Earlier this year, a group of Indian citizens including the likes of prominent industrialists Anu Aga, Azim Premji and Keshub Mahindra and wrote an open letter to government leaders asking them to curb rampant corruption, and contain the “governance deficit” plaguing the country. Problems seem to be scaling much faster than the capacity of policy makers and government leaders to formulate and deliver solutions.
Despite recent media attention, this governance deficit is more grave than is appreciated, and presents serious risks for global investors pouring capital into the world’s second fastest growing economy. In fact, the government’s actions over the last year or so could lead one to speculate that India in 2011 is increasingly becoming like the dystopia envisioned by George Orwell in his classic novel 1984.
In the novel, Orwell defines the concept of doublethink as:
“…the power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them….to forget any fact that has become inconvenient, and then, when it becomes necessary again, to draw it back from oblivion for just so long as it is needed, to deny the existence of objective reality and all the while to take account of the reality which one denies.” In 1984, the governing party maintains its rule by employing doublethink “to dislocate the sense of reality.”
MJ Akbar, widely regarded as one of India’s finest political commentators, wrote last year that, paradoxically, it was Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s weak and pliant character that allowed him to rise to the nation’s most powerful political post. Manmohan Singh has been able to assume the highest political office because he is very unassuming. Until now, his personal probity has been shielding the UPA government. A sampling of some of the decisions taken recently by the UPA seem to realize, sometimes in horrifying ways, George Orwell’s dystopian state from 1984.
In September 2010, PJ Thomas, a bureaucrat with corruption cases pending against him, was picked by the UPA government as head of India’s constitutional anti-corruption watchdog, the Central Vigilance Commission, despite the Leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha registering her dissent at the time of the appointment. Eventually, it was only with the intervention of the Supreme Court that PJ Thomas’s appointment was struck down. In February this year, the government proposed amendments to India’s Information Technology Act that would give it sweeping powers to censor content on the Internet.
Notably, in November 2010, the mass media decided to collectively black out the biggest exposé of the internecine and incestuous relationship between the government, prominent media personalities, corporate lobbyists and industrialists, while blogs and social media last year swung into action to help bring the scandal into the mainstream consciousness.
Most recently, in the imbroglio surrounding the Jan Lok Pal Bill to reform and create mechanisms for checking corruption, a group of ministers chaired by Sharad Pawar and including the DMK’s MK Alagiri, both with suspect credentials, was formed to consider the appeals led by veteran social activist Anna Hazare. We’ll return to this issue shortly.
On the economic front, Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee re-classified social sector spending on schemes such as the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS) as capital expenditure in this year’s Budget, effectively under-stating the likely fiscal deficit. It is also notable that to artificially create employment under MGNREGS, the government bans the use of machinery. On principle, is this policy dramatically different from the Samajwadi Party’s regressive promise to ban the use of computers because computers were “destroying” jobs?
When asked about second-generation economic reforms, Pranab Mukherjee dismissed the charge of the Budget lacking bold reform steps and insisted it was already a very reformist Budget, calling demand for economic liberalization “adventurism”. Year after year, India’s chief economic policy makers take high growth for granted.
India has a prime minister who holds a powerful office because he is weak, who is renowned for his personal probity but has presided over the most corrupt government in the nation’s history, who has the finest academic credentials as an economist and kick-started India’s liberalization in 1991 as finance minister, yet has failed to implement any economic reforms as head of the government since 2004 and instead foists upon an unsuspecting nation a regressive job creation program that bars the use of machines, distorts labour markets, causes inflation and destroys productivity, going so far as to classify MGNREGS expenditure in ways that under-state the long-term fiscal damage caused by it.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s record since 2004 is one of irreconcilable contradiction and deliberate divergence between his stated individual attributes and the policies pursued by his government – a case of textbook doublethink come to life, one that even George Orwell could not have scripted better.
Indeed, one is impelled to question whether this a calculated political strategy by the Congress party to dislocate the sense of reality of Indian citizens and voters.
Is this the kind of leadership and policy vision that will be able to do justice to India’s economic potential and drive its rise to economic superpower status? As Bob Dylan might have said, the answer is blowing in the wind.
In the last few days, we have been led to believe by the mass media that Anna Hazare’s movement has been spreading across India. There’s tremendous public anger against the raft of scams and massive corruption that has come to light over the last six months.
As the INI Acorn blog has analyzed expertly, neither the means nor the policies that Hazare and his followers are using and proposing to implement will actually result in eradicating or reducing corruption. All those thinking the Jan Lok Pal Bill will be a silver bullet against graft will be disappointed in the long run.
That the movement should gain so much traction tells us that the public mind too has been entrapped by Orwellian doublethink. The current government has succeed in dislocating reality and confusing Indian citizens into thinking elections are pointless and democracy has no value.
One would have expected the Opposition parties to have consolidated the groundswell of outrage against corruption, but gleefully for the Congress party strategists, the “Sab chor hain” logic seems to be winning and people are rejecting politicians en masse. Orwellian doublethink has succeeded in confounding the Indian masses.
I happened to read this today. I think it presents a great argument on the current state of life in India. The most disturbing aspect is an unquestionable acceptance of the doublethink in public life.