In the space of two days, two lectures have informed the aam aadmi all that the entire Opposition and the media have tried to say about the state of the nation. These two lectures — for two different audiences, in two completely different geographical locations and by two different speakers, albeit both VIPs — have removed any doubt lingering in the minds of the citizens about the prevailing political and economic situation.
Kaushik Basu, the chief economic adviser to the ministry of finance, delivered one of the Carnegie Endowments Lectures in Washington to a gathering of potential American investors. He stated there that we cannot expect to have any forward movements on the economic front till after the 2014 elections. Simply, he conveyed the hard fact that India has slowed down — and this from a growth-obsessed administration.
Back home, addressing bureaucrats on the Civil Services Day in New Delhi on April 21, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said, “... the civil servants in our country should fight the tendency of not taking decisions because of the fear that things might go wrong and they might be penalised for that.” He assured them that there shall be no witch-hunt in the name of fighting corruption. But one wonders wherefrom the need arose to ask the bureaucracy to fight the “tendency of not taking decisions”. Had they stopped taking decisions? Only the civil servants...? Was there any “witch-hunting”at any point? Only just of the bureaucracy, or...?
So the Opposition or the media were not wrong after all. Policy paralysis and economic slowdown is now official. Different shades of clarification were subsequently offered — personal view and not the stand of the government, observations about the European banks having to repay loans to the European Central Bank by 2014 — rightly didn’t pass muster. They couldn’t pass because Mr Basu had placed his comments in the context of the coalition politics and expressed, what one may call “a wish” — a wish for a single-party majority which could facilitate reforms. For good measure he, “...argued that some reforms, such as FDI in multi-brand retail, were likely to happen sooner because in principle they did not need the support of the Opposition; and this will give a boost to the mood of the economy”.
Each line of Mr Basu and of Dr Singh have thrown a flash of light on how governance has suffered. The idiosyncratic way in which decisions are being made in UPA-2 has found expression in their comments. Mr Basu’s later explanations rightly highlight the sense of urgency with which decisions need to be taken for boosting the mood of the economy. However, in saying this, typical of the ways of the UPA, he picks on FDI in retail, because it does not need the support of the Opposition. He is right, but surely the UPA needs its allies — West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee for one? Again the parliamentary standing committee had rejected the idea of FDI in retail on several grounds. So, here, to change the mood of the economy, allies and Opposition needn’t be cared about.
The paralysis is all-pervasive. Unable to convince its own allies, the UPA is making a virtue of obeying court orders. Thanks to the PILs, the government is responding to court orders, as if dispassionately. But here again, it half-heartedly provided only a part list of people holding accounts in tax havens. On the 122 2G licences cancelled by the Supreme Court, seeking clarification through a presidential reference, it has added issues which can otherwise be decided by the executive. Surely, the UPA understands that at the hustings, it is not the judiciary but the party in power which seeks votes to renew its mandate. So, it will be the UPA’s decision or rather its indecision and not the decision of the court which will count.
Repeatedly blaming the Opposition for stalling bills for legislation in Parliament, the UPA forgot to get its members of Parliament to be present in the House when the crucial Pension Bill was being tabled. But for the presence of mind and ready support of Sushma Swaraj in the Lok Sabha, the government would have had a loss of face. The UPA has easily forgotten that Ms Swaraj is the Leader of the Opposition and not one from among the Treasury benches. And the propaganda witch hunt against the Opposition on false allegations continues unabated.
For the steps taken by him as finance minister under P.V. Narasimha Rao, many hail Dr Singh as the father of Indian reforms. However, today, it is his government that is stagnant on reforms. The fiscal reduction road map promised in 2011 is now nowhere. The goods and services tax is delayed for want of trust, because of the Centre’s failure to pay the arrears on the Central Sales Tax rate reduction; but the blame is on the Opposition. Thanks to the irregularities in allocation of coal blocks all over the country, thermal power generation is suffering. UPA-1 saw the nuclear agreement but not a single additional megawatt of power generation has taken place even in UPA-2. Road building is crawling at an average of less than 10kms/day. Water for irrigation and drinking is a major challenge both within the country and for us with our neighbours.
Pension, insurance, banking bills are all pending. Capital market issues and other matters affecting the corporate sector are languishing without attention. While some laws exist for the nearly 10 per cent organised sector labour, the 90 per cent unorganised sector labour goes without adequate laws to protect them. Such legislations are enablers for the next, the third, level of reforms — administrative and that of the judiciary.
The deputy chairman of the Planning Commission had earlier felt that “the biggest failure of the 11th Plan is the failure to secure inclusive growth.” National Advisory Council member N.C. Saxena had conceded that while absolute poverty had reduced, the number of those facing deprivation has actually increased.
Only two million jobs were created during 2005-10 while 62 million job opportunities were created in 2000-05. Income disparity is widening. Today, India is a high-cost economy.
Mr Basu now and the Prime Minister earlier have referred to compulsions of coalition politics. May we ask compulsions for what?
The writer is spokesperson of the BJP. The views expressed in this column are her own.