[Reader-list] (FWD) The Politics Of ‘Austerity’ – Covering Up The Policies And Priorities Of The Congress Government By Kavita Krishnan

Venugopalan K M kmvenuannur at gmail.com
Sat Sep 19 22:25:04 IST 2009


The Politics Of ‘Austerity’ – Covering Up
The Policies And Priorities Of
The Congress Government

*By Kavita Krishnan*

18 September, 2009

Daily papers nowadays are carrying headlines about the HRD Ministry
declaring cuts in Universities’ funding, ordering them to hike fees, levy
user charges etc to mobilize their own funds even to procure chemicals in
labs and books in libraries. All this in the name of ‘austerity measures’.

Earlier this year, the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh prescribed wage cuts
for workers in times of recession.

For the Congress-led Government, the recession is a handy pretext to push
through all the pet policies of a neoliberal regime. Privatisation measures,
wage cuts and job cuts – all can be virtuously blamed on the fund crunch in
times of global recession. And when people protest, the government can fall
back on the plea of ‘austerity.’

No wonder, then that the Congress is dismayed at media revelations of the
ostentatious flaunting of wealth by External Affairs Minister S M Krishna
and his junior Shashi Tharoor, and at Tharoor’s indiscreet ‘cattle class’
tweet that revealed contempt for the aam aadmi. A red-faced Congress rushed
into damage control mode. Both the Ministers shifted to more modest
accommodation on request from their party leadership; Congress leaders from
Sonia and Rahul Gandhi downwards are now competing to display conspicuous
‘austerity’ – wearing khadi, travelling by economy class flights and even by
train; and Congress has reprimanded Tharoor for his tweet.

Read between the lines: the Congress leaders’ song and dance of ‘austerity’
is a danger signal of the Government’s plans to intensify its liberalization
offensive in the name of ‘austerity’.

*Class Character peeps out – From beneath the Aam Aadmi mask *

The Congress is aware that Krishna’s and Tharoor’s protestations that the
5-star bills were paid out of their own pockets rather than the government
exchequer might not reduce the political cost of the episode. The fact that
Ministers can afford 5-star comfort even as the Government has been
preaching ‘austerity’ and prescribing wage-cuts for workers in times of
acute drought, price rise and hunger, smacks of double standards, no matter
which way you look at it. The Congress correctly recognised it as an
instance of the aam aadmi mask having slipped, and hastened to position the
mask in place once again: carefully crafted to display the correct
expressions of sincerity and sacrifice.

But once someone has recognised the Emperor to be naked, attempts to
persuade people that he is magnificently clothed tend to be in vain.
Unfortunately for the Congress, the mask keeps slipping. Every day it
revealed how other Congress Ministers too are living it up like modern day
maharajahs – demanding Italian tiles, Spanish marble, and even
vaastu-aligned toilets – all at public cost! These expensive tastes stand
revealed as the natural lifestyle of the Congress netas.

* Princes and Paupers… *

The Government’s awkward and unconvincing attempts to cover up this
revelation of its real class character with gestures of ‘austerity’ only
serve to rub in the cosmetic and theatrical nature of such gestures.
Consider: why should it be big news that Rahul Gandhi spends a night at a
dalit’s house or makes a single journey by train? Precisely because such
events are orchestrated exceptions. It’s like a Prince dressing up as a
pauper for a day. An event that only serves to emphasise his princeliness –
“See how great is the prince – he is willing to come down to our level and
share our food.” There’s nothing democratic about these gestures: they are
the very essence and spirit of feudal hierarchies.

*Gifts and Giveaways for the Super-rich; Peanuts for the Poor *

Recall that a couple of years ago, the Prime Minister had suggested that
CEOs avoid conspicuous consumption, saying that “Such vulgarity insults the
poverty of the less privileged.” That is precisely the hypocritical
sentiment reflected in the Congress’ conspicuous austerity now: pursuing
policies that promote the rich and punish the poor is fine – as long as this
attitude is not ‘vulgarly’ displayed in a manner that might provoke the
poor! Of course the very same papers which revealed the Congress Ministers’
lifestyles, are now writing editorials defending conspicuous consumption as
a way to rescue the economy in times of recession. Spending sprees, if one
believes them, is a patriotic duty.

The ‘austerity’ measures only serve to re-emphasise the fact that the
Government’s priorities and policies are all tailored to serve the
super-rich. The Union Budget’s ‘Statement of revenues foregone’ is
revealing. It tells us that in 2008-09, Rs. 68,914 crore of revenue due from
corporate taxation was “foregone” (due to special tax rates, exemptions,
deductions, rebates, etc). And if we take a closer look at the corporate tax
collected, we can see that bigger and more profitable companies get away
with more exemptions while smaller companies pay more by way of corporate
taxes. 67398 of the most profitable private companies, which had 44.60% of
the share in total corporate profits, were taxed at an effective rate in the
range of 0-20%, and therefore formed just 21.89% in the total tax payable.
The smallest companies, those with profits less than Rs 10 Cr, had the
largest effective tax rate.

It is also well known that indirect exemptions like concessions in excise
and custom duties are also largely cornered by the corporate sector with
little benefits being extended to actual consumers. Income foregone in
2007-08 on excise duty was Rs. 87,468 crore and on customs duty Rs. 1,53,593
crore. Even if we assume that 50% of these concessions are passed on to
consumers, the total concession enjoyed by the corporate sector through
direct tax exemptions and indirect duty cuts add up to more than Rs. 1.5
lakh crore. In other words, the corporate sector gets a concession of nearly
Rs. 20 crore an hour – and this does not include the numerous tangible and
intangible subsidies showered on the super-rich by way of cheap land, cheap
power and so on and so forth.

Compare these enormous yearly handouts to the richest of the rich with the
allocations for the poorest of the poor, struggling for survival: a mere Rs.
39,100 crore was allocated for the NREGS in the 2009-10 Budget. The
priorities are clear: the neo-royalty of this country, who earn obscene
salaries several thousands of times larger than the wages of the poorest
Indians, are the ones whom our Government favours with huge gifts and
giveaways. The poor are given mere peanuts – and on top of it all being made
to shoulder the burden of recession in the shape of back-breaking prices,
retrenchment and wage cuts.

The politics of ‘austerity’ and the true priorities of the callous and cruel
Congress-led Governments must be challenged and exposed by militant mass
movements of the poor.
*Kavita Krishnan* is the Editor, Liberation, Central organ of CPI(ML). *
kavitakrish73 at gmail.com* <kavitakrish73 at gmail.com>

You cannot build anything on the foundations of caste. You cannot build up a
nation, you cannot build up a morality. Anything that you will build on the
foundations of caste will crack and will never be a whole.




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