Unlocking Value while Locking Democracy

Image Source: Hindustan Times

Some critics of the Government have declared that the new policy of monetization of the asset has put India on clearance sale. If not sale it is surely putting India on rent. While the private players will look for the profit and the Government will get the rent, it seems that it is left to the common citizens to foot the bill. Although at its face value, the monetization of our national assets appears as non-tax revenue, it will in the long run only burden the citizens to fill the coffers of the corporates and the Government. The question is ‘what made the Government take this drastic step?’ It seems to be a bid to salvage our sicking economy. Demonetization, implementation of GST and needless tax holidays to big corporates by the Modi Government have put the Indian economy on such a that it is refusing to recover for a long time. The pandemic has done more to damage our already sinking ship. Hence, it is out of compulsion to meet its fiscal needs that Government has taken up this drastic step. There is no sign of any ascetic practices as regards Government expenses, the Government in desperate need of revenue has taken this yet another controversial decision. It has the teeth to cover its own propaganda that painted that 70 years of Congress misrule did nothing for the country. Against its own propaganda that portrayed Congress rule as a wasted experience, the sudden appearance of national assets that can be monetized may surprise many. This time maybe the BJP has put its foot into its mouth. But it is also taken care of as the political discourse pictures them as lying dormant and waiting for someone to tap into their potencies.

The monetization of the assets will bring money to the table of the Government. The real issue here would be that we have the challenge to observe where the money is spent. Besides, we have the challenge to see with a critical eye who stands to benefit from this policy. The crucial question that disturbs us is, ‘Will it build monopolies that will use our assets as simply raw material to build their wealth with little or no regard to our country and its poor?. Hence, what will this monetization do is an important question. Will it increase Government consumption or will it increase Government investment in infrastructure? Moreover, the private players will not invest in the assets as the title of the assets is not given to them since it is only leased out to them for a limited period of twenty-five years. Our situation is akin to the tenant who is disincentivised to do any investment on the assets while the landlord has already lost interest in the assets. Even if the private players are ready to invest in the assets, with no foreign investors in sight, we are all set to put more stress on the already ailing banking system. This suggests that no one is really going to gain by monetization. The asset that is being monetized being PSUs, the first beneficiaries will be the shareholders of those PSUs. This means Government, itself is haunted by the trickle-down policy it has taken up as the mainstay of its economic policy. We seem to be heading to several of these bottlenecks that will make it difficult to reap the fruits that the Government is envisaging on this new policy of monetization. This is why it seems that like other previous initiatives such as demonetization, GST which become all sound and fury and no delivery on the ground, monetization also seems all set to fail. Governments propaganda machinery does everything that it can do to sell its initiative but when it comes to taking responsibility to accept its failures, it has often run away from the arena by deflecting the blame on some inefficiencies that are embedded due to the long and tiring Congress rule.

The top-down approach of the right-wing has its own inherent problems. Our Government being rooted on the far of the right also cannot adopt a bottom-up approach that broadens its way. What we can see in this new monetization policy is top-down that broadens up. It does not really have any room for the poor people who may not necessarily need to use those infrastructural assets that are being monetized. Being a centrally controlled policy, it stays top-down in its stance and is all set to continue forgetting the poor and the marginalized in our country. Besides, being over-centralised will make room for leakages at all intermediate levels which have been the enemy number one of India’s story of development. The all-important question is ‘will this disruption be positive for our economy or will it be detrimental like demonetization and GST? Will, what is called monetization be de-assetization of India? Will privatization lead to the progress and development of all, especially the less privileged brethren?
Will this privatization result in de-democratization that will curb our freedoms to access these assets as citizens? Will they be only accessed by only those that can pay them? Who will subsidize the poor, the elderly, the differently-abled and the sick? Does that mean India’s assets will be only at the service of those who can pay for their use? We all like service efficiency. Maybe privatisation will bring us this service efficiency. But what will be its costs for the poor, the marginalized citizens of our country? Will monetisation mean the eliticization of access to the assets of our country? The Government is smart for now not to kill the goose that lays golden eggs. But how will this handing it over to new caretakers care for the poor of our country? It is time that we think through these and other such questions seriously and find ways and means to see that the benefits of our assets are democratically accessed by all Indian citizens. For now, it appears that what is hailed as monetization that promises to unlock the value of our unused assets is yet another way of locking our democracy. This is why the new policy of monetization has not just put our assets on sale, it has effectively put our democracy on sale, locking our free access to these assets. We indeed have the challenge to discern how something that will unlock value to the elite will simultaneously lock political, social and economic democracy to the poor of our country.

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Hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue.

- Fr Victor Ferrao