departures were initiated in economic policy. The party’s campaign pitch, ‘India Shining’ under the Vajpayee government, failed to impress the voters. That was mainly because the people had not identified the party with any distinct economic philosophy or architecture that they could relate to. Not surprisingly, therefore, the development and economy pitch let down the party in the 2004 general election. The present leadership of the party is perhaps sharply aware of it. It took care not offer economic performance of its government as a claim for re-election. It instead chose, wisely, a muscular political, nationalist, security platform. 


The essential element in the present economic quandary is BJP's unwillingness to take its eye off critiquing the Nehruvian policy framework ball. That ball was taken out of the court in 1991 itself. The pathbreaking repositioning ushered in by PV Narasimha Rao and his economic amanuensis Manmohan Singh remains unchallenged even today. Almost every political party that formed governments, took part in governance or lent outside support to the governments at the centre since then embraced that repositioning. The Rao-Singh policy scaffolding remained largely unaltered in the last quarter century. Congress came to terms with the repudiation of Nehruvian economics by purging Narasimha Rao and erasing his memory from its organisational hard disk. But it retained its connect with the 1991 shift by retaining Manmohan Singh. It thus came to terms with the dismounting from the Nehruvian 'commanding heights of the economy'. It did not flinch from anointing Singh as its Prime Minister in 2004.


Yet for BJP, attacking Nehruvian economic framework surprisingly continues to be the centre point. The party think tank fails to realise that the attack remains more a political assault and could never graduate into an economic critique. The agenda to construct an alternative to it or to co-opt the one that was constructed did not become an urgent need for it. Constructs such as Integral Humanism could not be rendered into practical policy initiatives in the modern market-driven, globalised world. BJP could, therefore, have released itself from that limiting agenda by wholly embracing and even owning Rao-Singh economic architecture. Sardar Patel, the Congressman the dynasty marginalised, could become an icon in the present BJP’s political project. Similarly Rao, another Congressman detested and humiliated by the dynasty, could become a robust underpinning for its economic architecture. BJP has not challenged or rejected Rao’s 1991 architecture. A full-fledged embrace and an aggressive pursuit of it even now could provide the BJP and the government led by Modi a lodestar to steer the economy out of the choppy waters it is in at present. That architecture could help BJP remove the present infirmity in its economic thinking. Otherwise, macroeconomic thought leadership will continue to be offered to BJP by the shouting matches on the television shows and WhatsApp forwards.  



(This article was carried by The Hindu in its 14 October 2019 edition with minor edits. )