Friday, July 22, 2011

A turn in the tide for the UPA?

A number of stories in today’s papers bring cheer and hope that things are finally moving. Give the impression that the UPA is slowly shrugging off its inertia of the past few months. Looks like the troubles of the BJP are giving it a new dose of energy and confidence that all is not lost! Is the tide turning for the UPA?

First, the decision of the government to clear BP’s investment in RIL, should bring in $7 billion immediately and a lot more in the years to come. More importantly, it should bring in specialized technology which should help extract more gas from the KG basin. This would give a boost to many power plants and fertizer units who have, of late, been expressing worries about the supply of gas from the KG basin. Second, the decision of the panel of Secretaries to recommend 51% FDI in multi-brand retail is a good decision. Again, it is expected to bring in more investments into the front-end and back-end of the creaky and inefficient Indian retail sector. Potential gains are a significant impact on job creation in the urban areas and a fairer sharing of wealth with the farmers. Third, thanks to ever larger remittances from the 27 million NRIs strewn all around the world, and more investments from those who believe in the India story, India got more than $100 billion in foreign currency inflows. The country needs as much access to foreign capital as possible and this will surely help in firing up investments. The government can rightfully claim success for this inflow since it’s the strong banking sector in India (entirely because of the government’s own policies) that has given NRIs the confidence to keep sending the money back home.

These are significant economic stories, but even apart from these, the government finally appears to have found its feet on political issues also. It’s made ready its Lokpal draft – and much as it will offend Anna’s many fanatical supporters – it indicates a determination to move ahead rather than get stuck in one contentious issue. In the past, the PM had famously said (during the Indo-US nuclear deal discussion.....when the Left was blocking the deal) in 2007-08 that his was not a “single issue” government. Since the Lokpal imbroglio started, I have myself been urging the PM to remember his own words....and let his government not get bogged down by just one Lokpal issue. That he should show determination in moving ahead and making progress all around. It appears that the government is finally doing that. It appears that the tide is finally turning for the Congress. With the Karnataka crisis in the BJP – and worse, with the party’s total inability to even respond in a convincing manner to the crisis – the Congress must be feeling strengthened. As far as the people of this country are concerned, all we want is to see progress. Political fights can keep happening, but progress mustn’t stop.

The last story is about the tragic twin terrorist attacks in Norway. Clearly shows that no part of the world – even those with extremely developed intelligence – can survive terrorist attacks all the time. Norway is as far away from the hotbeds of terrorism as is practically possible and yet it has had to suffer these attacks. Those in India who complain of India’s unpreparedness and softness as a state should understand that terrorism is not an India-specific problem, but a global one. No point in bashing up our country alone and spreading gloom all around....although I do agree a lot more needs to be done on the terrorism front.

I just want to focus on three things in this post. One: that the way out of the mess for the UPA government is to start acting decisively. And get out of its deep freeze. That’s the entire objective of the opposition’s attacks. They should understand this. If India keeps growing at 8-9% per annum, the UPA would be called a performing government and it would be difficult to dislodge it during the next elections. The BJP realizes this – and its ultimate agenda in attacking the government – is to stop the government in its tracks. Additionally, if they could make “corrupt”, “soft on terror” and “undecisive” stick to the party, it would be a huge bonus. The Congress has clearly fallen into this trap and has been unable to extricate itself for many months now. Finally now, it appears that the party has understood the plot. Finally, it appears to be responding.

The second thing is about the BJP’s response to the Karnataka crisis. I kept looking for the BJP’s famous, self-righteous and aggressive spokespersons – Ravi Shankar Prasad, Nirmala Seetharaman, Siddhant Nath Singh......but I couldn’t find themselves on any TV channels last night! Looks like they preferred to stay under the radar, just like Amar Singh! On a more serious note, why is the BJP not issuing a strong statement promising to take action? I would have like to hear Sushma Swaraj or Arun Jaitley say that they will sack the Karnataka CM if the Lok Ayukta’s indictment is indeed true. By not doing that, the BJP is missing out on a chance to prove that it is serious about fighting corruption. Timing is everything. There is no point in sacking Yeddy after a few days or weeks. The party would have lost its chance.

The third thing is that I am very disappointed with Anna and his team of TV-savvy panel members (Kiran Bedi, Arvind Kejriwal and of course Prashant Bhushan). Why have they not been on TV lambasting the BJP. After all, one of their own panel members – Justice Santosh Hegde – has brought the report indicting the Karnataka CM. Wouldn’t it help Anna quell the misgivings that many like me harbor that he is a BJP/RSS plant? That his movement is nothing but a political movement? Shouldn’t he demonstrate that he is unwilling to condone corruption no matter which party is responsible for it? By keeping silent, he has only strengthened the suspicion. Unfortunately, many people notice such lapses....and media is sure to bring this out slowly.

The real truth is that a strong push for economic reforms, a determination to take tough political decisions and a resolve to not let the government get pulled down by various distractions is what the UPA needs to demonstrate to the people. The UPA is only in its 3rd year of this term and it has ample time to ride out of the hole it has dug itself into. But if it continues to pussy foot around major decisions, there is nothing which can rescue the party. People want action; and people are willing to forgive those who admit mistakes and move ahead; but people are unwilling to support those who get cowed down under pressure.

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