Column : Time for politician reform
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Just before September 12, several analysts, commentators and armchair policymakers (including myself) had written off Prime Minister Manmohan Singh as a reformer. There were cover stories in foreign magazines, but much more detailed criticism at home. The PM was unrecognisable in his eight-year avatar as PM. There were no economic reforms, and one felt that both his mind and his heart were not in making economic policy. True, he was there at the creation of economic reforms in 1991, but that was a generation earlier.
Somewhat surprisingly, both in UPA-I and UPA-II, economic policies were left under the direction of the ultra-populist chairperson of the Congress party, Ms Sonia Gandhi. She was in political control, and, it seems, dictated economic policies as well. Else, how do you explain the bulge in wasted subsidies, large loan waivers, sharp increase in procurement prices for the voting farmers, and the sharpest increase, and five-year level, of inflation in India in the last 20 years? Add to this the truly retrograde Budget 2012-13 and you have an economy, and policy, totally out of control.
Coincident to the day from when Mr Pranab Mukherjee was elevated to being President of India, things began to improve. The PM took over the finance ministry temporarily and when Mr Chidambaram's name was being mentioned as possible FM, Mr Singh is rumoured to have said that "Chidambaram and I have similar instincts towards reforms".
And things began to change—finally. While final approval still remained with Ms Gandhi, the political losses and the slowed economy meant that she had transferred the keys to economic policy from the anti-reform duo consisting of herself and Mr Mukherjee to the pro-reform duo of Mr Singh and Mr Chidambaram.
Consider the reaction to the blitz of reforms announced by UPA-II in the last one month. At each step, with each reform, the naysayers, the doubters, the pessimists, the BJP and CPM "doubled" up. These reactions were in three stages. The first was disbelief, the second was denial, and the third stage was disagreement. And disagreement against the very policies espoused, cultivated, and promoted by the BJP a decade earlier. Strange is a politician, stranger still are his consistent flip-flops—flip when you are in power, flop when you are in the opposition.
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