Congress leader Jairam Ramesh today said political outreach is necessary to “sell” reform ideas in a democracy and hoped that GST would act as a platform for building consensus on other issues.
Speaking at the Times Litfest here, Ramesh said a lot of “small things” have still been left undone post the 1991 economic reforms, and to accomplish them there needs to be communication among various parties.
“Economics of economic reform was known, but the politics of it was the one that drove the economic reform (of 1991). I am glad that finally a tea party was held day before yesterday and may be that is a part of political management which is very important for selling ideas,” he said.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi had invited former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress President Sonia Gandhi for a tea at his residence on Friday where the discussions covered legislations pending before Parliament, particularly the Goods and Services Tax (GST) Constitution Amendment Bill.
Ramesh said: “There are issues which are very fundamentally related to the future of Indian economy on which there is no political consensus and I think political consensus is absolutely essential. I am hoping that the GST, it would create a trajectory for building the consensus on issues.”
In some cases it takes up to a decade for consensus to emerge among political parties in India, he said, adding that the consensus on economic reform emerges after discussions within the Indian democratic process.
“One of the great things about India is, India can always be counted on doing the right thing after having exhausted all the options. It may take 5-10 years, but ultimately we will do it. Insurance sector opening up took 10 years,” Ramesh said.
He added that for getting the 1991 reforms through under the then Prime Minister P V Narasimha Rao, the Congress party had held meetings with the opposition parties and it was politics ultimately that ensured that reform.
“The key lesson of 1991, which has resonance even for today, is political management… Of the utmost importance. And by political management I mean political outreach, political communication, political manoeuvring, that’s the key,” Ramesh said.
Asked about Congress opposing the amendments to the land acquisition law, Ramesh said, “The basic opposition that came to these amendments from across the political spectrum was that we were going back in a way to the spirit of 1894 law which allowed for land acquisition to take place without the permission of land owners and that were opening the doors for free acquisition of land.
Distinguishing China’s fast-paced economic reforms from
that of India, Ramesh said they started reforms process 14 years earlier than India and focused more on foreign trade.
“Today, China is the world’s largest exporter. Now, when I say trade, I don’t mean only exports, China is also the world’s biggest importer.
“Now, India wants to be a big player in the world but we want to be the world’s biggest exporter and smallest importer, that doesn’t square up. That’s where the Chinese have been pragmatic,” he said.
Talking about reforms, Ramesh said “1991 was god of big things, it is the small things that have (been) left undone. That requires minute attention to details, that requires trade-off among competing interest groups, that requires listening to various people and explaining what (it) is all about.
“And that’s where we have a long way to go. We have done the big things, but the small things that add up to a lot remain to be done”.
Asked if the 1991 reforms would have sailed through if Rajiv Gandhi was the Prime Minister then, Ramesh said, “I believe circumstances drive events. Circumstances in India was placed in 1991 such that whoever was the Prime Minister, the broad direction would have been what was unleashed.”
Batting for a democratic system to achieve inclusive growth, he said, “The answer to problems in our democratic system is to fix our democratic system and not think as authoritarianism, soft or hard, is necessarily a good answer for us.”
He said there were a lot of unsettled issues like privatisation, de-nationalisation of sectors like banks, coal, railways, over which there is no political consensus.
“These are issues where there is wide diversity in opinion and those are issues which need to be discussed. It needs to be discussed in political forum, in Parliament, in civil society, and over a period of time a consensus will emerge,” Ramesh said.