Confessions of a Swadeshi Reformer

Harish Khare reviews Yashwant Sinha’s book “Confessions of a Swadeshi Reformer”, that despite being “patchy” does give an idea about the policy debates during the NDA years and how a party of swadeshis continued the “reform” policies of its predecessor, the Narasimha Rao government.

Sinha talks how he repeatedly ran into difficulties with some of his own colleagues in the sangh parivar. On opening up the insurance sector: “My proposal, however, met with severe opposition from many of my colleagues. They felt that we were going back on all that we had stood for in the past, that the proposal involved a major departure from our philosophy and that it was anti-swedeshi. There was hardly any support for my proposal”

…The problem is that he glosses over the political economy of the Vajpayee phenomenon. He proceeds on a somewhat naive assumption as if vested economic interests and corporate houses had no role in sponsoring the Vajpayee premiership from 1998 onwards. Vajpayee could not be allowed to move away from the “economic reforms” course and it was Sinha’s job to deliver. But the BJP crowd refused to move away from the anti-reform, anti-globalisation slogans of the early 1990s.

…Sinha himself believed that he could easily switch from being a swadeshi pamphleteer to a servant of global corporate interests and would not attract any opposition: “Unfortunately, my views were not appreciated by many other proponents of swadeshi, despite my repeated efforts to explain it to them. An impression gathered ground that, while I started as a staunch supporter of swadeshi, I changed course and became an advocate of liberalisation, privatisation and globalisation.”

…Sinha himself believed that he could easily switch from being a swadeshi pamphleteer to a servant of global corporate interests and would not attract any opposition: “Unfortunately, my views were not appreciated by many other proponents of swadeshi, despite my repeated efforts to explain it to them. An impression gathered ground that, while I started as a staunch supporter of swadeshi, I changed course and became an advocate of liberalisation, privatisation and globalisation.”

Sinha recounts many frustrating moments as Vajpayee’s Finance Minister. He chafes at being nicknamed “roll-back Sinha”. However, he does not draw the simple lesson: good intentions and even self-proclaimed patriotic commitments are not enough. A self-advertised ‘deshbhakt’ does not ipso facto become an achiever or doer; nor does RSS orientation equip an administrator with a magic wand that would make disappear entrenched bureaucratic habits and aberrations.

However, to his credit Sinha gives the impression of remaining his own man, not easily troubled by the critics, in and out of the party. He does see through the so-called civil society’s deceit: “People who belong to the tax-paying class, like the middle class, industrialists, journalists and high net worth individuals — those who are the opinion makers in our society — praise a finance minister who gives them concessions, and criticises the one who imposes a burden on them. It is as simple as that.” His party continues to refuse to see the class and elitist biases at work in the dominant sections of the Indian media.

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