Clean up Mr.P.M!

Being loyal is different from being a Prime Minister of a billion plus population. Dr. Manmohan Singh has got unfortunately the dummy P.M tag from every corner of the society. On the one hand, powerful leader starved world looks Indian P.M as the powerful among the powerless alot on the other hand, Indian public feels betrayed by his experience and eminence. Running a puppet government for the past 7 years, Manmohan has alot of clean up job. First is to clean up his polluted image as the puppet prime minister. Second to get his act together and reform the economy. Third walk away from the sycophants and lead an independent decision maker life. Unless and untill these are done, India will continue to watch helplessly the helpless P.M.

 

Bharat  Karnad writes in The Deccan Chronicle on 18 August 2011

It is curious that India and the United States — the two most important democracies in the world today, have in Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and President Barack Obama, chief executives who, it turns out, share traits that the Washington Post columnist, E.J. Dionne, Jr., identified as Mr Obama’s hallmark, namely, being at once risk-averse and competitive. In the three weeks this writer recently spent in America, it was impossible to escape the incessant drumbeat in the media about the economy on the skids, raising of the national debt ceiling amidst rancorous partisanship, the loss of “Triple A” credit rating, and an ascendant China, fearing its huge investment in some 13 per cent of the US Treasury bonds issued being reduced to waste paper, furiously wagging a finger at Washington, demanding Americans live within their means. (In all this gloom, amusement was afforded visiting Indians and NRIs, at least, by the website of a major Indian newspaper heralding an Indian as having “downgraded the United States”!) Meanwhile, at the centre of the hubbub, Mr Obama stayed on the sidelines, mostly disengaged, even as Republican Party Right-wingers called him names. It felt like home. With scams and scandals of all kinds coming home to roost within the Congress Party portals, bad economic news dogging his every step, Dr Singh, other than sleep-talking through much the same Red Fort speech he has made the last seven years on Independence Day, has stayed mum, barricading himself in 7 Race Course Road, a mute spectator to things going horribly wrong for his government and for him personally. Except, unlike Mr Obama, the Indian Prime Minister is no mass leader nor a political visionary; even less is he an orator able to turn around a disbelieving public. His public speeches actually set many a teeth on edge. Dr Singh hopes to keep warbling the same old song without taking any of the follow-up actions he has been promising these many years to implement the second-generation economic reforms desperately needed to shift the economy to a higher plane. But transforming India into a powerful growth engine, at a minimum, requires overhauling archaic labour laws and instituting new land acquisition norms in order to give fillip to industry, and boosting the rural economy by freeing the agricultural sector from export and other restrictions, none of which is being done because of fear of the faux socialists — Messrs Mulayam Singh, Amar Singh, Lalu Prasad Yadav, and Company, and the unpredictable politics of Mayawati. It is another matter that these worthies have, so far, been held in check by the ruling party manipulating the CBI corruption cases against them. But general economic up-gearing and CBI threats nevertheless entail risks because, overdone, these measures may persuade these leaders to join with the BJP-led Opposition to bring down the Congress-led coalition government. And risk-taking of any kind, especially with so much at stake, goes against Dr Singh’s over-cautious nature and party chief Sonia Gandhi’s plans. After all he is a career bureaucrat hoisted, for reasons of zero-threat to the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty and his personal malleability, to the top post in government, an arrangement that permits Mrs Gandhi to keep her hand on the steering wheel, a control now reinforced by her chosen civil servant, Pulok Chatterji, replacing T.K.A Nair as principal secretary to the Prime Minister. The corporate bosses’ understanding of the turgid pace of economic reforms is limited by the automotive metaphor they have used. Y.C. Deveshwar of Indian Tobacco Company in the August 2 meeting with finance minister Pranab Mukherjee reportedly ventured that the problem lay with two drivers — one pressing the accelerator, the other the brake. It’s a view similar to the Infosys founder N.R. Narayana Murthy’s that the government’s “culture of taking slow decisions” is attributable to “two leaders in the set-up”. While such takes on reality seem reasonable at first glance, they are wrong in their essentials, in the main, because they assume that Dr Singh is driven by the desire for systemic change. The fact is he never had his foot on the accelerator, even as Mrs Gandhi never lifted hers from the brake pedal for fear that any forward movement would undermine the ruling party’s pseudo-Leftist moorings. Indira Gandhi’s Garibi Hatao-brand of crude populism masquerading as socialism is the true ideological lodestar of the Congress Party, not the quaint Fabian socialist tenets that animated Jawaharlal Nehru’s policies. Dr Singh, the ultimate apparatchik and beneficiary of the system, in the event, has a disincentive to burnish his reformist credentials, such as they are, if that involves crossing the party line. Mrs Gandhi, on her part, may understand little about socialism other than that it has kept her family in the clover for a very long time. But it is sufficient reason for her to stay with the socialist rhetoric, statist solutions, and a horrendous state apparatus, which together have turned corrupt practices and mis-governance into a thriving cottage industry. Where corruption is concerned, Dr Singh and Mr Obama are somewhat similarly placed. Personally clean, Mr Obama owes his meteoric rise from a grassroots organiser in Chicago to the corrupt Democratic Party political machine ruthlessly run, gangster style, first by mayor Richard J. Daley, who bequeathed the machine to his son, the even longer serving Richard Michael Daley, whose brother, William J. Daley, incidentally, is Mr Obama’s White House Chief of Staff. Dr Singh may not be corrupt himself, but that is small consolation considering he is presiding over a government that, going by the sheer extent, scale and magnitude of the loot indulged in by his party members and Cabinet colleagues, is patently the most corrupt in independent India’s history, and one that may be headed for a downfall. The muck has long ago stuck to the Prime Minister’s escutcheon. So, when he repeatedly declares that the corrupt will face punishment, who takes him seriously?

