Sonia-Singh economy

Sonia-Singh economy

By conventional wisdom, the two persons who deserve dollops of sympathy today are Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress President Sonia Gandhi. ...

By conventional wisdom, the two persons who deserve dollops of sympathy today are Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress President Sonia Gandhi. Both are not getting any sympathy. In fact, economic pundits are hauling them over coals as the rupee is in a free fall vis-a-vis the American dollar and the middle class dreams of sending the son to the land of El Dorado for higher studies and fetching from the land of the Big Apple the husband for the daughter have suddenly become pipe dreams.

What has gone wrong, how and why? These are questions that have made every one of us overnight experts in Current Account Deficit, fiscal deficit, monetary policy and related matters like we love to declare who should make it to the Indian Cricket team. Neither the finance minister, who speaks like a lawyer, which he is by practice, nor the Prime Minister, who speaks like a politician, which he has become after two decades in public life, has helped matters.

On her part, Sonia Gandhi has not said a word on what everyone sees as a return to the mess her husband had pushed India into with his fiscal profligacy. Instead, she has succeeded in making the Lok Sabha give its nod to her Food Security Bill and the Land Acquisition Bill. Everyone on the Opposition benches is opposed to these two laws and yet they allowed their passage.
The Left, BJD and AIADMK staged a walkout on the land acquisition law but it is neither here nor there. The fact is that these three parties, like the BJP and the SP, have not allowed their lung power to do what a couple of TDP members could do; stall the proceedings.
The question is: Are they economical on truth, as always? The answer is a resounding yes. They don’t want Sonia Gandhi alone to walk away with honours in populism and they want to shine in her reflected glory. Sonia Gandhi hopes to reverse the tide of unpopularity created by Rajas, Dasaris, Bargodias and Jaiswals with her “Bhookh Hatao” slogan, like her mother-in-law did with ‘Garibi Hatao’ slogan. Her dream may come true because the Congress had won the last election on the back of job guarantee and loan waiver, both targeted at the rural people who remain insulated from the TRP-centric talk-show hosts.
People of this country believe in ‘hawa’ politics and reward whoever whips up the hawa. Not for them reforms, growth rates and shining India, as PV Narasimha Rao’s Congress and Atal Behari Vajpayee’s BJP had learnt the hard way. If there is one person, outside 10 Janpath, who understands this home truth, he is none other than Manmohan Singh. Arun Shourie, economist-journalist turned politician, may ridicule him as a good man who had turned to be good for nothing. But he knows that Singh is still not disowned by the Congress whereas the Sangh Parivar has pushed him into political vanvas.
Singh’s economic instincts may make him see red lines everywhere in the Sonia doctrine for votes but he is the master of realpolitik. It was this instinct that had made him tell PV openly at a CPP meeting that Caesar’s wife should be above suspicion and thus pull curtains down on the PV chapter.
In a democracy that is a functional anarchy like India, the buck stops at PM’s door, but Doctor Saheb, as he is addressed, used neither his exalted position nor his credentials as an economist to halt the policy paralysis that the UPA-II had heralded.
Two conclusions are inescapable: One, that he is a reluctant reformist; two, he is a fundamental socialist having cut his quasi-political-economic teeth in the Indira Gandhi days of vote bank politics laced with socialism. Anyhow, the bedrock of Manmohanomics, namely end to the license-permit-quota raj, was not his innovation. It belonged to PV, whom he had invoked for the first time in a public speech on this Independence Day.
The support he got from his Prime Minister during those heady days of reform is something that has few parallels. To all those who were rooting for Pranab as finance minister, PV’s message was simple – ask anything but finance. At the Oval Office he told a curious Bill Clinton about the secret of his reforms. “I support Singh politically and he supports me when it is economics”.
Today Singh appears to lament that he doesn’t enjoy political backing in the way he did in 1991. This is being no more than economical on truth. Sonia Gandhi may be a product of socialist Italy who became a naturalised Indian under the tutelage of a Socialist-at-heart, but she stood by Singh when he rooted for the civilian nuclear deal with the Americans in order to realise his dream of going down in history as builder of 21st century India, cast in the Nehru mould.
It is possible that Sonia could have heard him and even allowed him to have his way on the Food Bill and the Land Acquisition Bill. There is nothing on record to show that the Prime Minister stood in her way, albeit after registering some perfunctory objections.
Singh appears to blame ‘some domestic factors’ for the economic crisis, which is shifting the blame to his finance minister from 24th January 2009 to 26th June 2012. As head of the Council of Ministers, Singh was (is) a party to all decisions his finance minister took (takes). This is what collective responsibility is all about, and what leadership is about, as PV demonstrated in his time, and as Sonia Gandhi has demonstrated now. Sonia could have distanced herself from the mess the government has created in coal, spectrum and a whole lot of things. But she didn’t.
Instead, she stood by her Prime Minister all through his nine-year-plus stay at 7 Race Course Road. This is what makes me say that while economists are unkind to Sonianomics, history will be generous in its verdict.
(The writer, a Delhi-based journalist, can be reached at
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