And so the expected has happened. The Mother of all Mai-Baap sarkars in the world has passed an ordinance clearing the Food Security Bill. At the stroke of a pen, Sonia Gandhi will realize the dream expressed by the grand father-in-law Jawaharlal Nehru at the stroke of midnight in 1947. About 800 million grateful Indians will now marvel at her kind spirit as they get virtually free food from the government (Of course tens of thousands of bureaucrats, contractors and suppliers will soon demand that the Pope declare her a Saint for the untold manna from heaven that she is going to shower on them). After organizing the signature campaign and sending the petition to Rome via Federal Express, this smaller group will carry the Gita or Quran or Bible or the Guru Granth Sahib and flock to temples, mosques, churches and gurudwaras with just a single prayer to their God. “Please guide these 800 million idiots to polling stations and tell them that salvation is guaranteed if they kiss the Hand that feeds them.” And what about the ungrateful who are carping at this once in a millennium gesture of largesse and noblesse oblige? What of their plaintive cries that this will bankrupt an already bankrupt government? What of their warnings that the poor will continue to starve and be malnourished like they have despite more than four decades of similar programs and welfare schemes. Off the record madam’s minions will smile and say they are playing something called Power Games, and not Hunger Games. Acolytes of the crown prince who have an MBA degree will invite applications from employees of the global Pizza chain that coined the slogan: Hungry Kya? Simultaneously, applications will be invited from employees of a species called NGOs (Neo Godly Organisations) who will holler and scream that Modi is culpable of genocide because he doesn’t support the Food Security Bill. Many pundits in TV studios will discuss how cops in Gujarat killed the Bill in a fake encounter. Of since the Bill has divine blessings, it was miraculously resurrected. To cap it all, Pawan Kumar Bansal will be reinstated as the Railway Minister to ensure that all those millions of tons of food grains are transported in the proper “bags”, the Railway Board will create a new post for a senior bureaucrat to oversee this ship of salvation that will be akin to Noah’s Ark. Interested parties will be encouraged to contact certain nephews. The term ‘Gravy Train’ will acquire a new meaning. And of course, the caged parrot will come in handy to fix some potentially ungrateful souls who have the capacity to lure away many of those 800 million souls who might otherwise kiss the Hand that feeds them.
Since India has gone completely batty and crazy, I think even I am entitled to sing a few loonie tunes. But mind you, the tunes might sound loony to you, but they actually provide a glimpse of the future that awaits India. You see, Madam Gandhi not only has the support of sycophants, fixers, hacks and assorted jholawalas, she has the “intellectual” support of a Nobel Prize winning economist cum philosopher. Yes, we are talking about that argumentative Indian Amartya Sen. When the Parliament was repeatedly disrupted by the coal and the railway scam in April, 2013, it looked as if the UPA government would not be able to pass the Food Security Bill. Amartya Sen jumped into the fray with a delicious display of outrage and basically slammed the opposition parties – mainly the BJP – for blocking such an important piece of legislation. He thundered: “The case for passing this Bill is overwhelming...I would prefer this Bill to no bill at all... Those busting parliamentary discussion should be held responsible for not solving the problem of hunger in the country...we need to ask: who will be held responsible for the deaths of millions of malnourished children in the country?” The obvious questions anyone with common sense would ask is: the Congress has ruled India for about 54 out of 65 years since independence in 1947. What has the party done to even minimize hunger, forget eliminating it? The second question is: the UPA under Madam Sonia had nine years to get a Bill like this passed by the Parliament. Why issue an ordinance when a Parliament session is just a few weeks away? The answer is obvious: political gains. And it is an enormous help if the Godfather of jholawallas lends a helping hand by slamming non-Congress parties. But more important than these political hunger games is the mindset of such Left leaning “liberals” who think that the reforms process has made life worse for India’s poor and hence more and more extravagant welfare schemes are required. This idea of India and this vision of India has dominated mainstream discourse for decades.
But there are people who offer an alternative vision. For instance, Jagdish Bhagwati whose ideology is completely at odds with that of Amartya Sen. In a speech delivered to the Indian Parliament in 2010, Bhagwati tore apart the Amartya Sen school of thought by saying: “But then, the naysayers, among them the socialists in the currently ruling Congress Party, have rejected the miracle produced by the (1991) reforms by suggesting darkly that the growth lacks a human face and that it is not inclusive, that the gains have accrued to the rich wile the poor have been immiserized, that inequality has increased and that India stands condemned before the world. Perhaps the most articulate critics are the “progressive” novelists of India, chief among them Pankaj Mishra whom the Op-Ed page editors of The New York Times regularly and almost exclusively incite to write about the Indian economy, a privilege they do not seem to extend symmetrically to American novelists to give us their profound thoughts on the US economy. While Mishra’s analysis is eloquent and captivating, (it) is really fiction masquerading as non-fiction. The fact is that several analyses have sown that enhanced growth rate has been food for reducing poverty while it has not increased inequality measured meaningfully and that large majorities of virtually all underprivileged groups polled say that their financial situation has not worsened and significant numbers say that it has improved”.
The whole of India is talking about the imminent face off and showdown between Narendra Modi and Rahul Gandhi. In reality, Modi and Rahul are mere symbols who represent two divergent ideas of India. The two ideas have been best articulated by Amartya Sen and Jagdhish Bhagwati. As students, both were contemporaries at Cambridge University (Manmohan Singh was another contemporary) and Sen moved towards the Left while Bhagwati moved towards the right. It would indeed be a dream cum true for the two to have a public debate about their divergent visions of India’s future. Many economists and analysts have even demanded that the two engage in a verbal duel. Sadly, that has not happened, though Bhagwati seems very keen on it because he told The Economic Times in an interview: “Of course I have been against pro poor policies. From my first job in the Indian Planning Commission in the early 1960s, I have been working on how to reduce poverty. What I have objected to are the specific anti poverty policies that Professor Sen has backed, in one way or another. Those policies have demonstrated actually increased poverty! You must ask Professor Sen, and not me, why he will not engage in a debate with me, even though he has been invited by others. After all, he is the one who used the phrase argumentative Indian...”
Will the Nobel winning philosopher rise to the bait and the occasion? We are all waiting with bated breath. But we know where Sen’s preferences lie when it comes to politics. When asked about dynasties in Indian politics, he said: “Would Rahul someday make a good Prime Minister? It is quite possible. I know him a certain amount. I once actually spent a day with him and I was very impressed...I think he is very talented. It was clear to me that he was committed to India’s development”.
Food for thought, isn’t it?!