An interview of former finance minister and former Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh has been published in the English daily ‘The Indian Express’ (8 September 2023). Information about the journalist/journalists who took this particular interview has not been given. It has been told to the readers that ‘The Indian Express’ has done this interview of Dr. Singh on the eve of G20 Summit.
In this interview, Dr. Singh, the pioneer of liberalization-privatization policies in India, has encouraged the ruling class by supporting its domestic and foreign policies. At the same time, he recommends integrating India’s neoliberal economy more and more with the global economy under the current new world order. He believes that while doing this, India should not think about which side is right and which is wrong. Citizens who believe in the idea of equality (at least possible equality if we use Dr. Lohia’s term) within and between countries should go through the interview in order to understand its implications in which 91-year-old Dr. Singh pats the back of his children.
In the intro of the interview, the newspaper has highlighted three statements of Dr. Singh from its part. The first statement is about the Russia-Ukraine war: “In the wake of the Russia-Ukraine war, India has a pivotal role in steering the new world order and has done the right thing in putting its sovereign and economic interests first while also appealing for peace.” In the light of his statement the character of the new world order can be understood. Dr. Singh does not say that wars should have no place in the determination and operation of the new world order; That arms manufacturing, trade and trafficking are bad for world peace and environmental protection; That if there are wars between countries, there will be conflicts between communities too; That in the economy of the new world order, the countries that make and sell weapons will always have the upper hand.
It has been more than a year and a half since the Russia-Ukraine war broke out. Dr. Singh, who talked about building the India of Jawaharlal Nehru’s dreams in the Indian Parliament and India of Gandhi’s dreams in the American Congress, in his interview has not appealed to stop this war. He seems to consider wars like Russia-Ukraine as an integral part of the new world order. Just as he did not find it wrong in continuing with scams in the neo-liberal economy, in the same way he does not find it wrong in continuing with such wars in the new world order. In the interview, he does not seem to be concerned about the various contradictions and conflicts within the new world order. This means that contradictions and conflicts can also be resolved through wars. So, wars and their associated twin processes of human destruction and environmental destruction have to continue under the new world order?
The second statement is about Dr. Singh being optimistic about the future of India: “Singh said he was more optimistic about India’s future than worried, but that optimism is contingent on India being a harmonious society.” Dr. Singh has stated the need for social harmony so that the neoliberal economy can flourish in the new world order. No need to say that humans and society are not fundamental to neoliberalists. For them the market economy is fundamental, which makes all the “right” decisions for humans and society. Neoliberal leaders would need social harmony for the flourishing of neoliberal economy so that foreign/private capital investors remain confident about their profits.
However, what Dr. Singh fails to see is that this perception – peace in the society is necessary for foreign/private investment – dates back to the times of his own and Atal Bihari Vajpayee. This perception has completely reversed during the Narendra Modi era. Now the environment of social animosity is considered much safer for foreign/private capital investors. People will fight among themselves, and decisions of liberalization and privatization will continue to be implemented without public resistance. Further, the RSS/BJP has made communal hatred the key to attaining political power. They are not ready to accept any limits on the path of communal hatred. Following this path, they claim to continue ruling the country for the next 50 years. Dr. Singh probably does not know or accept to what extent social harmony in the country has deteriorated in the last decade; And it has a deep relationship with the policies of liberalization and privatization. It’s surprising that he is unaware of the corporate-communal nexus operating in the country which has become a dire threat to the basic human and constitutional values.
The third point in the intro is about Dr. Singh’s advice on diplomacy and foreign policy: “Singh, during whose term the G20, as a leaders’ summit, came into being after the 2008 financial crisis, also struck a note of caution calling for restraint in using diplomacy and foreign policy for party or personal politics.” This is valid advice for every leader and party. However, neither Narendra Modi nor his party is going to pay attention to this good advice of Dr. Singh. In fact, in the politics of the neoliberal era, the market-norm of ‘what is seen is sold’ prevails. Billions of rupees from the government treasury are poured down the drain to advertise themselves as the best product in the political market by leaders. A strong team of neoliberals, stationed in the country and abroad, carefully guards this phenomena of advertisingism (vigyapanvad).
