Yatra Politics, Defiant Stocks, Sorrow and Sighs
Fall Season…Cong seeks to reincarnate history and regional satraps relevance. Markets dare Central Banks & Europe pledges $ 500BN for fuel subsidies. Britain’s new monarch inherits a nation in disarray. We are in interesting times!
By Shankkar Aiyar | Published: 11th September 2022 12:04 AM |
Come September! The fall season, it would seem, is also the time to rise. The onset of autumn has been frenetic as events tripped and trailed headlines across time zones, colouring rhetoric and reflections, leaving the plebeians, politicos and pashas agog. In a week in which the Indian National Congress attempts to reincarnate history when stock markets dare and defy central bankers and as parts of the world soak in sorrow and sighs, a few observations.
Like, the expedition by the Congress Party, the idea of the 3500-plus km Bharat Jodo Yatra, from Kanyakumari to Kashmir, covering 12 states, is a page from the past. It is nearly a decade since his anointment as the heir apparent in 2013 and Rahul Gandhi continues to add chapters to his discovery of India. The aspiration: “I will get some understanding about myself and this beautiful country from Yatra, and in these 2–3 months, I will be wiser.” The party is trekking along hoping to find that idea which will revive the leader and the party.
Like, the archives of Independent India’s politics is replete with instances of yatra politics — for instance, N T Rama Rao pioneered the idea of ‘rath yatra’ in 1982, Chandrashekhar walked to challenge Indira Gandhi in 1983, Rajiv Gandhi travelled across India to reclaim power in 1990, and L K Advani rode the chariot from Somnath to Ayodhya. History shows the travels haven’t always taken the travellers to the destination. Whether the yatra connects the party with the people or the party with the leader there is no disputing that RaGa has aggregated attention even if momentarily.
Like, it is all fine to punctuate air time and populate column space. To expand market share, the Congress must travel from convenient ambivalence to political purpose, find that one idea and an organisation to mobilise mass affiliation. Does RaGa have a signature tune? The party which was in power when liberalisation was unleashed is yet to come to terms with an open economy and struggles to articulate the right or the left way. As Sharad Pawar quipped, ‘The Congress is like an impoverished landlord sans land in a crumbling haveli!’ There is the absence of an idea, and then there is the incapacity of the party.
Like, it is not Rahul Gandhi alone who is attempting to reinvent relevance. JD-U leader and Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, the master of U-turns, once the dark horse of 2014, is back on the trail positioning himself as the ‘possible’ national alternative for 2024. His travels to Delhi have seen him parleying with AAP chief Arvind Kejriwal, NCP leader Sharad Pawar and SP’s Akhilesh Yadav, among others.
Like the answer to the question of ‘Modi vs who’ in 2024 is unclear but the collegium of the affected seem to be coalescing around the idea of a common front. In Kolkata, Mamata Banerjee issued the clarion call ‘Khela Hobey’ (game on) and declared the formation of a front with Nitish Kumar along with JMM chief and Jharkhand CM Hemant Soren. It is argued that Nitish Kumar has the ‘Hindi’ belt advantage, but the crux is that any ‘third front’ requires a critical mass of over 150 seats. The numbers are yet to add up.
Like, the seasonal convulsions in alliance politics are possibly explained by the regional satraps sensing an opportunity in the dismal economic forecasts caused by spiralling inflation across the world. As this column observed, the world is poised at the brink of a recession as central banks hike interest rates to curb inflation and protect currencies. India is definitely better placed both on inflation and growth, but it is by no means decoupled from the impact of rising interest rates and falling growth. The need for fiscal response, articulated recently by Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, along with RBI’s monetary policy, underlines potential risks.
Like, it would seem the stock markets are in a parallel universe. Notwithstanding growth downgrades and clear indications of falling earnings, stock indices have been rising across the globe, including the Nifty50 in India. On Friday, the US indices S&P 500, Nasdaq 100 and DJIA closed higher. In Germany, which is clearly heading for a recession, stocks bounced off a double bottom. Yes, oil prices are lower, but inflation is still way higher than tolerance levels in India, the US, the UK and Europe. The rise challenges denials by central banks of any pause or pivot. It is as if the market is telling central bankers it knows better!
Like the passing away of Queen Elizabeth II has triggered an outpouring of sorrow — even from those countries which faced the darkness of British colonialism. The ascension of Prince Charles as King Charles III, which has triggered sighs amongst many, comes at a critical intersection. Britain is still dealing with Brexit which is stalled at the gate. Double digit inflation has unleashed a cost of living crisis resulting in one of the biggest subsidy programmes on energy. Will the king stay neutral like his mother or will the once passionate voice on green policies be heard?
Finally, it is worth noting that between them, governments in Europe and the UK will spend well over $500 billion in direct subvention in the next 12 months to protect consumers. The massive spend opens up the space for debate on the future of the role of the state of governments in mitigating the consequences of crises. And more may follow. As the adage goes, welcome to interesting times.
Shankkar Aiyar, political economy analyst, is author of ‘Accidental India’, ‘Aadhaar: A Biometric History of India’s 12-Digit Revolution’ and ‘The Gated Republic –India’s Public Policy Failures and Private Solutions’. You can email him at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @ShankkarAiyar. His previous columns can be found here. This column was first published here.