Debating India

UTTAR PRADESH

Socialite Party

Thursday 9 February 2006

Has Mulayam got fancy new political clothes? Hopefully yes, for the sake of Uttar Pradesh

Raj Babbar’s disenchantment with the Samajwadi Party seems to be, among other things, on account of the latter’s alleged preference for socialites over socialists. With due apologies to this son-in-law of a communist - as Sitaram Yechury approvingly described Babbar - we would have to wish Mulayam Singh success in such an ideological retrogression. Lohiaite socialism, the credo SP and some other political formations in the Hindi heartland officially subscribe to, can always and justifiably claim that some of its leaders opposed the Emergency with gusto and paid for it. But in politics, moral high grounds are not sufficient if ideas growing on them are intellectually atrophied.

Lohiaites have been offering sons of the soil who tend produce economic wastelands - look the indices of Hindi heartland. This vast stretch of India needs new ideas. And hope is finally visible. Laloo Yadav didn’t want to modernise Bihar and he’s out. Nitish Kumar has a tough job. But by breaking up, over union protests, the state electricity board in four, he gave a good indication of what he’ll try. Laloo as rail minister has actually been a reformer. Mulayam has not given up on UP power reforms, neither on his efforts to get big-ticket projects, whether in real estate or heavy industry. Sugar in UP has undergone a quiet reform: private mills out-competing public ones in procuring cane from farmers.

Of course plenty needs to be done, including in UP. If in doing that Mulayam has to sound less and less socialist, if his hunt for private investment takes him to gatherings that are admittedly not austere, if in doing all this Amar Singh - Babbar’s real target - is a help for the chief minister, then they deserve to succeed. Ideally, this should happen via capitalism, not crony capitalism. But that will be demanding something of UP that India cannot deliver. A realistic criterion in Indian development projects is “do they work”. Mulayam Yadav is yet to pass that test. But Raj Babbar perhaps shows he’s prepping rather diligently.

See online : The Indian Express

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