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Friday, May 12, 2006

Walking on the left again

The Indian left has done it again. While earlier elections in Bengal had been touted as rigged, few people had anything to complain this time; and the left won by a thumping majority (Its victory in Kerala is less glorious, since the left was positioned in the right side of the cycle of replacing incumbents) And all these success come immediately after its best performance in the national parliamentary elections (2004). On the extreme end, the Maoists have never been so strong in India since the early 70s. And yes, once again, it’s cool to be a lefty.

Their success in India correlates with the global success of the left in recent times. One can argue that the left has never had it so good worldwide since the exceptional 1968. Country after country in Latin America has given or is in the process of giving thumping majorities to the left. Lat Am has always been a bastion of the left but while their activities earlier captured mostly imagination, now they are capturing power in a large scale. In the USA, Democrats are expected to outshine the Republicans in this year’s house elections; and in the UK, the left (Labour, Lib Dem) still outrun the Tories. Left has come to power in Italy; they are creating enough noise in France; and they even made a quick comeback in Ukraine. The only exceptions to success of left are a few pockets like China, Vietnam and Germany.

What explains this recent success? This success has come in a period of exceptionally strong economic performance (India, Venezuela, Argentina have all seen >8% annual GDP growth in recent years). One reason may be that while the overall economy has grown, disparities have increased. For e.g., the Indian middle and upper class have benefited the most from the super growth (10% annual increment has been the minimum for most salaried people). On the other hand, the trickle down effect, true to its name has been happening at trickling speed. Contrast the 10% annual increment with the fare meter of an auto-rickshaw driver: his rates in Mumbai went up by only a rupee three years back and has remained the same ever since. And with more cars around clogging motor routes, his earnings may have actually decreased. Also contrast the 10% annual increment with the average money given to a beggar which hardly increases with time. The Trickle-down theory clearly holds; but it takes time; and globally this period of super growth is still at a very young stage. And in the early stages of growth; though absolute incomes for all may go up; they go up at vastly different rates for different people; leading to inequality and discontent. The multiple socio-economic ideas of the left are extremely complex, and in order to convince the masses, these ideals had to be reduced to simple rhetoric like: Tax the rich, feed the poor, till there are no rich no more. And in this period of growing inequality, such rhetoric satisfies the urge of the masses to hit back; whatever that may mean. So the success of the left is more of a symptom rather than a solution or in such a situation. Worldwide, there are thousands of leftist factions and the difference in their ideologies could be as much as that between Cheney and Castro. And in action, leftist economic ideas have little success to show for themselves.

My sense is that the left will go from strength to strength; till the point when sustained economic growth and trickle down lead to rise in absolute incomes to such a level that the ensuing comfort is sufficient to overcome the discontent of seeing the rich speed by your slum in a huge car knocking your makeshift stove in the process.

P.S. In last weeks issue; the Economist has a special report on how Indian outsourcing story may come under threat from China. The article repeatedly argues that Chinese are very theory-oriented and thus suited for more routine jobs unlike ones that require creativity (which they claim is India’s strong point???). One of the reasons the magazine cites for this difference is that unlike China, in Europe and India, by contrast, engineering degrees demand work experience. Where did they get this piece of information?


Nitin Goyal said...

You may like to read my blog post here for a slightly different view.

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Prasanna said...

Hi Sivaji

How is the electoral performance of left being described as "resurgent"?

They have won handsomely in the traditional bastions -due to ineffectual opposition in Bengal and customary 5-year anti-incumbency in Kerala

They are fringe/marginal force in the rest of the country(sorry -except Tripura)

And in my state ,Tamil Nadu ,they are one of the many opportunistic political forces either riding piggyback on ADMK or DMK and win around 10 seats.They have some agrarian workers and ruffian auto drivers as their votebank

I dont see any future for the left in the next 10 years -it will be impossible for them to even cross 100 seats for the next 20 years in parilament

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