La sinistra indiana, divisa, mina la crescita economica

il 29 settembre sciopero
sindacati di sinistra contro le privatizzazioni
di aeroporti, fusioni bancarie,
apertura a capitali esteri, seguito da 50 milioni di lavoratori del settore

Tesi Salil Tripathi,
giornalista indiano da Londra:azione demagogica, massimalista dei partiti
di sinistra, contro il governo UPA che appoggiano.

  • Linea “riformista”
    (liberista) del ministro Palaniappan Chidambaram (Economia), e del
    consigliere economico Montek Singh Ahluwalia, che volevano privatizzare
    13 grandi gruppi in attivo
    , è finora stata bloccata dalle pressioni dei partiti
    di sinistra Communist Party of India (Marxists), Communist Party of India,
    Revolutionary Socialist Party, e All India Forward Bloc.
  • Partito Comunista, al governo nel Bengala Occidentale, sta
    portando avanti la stessa politica di privatizzazioni e apertura agli
    investimenti stranieri, con consulenza McKinsey, del gov.centrale,
    contro il quale ha organizzato lo sciopero.
  • Tesi PC: non possiamo
    finire come la Corea del Nord. Anche i paesi “comunisti” Cina e Vietnam
  • Ha perfino acquistato
    e rivenduto 5,100 acri [circa 2000 ha] di terreno fertile nel Sud depresso per
    attrarre $10 MD di investimenti industriali del gruppo indonesiano

Il governo del Bengala occidentale ha perfino
introdotto misure anti-sciopero per settori chiave. Ambasciatore USA D.
Mulford apprezza le misure di apertura del PCI, e critica le posizioni
“ideologiche” che prende a Delhi, che “confondono gli investitori”.


October 7, 2005

It’s been a classic case of one hand not
knowing what the other wants, as the contradictions within the Indian left
became increasingly evident over the past few days. While leftist unions
called a strike last week to protest economic reforms at a national level,
their allies in the leftist-run government of West Bengal are wooing foreign
investors by pursuing similar reforms at a local level.

The Sept. 29 strike, which ostensibly had
the support of nearly 50 million workers
, was called over the
Congress-led government’s plans to privatize airports, merge banks, and possibly
permit foreign investment in pension funds
. Banking, insurance, air
services and public transport were badly affected in many states.
Many more
stayed at home, fearing violence.

It was the left’s first major protest
against the economic policies of the United Progressive Alliance’s government
since it took power with their support last year. But it also demonstrated the growing
divergence of interests between the Communist Party cadres and union members,
who are free to rabble rouse against privatization and foreign investment, and
their leaders
, who, weighed down by the responsibility of elected office at
a local level, appreciate the need for such policies.

To make the state they run — West Bengal
— attractive to investors, those leftist leaders have turned to McKinsey
& Co. for advice on assessing the state’s potential in agribusiness and the
information-technology sector and marketing the state to investors
. But when
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh wanted to do likewise, by appointing representatives
of McKinsey as well as the World Bank to a group that would offer non-binding
advice to India’s Planning Commission, their leftist supporters protested so
much that Mr. Singh had to scrap the plan, even though the group would also
have included union leaders.

Political grandstanding like the Sept. 29
strike costs the Indian exchequer, generates adverse publicity and risks
scaring off future investors. Coming on top of stalled privatization and the
sluggish pace of other reforms, it creates the image of an India hobbled by
delays and uncertainties, just as it is reaping the rewards of sustained
reforms since 1991 with its economy set to grow at 7-8% this year
, its deficit
is running stubbornly at nearly 5%
of its gross domestic product.

The Left’s protests would have been at least
intellectually honest had there been some evidence that the UPA was
aggressively pursuing economic reforms. But as opposition politician Arun
Jetley (who was commerce minister in the previous government) remarked, this
was a mock protest; the Left was protesting against something-a coherent reform
agenda — which doesn’t exist. Even though the prime minister, his finance
minister, Palaniappan Chidambaram, and key economic adviser, Montek
Singh Ahluwalia
, remain committed to reforms, the UPA has not been able to
make much progress on this front
since it took power last May, because it
can only remain in power with the support of leftist parties such as the
Communist Party of India (Marxists), the Communist Party of India, the Revolutionary
Socialist Party, and the All India Forward Bloc
. For instance, it was
pressure from them that led Mr. Chidambaram in August to back away from
plans to sell strategic stakes in 13 profit-making state-owned companies,
including Hindustan Petroleum, Rashtriya Chemicals and Fertilizers, Shipping
Corp of India, and National Aluminium

So what was the Sept. 29 protest for? To
understand the left’s intransigence, consider politics. West Bengal must
go to polls by next spring
. The left’s 28-year hold over that
populous state (which sends 42 parliamentarians at the center) is its entry
ticket to the head table of Indian politics. And ironically, its main rival in
West Bengal will be the Congress Party, which leads the UPA. While it is
unlikely that the Left would lose support in West Bengal, it must show its
voters that it is different from the Congress. And if it loses that support,
the Left would lose stature and credibility in national politics.

But the West Bengal government has to square
those political imperatives with economic reality. Although its land-reform
program has secured the rural support
that has ensured successive electoral
victories since 1977, pragmatic Communist politicians acknowledge that its time
for the state to put more emphasis on industrial development. The problem is
that militant unions have scared investors
, prompting a capital flight
which has significantly weakened the state.

That’s why the West Bengal government has
been wooing Indonesia’s Salim group to invest $10 billion to develop an
industrial township
in the state. To do this, the government is prepared
to sell the group more than 5,100 acres of fertile land in South 24 Paraganas
an underdeveloped part of the state, even though acquiring farming land and
passing it straight on to foreign investors will be a tough pill for its
leftist supporters to swallow.

The state government has also taken other
steps that show it recognizes the need for the reforms its supporters are so
busy denouncing. Besides seeking McKinsey’s advice, the West Bengal
government has made it difficult to call strikes in some key sectors
. It
wants to privatize the venerable Great Eastern Hotel, which, if refurbished
properly, could look as majestic as the Raffles Hotel of Singapore.

After returning from Jakarta, West Bengal’s
chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharya told reporters that "if we
cannot reform and perform, we will perish… We cannot follow North Korea
stick to dogmas," and pointed out that "even China and Vietnam"
are Communist states which are implementing reforms. Indeed, the U.S.
Ambassador David Mulford
said on his first visit to Calcutta: "We see the
West Bengal Government being open to investments and launching into
on one hand. On the other, we see the ideological comments
the Left makes in Delhi. This confuses investors."

Internal debate among Marxists would be
harmless if it remained confined to Calcutta’s coffee houses. By taking the
battle to the streets and restraining the central government from doing
precisely what its state government is already doing, the left is playing a
destructive role. Privatization can reduce deficit. Foreign investment can
build infrastructure. Increased exports can create jobs. Eliminating subsidies
can free resources for more targeted spending, including poverty-alleviation
programs. By opposing such reforms, the Left is making it harder for India to
maintain the scorching growth which has brought the country so much prosperity
in recent years.


Mr. Tripathi is a writer based in London.

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