ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Calcutta Diary

Whatever the finance minister may say in his umpteen statements on the floor of parliament and whatever alibi the RBI and the SEBI may trot out for their lotus-eaters' indolence, nothing much is likely to change in the existing circumstances. Both the RBI and the SEBI may go through the motion of framing a new set of rules to discipline the banks and share markets in order to bring the rogues to book. All this will be for the birds. As long as the fascination for the free market does not dissipate, things will be much the same in the years to come; homage to continuity.

Continuity, the union commerceminister has gone on record, isthe hallmark of sensible policymaking,particularly where agreements enteredinto with external agencies areconcerned. The floodgate of imports lastyear’s and this year’s export-import policyhas opened is the outcome of the MarrakeshTreaty signed in 1994 by the then Congressgovernment. The present government, hemaintains, has no alternative but to implementthe conditions spelled out in the treaty.

The minister is absolutely right. Ofcourse the export-import policy currentlypursued, which promises to push Indianindustry as well as agriculture to the wall,is the direct consequence of the country’sadmission to the World Trade Organisation(WTO) pursuant to the signing of theMarrakesh Treaty. The BJP-led governmentcan legitimately claim that, withcontinuity the supreme consideration, it ismerely fulfilling the conditions membershipof the WTO entails. In fact, theimplications of this continuity in policywere already manifest in the concordatbetween the country’s two leading politicalparties in regard to changes necessitatedin the provisions of the Indian PatentsAct, 1970 for allowing the sovereigntyof foreign patents in the Indianeconomy, an obligatory condition of WTOmembership. When the BJP was in opposition,it was a great champion of antiglobalisationtenets and joined other groupsand parties to stall the statute changeproposed by the ruling Congress Party The government had no problem in theLok Sabha, but it lacked a majority in theRajya Sabha. The legislation the foreignmanufacturers had expectantly lookedforward to was aborted. That was howeverin 1995. By 1998 the Bharatiya Janata1576 Economic and Political Weekly May 12, 2001income, more so in view Party had switched places with the Congress;it now constituted the governmentand the party of the Nehru-Gandhis wasthe main opposition. The Congress is aparty which believes in ethics and morality;it also, at that point at least, believedin the continuity of official policy. Justbecause it was not in the government, itcould not forsake its responsibility forensuring that amendments to the patentslegislation demanded by the WTO and themultinational companies got passed. InDecember 1998 therefore the two majorparties in the country joined hands inparliament and performed the last rites forthe Indian Patents Act. The same allianceresurfaced when the issue arose ofdenationalising the insurance industry andallowing American insurance concerns tocome in and mulct the people.

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