Hamara buddy socialism

My social media feed is flooded with messages informing me of the loss of a courageous critic of the government and its policies, and I am saddened.

It’s great to see that we have deans of some very successful and old business houses criticizing the current government and giving us proof that they have a language and a voice and also an opinion (this too at a time when freedom of expression is supposedly in danger), this raises a very interesting question.

Where were these virulent critics of the government before 1991?

If you are a young person, you simply could not relate to That India.

It was an India where it often took ten years to have a telephone line, three years to have a car and five years to have a scooter, that too if you are lucky.

I won’t describe how long it took to get government permissions to start a business, because an entrepreneur’s dictionary started with the word “impossible”.

This was the time when we had a socialist government with an iron fist on parliament which had enacted the Monopolies and Restrictive Trade Practices Act (MRTP Act) to ensure that there was no monopoly and profit and everyone gets everything at a fair price.

In short, it was such a good time that no businessman needed to call a spade a spade and openly criticize government policies. It was the age of golden silence, even of academies (Jawaharlal Nehru University was already established) and economists.

But, since I was a street vendor at that time and didn’t know it was a golden age, my own experience was strange.

While buying anything was nearly impossible for the middle class, the most interesting process was buying a scooter (the choice of example is completely random and should not be read as directed at anyone living or deceased).

Scooters were in high demand and for some reason extremely rare. You had to book a scooter and wait years for your ride, but if you’re impatient you can buy it by paying “ON” at the black market. The ON you paid an ‘agent’ in cash was often 30% extra to the actual cost of the scooter.

The real beauty was that (although I don’t have real numbers you can ask any former parent) a lot of scooters were bought by people I know paying “ON” and yet it seems that the poor scooter maker had absolutely no idea this was the ground reality (or probably I knew mostly middle class officials with no morals).

Frankly, I don’t recall anyone vocally criticizing the government of that era for this situation, so I’m forced to assume that the whole ‘ON’ game that was at the heart of the scooter market was something that neither economist nor scooter manufacturing of that great age had noticed or deemed it worthy enough to criticize the government from any platform (I don’t know if Economic Times was hosting events at that time).

The story of the scooter is just one of the tales of the time which was probably the Indian rendezvous with communism ruled by a Chinese party in the name of socialism which we have fortunately survived.

If there is anyone with real courage to call a spade a spade, it is necessary to tell the true story of each of the business houses that emerged from the folds of congress of that era and how the MRTP Act was gave a perfect result that many of them wanted, and that was to have a monopoly hold on the market, even at the cost of the nation’s economic growth.

I admit that India suffers from crony capitalism on some level today, but what really kept India poor for a long time was crony socialism.

While crony capitalism is all about ensuring that a specific group close to the government gets certain political benefits, crony socialism goes even further as it is not just about providing benefits to elites, it is about providing benefits to elites. It is also about adopting restrictive policies that control the market and the masses for the benefit of the elites.

If you are a young entrepreneur and some of the old names sound like moral icons, read India’s economic history a little more carefully.

And if you aspire to build a business empire, thank the likes of Ambani who had so much fire in their stomachs that they smashed their way through the old settlement and ushered in a new era for the Indian economy which lets you dream today.

It is now up to young India to learn from both past and present and hopefully forge a new economy of equal opportunity for all where entrepreneurship can flourish.

It may seem impossible, but the lesson to be learned from the failure of capitalism and socialism is that the root cause of the problem is not government or politics, it is human greed.

If young Indians begin to realize that life should be lived beyond the quest to satisfy greed, it will automatically create a new and very different economy.



The opinions expressed above are those of the author.