In the interview, Dr. Singh has said that he is happy that India’s turn to chair the G20 has come in his lifetime. It would have been better if he had also said that billions of rupees of the country should not have been wasted by making this incident a pageant for the whole year. Perhaps, he could not have said this. Extravagance of leaders and governments has become a necessary ritual in the neoliberal world system, especially in developing countries. You are an emerging economy, so you have to show how lavishly you display your wealth. Further, the crores of people, at whose cost this wealth and glory is displayed, also have to be taken into pressure that the great people of the world are engaged in doing the great job. In personal simplicity, honesty and kindness, Narendra Modi is not even the dust of the feet of Dr. Singh. But Dr. Singh has no objection to the royal pomp of his children!
The interview reveals that Dr. Singh is fully convinced that India is going to become an “economic powerhouse” on the path of neoliberalism. The whole world saw the scenario of the country’s population having to become the fuel of this very economic powerhouse for the last 30 years during the Corona period. But Dr. Singh could not see them. They are not his children. The pioneer of neoliberalism in India naturally sees only the big business houses that became richer even during the Corona pandemic period and the Indians who became billionaires. They, for him, are the radiant future of India with their double prosperity, day and night.
Dr. Singh does not deny the existence of hardworking children of Mother India. If India wants to become an economic powerhouse, it needs an adequate amount of fuel. During his tenure, to keep this fuel alive, a member of a family was given work for 100 days in a year at a daily wage of Rs. 80 under the Mahatma Gandhi National Employment Guarantee Act, 2005 (MNREGA). The progressives, who had raised the slogan ‘wealth and land will be divided for sure’, were jubilant on the decision. On the same day it had been decided that two economies would run openly in the country – the main economy for corporate India and the retail economy for toiling subordinate India.
Here the report of Arjun Sengupta Committee can be briefly recalled. This committee was formed in November 2004 during the tenure of Dr. Singh. In its report submitted in April 2005, the committee had said that about 80 crore population of India survives on about Rs. 20 per day. By then 15 years had passed since the neoliberal reforms were introduced. The committee had also categorically stated that in the era of neoliberalism, poverty has increased instead of decreasing as compared to the previous years. The findings of the committee were based on the data of the year 1983.
In the interview, Dr. Singh says “India’s external trade as a share of its GDP doubled in the decade from 2005 to 2015, which benefitted us enormously, lifting hundreds of millions out of poverty.” He further says, “This also means that India’s economy is much more integrated with the global economy.” Only experts of economics can comment on this claim of Dr. Singh. All I want to suggest here is that under the neoliberal regime of new India, the benefits of foreign trade and foreign investment go to the already empowered/powerful people catered within the main economy of the country.
In the interview, Dr. Singh praises “peaceful large democracy” of India. This democracy, obviously, needs voters to keep it running in corporate interests. This is possible only if certain “welfare schemes” are made for the voters left out of the corporate-serving economy and they are kept intact in the “praja mode”. So that as a citizen they forget all about their constitutional entitlements forever. In the last three decades of the neoliberal era, an entire army of educated political illiterates has been created in India and abroad. They are the opinion makers, and they have a significant number in the anti-Modi camp as well. By giving two handfuls of rice, this scope of political illiteracy is being spread to the remote villages/countryside.
When the new economic policies were adopted in 1991, Narasimha Rao was the Prime Minister of the country and Dr. Singh was the finance minister. At that time, senior Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Atal Bihari Vajpayee had said that Congress has done our work by implementing the new economic policies. Dr. Singh later also served as the Prime Minister of the country for two terms. But Mani Shankar Aiyar did not write in his book that Dr. Singh was the first finance minister and the second Prime Minister of BJP!
I have written somewhere that Dr. Singh is a classical player of neoliberal economy. Narendra Modi makes blind moves. Apart from being an eminent scholar of capitalist economics, Dr. Singh is also a staunch supporter of the economy based on it. This interview tells that after going through more than 30 years of experience, Dr. Singh does not feel a slightest need for any alteration (leave apart alternative) in the global order or economy for India or the world. That is the reason he blindly approves Narendra Modi’s blind moves on the path of neoliberalism.
(The writer associated with the socialist movement is a former teacher of Delhi University and a fellow of Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla)