Congress wins and everyone loses

Pratap Bhanu Mehta on how Congress won the day in Lok Sabha

Whatever one thinks of the bill, the fact that the UPA could get Parliament to debate and pass a bill of this magnitude is something of an achievement. Parliament has been in perpetual logjam. The government’s word carried no weight and credibility. At one stroke, both of these impressions have been dispelled. Whether the UPA appealed to the good conscience of legislators or arm-twisted them is beside the point. The BJP’s trump card was to say that the government is dysfunctional in a major way and has no authority. That trump card is gone

The surprise is not that the Congress pushed the bill through. It is that none of the amendments were accepted in the Lok Sabha. Was this the same Congress that has been down in the dumps with the economy, the scams, border disputes and the son-in-law? How did the BJP manage to expose itself once again as spectacularly inept?

Mehta for good measure, also gives the right-wing economists and ideologues a severe dressing down. One can only hope they sit up and take notice, instead of continuing to blindly rely on Narendra Modi for deliverance

The problem with much of the right-of-centre economic discourse in India is three-fold. First, it does not have much of a sense of history. Has any modern society evolved without robust welfare protection? It is not an accident that even so-called rightwing politicians, from Bismarck to Churchill and Nixon, have supported an efficient and humane basic income guaranteed by the state. Second, the right was caught in its own bad faith. On one hand, it wanted to critique entitlements and rights per se, on the other hand, it wanted to embrace direct cash transfers as an alternative. So in the end its arguments against redistribution ended up sounding more like lawyerly bad faith than a principled position. There are some things that may not matter for pure intellectual argument. But for building public credibility they do.

The fact of the matter is “right”-of-centre economists, for various reasons, tend to fritter away their public credibility rather swiftly. This is not just because the left is intellectually better organised; it is because the right has not managed to link its purely economic arguments with an effective moral framework. Third, there was a spectacularly self-defeating political language that smacked of elitism. And the BJP walked right into the trap. It is cute to call the bill a vote security bill. It is easy to reduce it, as every newspaper will, to a pure calculus of votes. But what are we saying in saying this? That politicians responding to what they think voters will go for is a bad thing? Implicitly, this sends the message that we either think voters are stupid or we don’t care for democracy


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