Spot the difference

Mar 29 2014, 03:45 IST
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SummaryHow do India's top two political parties measure up against each other? In practice, the BJP increasingly seems headed the Congress way

Except for 12 years, the Congress has always ruled in Delhi since the time of the interim government in 1946. The National Democratic Alliance (NDA), led by the BJP for six years, changed India’s military outlook by exploding the nuclear bomb, tried hard for reconciliation with Pakistan, furthered the 'Look East' policy, and expanded on PV Narasimha Rao's economic reforms by beginning the process of privatisation of state-owned enterprises. But it was not firm in its handling of the Gujarat riots in 2002 under a BJP government.

The last 10 years had the Congress, for the first time, form an alliance of like-minded parties under the United Progressive Alliance (UPA). It has, for eight of these 10 years, given good economic growth, introduced many rights for citizens including the Right to Information, and spent heavily on social welfare schemes including a Right to Work scheme that guarantees employment to an adult in every rural household, for a minimum period. The national electorate has, in three elections now, shown its preference for coalitions at the Centre, led by one of the two national parties. We can expect similar coalitions from future elections. There are also many regional parties and, except for Uttar Pradesh, they have given good governance in their states.

The Congress, since Independence, has stood for socialism in a mixed economy. Indira Gandhi added “socialist” to the Preamble to the Constitution; now we are a “sovereign, secular, socialist” democracy. The Congress's interpretation of socialism is state ownership and control of national resources, a key role for the state in industry and infrastructure, and central planning of the economy including the private sector. In addition, Indira Gandhi emphasised social welfare schemes. Narasimha Rao was the maverick Congressman who focused on controlling the deficit, reducing controls and constraints on the Indian economy, so that enterprises could operate with more freedom. But he continued with state ownership in many sectors, with monopoly or dominance for the state in some of them. The Sonia Gandhi-Manmohan Singh regime reverted to the Indira Gandhi ideology. With a fast-growing economy and tax revenues, they vastly increased the number of and expenditures on social welfare. They could not introduce methods for proper identification of targeted beneficiaries or ensure minimum theft and wastage. Their “rights-based approach to welfare” did not put priority on growth or macroeconomic balance although, like the NDA, they also opened hitherto closed sectors to private investment

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