1991 liberalised economy, 2008 liberalised polity

Towards draw of stumps on day one, Team Manmohan looks like it might score 271 in 20 hours. Or it might not.

But sometime in the year 2025, seventeen years from now, will we look at 2008 the same way we now look at a year 17 years before this one: 1991. As the year that altered our mindscapes and the landscape of our country.

As the year of Liberalisation 2.0.

With the benefit of hindsight, 1991 now seems like such an important, even essential thing for the country to have gone through. Out of compulsion if not choice, kicking and screaming, we opened our doors to let a blast of change blow through.

As Parliament burns the midnight oil on nuclear physics tonight, ponder this: would “Liberalisation 1.0” have passed muster in 1991 and would we be looking back at it the same way we do now if our MPs had adopted the same “rigorous” methods back then?

The biggest changes back then came within the first 100 days of the minority P.V. Narasimha Rao government taking over. There was no trust vote, therefore no debates like what we are seeing now.

It was a page straight out of “Shock Doctrine”.

There are plenty of honest critics of liberalisation even to this day, and it can be asked if it has really managed to erase the inherent inequity and inequality of our society, but there can be little doubt that 1991 was what Intel’s Andy Grove called the “strategic inflection point”.

Somebody had to do it.

Whether you are pro-nuclear deal or anti-nuclear deal; a Congress, BJP or Left supporter; an America lover or baiter, we are at a similar strategic inflection point.

1991 liberalised the economy; 2008 is poised to liberalise the polity. Behind both is Manmohan Singh. As benchmarks go, “India’s weakest PM since independence” has set a daunting one for all prime ministers in waiting.

Even an aye-vote on Tuesday might not help the Congress to win an election as it did not in 1996. Indeed, in giving Mayawati a pan-Indian image over just one weekend, the nuclear deal may have already taken the Dalits away from the Congress.

Add to that a tieup with Mulayam Singh along with an existing one with Lalu Prasad, and the Congress is staring at a mountain in the Hindi heartland, on top of a dozen or more defeats in State polls across the country.

But in achieving a perceptional shift in the minds of the middle-classes, in exorcising the ghost of the United States bang in the middle of our drawing rooms, Liberalisation 2.0 is as significant as Liberalisation 1.0.

It’s the sequel to beat all sequels.

True, the defections, the wheeling-dealing, the horse-trading, the favour-dispensing—and the sight of thugs, criminals, the sick and the dying being hauled in—make a joke of the “national interest”. But that applies as much to those pushing the deal as those opposing it.

Only Shibhu Soren’s support to a minority government, it seems, is the common strand between the two rounds of liberalisation. How odd can that be—and how very revealing of the maturity of our democracy, or the lack of it.

Maybe, it is too early to sing hosannas in praise of the liberalization of our politics. Maybe. But make no mistake. Tomorrow when the red and green buttons are pressed, Manmohan Singh’s vision is on test, sure, but it’s a bigger test for Prakash Karat & Co.

Liberalisation 2.0 doesn’t answer the grave questions about the independence of India’s foreign policy, about the subservience to the United States, about the deliverance of promises and so on, but in that respect it is no different from Liberalisation 1.0. It’s not the finished article.

It is possible that the impact of Liberalisation 2.0 will never be as personal and direct as Liberalisation 1.0. Against malls, mobiles and materialism, protons, neutrons and electrons don’t stand a chance.

Still, in 2025, the textbooks, unless they have been reworked, will have the same bold fonts for 1991 and 2008.

This piece also appears on rediff.com

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26 Responses to “1991 liberalised economy, 2008 liberalised polity”

  1. Anonymous Guy Says:

    Very interesting. And written in ‘bloggy’ style!

  2. Hosa-Belaku Says:

    So the moot question is whether the man who authored the liberalisation policy and ushered in the benefits of globalisation, would undo all of that with an ill-thought or crafted nuclear agreement? The question is rhetorical, but just to make it clear, the answer is ‘unlikely.’

    But the impact and ripple-effect on Indian society (if the government
    survives and the pact is signed) would be far more disruptive than mobiles and malls –not just consequent to what the deal entails now –but what amendments subsequent governments would succumb to in the future.

