Talking it out
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In this season of reforms, the government could consider this one: become more communicative
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh finally broke his silence on Friday but it will be difficult for his reasonable, reassuring words to fill the echoing well of silence that has developed over the UPA's second term. Had he spoken of hard choices earlier, he could have arguably softened the blow when he actually made policy ostensibly to protect the common man. For instance, in his speech on Friday, he explained that deficits remain even after hiking fuel prices and capping subsidies, but the aam aadmi he addressed is already focused on the added hardships that have been imposed on him, without appreciating that it could have been much worse.
If the government had been more communicative, it would not have attracted the charge that the Congress has acted unilaterally, without taking the people, the opposition or even its own allies into confidence. The opposition is now taking advantage of this lapse to challenge the government to put the reforms agenda to the test in the House. So pervasive is the culture of silence in UPA2 that even communication within the government has begun to a suffer signal drop. Leaders have taken to hedging and second-guessing the high command, instead of speaking their mind on the issues that matter. When the government has faced inclement weather, as in the situations raised by Mamata Banerjee over the presidential election and FDI in retail earlier, the UPA's top leadership has appeared to respond with stoic silence, though these were opportunities to lay down the line. More recently, even in the controversy over coal allocations, the economist prime minister could have made an attempt to deflate some of the speculation over numbers with a little clear talking on profit and loss.
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