Nobel laureate Amartya Sen has argued that the Left needs to engage in a dialogue, particularly on the issue of ending poverty. Perhaps he is urging the Left to look at China, which has catapulted its growth rate in the last 30 years. “There is enough fierceness of the prevailing political arrangement and it has not helped to harness India’s potential for a high growth rate. It never seemed to grow,” says Sen.
Prakash Karat, general secretary of the CPI(M), entered the debate through an article in People’s Democracy while defending his party’s role in taking up the pro-poor policies of the UPA government. Repeated claims of getting the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS) Bill passed do not entitle the Left to the sole authorship of the scheme. In fact, no political outfit challenged the passage of the NREGS Bill. Likewise there are numerous programmes like Bharat Nirman, Ambedkar Awas Yojana, Rajiv Gandhi Grameen Vidyutikaran Yojana, etc., that were announced in the Budget.
It must be reiterated that the Congress government, in 1991, laid the foundations of India’s modern economy. It propelled the growth rate from 2-3 per cent to the present 9 per cent mark.
Let Karat understand that economic reforms built a strong framework to eventually meet social sector expenses like subsidising health, housing and other aspects that raise the standard of living of poor people. Direct tax collections, in the last five years, have tripled to nearly Rs 4 lakh crore. Economic reforms have generated huge revenues for the government not only to finance NREGS on a national scale but also other pro-poor policies.
It is time that the country demands an honest explanation from Karat and his party, which has ruled West Bengal for one-third of a century. There is a need for him to clarify what specific anti-poverty measures have contributed to the well-being of the poor in West Bengal. If Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu can sell cheap grain at Rs 2 per kg, why can’t the Marxist government do the same?
Further, if one compares per capita expenditure on social services with other states, the pathetic performance of the West Bengal government is obvious. According to the Reserve Bank of India, in West Bengal, social sector expenditure to total expenditure declined to 23.4 per cent in 2003-04 from 46.91 in 1990-91. But it increased in the last four years and, according to the Budget of 2007-08, it was 35.1 per cent, still less than other poorer states.
It compares badly to the figures of other poorer states like Bihar (40.8 per cent), Chhattisgarh 44.8 (per cent), Jharkhand (43.7 per cent), Madhya Pradesh (37.8 per cent) and Rajasthan (38.2 per cent). It shouldn’t also be forgotten that social sector spending has increased only in the last four years because the central government hugely increased the funding on pro-poor programmes in the states.
If we look at the record of land reforms in West Bengal, one finds that tenancy rights are protected and land is not given to the tiller. Have the Marxists learnt a lesson that keeping people poor is in their best interest?
The global collapse of Communism must be studied and lessons learnt sooner than later before India’s Left becomes redundant and archaic. As it is, the appeal of the Left is on the decline and it is no wonder that India’s young refuse to join it. The CPI(M) would do well to take on board Sen’s advice.
Surinder Singla is former finance minister, Punjab. The views expressed by the author are personal.