Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The speech that wasn't

Talking and writing on socialism while accepting payments in capitalist dollars, sustains many a socialist writer’s/anti globalisation activist’s capitalist lifestyle. Most of these writers hold fancy positions, usually in the US or Europe, and travel business class to make their anti-globalization ranks. Take any activist and writer and you will find this to be true.

Into this abyss falls Mr Rahul Gandhi. Half-Indian, half-Italian by parentage, he has studied abroad and lives in India. He travels frequently abroad to exotic destinations of the world and has arguably benefitted out of globalisation. He could very well be a poster child for globalisation — and you can read that in any way you like. And after benefiting out of all the things that globalisation has to offer, he now warns us that this comes with its own dangers. Ironically, all the problems that he mentioned India had could all have been solved by the rulers, by and large from his family, with, without or in spite of globalisation.

What are the dangers, is what we would like to know. His great-grandfather and grandmother ruled us with a socialist tune — a tune for that over 50 years has failed to ring — for most of us. And we have all seen the dangers of this so-called socialism. Rampant corruption, low rate of growth, poverty, lawlessness and lack of opportunity everywhere, all through those socialist decades.

Throughout the 50’s and the 60’s when other countries (our peers, who were decolonised at about the same time) climbed up the prosperity ladder, we were stuck with a Nehruvian rate of growth that saw us go nowhere. And this story continued throughout the 80’s and 90’s as well. As government after ‘socialist’ Government tried to throttle industry — corruption boomed and those with licenses operated licentiously. People thronged the employment exchanges waiting for jobs that were never theirs — except if you paid a bribe.

And many others opted to go out of India — the famous brain drain of the 80’s. The net result was that people went to either the US or Europe (if they were lucky) or to the Middle East. The former lived a good life and the latter, well, swallowed many an insult so that they saved enough money to come back home at some point and live prosperously. If life under socialism was so good, why were people running away to foreign shores for jobs and to make a decent living? For some reason, all this was supposed to be good for us. While we swung from queue to queue to shortage to shortage — we heard slogans of Garibi hatao on black and white televisions over the Government regulated channel. Sometimes vegetables were in short supply, sometimes it was LPG used for cooking. At other times it was scooters, or phones. Almost all the time, jobs were in short supply, as was opportunity and electricity. If this was socialism, then, well, I am willing to see what dangers capitalism brings.

And, we have tried that too — in small doses since the late 90’s. This has resulted in a good amount of growth — many people have climbed out of poverty in the past 20 odd years than in the previous 40 years. There are many data points that argue on a few decimal points here and there, but the directional indicators are very clear. People have moved out of poverty since the 90’s. Growth is the only thing that will bring people out of poverty — not aid, not doles, not compassionate words, not bromide, not anti-globalisation speeches in air-conditioned auditoriums. To growth, one might add equality of opportunity which socialism promises but rarely gives (read The Animal Farm) while true capitalism really does.

Ironically, for the past 60 years it is Mr Rahul Gandhi’s family that has ruled the country for the most part. It tried the bitter medicine of socialism on us and the result of it is there for everybody to see. When Narasimha Rao opened the doors of the world to India, metaphorically, many a door opened for Indians as a whole. Now, Mr Rahul Gandhi seeks to close the door once again. For starters, he could have invited a local anti-globalisation activist who travelled to deliver his speech via sleeper class having secured his tickets while standing in line three months in advance.

And to his point, having seen a bit of socialism and a bit of capitalism, I think we are ready to face the dangers of capitalism. Surely, North Korea as one of the last vestiges of socialism, is doing well — as well as East Germany did before the capitalist West merged it into itself, but we would rather try the growth route of capitalism to success in India.

And yes, people who live in capitalist homes and whose kin make good money out of globalisation are best advised to keep their socialist speeches to themselves.

(Published as an oped today in The Pioneer)

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