The larger majority among us, including me, have spent their lockdown working from home, working out, cutting bangs and baking banana bread, while millions outside have struggled to walk and cycle back to their villages, sometimes barefoot, sometimes hungry and with no water or money in their pockets and have only recently received some respite due to the Shramik Special trains.
But, now that the government has decided to ease the lockdown, isn’t it a good time to ask ourselves, “What is going to be our take away from this pandemic?” Do things continue to function as they are or has the COVID-19 crisis merely revealed the cracks in an already punctured system, which calls for larger institutional changes?
Three weeks ago, we were coached in ‘Aatmanirbharta (self-reliance)’ by the head of a government, which ironically places disinvestment high on its economic agenda and believes in opening up the country to 100% foreign direct investment. This talk on self-reliance, could either just be lip service, or it may be because nations show a general tendency of leaning towards Socialism, when faced with a crisis.
The coronavirus pandemic has propelled us to re-evaluate our priorities, reopening the debate between wealth and welfare. As of now, countries like Denmark, Norway, and Finland — that believe in bridging inequalities, are faring better against the coronavirus, than countries who follow pure capitalism. Closer home, the success of Kerala with firm roots in democratic socialism makes us wonder if what a pandemic-ridden India needs is not a Gujarat model but maybe a Kerala model.
May 27 this year marked the 56th death anniversary of former PM, Jawaharlal Nehru and it feels like the only way to do justice to his memory, is by recalling him through his work. Nehru utilized state intervention in the Indian Economy to bring it out of the initial rut it had been in post-Independence. The policy of ‘import substitution industrialization’ is not lost on us when we consider that the message for swadeshi was embedded in our freedom struggle.
Nehru was in favour of large state-controlled monopolies and cooperative industries but he also encouraged the growth of small-scale industry and implemented a policy of protective tariffs on imports, to encourage domestic production and consumption allowing infant Indian industries to flourish, without being obscured in the competition of a free market.
We are currently witnessing an India that is quickly moving away from its socialistic ideals. Nevertheless, it is to these ideals that we owe, subsidized travel in our railways, welfare schemes for the needy, and why it is at least on paper possible for small businesses to acquire loans from nationalized banks in India. Had the Indian economy completely developed along the trajectory of the US economy, higher education would become impossible within India without raking up student debts and affordable healthcare should be a distant dream.
While there is a lot of controversies lately regarding disinvestment, in the context of a newly independent nation, setting up a dominant private-sector, without first raising the purchasing power parity within the Economy through social reforms and tax regulations wouldn’t have made much sense back then.
A dominant private sector that is only concerned with turning profits and not public welfare cannot ensure better services but would only rake up prices and engage as less labour as possible to cut costs and make profits by a huge margin. Public sector enterprises, on the other hand, are not concerned with just turning profits and are required to provide employment as well as goods and services for consumption within an economy at a rate, affordable to the masses.
Our mixed-economic model was able to prevent us from receiving a huge blow during the 2009 global economic recession that dealt a large blow to economies depending on the banking system and credit. India has a natural tendency to lean towards the tenets of Socialism in times of crises, economic or otherwise, which reaffirms why our goals should remain firmly socialist, so that we can guarantee equity for all, in terms of quality of life.
The world shall not be the same after the coronavirus, whether we like it or not. Our world has been inevitably altered, every time we have faced a huge crisis — whether we recall WWII, the collapse of the Bretton woods system or the end of the Cold War era. Any order after it emerges from a crisis cannot function in the same way it had functioned before it, without making some fundamental changes. The only way for us to emerge stronger from this crisis— which we must, is through the acknowledgement of what our learning from it is and through the recognition of what needs changing.