People look helpless. The virtual absence of mass movement for a very long period has too many adverse impacts on the society—a de-politicised citizenry marked by apathy and cynicism. This is an era in which businessmen, corporate tycoons, bookies, bureaucrats and corrupt politicians are stronger and more aggressive, and face less organised challenge than ever before. The economic consequences of neo-liberal policies, so ardently pursued by the Vajpayee government have been the same just about everywhere. An unstable economy and an unprecendented bonanza for the rich. The drama unfolding over oil price hike vis-a-vis oil pool deflict is more political than economic. With the very authenticity of oil pool deficit being questioned, it is now clear that they have chosen the easiest way to tax people. True, oil pricess are now about $ 33 a barrel, up from $ 22 a year ago. But taxation has already crossed the tolerable limits. As oil prices rise every year almost routinely, people are forced to spend less on everything else. Too much dependence on imported oil coupled with ever expanding use of fossil fuel in industry and agriculture has created a nightmarish situation. All political parties, left and right alike, think oil price hike is too natural to be questioned, and market forces and government authorities have earned divine rights to do whatever they like. The policy of systematically switching over to oil based economy for the last three decades or so has simply back-fired. A minor oil tremor in the middle east can worsen India’s fragile economic system.
The recent uproar over oil price hike in the Vajpayee cabinet is in reality aimed at appeasing the gallery as they are weighing on the ramification of oil issue against the backdrop of forthcoming assembly poll, particulary in West Bengal where the prospects of the red losing power after an uninterrupted rule of 24 years seem bright. As oil is the business of Delhi, the CPM-led Left Front too indulged in populism by passing the
buck on the Centre for their ‘unfortunate’ decision to hike bus fares. They allowed private bus owners to throw the entire transport system out of gear and compromised secretly with them to show the public that the pro-people leftists really tried their best to resist hike in bus and minibus fares. Whether this stance can fetch more votes is altogether a different matter but it helped die-hard Left supporters to heave a sigh of relief.
For all practical purposes, the national democratic alliance government of the Vajpayees has proved the myth that governments and government controlled institutions in this epoch of ugly globalisation are inefficient bodies that should be limited so as not to contain the magic of the market. They think they can push any harsh measures down the throats of the people without having any moral obligation.
With the left strengthening the notion that there can be no superior alternative to the status quo, the right has virtually a field day. The way they are blatantly attacking the downtrodden and marginalised has no parallel in history. While inagurating last week the construction of the Sardar Sarover Dam on the Narmada river, after the Supreme Court verdict, L K Advani wondered why the very same people opposed the building of the dam and the Pokhran blasts. In plain words he saw foreign hands in the protest movement by the dam affected people. The rulers no longer fear the power of the many. Strange it may seem, even the far left believes in spontaneity. But every advance in history, from ending slavery to ending formal colonialism, has had to demolish the status quo. Globalisation has generated massive political crises from east Asia to eastern Europe and Latin American. India cannot avoid the turmoil, no matter who rules at the centre. The progressives continue to act like there is no possibility of change for the better. Even if they win elections they are going to lose in this market dominated culture— the winner ultimately becomes the loser.