Friday, July 22nd, 2016

Forget the rhetoric of alternative path, Kerala’s Left govt will be advised by a neo-liberal economist

NK Bhoopesh | July 22, 2016 3:19 pm Print
Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan's decision to appoint a neo-liberal economist as his Economic Adviser reflects the path his government wishes to tread

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At a time when the CPI(M) central leadership is wrangling over whether it should fight fascist trends by joining hands with the Congress or only with Left parties, even when the influence of the parliamentary Left is fading fast, the LDF government in Kerala does not seem to have any confusion.

For the Pinarayi Vijayan government, as some of its influential members have already stated, ideology is not going to have any influence on governance. Though some other ‘less influential members’ of the cabinet  have made loud noises about the  alternative path that the Left government is going embark upon.

But the all powerful chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan seems to have another idea, ostensibly at variance with the professed policies of the CPI(M).

Battling to overcome the public disenchantment over the appointment of controversial lawyer M K Damodaran as his legal advisor with the status of a principal secretary, Pinarayi seems to be on course to court another controversy.

Kerala government ‘s appointment of Gita Gopinath, a professor of economics at Harvard as chief minister’s economic adviser has made some of the  CPI(M) sympathisers red faced.

Not that Gita does not make a perfect fit to advice a state government, but Left fellow travellers say it is about her vision on economic and political economy that is making  them wary about the appointment.

Gita , has been a great supporter of the economic reform process in India. Business channels and pink papers carried her interviews several times in which she categorically says how enthused the world at large is about the prospects of Modi government pushing forward the economic reforms.

Soon after Modi government took over, NDTV carried a detailed interview with her in which she admonishes the previous UPA government for ‘policy paralysis’, a charge levelled by the captains of the Indian industry and international  financial institutions have made against the Manmohan Singh government.

‘Policy paralysis’ was the term the supporters of unbridled economic reforms used as an euphemism for the lack of big bang reforms both in financial and economic sectors.

Interestingly when asked about whether the big bang reforms are needed along with small steps of reforms, the Harvard professor underlined the necessity for both.

Not just small reforms, but big reforms are also needed, Gita said.

She also shower praise on  Modi for de-regulating  diesel prices  and asked the government to push the Land Acquisition Bill. It must remembered that almost all parties except the BJP opposed the Land Acquisition Bill and the CPI(M) and its front organisations organised massive protests against this and the Modi government was  forced to keep that  Bill in cold storage in the face of the stiff protests .

In another interview to CNBC channel in January this year, Gita emphasised her point that big reforms is not happening as many expected.

“India to move towards 8 percent growth, what it needs to do is revive domestic investment and that is one area where I haven’t seen much of a change. If you look at the last 16 months in the Modi government, there have been positive signs but if you look at corporate investments, private sector investments in India by domestic corporates, that has flat line, that peaked in 2011 and that is flat line. There are a few factors for that that needs to be addressed. The first, the promised big reforms including Land Acquisition do not come about, that has to be pushed”.

Left sympathisers worries that if the CPI(M) government has decided to officially seek advice from an expert who has diametrically opposite views on economy and politics from that of Left parties, what is the use of the whole rhetoric about alternative development, the party has been propagating?

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This is perhaps the first time a Left chief minister is having an economic adviser.

Usually the deputy chairman of the state Planning Board used to frame the policies that the Left government will try to follow.

Renowned economists were appointed to lead the plan panel. This time also the government has appointed V K Ramachandran, another renowned economist as the head of the state Planning Board.

Finance minister Dr. T M Thomas Issac himself is also an economist of repute.  I S Gulati and Prabhat Patnaik were some of the highly respected economists who helmed the Planning Board, when Left government was in power.

Now the question is why Pinarayi  is keen to get advice from a neo-liberal economist when his team is equipped to guide the government to chart an ‘alternative development path’?

Does his pragmatism mean jettisoning political ideals of his party?

Pinarayi considered to be  a ‘pragmatic’ leader, who is not bogged down by ideological head baggage had made  it clear soon after he took charge as the chief minister, that the government will do all it can to attract big ticket investments to the state.

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This statement has won him accolades  from corporate sector and business dailies hailed this saying that finally pragmatism is replacing what they termed as ideological obstinacy in Kerala.

The appointment of  M K Damodaran as the legal adviser of CM has sparked a huge controversy which forced the top legal eagle to decline the post.

But the damage was done. Damodaran who has good personal relations with Pinarayi, is allegedly on an equal footing with opposition politicians who were entangled in sensational cases. Controversy broke out when Damodaran appeared in court for some controversial business magnates who were fighting cases against the government.

The central leadership of the CPI(M) despite their differences of opinion on tactical lines has so far been united in their assertion against neo-liberalism. As the nation looks back on 25 years of economic reforms, CPI(M) intellectuals and leaders have come out with another view point saying how  financial liberalisation has aggravated problems of the common man.

But having said all this,  whenever a strong leader with questionable ideological commitment  gains power in states, the grip of the central leadership do not seem to  carry much weight as expected in a communist party.

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How Budhadeb Bhattacharya played to the tunes of the neo-liberals when he was in power in West Bengal, and how little the central leadership could do to pull him back to party line, is an example from recent past. His policies and utterances,  many feel have contributed considerably to the  decimation of the Left movement in the eastern state.

Kerala being the most influential and powerful unit of the CPI(M) and Pinarayi literally dictating the discourse in the organisation, one could feel a sense of deja vu of what happened in West Bengal.

And this feeling emboldened by the recent steps, taken by Pinarayi governement renders all the talk of scripting an alternative path by the Left government as mere rhetoric.

Whether the political cost of this may be too high for the Left to pay remains to be seen.

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