Indira Gandhi's prudence and wisdom in nationalising banks in 1969 has saved the country’s banking system from the global meltdown. Placing the late Prime Minister’s decision in the current context, Congress president Sonia Gandhi took a potshot at those who had criticised the move.
See webcast of Sonia's speech
“If you allow me the liberty of showing what is to you the proverbial ‘red flag to the bull’, let me take you back to Indira Gandhi’s much-reviled bank nationalisation of 40 years ago. Every passing day bears out the wisdom of that decision. Public sector financial institutions have given our economy the stability and resilience we are now witnessing in the face of the economic slowdown,” she told the Hindustan Times Leadership Summit on Friday.
Speaking on “Ambitions for a New Century”, Sonia underlined that this would have to wait as the country grappled with the latest crisis after zooming oil prices and the proliferating food shortage. But recovery would lie in pursuing the “prudent course”.
Veteran Congressman Bhishm Narain Singh, who was a member of Indira Gandhi’s cabinet, later explained to HT why she had taken the step. “She felt the banking system benefited only a select few, and not the common man. This went against the concept of a welfare state.” He added that her decision stands vindicated today with the UK opting for bank nationalisation.
Sonia, by referring to Indira Gandhi’s vision, also sought to counter the Left’s claim, without naming any political party, of saving the country’s banking system by blocking the UPA’s banking reforms.
Sonia recalled the UPA’s pro-poor initiatives while virtually unveiling her party’s Lok Sabha manifesto. She stressed on the protection of vulnerable sections through “collaborative partnership” of sectors, peoples and institutions and called for “more efficient and responsive’’ public systems. She ruled out a return to the era of controls, but maintained that things cannot be allowed to spin out of control. And while it was early to say whether global dangers had been contained, the situation would throw up new opportunities. Her prognosis: liberalisation will continue but will be tempered by sensible — and not heavy-handed — regulation to ensure social justice and protect the vulnerable who are victims of the crisis through no fault of theirs.
Sonia’s ill-health may have allowed her to only make a speech — and not take questions — but it did not douse her sense of humour. “Let us surprise Professor Amartya Sen by giving up our favourite trait of being ‘unendingly argumentative’ and, for a change, let us be effectively collaborative,” she said as the audience cheered.