Are they strengthening the fundamental liberal values among people?
Unlike other governments in the past, the United Progressive Alliance governments have got into problems of varied kinds of their own making. When every quarter in this country recognises that the ruling government at the Centre is fundamentally weak, indecisive and unable to think properly for taking policy reforms to the next level, the angry members of civil society organisations are busy targeting select policy makers. The fact that their arguments are not sound, only reveals that they care no better than the policy makers whom they target. The question here remains, why attack select policy makers alone?
The debate in the Parliament is faced with policy paralyses of a new order. The apex policy making body in the country is the Union Cabinet chaired by the Prime Minister. In almost every meeting on policy matters including reforms, the Cabinet Members are invariably divided akin to the fragmented members of the civil society organisations. Other meetings like National Development Council are rather ritual and do virtually nothing in terms of value addition to the country’s policy making.
The current political setup does not seem to be in favour of taking structural reform processes to the next level and these reforms have remained stuck for more than 8 years. The recent piecemeal announcements made in September demonstrate nothing new in terms of changing the structural process. Both domestic and foreign investors are still not sure about the domestic policies which are perversely directionless. There is not only a sense of fragility and inaction among the key Central Ministries and Departments but there is also a negative and stagnant mindset among the heads of the Government, which may irreparably damage the nation economically and socially. No institution can ever achieve anything worthwhile without strong and visionary leadership. The present problems clearly indicate a lack of this type of leadership at the top. So, the question remains – why target only the formal leader – the Prime Minister – leaving out the de facto leader – the UPA Chairperson?
The policies proposed by the ultra-powerful National Advisory Council (NAC), the de facto Cabinet, are based purely on political objectives and hardly on economics principles. The NAC, chaired by the UPA Chairperson, has also replaced the Plan Panel as the primary policy making body. The facts being thus, why are there no sustained attacks either on the creation of the NAC or the policies proposed by it? Why is the Planning Commission alone targeted continuously? An example of this can be seen in the recent issue of the toilet renovations which was an absurdly well coordinated attack by NGOs. This was done without the comparative analysis between ministries and departments who have also undertaken similar practices.
The most interesting part in this episode is that in the race to attack select policy makers, certain self-proclaimed ‘liberals’ seem to be taking cue from some members of the civil society organisations, who for their own reasons decided to target select policy makers in the ruling government. The joining of select ‘liberals’ with some of their enemies of liberty (read as pseudo civil society members) needs to be understood properly. Indeed, it is inevitable that there is hardly any active group in India on right-wing based approach to public policy making.
As noted Indian historian Ramachandra Guha rightly pointed out that “in classical liberalism, civil society activism is designed to protect individual citizens from the excessive use of power by the state. In India, by contrast, it is more likely to be used to demand a share of the state’s resources for specific groups or communities. Hence the ever increasing pressure to expand programs of affirmative action, by creating fresh quotas in schools, colleges, courts, offices, and factories for minorities, women, and backward castes. Hence also the proliferation of civil society groups speaking (or presuming to speak) for the poor, who demand amendments to the constitution making the Right to Work, the Right to Food, the Right to Education, the Right to Housing, and so on, mandatory and enforceable by law.” This is true for both the left as well as some of the ‘liberal’ think tanks in India.
Clearly there is an incentive for select pseudo ‘liberals’ for joining left leaning members of civil society organisations as far as extracting the resources of state machinery towards particular social groups are concerned. Moreover, both pseudo-liberal think tanks and most civil society organisations receive huge amounts of money from abroad in various forms in the name of welfare of the poor and awareness generation among the youth. Surely the indication is that the members of the civil society organisations and some liberals are reinventing a new order of neo-colonialism by enriching themselves through foreign aid supposedly received for empowering the poor. If the ruling Central Government has mastered the art of being indecisive with its policy making, most civil society organisations have equally mastered being enslaved by foreign donors. Recently, a number of NGOs have even reportedly been banned/blamed for misusing the funds received from abroad, for obstructing a nuclear power plant, conversion, funding strikes/political movements, etc. The long term consequences of distrustful activities of some NGOs are more dangerous than the prolonged indecisiveness of the government. Alas, the NGOs and left leaning liberal thinks the other way around.
If anything, the time has come to understand the real or the main activities of some of the liberal think tanks and civil society organisations in the country and try to see whether these institutions exists just for the sake of receiving money from abroad, or whether their work really helps in strengthening the fundamental values of liberty among people. The basic liberal values are rule of law, individual rights, private property rights and economic freedom. These values are embedded in the Indian society historically. At present, it seems that the institutions which are supposed to work for these values have actually turned a blind eye to them. This has to change before the entire movement results in new order of chaos in the society.
Photo: Tharique Azeez