But which year shall we be inaugurating? More to the point, if we look at the considered opinions of the Samajwadi Party boss we can justifiably ask not which year but which century we are entering.
Here are some of the gems from Mulayam Singh Yadav as he lifted the veil off his party's manifesto. 'The use of computers in offices is creating unemployment problems. Our party feels that if work can be done by a person using hands there is no need to deploy machines.'
The Samajwadi Party's hatred of machinery is not limited to offices.
'A harvesting season brings employment for the labour class for at least six months but these harvesters will snatch their earnings.'
Did you hear that, you farmers of Punjab, by next Baisakhi you will be expected to offer more employment to the unemployed of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.
But why, one might ask, are so many people fleeing the haven of Mulayam Singh Yadav's Uttar Pradesh to reap the harvest in Punjab? Or to paint houses in Delhi? Or to sell vegetables in Mumbai? Why can't they find gainful employment in their own state?
Could it be because of the employment policies espoused by the likes of the Samajwadi Party? 'The salaries provided by private firms should be in sync with the minimum wages that have been set by the government.' In other words, the Samajwadi Party is bent upon pulling down salaries in the private sector as far as possible rather than try to raise the income of the poor.
I pass with a wince over the Samajwadi Party's apparent antipathy towards the English language. Desperately back-pedalling in an attempt at damage control, Samajwadi Party campaigner Sanjay Dutt said the manifesto merely spoke of the 'need to put an end to expensive English medium schools.'
I wonder if that description includes the likes of the staunchly Anglophone academy in Dholpur, Rajasthan -- where Mulayam Singh Yadav enrolled his only son, Akhilesh Yadav. The heir apparent of the Samajwadi Party then went on to earn a bachelor's degree from the University of Mysore before leaving for the University of Sydney, both of which use English as the chosen medium.
It is easy enough to go through the salient points of the Samajwadi Party's manifesto, mocking the sillier promises along the way. But at the end of it all I was not disgusted but depressed.
Think about it for a minute, this is an election manifesto put out by the fourth largest party in the current Lok Sabha. In the last general election the Samajwadi Party won 35 of Uttar Pradesh's 80 Lok Sabha seats, the largest party by far in the state. (The Bahujan Samaj Party's tally was 19 seats, the BJP won just 10 seats, and everyone else was in single digits.)
Given the disarray in the ranks and their lacklustre performance in the Vidhan Sabha polls of 2007, it is safe to assume that neither the BJP nor the Congress shall do markedly better. But even if the BSP, now the ruling party in Uttar Pradesh, doubles its tally, that might still leave Mulayam Singh Yadav with a score of MPs in the next Lok Sabha -- which could be crucial.
Election manifestos, please remember, are documents explicitly designed to attract voters. That is what I find so depressing.
Mulayam Singh Yadav, a seasoned political operator and a successful one, thinks the best way to woo Uttar Pradesh is with promises to curb the use of English, to restrain use of information technology, to cap salaries by government fiat, and even to halt the use of mechanisation in agriculture. If he is correct then India's largest state is going to be a very large stone around India's collective throat for years to come.
We have walked down this ruinous path earlier. The Left Front tried to promote Bengali by removing English from primary schools when it came to power in West Bengal 30 years ago. The result is a wasted generation, one that finds chances of employment outside the state significantly reduced. And of course those poor people were forced to look outside West Bengal because the Left Front's economic policies crushed employment generation.
Now here is Mulayam Singh Yadav trying the same tactics on a far larger scale. It is doubly depressing because it was just recently that the Mayawati government, in a significant if generally ignored announcement, said English would be taught in Uttar Pradesh from Class One on.
It is not just the prospect of all those millions of unemployed -- possibly unemployable -- people from Uttar Pradesh that is so scary.
There is also a national security angle because of the Samajwadi Party's views on foreign policy. Mulayam Singh Yadav says he will try to ensure stronger ties with Pakistan and Bangladesh. 'The basic cause of terrorism lies in regional differences. The forums across the world which deal with the issue of terrorism work at the behest of America.'
In other words, the threat of Pakistan-based terrorism shall be played down just as the United States begins to take that threat seriously.
Mulayam Singh Yadav could well be in a position to carry out at least some of his promises in the next Lok Sabha if neither the BJP nor the Congress is in a position to lead the government. I am sure the Communist Party of India-Marxist will be only too happy to join the Samajwadi Party in an anti-American tirade. Or, for that matter, in placing salary caps or raising taxes to promote their version of 'social justice'.
Could that happen? Why not? Mulayam Singh Yadav, unlike Lalu Prasad Yadav and Ram Vilas Paswan, has consistently refused to back the idea of a second stint for the Manmohan Singh ministry. (The cynic in me says that both the leaders from Bihar would consider backing even L K Advani if the BJP weren't allied with Nitish Kumar!) A Third Front government would be preferred by both Mulayam Singh Yadav and Prakash Karat.
Where would that take India? A single sentence on the Samajwadi Party's Web site -- apparently hatred of computers goes only so far! -- sums up everything behind that wretched manifesto. 'Samajwadi Party is a party primarily based in Uttar Pradesh, where it bases its support largely on OBCs (Other Backward Castes) and Muslims, particularly Mulayam Singh Yadav's own Yadav caste.'
It would be a monstrous tragedy if all of India were left hostage to small sections of Uttar Pradesh. But it could well happen.
I want to wish all my readers a happy new year to come but the thought of a CPI-M-Samajwadi Party dominated Union Cabinet freezes any such thoughts.