Justice Markandey Katju: The 2024 Indian parliamentary elections

Justice Markandey Katju

By Justice Markandey Katju–

(Justice Markandey Katju is a former Judge, Supreme Court of India, and former Chairman, Press Council of India. The views expressed are his own)

My NRI friend Irfan Ali, who lives and works in Princeton, New Jersey, USA, recently asked me my prediction of the coming 2024 Indian Parliamentary elections.

My reply was that my assessment was that the ruling NDA, led by the BJP will come back to power, but with a reduced majority. At present, the NDA has 329 seats in the 543-member Lok Sabha (the lower House of Parliament), the BJP alone having 300 seats.

But even assuming a Congress led coalition comes to power it will not make any dent in the massive problems facing India– widespread and grinding poverty, record and rising unemployment, appalling level of child malnutrition (every second child in India is malnourished according to Global Hunger Index), skyrocketing prices of essential commodities, almost total lack of proper healthcare and good education for the masses, etc.

Yes, it will give some relief to India’s 16-17% Muslims who feel oppressed and politically sidelined by the BJP, not because the Congress or other ‘secular’ parties have any genuine love or regard for Muslims, but because they rely on the Muslim vote bank, and therefore have to some extent protect them.

Apart from that, the difference between BJP and Congess is that of tweedledum and tweedledee. As mentioned above, there will be no substantial difference in the lives of the vast majority of people, whether the BJP is in power or the Congress.

The test of every political system and political activity is one, and only one: does it raise the standard of living of the people? Does it give them better lives?

The real problems of the Indian people can only be solved if there is a political system under which the country rapidly industrialises and modernises, for only then can we raise the standard of living of our people and give them decent lives.

To rapidly industrialise we must raise the purchasing power of our people. We can no doubt set up more industries as we have a huge pool of technical talent (scientists, engineers, etc) and immense natural resources, but how can the goods produced be sold? Currently, most people are too poor, and do no have much purchasing power.

In this connection we may consider a historical example. Russia had a revolution in 1917, but its real industrialization began in 1928 with the first five-year plan. The methodology adopted by the Soviet Union was broadly this: prices were centrally controlled, and every two years or so prices of essential commodities were reduced by about 5-10% (sometimes wages were also increased by the same amount).

Even with the same nominal wage people could buy more goods, because the real wage, which is relative to the price index, steadily rose (because of the decrease in prices).

Simultaneously there was rapid industrialization, and the goods produced could be absorbed in the domestic market, because people had more purchasing power (since prices were steadily going down).

This rapid industrialization meant that millions of new jobs were created, wiping out unemployment, and it produced the wealth for taking care of the welfare of the people (healthcare, education, housing, etc).

I am not a communist, and I do not say that we must follow the Soviet model. We need to create our own model that will raise the purchasing power of our masses. But raising their purchasing power is essential if we want rapid industrialization, otherwise the goods produced will not be sold.

Neither the BJP nor the Congress nor any other political leaders of India have any understanding of all this, and all they care for is power and pelf.

India has parliamentary democracy, and this runs largely on the basis of caste and communal vote banks. Casteism and communalism are feudal forces which have to be destroyed if India is to progress, but parliamentary democracy further entrenches them (because it largely runs on their basis).

How then can India progress with parliamentary democracy?

We have to therefore create an alternative system under which India rapidly industrializes and modernizes. What that alternative system will be, how much time will it take to create it, and how, are all matters of which it is impossible to predict. The enlightened sections of our people will have to use their creativity for thinking all this out.

The solutions to India’s massive problems lie outside of the system. Both BJP and Congress are within the system, and can therefore solve nothing.

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