The Rajpal Abeynayake Column                     By Rajpal Abeynayake  

Residing in a one-idea country
"The Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) is now a part of a coalition government in the forefront of the effort to heap burdens on the people'' claims a news story published in an international website.

The JVP is facing the perils of incumbency. The other day a well meaning and politically engaged person was seen to be castigating the JVP's tank-rebuilding programme. This man's central thesis is that the JVP's 'wev' programme is a politically driven one, aimed securely at its large rural voter base.

But, his thesis strikes, unbeknownst to its author, at the core of the "development debate'' for Third World nations. This week saw the passing of Narasimha Rao, former Indian Prime Minister. CNN, eulogising Rao said "whatever maybe said about him, the policies that Rao initiated are now the cornerstone of the Indian economy; an economy that is doing very well indeed – as one of the best performing economies of the world today." (!)

So, the Indian economy is one of the best performing economies of the globalized world economic order of our times? Then, why is it that 43 per cent of India's women – according to the recently completed UN survey – suffer from chronic anaemia due to malnutrition?

The burgeoning Indian middle-class is therefore one heck of myth, and it's a myth that is chiefly propagated by the yuppie Indian entrepreneurial class, whose handmaidens are those such as the CNN correspondent who claims as if he just found the Holy Grail, that India is "one of the best performing economies on the planet.''

The neo-liberals have a cheerleading squad. They are made of people such as our friend who inveighed against the JVP's thousand tanks programme.

These people feel that any indigenised economy is a rout. They believe that when a country ties itself to the world economy, such a country should do so by falling hook line and sinker – and they advance the examples of the Asian Tigers and South Korea etc., with Malaysia now appearing to be the current favourite case-study..

They shut their eyes to the fact that in countries such as India, this neo-liberal paradigm has failed in uplifting the general economic conditions of the people, even though the champions of neo-liberalism spout their gargled version about "one of the best performing economies one earth'' on CNN, as if they had just been regaled about such tales from half a billion or so beautiful anaemic women in the Indian heartland.

Stories told and sealed with a billion kisses. It's another matter that those who see bad policy in the JVPs tank-reconstruction programme never saw anything negative in J. R. Jayewardene's Accelerated Mahaweli, which was a programme launched on the same basis of economic self-sufficiency, albeit with tons of British aid for good measure to remind us that there was international approval for this scheme.

The sub-continental experience has been that if there is 43 per cent chronic malnutrition among Indian women, there will still be no social uprising in India. Maybe it is Hinduism or the kismet of the Indian union, or maybe because as somebody said 'India is obscenely large.''

Either way, Indian politics has been geared to keep chromic poverty under socially manageable control. Not so in Sri Lanka. Sri Lankan peasantry cannot be badgered into taking the neo-liberal medicine with uncomplaining stoicism.

At least they will change governments. Quite incidentally it is what the mass of the Indian population did too, by kicking out Vajpayee and his "shining India,'' circus as if they knew that the only thing that was shining was a piece of tinsel in a dress boutique in Khan Market New Delhi.

At least according to animated voices of CNN pom-pom boys, the new Indian government is following the policies that Narasimha Rao initiated without any deviation, because Rao's Finance Minister Manmohan Singh is the new PM under renewed Congress rule.

But in fact the new government is desperately trying to empower the rural masses in any which way it can, though the country is now firmly locked into the neo-liberal economic process.

We still do not know enough about India's new economic policies to say whether there is anything novel in this department of positively reengaging the rural economy for growth. But what we do know is that in Sri Lanka at least, there has been a new idea in this area - - and that is the thousand 'Wev' programme of the JVP.

But this is the very programme that the JVP is getting blamed for! Now, though it seems to be obvious that the JVP is suffering from the culture shock of power, and is not doing all that well in coping with it, the party is in need of affirmation for the fact that it has at least one idea versus none from the two dominant political parties – the UNP and the PA!

The JVP with its 'wev' programme seemed to have charmed the weather gods into having a change of heart about the Sri Lankan drought. Rains drenched the dry zone -- to the point of overkill. But more important seems to be the fact that the JVP broke the drought of ideas in the contemporary political establishment. To put it in short, the thousand 'wev' programme needs a thumbs up from everyone who sees the absurdity of India today – where a hyped-up 'high-performing' high octane economy serenaded by all the angels of the World Bank and the neo-liberal cheer squads (read CNN, and the international newsmagazines etc.,) falters, even as the country's wretched continue to wallow in abject levels of poverty with 43 per cent chronic anaemia among women being one of the most painful statistics of them all….

The JVP therefore needs a little positive stroking, but cautionary rider to that is that even the JVP seems to have only one idea.

While one is better than none – the JVP appears to be lost and confused in its current state of political culture shock - - its leadership meandering, surviving politically from one day to the next. It's a dangerous symptom – and very soon the Sri Lankan peasants might want to find another party to vote for now that they have dumped the PA and the UNP and had a dalliance with the JVP. But at least we haven't let some World Bank hurrah boys mislead us as they appear to have done in India. That's the brighter side. The downside is that this is still one-idea country, pathetic really after 50 + years of independence from colonial rule.

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