    It is those inflection points along the way (and there would be many) that one should watch out for. I dare say, the 2008 bold font would then become a matter of chronicling while what follows in the years ahead under other regimes would push for entire chapters.

  3. Chet Says:

    What is this ‘liberalization of polity’? What is this term has to do with seeking vote of confidence?

    In trying to stay in power, Manmohan Singh & Congress is not doing anything that was not done earlier. PV Narasimha rao got votes from JMM & from Ajit Singh in very much the same way Congress is doing now from JMM & others.

    Regarding “achieving a perceptional shift in the minds of the middle-classes, in exorcising the ghost of the United States bang in the middle of our drawing rooms …”, I don’t think that winning or losing the confidence vote makes any difference in ‘shifting’ the minds of middle class. As long as the main opposition party, some scientists and few strategic analysts are opposed to the nuclear in the present form, many people will be against it in the present form.

  4. Hosa-Belaku Says:

    @Gaby, –Good.

  5. Flatfooter Says:

    Agree with Chet. This blog is lengthy but doesn’t convey or convince anybody of anything – except a fashionable term that can be flaunted on the internet..

  6. Karihaida Says:

    Looks like a desperate attempt to spin this situation as a “liberalization”..
    What in the world is “liberalization of polity” ?
    If it is meant to convey that MMS is risking giving up power for the sake of the nuclear deal in the name of “national interest”, then its pathetic. The gov’t needed something to talk about for the next election, given the hopeless situation of the economy and their beloved aam aadmi and hence this desperate move. Afterall they have not much to loose..

    “But in achieving a perceptional shift in the minds of the middle-classes, in exorcising the ghost of the United States bang in the middle of our drawing rooms..”
    LOL. The gov’t is pushing this deal thru because of the wannabe american middle class and not the other way round, in the hope of weaning them away from BJP..

  7. Karihaida Says:

    Reducing reservation, cutting subsidies, thinning the gov’t.. now that would be true “liberalization of polity” worthy of being compared to 91′ “liberalization 1.0”

  8. Tarlemaga Says:

    It is not liberalization of Polity. Corruption of Polity Version 2.0

    Version 1.0 carried out by Narasimha rao, where in he bought over the JMM Mp’s for crores. In version 2.0 the price value of the the MP’s have increased through so called liberablism. Liberal Corruption at its best.

    Ultimately corruption is going to mean more taxes on the Citizens in addition to invoking loans at will from IMF,World Bank and putting future citizens of this Country at high risk.

    In a Globalised World corruption is not just dictated from America, wherein the economy is in distress. Now they see the third world to follow their ideals and drown along with them.

    Now Politicians no little about self reliance of the Indian economy. Indian markets need to be insulated from Globalization. We can generate enough and more by concentrating on the supply side for both agrarian and industrial side.

    Oil shows a classic case of dependence wherein Petro-Dollar’s are resulting in us being slaves of Americans. The next to follow will be Water and AIR. They will be heavily taxed by the Govt of the future as resources dwindle and riots can take place in the third world on account of this.

  9. Tarlemaga Says:

    The side effect of Globalization has been IT Organizations in India. Infosys,Wipro,TCS the big three contributing to higher cost of living.

    Indian IT Organizations are serving only countries other than India. Their contribution towards India is limited. It has only contributed to increase in Cost of living for Citizens who are resident Indians.

    Rentals have gone all time high. Ordinary citizens are not able to rent properties forget buying it. Each of these IT Folks are investing highly in real estate through speculation and the markets are running riot.

    Govt lop sided policies towards certain industries has created a chasm between the haves and have nots.

    If you are a citizen of India you cannot survive. You need to be a Non Resident of India, then you can survive. The dollars make Indian’s survive and Rupee makes Indians commit suicide. This is the true story of India after 60 years of Independence.

    Mahatma Gandhi taught us different ideals such as Swadeshi,Salt Satyagraha and boycott of foreigh goods. But now only heart needs to be Hindustani(Even that is corrupted).

  10. dharma Says:

    “Liberalization of polity’ In whose interest??

  11. dharma Says:

    As US are very keen in this Nuke deal plenty of American money must be flowing with the UPA.

