Call it socialism from the badlands of Uttar Pradesh. The election season in India is not a time for surprises. Most parties make populist promises the staple of campaigning during this time. But what the Samajwadi Party (SP) unleashed in its manifesto on Saturday is unique even by the standards of this abnormal time.
Using the global economic crisis as an excuse, the SP has promised to do away with computers, machines and high salaries. The party said it was in favour of a balance between “maximum” and minimum salaries. The manifesto argued against the “enslavement” of humans by computers and machines and drew a parallel between mechanized farm harvesting and agricultural joblessness.
Illustration: Jayachandran / Mint
What does one make of this pastiche of science fiction (remember the takeover by machines in The Terminator?), mutated socialism and utter lack of understanding of economics (balance between maximum and minimum salaries)?
The SP manifesto should be seen in the light of two separate developments. At the national level, there is broad consensus between the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) on continuity in major policy domains. The two parties broadly agree on the economic and foreign policies that will serve India best. That, however, is not the domain in which political choices are made by a majority of Indians. To add to the problem, both parties have paid scant attention to communicating this aspect of governance to the electorate. Perhaps the bang per buck is too low for these parties to do that. That’s where local parties step in with their medieval visions.
The SP and other regional parties know there is a gap between the policy domain and the localized affair that Indian politics is. That enables them to step in with the kind of manifesto the SP released on Saturday. At this level of political competition, the national parties simply cannot match regional players. The policy consensus at the national level does not permit reckless promises to the electorate at large. Hence the feeble attempts by the Congress and the BJP at an “IT Vision” and other assorted, fringe, populist measures.
This is ineffective medicine. The danger that a populist coalition will try to patch together such visions into a national-level policy agenda is very real. The lack of communication and any form of cooperation between the Congress and the BJP has made it possible for regional parties (with the Left parties acting as a gluing agent) to march ahead with such dreary economic and political visions. This does grave disservice to a 21st century India.
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