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Bad Politics is Good

Good politics does not necessarily go with good economics, and vie-versa. This is what liberalisation has achieved

Does good politics make for good economics? Most people believe so. After all, good politics results or is supposed to result in good governance and good governance leads or is supposed to lead to good economic performance. So goes the argument.

I am not very sure if the current state of affairs - political affairs, that is - in India can be described as good. It is actually quite chaotic. The central parliament does not function for days, often weeks, and very little legislation goes through. The government is often pre-occupied with such side-shows as the Volcker Report and members of parliament, not one or two but quite a handful are often busy making money on the sly: Things are much worse in states.

But take the economy. The stock market is on a roll, with the Sensex breaching one record after another and is almost certainly headed towards the magic figure of 10,000 by budget time. This is not just a fluke. All other indicators are booming too, including exports, investment and industrial growth. GDP this year is likely to touch 8 per cent, if you go by current trends.

The tell-tale signs of a booming economy are all there. A financial daily carries page after page of advertisements for corporate jobs that take your breath away. For the first time, Indian companies, which rarely used to advertise for senior managers, are now frantically looking for CEOs, no less.

The services sector is on fire. It is virtually impossible to get a table in a five-star restaurant, where a meal for two can routinely cost 5,000 to 10,000 rupees, without wine. Even little-known restaurants in places like Gurgaon near Delhi or Panvel near Mumbai warn that clients should be prepared to shell out thousands for their so-called gourmet meals.

Now go back forty or fifty years when Jawaharlal Nehru used to hold the fort and there was no opposition worth the name. There was very little corruption, as politicians, who were mostly Congressmen, had to look over their shoulders all the time before accepting a free train ticket.

The Nehru administration worked smoothly like a well-oiled Swiss clock. Five-year plans followed one after another, with precise targets for this and that, and even if you were not a Birla or Tata, you got your industrial licences without too much bother. Everything fell into place, like a child's Lego blocks.

But economic performance was dismal. Average GDP growth rate was 3.5 per cent a year, the so-called Hindu rate, though Nehru was not much of a Hindu. The country could not even manage to grow enough food for is people, and millions starved.

Good government on one side, poor economy on the other. This was also true of British times. There are still people like prime minister Manmohan Singh, who grew up during the British days, who are mesmerised by the 'gora' rule, but the economy was virtually stagnant, with growth rates of one or two per cent, if at all. Indians got so fed up with pucca British collectors and viceroys that they booted them out as soon as the war was over. Good politics does not necessarily go with good economics, and vie-versa. This is what liberalisation has achieved. It has snapped the umbilical chord that used to bind the two together, and set us free. Indians are more interested in what is happening on the cricket pitch than in the Parliament. After all parliaments - and politicians come and go, but cricket is forever.