The cover page of Time reflects nothing more than what a proletariat Indian thinks of his incumbent Prime Minister. Manmohan Singh once claimed to be the champion of Indian economic reforms which dragged India out from the qualm of economic inefficiency it had drenched itself into in 1991, is now often dubbed as puppet, incapable, unelectable, underachiever, and to add to the list the accusation of holy Team Anna, corrupted!
Manomhan Singh, to state in simplest terms, is an overrated economist and an underrated politician. Overwhelmed as it is, Bharitya Janata Party (BJP), India’s single largest opposition in Parliament today has claimed underachiever to be an understatement for the inefficacies Dr. Manmohan Singh has brought to 7, Race Course Road. Little have they realized, that the same magazine had featured, one of the greatest Prime Ministers of India, Mr. Atal Bihari Vajpayee (from BJP) on the cover page with the title “Asleep on the wheel?” So, rapidly do political parties change their stance, that there is little guilt attached in shifting opinions and loyalties.
Dr.Manmohan Singh has brought the dignity back to the office of Prime Minister. The dignity that once was associated with the likes of Mr. Jawahar Lal Nehru and Mr. Lal Bahadur Shastri. Those were the days when partisan politics had little to play and lesser to offer. One would not, in those days, see dignified leaders (as all of them are) playing to the gallery and drenching dirt to mong the power.
Fast forward five decades and we are in an era where countless political parties have mushroomed up and being a quasi-federal nation (as the western Federal Social Scientists term India as), the regional players have got a bigger piece of cake in political podium of policy paralysis.
In such a political arrangement, the power sharing agreement between our Prime Minister and Mrs. Sonia Gandhi seems to be politically the most tenable, economically the most efficient and socially the most rigid of all. While Dr. Manmohan Singh brain storms in policy formation, the domain he is considered fit for, the latter indulges in dirty politics keeping the PM office immune to such arrangements. Frederick Taylor, the father of scientific management, would have been delighted to see such a distribution of work at the highest scale ever possible.
Sonia Gandhi has been instrumental in running UPA-1 and UPA-2 for 8 years in row now, roping in one political partner or the other whenever the government faced threat of being toppled due to partners turning hostile (CPI(M) in 2008) or successful (Mamata Banerjee in 2011). Apart from this, she has played a key role in bringing the populist policies on board (for example the Food Security Bill 2010), the key performance parameters to succeed in a formerly and still formally a socialist state.
Manmohan Singh on the other hand has played more of the capitalist card and has tried to introduce reforms which could have dynamically changed some of the country’s most vital sectors. Plans to increase the FDI cap in multi-brand retail store failed drastically because the coalition partners turned hostile. Similar reforms in Insurance and Aviation were stalled. Unfortunately, the political acumen of Mrs.Gandhi could not be used for horse trading and power snatching owing to her ill health and hospitalization in an undisclosed location in the United States.
Nevertheless, few instances are not enough to write off the premiership of Dr. Singh. Citing the success of 123 nuclear deal between India and USA to give him brownie points would be glorifying a past report card to justify the present failures. No doubt, there have been instances of corruption being thrown wide open in the face 2G or Aadarsh scam. But, the deeper thought would be, is this the only government in past 65 years that indulged in corruption at such a scale or is this the only government which has not clogged these shameful reports from being published? I will take the latter. Given that the appointment of Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India by the President on the advice of Prime Minister is still a political exercise (unlike the collegium based appointment of Judges in courts of India), it would take a lot of assumptions to establish the fact that Dr.Singh had no role in giving a free hand to the CAG for exposing corruptions! And that is where I would say that Dr.Manmohan Singh is an underrated politician. The discomfort Dr.Singh had by sharing his cabinet berths with UPA’s coalition partners had always been in the sunlight. The rest, I would leave to your judgement, given that the CAG reports have wiped out corrupt ministers from the inefficient coalition partners.
There is little in the economy, at the upper face of it, which would discredit the underachiever tag for Dr. Singh. It is true that inflation is high at around 7%, the FDI has been flowing out of India with General Anti-Avoidance Rule (GAAR) pushing it further out and interest rates are being lowered despite the rising inflation. The economy grew at 5.6% last quarter, lowest in 9 years. Stock markets had little to cheer about. Rupee has been declining as if outscoring the gravity. The situation, to state from an absolute perspective, is gloomy.
But sadly for the critics, the economy never works in isolation and hence can never be judged on absolute parameters. India has defied the stagnation Japan has landed into. The inflation being calculated would have little effect on the poor class, given that prices of necessary food items are still being regulated and most of them are being controlled by Public Distribution System (inefficient, but existent nevertheless). Integration of PDS with project Aadhar (taken by Unique Identification Authority of India, a brainchild of Dr.Manmohan Singh’s government) would take care of the leakages in the present system. India at 5.6% (slowest in 9 years), in last quarter, is still rising way above the global average, has an average annual saving rate of around 35%, has shown resilience to survive and grow despite the Euro Zone crisis and possesses momentum to push domestic consumption. And that is not a very gloomy situation, is it?
It is difficult to attribute this growth to capitalism, neo liberalism, socialism or fusionism. Dr.Manmohan Singh, a staunch fellow of western school economics, has not limited the policies of his government to the direction of his university education. In fact, he surrounds himself with 3 most reputed economists, all from different schools of thoughts, to encourage informed debate and 360 degree view of ground realities before taking any major step towards economic reforms. Montek Singh Ahluwalia, the deputy chairman of the planning commission is considered to be a neo-liberal economist. Kaushik Basu, the chief economic advisor to the government of India is a believer of post-Keynesian developments whereas C.Rangarajan, the chairman of Prime Minister’s economic advisory council is a traditional monetarist. This seems to be more of an arrangement by design rather than by accident and yet people believe that all Dr. Singh does is nothing. Perhaps, it is TIME for a reality check!