Most presidential addresses on Republic Day eves are a bore — usually a string of banalities, platitudes, and exhortations. The arch politician in President Pranab Mukherji appeared last night, and what he said was intriguing because he sharply targeted mostly the Congress Party and other constituent parties of the ruling UPA under cover of attacking the Aam Admi Party!
On the face of it, he was slamming Arvind Tejriwal and his Johnny come-lately AAP for reducing governance to media circus. W/o naming it, he held AAP (and Congress) responsible for what he said was “populist anarchy” which he stated couldn’t replace governance, and reminded the people that government is “not a charity shop”. But he also railed against the massive and unprecedented corruption of the Congress Party in power over the past decade saying it “is a cancer that erodes democracy and weakens the foundations of [the Indian] state” and predicted, in so many words, that Sonia and Rahul Gandhi’s Congress government will be removed in the forthcoming general elections. He decried hypocrisy that informs Indian politics but also sought a stable government free of the excesses of “capricious” provincial governments which he warned would result in a “fractured government, hostage to whimsical opportunists” — “än unhappy eventuality” that he said would be “catastrophic” in 2014.
He was remarkably disingenuous in ostensibly attacking AAP for populist anarchy, but then the Congress Party and he as Defence and Finance Minister for much its two terms wrote several budgets, and seeded a whole bunch of programs as dole and economic giveaways that also, if not fit, then skirt his description of populism gone berserk, something Kejriwal with far less effect on the financial health of the Delhi Union Territory has mounted with the 700 litres free water, etc. Surely, if any one party deserves the blame for irresponsible vote-buying schemes from Indira Gandhi’s days (remember “Garibi Hatao”!!), it is the Congress Party that, undeterred by the fiscal pit it was pushing the country into, initiated NREGS and, despite empirical data to suggest that instead of such giveaways that end up making every official — petty level up to the highest politician in the land — rich beyond measure, has assiduously rejected calls for straight forward cash transfers to correctly identified “poor people” all over India as a genuinely effective poverty-alleviation measure.
But President Mukherji also talked of “corruption” and “hypocrisy” and here he was more two-faced considering his personal reputation is not all that clean. His name features prominently, for instance, in the Mitrokhin Archives — the secret documents of the erstwhile Soviet state spirited away in the days when the Soviet govt was going the way of the Dodo bird. It details the payoffs to Indian state functionaries in the pay of Moscow during the Cold War era. He was then apparently the “bagman” for the Congress Party. So, it is a bit rich to hear him speak of hypocrisy.
Yes, corruption has eaten away at the Indian state, hollowing it out, much as the red ants gnaw away at the superstructure even as the house frame is left standing, only to give way at the first sign of anarchy. See how the Indian state almost came unstuck because of the relatively small incident such as Kejriwal’s dharna outside Rail Bhavan!
And yes government is not charity shop. But six decades of Congress party rule has reduced the Indian people to a horde of beggars desiring endless free lunches — something for nothing, tenderizing them so that they salivate at the thought of populist policies. It is this tendency Narendra Modi will find most difficult to reverse, and end up seeing as a major hindrance to realizing his aim of a proud and self-respecting people in a self-confident fiscally responsible India that depends only minimally on government for its progress.