Saturday, June 9, 2012

A political addenda to the economic blueprint

Politicians will do anything to win elections; even good things ! You can't blame them , for after all that is the objective in politics. As I observed in the previous post, an economic blueprint is of no use unless a political way can be shown as well. So the task is to show that an economic plan will win an election. Or at least not lose one.

I believe the time is ripe for that in India. The Congress government is almost certain to lose in the next general elections due in 2014. They have no plan to win it. No amount of cash doled out to the voter is going to help them win. Therefore they have nothing to lose. Ideal conditions to try something drastic.

Make a fresh beginning. Manmohan Singh should retire and a grateful nation should say thanks for a lifetime of public service. Pranab Mukherjee can be kicked upstairs. Chidambaram, Anthony , Pawar etc are to exit with a 21st century Kamaraj Plan. For the lack of any other leader, Rahul Gandhi should take over as Prime Minister. He should form a new cabinet - 50% from the political class and 50% from technocrats and experts who are complete strangers to politics (imagine Sreedharan as Railway Minister). Form a government of national unity, giving a couple of Ministerships to the BJP and the Left as well - this may not happen, but no harm trying. This government has a two year mandate to do things .

Bribe the states to fall in line. No state is opposing any of the measures on grounds of ideology or conviction - every opposition is simply politics. The best way to overcome them is to bribe the states. Every state that wholeheartedly supports the entire agenda of the government will get say Rs 2000 crores as a dole. Fund this by running a one time deficit. States that still do not want to toe the line are welcome to stand alone, but the rest of the nation will go ahead.  If and when they join, they won't get the Rs 2000 crores.

Form a "conclave of experts". From all walks of life - social workers, businessmen, government officials, environmentalists, politicians, etc etc. Say about 50-100 eminent Indians. Appointed; not elected. The government should "sell" the plan to them. Debate and incorporate the sensible changes they recommend. Make them inclusive in the plan. Appeal to their nationalism that single point agendas (like say an environmentalist opposing any dam whatsoever and not  taking any responsibility for economic development) cannot work. There are no easy solutions. Some tradeoffs must be made. The governing principle is 75% agreement (since all cannot agree), but 100% commitment once the plan is finalised. The plan then goes through Parliament for adoption.

For two years banish any strike or agitation against any aspect of the plan. The conclave of experts have to commit that they will not agitate outside the conclave (that's what 100% commitment means). Opposition or ruling coalition parties who wish to strike are welcome to do so; the government simply ignores them and goes on ahead, daring anybody to bring down such a young, new, active government. It is unlikely that Mamata Banerjee or Mayawati or any of the usual trouble makers will increase their seats in a new election; so what's the joy in bringing down the government. The one likely gainer can be Jayalalithaa who will probably have to be "bought" by more dole to the Tamil Nadu government.

The government fully backs the bureaucracy and the judiciary to take quick decisions and implement like crazy( a bit of Sarkozy style hyperactivity would help). No bureaucrat would be punished for taking risks or taking a wrong decision - he would only be in trouble if he was corrupt. Sack the current grandstanding Comptroller and Auditor General who sees a scam in going to the loo and replace him with an eminent person from industry. Equally judiciary is "bribed" with doles to take a fast track for economic issues. The principle would be that its OK to get it 20% wrong , but quick, rather than hoping for the mythical 100% right and getting nothing done. Create a frenzy of activity - it tends to be self fulfilling and gathers a momentum of its own.

What about corruption ? It will never go away anywhere in the world. In India, contrary to public opinion, personal enrichment is a small part of corruption. Much of corruption is to create the war chest to fight elections. And the bulk of the spend is not in campaigning like in the Western world. Most of the spend is doling out cash and liquor to voters. But that has never won anybody an election. Everybody does this; so you can only lose by not doing this, but will never win only because of this. This can be lessened by moving towards proportional representation, instead of the first part the post system. Something to do immediately after winning the next election. This is an idea I wholly borrowed from Dr  Jayaprakash Narayan, an extremely impressive politician from Andhra Pradesh, where he is a MLA. For those interested, you can watch to him eloquently arguing the case here - incidentally it will also be an eye opener that such politicians also exist.

Meanwhile the current government just says no to building a war chest for elections. The Congress breaks ranks and refuses to bribe the voter with cash and liquor (remember it cannot win by doing this). Instead it tries to stand on the planks of freshness, action and two years of solid work.
Will this win Rahul Gandhi the next election. Maybe, maybe not. But he's not going to win it currently and he has nothing to lose. And maybe, just maybe, it might win him the election . The Indian voter is not an idiot. In the absence of any other compelling reason, he votes on caste lines, or whoever bribed him or sheer anger at the incumbent or fractures his vote. But give him a compelling reason and he votes in a wave irrespective of any other considerations. Remember 1977 after the emergency. Remember 1984 and the Rajiv Gandhi wave. Even the last elections in West Bengal is an evidence of the wave.

A fresh competent government may create a wave. Somebody trying this may lose, but will still go in a blaze of glory. Really worth a try.