Sunday, October 23, 2005

Random Jottings on the Rajya Sabha PM

Manmohan Singh appears to be a decent man, but his Rajya Sabha Prime Ministership (a cause for "but..." in my view) is not a coincidence: it appears to me to be the result of great cynicism by the Congress, which mustered a decent showing in the 2004 general elections in part by virtue of its anti-economic liberalization rhetoric-- and then sought to play the "responsible" party in power by making Manmohan Singh India's first technocrat Prime Minister. It is thus symbolically fitting that he is not from the Lok Sabha, as the agenda he typifies does not appear to have won the support of those (particularly the rural poor) who voted for his party in the 2004 elections.

I do not mean to suggest that India should not continue on its path of economic liberalization (I happen to find those policies preferable if the alternative is to be "license raj,") but do believe that the maneuver that made Manmohan Singh Prime Minister is not particularly conducive to the cause of probity and forthrightness in national politics. As an aside, I would also like to add that the elevation of Manmohan Singh is symptomatic of a tendency in our national life (one common enough in the United States), particularly among urban beneficiaries of India's new economic dispensation, to seek to remove the realm of "the economic" from the domain of politics.  This tendency is hardly new to India's national politics (recall Nehru's Mahalanobis), but this is the first time we are seeing it embodied in the person of the Prime Minister.  Such an excision cramps the political space of democracy, and in two ways. First, the extent to which "the economic" is always already political is occluded. Second (and related to the first), the politicization of the new dispensation becomes increasingly apparent to those who view themselves as
excluded from its benefits. The result is cynicism all around. My grievance is not so much with the substance of the economic policies under discussion, but with the manner in which they are advanced, by a combination of stealth and obfuscation. Implicit contempt and suspicion of the voter might well mean that we are building our house of policy on sand-- and weakening our democratic foundations to boot.

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