Politicians as a group are probably smarter than most other groups of people. And therefore what they say in campaign is interesting in itself. Extending that, the kind of fiscal profligacy each uses is a good guide for multiple things: one’s own belief, the capacity of one’s administration if one is an incumbent and the aspirations of the electorate. A sampling of who did what and more importantly when is indicative all three.
The lowest hanging fruit appears to be cheap food grain — as the DMK demonstrated its use as far back as 1967. Many state assemblies have since been won and lost on this promise. Some states have a better PDS delivery system and can implement the promise. Many do not and therefore the promise can be reused by the opposition in the next cycle. This usually takes a few cycles to die; its longevity is strangely directly proportional to delivering capacity, not inversely as one’d expect. For it seems to take a good implementation for competitive populism to take effect. The ladder then seems to have successive steps: noon meal schemes, feudal entitlement schemes like marriage assistance, pregnant women being given cash assistance, free sheep/ cattle, medical insurance for the poor, free school supplies, consumer durables. The top step now, as Tamil Nadu has again shown the way, seems to be soup kitchens, subsidised movies and subsidised mineral water.
On the question of identity and and political philosophy however, the process rarely seems to evolve further up the value chain as in fiscal profligacy. If anything, the Indian experience has been disappointing on that count. Assertion of the erstwhile underclasses was speculated as one reason. But what’s even worse is the intellectual stagnation.
In 1905, for instance, the United States Supreme Court struck down laws that stipulated maximum working hours for bakers; the court held that the laws violated the 14th Amendment. A stunning co-option by the conservative establishment of what one’d consider an intended liberal project. In a dissent, Justice Holmes even wrote “the Fourteenth Amendment does not enact Herbert Spencer’s Social Statics.” While the nutty racist ideas of Spencer was dismissed by Talcott Parsons as ‘who now reads Spencer‘, the man found a strange admirer in Shyamji Krishna Varma. Varma established a lecture in Spencer’s memory at Oxford.
While Varma seems a reasonable man of his times, with a minor passion on the side for nuttiness, his protege made it his major one. Veer Savarkar was a member of the Indian Sociologist that Varma founded. Social Darwinism of Spencer and even Darwin himself, if his letters to Charles Lyell are considered, would have held Sarvarkar as belonging to an inferior race that needed to be outbred. But applying the same thought to his subset seems to have not bothered Sarvarkar much.
Chief Justice Roberts who may be thought of as the modern incarnate of the Lochner era by some, wrote thus is 2007: the way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race. A chillingly close position to the far less nuanced and triumphalist core issue of the BJP that’s crudely called Nation First. To wonder whether the distance between Sarvarkar and Spencer is larger than that between Roberts and BJP is absurd though. The two white men at least had the benefit of a reasonably well fed and possibly less diverse society to deal with. Not to mention both their native lands being the respective lone super-power of their times.