  12. tarlesubba Says:

    Liberalisation 2.0

    artha aaglilla. tiLililla.

    it may not know what all is happening, but the article didn’t tell either.

  13. N Says:

    So, tell me how, I fail to understand this.

    Why is it that when the Congress uses “incentives” it is liberalization 2.0 and when the BJP does it, it is corruption?

    Churumuri, do you see the contradiction in your own thinking? MMS charms are non existent. He is just another politician warming the seat for the prince.

  14. Question Says:

    Congress made the world look up with awe with Pokhran 1 blast in the seventies.

    Congress revolutinised the Indian economy in 1991 by throwing open its doors to liberalisation.

    Congress today, after winning the trust votes now takes the credit for making India a nuclear super power.

  15. Doddi Buddi Says:

    Good article by KP!

  16. Sridhar Says:

    I would not call the current vote as an ‘inflection point’, because life will go on, with or without the N-deal. If this deal is vital for the US’s geopolitical interests, they will somehow work out an agreement with this or the next Indian government.
    From Dr. Singh’s point of view, however, it is one last chance to stand up on a matter of (his) principle. Most bureaucrats never get the chance to that. Their careers are spent kowtowing to one populist politician or the other. Now, he has created this situation where his own party, allies and sundry others have to close ranks (for whatever incentive) and defend him. He has nothing to lose. He is unlikely to be PM after the next elections (even if the UPA win). This is not Liberalization 2.0 for India, more like ‘Free,free, set me Free’ for the good Doctor.

  17. Hosa-Belaku Says:

    I meant @ Chet–Good! I also think some parts were exagerrated and language was laboured –coining terms as if (assuming) the write-up would make history rather than the subject that was being written about.

  18. dharma Says:

    Watch what is happening in Parliament! And NDTV!!~
    To make a string operation they want to take the permission of a judge and go to the police. The operator will be booked!! The Bandit will go scot free!

  19. Anonymous Guy Says:

    UPA survives trust vote

  20. Tarlemaga Says:

    Congress govt has institutionalised corruption in this Country. It started with TT Krishnamachari in the 60’s when he was a finance minister. Followed by Bofors scandal,Jain Hawala Scandal,JMM Bribery Scandal and the latest being Nuke Deal Bribery Scandal.

    After 60 years Corruption is way of life in this country. Citizens of this country continue to pay high taxes and bargain for loans from Worldbank,IMF as a stop gap arrangement to tide over the crisis.

  21. Poli Hudga Says:

    Singh is King … Jai Manmohan Singh! Our country deserved this N-deal to go through, despite lot of political hara-kiri. Mr. Manmohan singh definitely is strongest PM in the history of India in recent times. Thank you Prime minister, we are proud of you.

  22. R Gowda Says:

    Corruption is part of Indian politics. Biggest problem is we have so many political parties and no one get the majority. BJP spent crores in Karnataka to woo the independents. BSP and SP are doing this for years in Uttar pradesh.Congress did this with JMM. Unless and until there is political stability India won’t grow. I am surprised how CPM sidelined with BJP when their party workers were killing each other in Kerala and Bengal?
    Noone can save our democracy.

  23. Question Says:

    India wins. Manmohan emerges as the strongest PM India has ever had.

  24. Not A Witty Nick Says:

    Why did Mayawati got smacked by the judiciary(rightfully or not!) at an astonishingly interesting time?

    Was it the due process of law or a covenant in Congress-SP pact?

    We need alternatives! One MP at a time, we too want a change that we can believe in!

  25. Mohan Says:

    But think about this. If Manmohan Singh did not liberalize economy in 1991, he’d have gotten away with paying only 10 lakhs per MP in 2008 instead of 3 crores. Incomes have gone up all around. :-)

    Remember, the 64 crore Bofors number was a staggering sum then!

  26. Narayana Says:

    Liberalization was forced on India by World Bank. I have researched this a lot and finally come to this conclusion today after going through Structural Adjustment Loan Agreement signed by then India government with a fine comb. Read on the conclusion at http://nadunudi.wordpress.com/2010/09/18/who-is-responsible-for-liberalization-of-india/

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