Our ‘Present’- tation State of the Economy is in ‘Slide Show’ mode. With an economy in free fall and governance in a coma, it’s frankly no surprise to ordinary ‘aam aadmi’ that a time would arrive when a PAN Card would have to be furnished to the vegetable vendor to purchase onions which is a staple of the Indian diet. The government is busy engineering a political relief package for itself by ‘friending’ Nitish on the social network of Indian coalition politics. Creation of Telengana as a separate state has ensured that the UPA will have a landslide in 21 seats of the region in 2014. As I had written in my previous post supporting the passage of the revolutionary welfare legislation the Food Security Bill, it will be a Killer App along with Direct Cash Transfer to bring in votes for the present dispensation. The Food Security Bill has widespread support across the political spectrum with opposing voices only suggesting minor amendments. Even the BJP is engaging in a regressive competitive populism by supporting the legislation in order to save face as a pro poor party. As a right wing opposition party it should technically speak is opposing legislations which distribute such largesse from an ideological standpoint. No political actor seems to be also interested in running the business of governance which is policy making on the floor of the house. A majority of MP’s it seems want to head home after a 1pm adjournment, so as to grab subsidized biryani from the parliament canteen for lunch and subsequently have a proverbial snooze.
A major reason for policy paralysis is a dysfunctional parliament and a severe paucity of democratic debate. The locus of our national conversation seems to be shaped by the media and a social anthropologist named Arnab Goswami is its torch bearer. When mainstream democratic channels of expression are stifled, then alternative platforms emerge such as the primetime TV debate with armchair intellectuals and Rajya Sabha MP’s who are either media tycoons or Industrial honchos (read leaders with no mass base). Having a technocrat Prime Minister who prefers silence to debate does not really alleviate the matter. Strong Leaders in times of crisis, require political capital and the promoter-professional management divide does not work.
There is a significant disconnect between the policy discourse in the media led by policy wonks and in general intelligentsia and the grass roots strongmen who fight elections with money and muscle power in Anantapur, Sangli or Saharsa. It is ultimately these strongmen with mass voter base in shanties and below poverty line villages that enter parliament. I will be very surprised if they have even come across the word ‘discourse’ leave alone engage in an intellectually stimulating debate over issues such as Secularism or the Food Security Legislation. The wonks in the Planning Commission/Think Tanks would do the research for them. Politicians such as Jay Panda are a rarity as they represent rural poor constituencies such as Kendrapada in Odisha and be equally innovative as hiring Swaniti/PRS LAMP Legislative Fellows to help him with their research.
As important policy debates are outsourced to Arnab to act as a ‘Speaker’; the educated class atleast have an opportunity to engage the political class via twitter. Arnab’s anger resonates with the outrage of the masses albeit with popcorn and coke in an Airconditioned living room. But sadly Tweets do not equal votes and the indelible ink on your finger.
The realpolitik of politics is fought in the dust bowls of Bundelkhand and not in the tony cafes of South Bombay where the LSE-Ivy League educated intelligentsia frequent. Let us take some of the brilliant minds on prime time debate TV such as Swapan Dasgupta or a Dr. Swamy into the hallowed alleys of Parliament.
Or even Arnab, although I am skeptical that he would win a Lok Sabha poll even from his native Guhawati.