Sunday, November 4, 2012

Indian National Congress changes to Indian National Reforms Congress….

So now there should be no doubts in anyone’s minds. The Congress is re-positioning itself! It’s realized that it is the only party which bats for Reforms and rather than being sheepish about it, it is making a public grab for the Reforms space. I had written some time back – in fact on the 24th of July this year – that the Congress will treat the FDI in multi-brand retail matter like it did the Indo-US nuclear deal during UPA-1. It will position multi-brand retail FDI as being beneficial to the huge farmer community (some 700-800 million in number) as well as the increasingly important urban middle-class (much of the rest). It will squeeze out the “baniya” community – incidentally the core support group of the BJP. Yesterday’s rally at Delhi was nothing but a public proclamation of this new positioning.

The other major Reform the Congress wants to usher in is moving the leadership of the party to the youngsters. Apart from Rahul being anointed as the future head of the party, it has also made some noise about “half” the party’s leadership coming from the “under 40s”. That’s a good statement to make, considering the demographics of the country. Riding alongside this emphasis on the youth is the war cry similar to Obama’s “Yes we can” in the 2008 US Presidential elections. Today’s TOI shows how Rahul Gandhi is disassociating himself from the “old” system and attempting to create a new order. Take that Kejriwal!

The Congress is indeed today the only party pushing Reforms. In the last twenty years, since it started reforms first in 1991, there has been bi-partisan support for Reforms. The BJP itself was a Reforms oriented party and during its six years of rule, did continue with them. As a result, India’s politics appeared to be stable, at least as far the economic policies were concerned. That gave confidence to investors and the India story began. All that has changed in the last few years. By first opposing the Indo-US nuclear deal in 2008 and then opposing FDI (and other Reforms) in almost all forms under UPA-2, the BJP has pretty much shed the Reforms tag. One increasingly gets the impression that the BJP is a little jammed – deep within, it wants to support reforms, but finds itself unable to rise to the occasion and put the nation before the politics. Ergo….the Congress has grabbed the Reforms space for itself. I wrote about this a month back (“October 5, 2012: Recapturing the Reforms space…..Congress’s political strategy clear), and yesterday, it was there for everyone to see.

The Congress is right. There is a simple logic for seeking reforms. Reforms bring in investments and more than anything else, this country needs investments. The more the better. It is not about preferring foreign capital to Indian capital. Its about wanting both. Some commentators talk about the deep rooted (almost genetic) fears that Indians have against foreign companies (some politician once said that Indians still fear the East India company). This is so much baloney! Indians today don’t have any such fears. They only care for  jobs, money and financial security. If reforms can be positioned to mean that, then they will vote for Reforms. People have seen the benefits of modern retail already. I don’t know of any kirana shop that has closed down. And yet, so many lacs of new jobs in retail have been created in the last ten years. Besides, foreign retailers have a lot stacked up against them when trying to operate in India. Will they ever be able to become as big as Indian retailers have become? I doubt it…..Opposing retail FDI is nothing but a part of the general opposition to anything the government proposes. That’s why Yashwant Sinha said once “We are the opposition. We will oppose!”.

So Delhi is likely to be the first city when a multi-brand foreign retail chain comes up. Had it not been for the politics, that could have been Ahmedabad. But poor Modi cannot abandon the party line. Delhi deserves the honor. It’s the one city that has grown the fastest in the last decade with world-class infrastructure emerging visibly in front of its people. Today, Delhi-ites boast of a world class airport, a rapidly growing modern metro network, and roads that don’t give back-aches. For the common man, such progress is the face of reforms. The retail revolution has enormously benefitted people; made shopping a delightful experience. Indians are value seekers and these shops provide value like how. Ask any urban middle-class woman whether she supports retail FDI and the answer will be a resounding yes. Is the BJP not reading this signal?

Retail FDI aside, the Congress’s new found determination to brave it alone on Reforms gives it the unique identity that it wanted. Today, it is the only right-of-center party. Everyone else is cramming the left space and the extremes of leftism are being redefined with every new party that crops up. First it was Mamata, now it is Kejriwal. All of them are pulling to the extreme left. If they had their way, there would be no business left. Some of them even call “tax rationalization” a sop to the rich. Some others call this too to be corruption. In the frothy political environment of today, anything goes. In such choppy times, some may call it brave to swing the other way. I call it smart political strategy. Especially if it can be shown to benefit the farmers….

The real truth is that its official now. The only reforms oriented party is the Congress. Sure, it will balance all its smart reforms with big doses of populist socialistic schemes, but at least it is not shy of pushing Reforms. There are others who push populist programs without even looking at Reforms…..

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