By Seema Mustafa
The country is reeling under price rise, but even here the PMO seeks to drive political advantage by blaming the concerned political parties for exploiting the "misery" of the poor.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has issued a statement urging the Left not to play upon the misery of the poor by raising the issue of price rise repeatedly. In other words, yes there is inflation, yes there is price rise but do not go on and on about it as in doing so you are playing upon the misery of the poor by creating a hype. This was the tone and tenor of the PMO statement read out faithfully by the Prime Ministers advisor Sanjaya Baru after a meeting with the Left leaders in Delhi on Friday.
It is amazing how beautifully the Prime Ministers office put itself into a perpetual state of denial, and blames the opponents for its own omissions and commissions. It was not so long ago that the PMO was flailing at the critics of the India US civilian nuclear energy agreement in a similar manner, where the Left and the NDA and the regional parties were being accused of being against the interests of the nation in opposing the deal. The statements from the PMO, both official and more unofficial, seemed to suggest that only the Prime Minister and his supporters in the government were acting in the national interest while all the rest in Parliament and outside opposing the deal were anti-national. In fact terms close to this phrase were used against the nuclear scientists when they came out against the terms and conditions of the nuclear deal, to a point where the PMO appeared to have pitched itself across the oceans to side with Washington while the rest of India (excluding the Congress party and allies like Lalu of course) continued to block the government from going ahead with the nuclear deal.
Of course, even today despite the long fight the government has not been able to admit that it is indeed over, and keeps insisting that the deal might just happen. CPI leader A.B.Bardhan used a good phrase to describe the current status of the nuclear deal, "na marti hai, na khaat chor ti hai". (it neither dies nor leaves the bed). And even today despite the opposition the statements from the government seem to suggest that they are still looking for an opportunity to slip the nuclear deal past the Indian Parliament.
Now the country is reeling under price rise, but even here the PMO seeks to drive political advantage by blaming the concerned political parties for exploiting the "misery" of the poor. At least the Prime Minister and his bureaucrats have admitted that the poor is miserable, although they hesitate to define the reasons for this. Inflation is hitting the ceiling with even the normally suave finance minister P.Chidambaram unable to convince the nation that this is a temporary phenomenon and will settle down soon. The government that had always denied possible impact of global economics on national polity, is now having to admit that the current scale of inflation is largely because of this. Spiralling prices now threaten to place even a frugal meal out of the reach of the poor who see no end to their deepening 'misery'.
The Left parties in their memorandum to the Prime Minister actually submitted specific recommendations for tackling price rise. These included strengthening of the public distribution system by universalizing it, placing curbs on the procurement of food grains from farmers by private companies and traders; banning future trading in 25 agricultural commodities as proposed by a parliamentary standing committing; cutting customs and excise duties on oil and reducing retail prices of petrol and diesel, and taking stringent action against hoarders and black marketers. The Left also suggested that the present requirement of stocks of foodgrains of 50,000 tonnes held in godowns and warehouses should be lowered to 10,000 tonnes.
Sound and practical suggestions that one would have expected the Prime Minister to take on board while preparing a plan of action to deal with the price rise as an urgent priority. Instead the response has been the usual homilies tinged with a tone of confrontation that had the Left reminding the government that it still had to face the passage of the Finance Bill in Parliament, and could not get through with the support of the Left parties. This is an unfortunate development as prices should be a matter of national concern, with the government taking the lead to cut across the political divide for a policy based on national consensus and concrete measures. The poor who had virtually disappeared off the policy map of governments over these past ten years, are now being further squeezed out of existence with the ruling elite barely concerned about their plight.
Congress heir apparent Rahul Gandhi is currently stopping for tea and meals at the homes of tribals and Dalits to announce to the world his supposed concern for the completely marginalized sections of Indian society. Of course his questions include a quiz where he wants to know from the poorest of the poor whether they knew of his grandmother Indira Gandhi, his father Rajiv Gandhi and of course of his mother and him. One does not know the response as this was not reported by any of the journalists, but there has not been a statement from him of what needs to be done in concrete terms for the poorest of the poor. It has all been about 'me and I' as the Congress sycophants----including general secretaries and ministers---line up to praise the young man for his initiative and insist that he should now become the prime minister of India. One is still waiting to hear from Rahul Gandhi about what he is going to do, or at least suggest be done, to improve the lot of precisely those he has been targeting for his own 'face lift'.
Gimmicks now do not work. These in fact stopped working a long time ago as the poor of India has lived too long with hopeless poverty to jump and cry for joy each time some one remembers them and comes visiting. The story is not about the one individual or the one family that the Congress scion honoured (or at least thought he had) with his visit, but about the masses who continue to live in acute poverty without the basics that distinguish between dignity and a complete lack of respect. While economists fight over the BPL statistics the fact remains that millions of Indians today live without electricity, roads, health care, drinking water, education and in other words, without a decent life. Price rise has further bent their backs, as the one roti has become half a roti with even salt becoming a luxury.
Dr Manmohan Singh and his finance minister have some explaining to do. They must tell the nation why their great economic policies have gone so horribly wrong, and what they intend to do about this now. It is not enough to say that inflation is a global phenomenon, they must tell the nation what the government is going to do about it today. India does not reside in the big cities as the Prime Minister and the UPA government has come to believe, but in the villages and small towns of India who live with the dirt of non governance as they struggle to make ends meet.