Sunday, September 23, 2012

First lying….now threatening….is this the BJP’s pro-business face?

For some time now, the BJP has been spewing lies; and venom. Lies on Coalgate – failing to introduce auctions when it was in power but blaming the Congress when it did so. Lies on the diesel and LPG price hikes – calling it anti-people but refusing to instruct its state governments to pass on at least part of the “windfall” tax gains to the people. Lies also on what FDI in retail means to the aam aadmi and to the farmer – choosing instead to protect the small community of traders who in any case will adjust to the new rules of the game.

But today, the party moved ahead from lies to plain threatening. Threatening foreign investors who might consider entering the retail sector, now that they have been formally invited by the government. Today’s Indian Express story “BJP FDI warning to investors: what if government changes” is shocking and the BJP’s conduct most reprehensible to say the least.

This threat bears the mark of a loser who cannot accept that he has been outdone. For only losers issue threats. Most of these threats are empty threats; much like the barking of dogs that is seldom followed by an actual bite. The BJP’s angst is understandable. The BJP has lost face several times in the recent past. First on Coalgate where the BJP was shamed when Nitin Gadkari’s close friend Ajay Sancheti was shown to have “won” a bid in which he was the sole bidder. Then when it came out that BJP CMs had actively canvassed against coal block auctions and were responsible for at least some of the delay in the switch over to them. Then again on the Presidential election, the BJP lost face, putting up a candidate no one took seriously. And now, in the reforms issue, the party has lost its shirt. The angst is understandable. It’s brilliantly crafted strategy of tarnishing the government’s image – incorporating activists who were anything but civil, yoga teachers who were more political than anything else and even constitutional bodies who sometimes forgot their role in the scheme of things – was all coming unstuck.

Yashwant Sinha’s not-so-veiled threat to foreign investors considering investing in India’s retail sector is intended to create panic amongst them. By reminding them that elections are due soon in several states presently ruled by the Congress, Sinha is trying to put the fear of god in their minds. Sinha’s “what if” threat – raising the spectre of the BJP coming to power in these states and rolling back the permissions that may have been given to these foreign retailers – is intended to stop the investors in their tracks. The threat is intended to thwart the government’s policy initiative. The party realizes it has failed to convince the people, as the poor response to the recent bandh showed; it knows it may again fail in Parliament if and when voting takes place on the subject. But the one thing it is confident of not failing in is in threatening the investors and shooing them away. If the investors get jittery, why will they come? The policy will become a non-starter. The BJP would have succeeded. All along, we were made to think that the BJP was pro-investor. Is this what pro-investor means? How much difference is there today between the BJP and the Left?

Mr. Sinha needn’t have issued the threat. For the foreign investor already knows that policies get reversed when governments change in a certain type of countries. Such countries are called banana republics.  By issuing the threat, the BJP has taken India a step closer to becoming a banana republic. Why should investors enter India when they are not welcome; and when the rest of the world is welcoming them with open arms. Yes, the Indian market is big and attractive, and yes investors have the appetite for risk, but if the biggest opposition party issues a threat of this type, even the most committed of them will get dissuaded. Investors like putting their money in countries where the policies are stable. Where there is wide political consensus on key policies. Even without Mr. Sinha’s threat, investors were going to think many times before rushing in. Now, they might well decide to put their decision away. This will make the BJP’s “aam bania” (as Swaminathan Iyer calls traders so brilliantly) is safe for at least ten years. The aam aadmi is damned.

The party that disallows Parliament from functioning can hardly be expected to support the democratic way of working. To understand how in a democracy, the government of the day is expected to respect decisions taken by its predecessor. To realize that if this wasn’t the case, then the country would keep moving forward and backwards in a yo-yo fashion that would scare away investors. Just what would have happened if the Congress had reversed the Electricity (Amendment) Act that the BJP enacted in 2003; it would have put private power sector investors in a jam. They would have lost lacs of crores of rupees. Would the BJP have liked that? Would investors have ever given the Congress another chance if they had done that? Would they ever invest in India again? Would that be a nationalistic thing for any party to do?

The people of the country will respond to Sinha. Investors – and all of corporate India – are already urging the BJP to take a pro-business stance; to shed its obstructionist habit. If it doesn’t, Corporates may soon start preferring Mayawati and Mulayam to the BJP… least the two don’t threaten the corporate sector. Sinha may well want to consider what impact this will have on the party.

The real truth is that the BJP is behaving like a poor loser. Issuing threats to investors rather than welcoming them. A progressive party – a party with a difference as the BJP likes to call itself – should introspect about this. Because the party’s supporters surely are introspecting – is this the party they want to continue backing….?

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