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Land Laws and Public Dreams

Reaching the pinnacle of power triggers good work in the minds and hearts of elected rulers of the world. This happens double delight way to those who are in the democratic setup. The democratically elected rulers wanted to repay the debt to the voters. Hence there is rush of adrenalin to do something immediate and getting into the good books of public. Mamata Banerjee entered public life three decades ago by doing this kind of stunt politics and catching the eyes of the public. There is no surprise in her doing the same methodological stunt after taking over as the first woman chief minister of West Bengal. The Land Acquisition Bill, beautification of Kolkata, Howrah river cleaning, pro poor schemes are few of the many miracles she is waiting to anvil for the people of Bengal. One has to keep fingers crossed and watch her plans getting realised in next five years..

 

 

Indranil Banerjie writes in The Deccan Chronicle on 8 August 2011

 

West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee might well be the political paradigm of our times. Last week, she stood by the River Hooghly and announced amidst much fanfare and media attention a multi-crore rupee riverside beautification programme, in accordance with her pre-poll promise to make Kolkata another London. Like a modern-day Victoria, Ms Banerjee promised to reward the city mayor if he could complete the project in four instead of the projected six months. She either omitted to mention or did not know that the municipality was facing an acute cash crunch and had been instructed to slash development expenditure on sewage works, roads, health schemes, slum development and water supply. The reality is that Kolkata’s finances are in dire straits and although the honourable chief minister has decreed that Kolkata will be another London she really has no means to effect that transformation.

Ms Banerjee’s method of producing a public good through the waving of a make-believe magic wand is not her invention. Successive railway ministers, herself included, have shown the way by announcing new trains to woo politically important constituencies without bothering to first increase capacities in the railways. But that is not the concern of the modern-day Indian politician, who believes that public goods, public capacities and public revenues are nothing but means to further political aims.

The workings of the decree and be damned attitude are evident in two crucial pieces of legislation that are in the works. The first is the Land Acquisition Bill, vital for both development and social justice, and greatly overdue. The problem is not so much the provisions of the bill but the attempt to make it effective in retrospect. This means all the land acquired in the past decades to build townships all over the country would be affected. This would plunge the country into a frenzy of litigation and social turmoil.

This would not merely affect the middle classes who have bought houses in towns such as Noida and Gurgaon but would also bring down the fortunes of states like Uttar Pradesh and Haryana which depend on new urban clusters for economic development. Any sensible government would not have considered passing such a sensitive piece of legislation with retrospective effect; unfortunately, the bigger concern here appears to be the need for a regime change in a state ruled by a political rival.

The Food Security Act is another conjuror’s trick. Unexceptionable in intent, the legislation is completely unaffordable and impossible to implement fairly. As it is, the government is having a hard time paying subsidy on the existing Public Distribution System (PDS), the bill for which is climbing exponentially; it jumped 65 per cent in 2010-11 to over Rs 74,000 crore from Rs 58,228 crore in the previous year.

While the food subsidy bill is skyrocketing, much of the food meant for the poor continues to be stolen. The World Bank has warned that 60 per cent of food subsidies do not reach the poor and that it would be folly to push more money into a putrefying system without first fixing it.

The Right to Education (RTE) Act passed in 2009 is another example of how little can be achieved by mere legislation and budgetary allocations. A New Delhi-based NGO, Accountability Initiative, has pointed out that currently only an estimated 11 per cent of government schools have the necessary infrastructure as per the act and several thousand crores would have to be pumped in to bring them to minimum standards.

It is not as if the government is being miserly; it has in fact upped expenditure on the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyaan from Rs 15,000 crore in 2010-11 to Rs 21,000 crore for this fiscal year. This money is to be transferred to state governments for implementing the scheme. Problem is there are no mechanisms to enforce basic performance parameters in government schools; absent teachers, broken-down school buildings and abysmal academic standards have become the norm. Even in rural India more and more parents are sending their children to private school if they can afford it. India still has the largest number of illiterates in the world.

No one can dispute that the country needs more prosperity but little can be achieved by pompous promulgations and financial allocations read out in Parliament. In the past, politicians relied on strategising, long-term planning, gradual accretion of assets and building capacities to implement public development initiatives. They scoured the world for appropriate technology, expertise and finances; managers and workers were trained for the new enterprises; and it was through this process that the country was built up.

It would be a wonderful world if poverty, hunger and ignorance could be removed by decree; but this has not happened anywhere in the world, not in the erstwhile Soviet Union or China, and will not happen in India either. What will happen instead is that the government would fast become insolvent, paying out the bulk of its earnings on subsidies and interest payments, borrowing funds it cannot afford, slashing expenditure on new investments and infrastructure, and gradually but surely running the country into the ground. Already, in fiscal 2010-11, interest payments and subsidies accounted for 49 per cent of the Central government’s non-plan expenditure.

Given the country’s severely eroded mechanisms for implementing development projects, enforcing laws, adjudicating disputes coupled with the enormous corruption machinery that drains the financial allocation system, the politics of decrees translates to very little on the ground. Yet politicians continue to wave their mythical wands and hope the electorate will remain enthralled.