Saturday, December 8, 2012

Three months after Mamata’s departure, Congress looks in ship-shape form….

Three months can be a very long time in politics. Three months back when Mamata decided to snap ties with the UPA because it went ahead and announced progressive reforms, there were many who were worried about the fate of the ruling combination – and the country in turn. Three months later today, we can safely say that that was the best thing that happened to the Congress and India.

I had written about this when Mamata quit the coalition on September 19thGood riddance….UPA better off without Mamata”. At that time, many people chided me for not understanding that a “minority” government would be completely paralyzed. I was right. Mamata’s departure actually re-energized the Congress. The forced break-up of the UPA rather than being a problem, was actually a blessing. Since then, Mamata has been decimated. Her 19 votes have lost all power (Sept 24th: Mamata’s 19 powerful votes become 19 meek ones….). Sitting with the opposition has its moments of joy for a revolutionary, but beyond that, there is nothing to take back home to the people who voted for you. Bengal continues to be in a shambles; its capitalist-turned-communist Finance Minister held hostage by his own political ambitions. The pressure on Mamata is mounting – with farmers in Singur attacking the TMC now. Give it a little more time; and the picture will become clear. Mamata is finished. The Left is getting ready to be back in business. If that happens, it will make no difference to national politics. The total Leftist votes (whether belonging to Mamata or to the Left) will remain intact. India will lead on without Bengal; unlike in the past when Bengal led India in everything philosophical, economic and political. There is also the real chance that the Congress may revive itself politically in the state. Who knows – the people of Bengal may opt for a more pragmatic reforms oriented party in the next round of elections.

The Congress has bounced back strongly on several fronts. No one talks of the coal scam any longer. Whatever happened to it one wonders? The Interministerial group (IMG) has been going about its business with a silent efficiency not usually seen in the Government. Several mines have been de-allocated, but there has been no knee jerk reaction to the CAG’s accusations.

And on 2G, the Congress has scored some well deserved debating points, with the failure of the auctions. The failure itself showed that the CAG was dead wrong in estimating the loss of Rs 1.76 lac crores. For the Congress, the best thing is that it has been able to show itself to be the “victim” or “loser” in the failure; since the Government followed every single prescription of the TRAI. It is likely to miss its Rs 40,000 crore target from spectrum sale. In spite of being stung hard by the CAG, the Government can show that it wasn’t cussed; in fact, if anything, it was too much of an obedient student following every TRAI/CAG/SC instruction to the hilt. The Congress now finds this to be a good game to play. It’s decided to lower the Reserve Fees by 30%, knowing fully well that the auctions will fail again. When that happens, it will again be able to behave like the victim.

The Direct Transfer Scheme has got the opposition wetting its pants. What is bugging it is that there are very few points available to oppose the plan. If successful, the scheme could eliminate more than Rs 1 lac crores in subsidy; mostly by eliminating bogus claimants (political beneficiaries?) and by cutting corruption amongst the middle-men. How does one argue against this? Hence the silly complaint to the EC that the timing was wrong. Well, nothing came of it; a little “rap” from the EC would not even be felt. The only other charge is that this is a political move; of course it is!

The last straw has of course been the clear approval from Parliament for FDI in retail. Sushma Swaraj was left complaining that “most parties” supported her motion – to disallow FDI. Well, she should know that in a democracy, its not the number of parties that matters, but their weight – the votes they carry. Swaraj also complained that the SP and BSP spoke one thing in Parliament, but voted in a different way. Again, she should realize that politics is a constant game of choosing between multiple options. These parties may be opposed to FDI, but their opposition to the BJP is far stronger. Between the two, they prefer to stick to the Congress.

With policy paralysis out the window, we can now look forward to much more. A slew of financial bills are expected to be cleared shortly. The RBI has hinted that inflation should ease from January and it may revise policy rates downwards by end-Jan. That’s all the market is looking for now. A rate cut could energize the manufacturing sector. Once that takes off, India should regain its rightful place. India’s growth story is not off; it was just temporarily way laid by its dirty politics.

The real truth is that Mamata’s departure was the turning point for UPA-2. With the policy paralysis now lifted, we should expect better days ahead. The pall of gloom is lifting. Give it a little longer – say by Feb-March – and the India story should be back on the tracks. Clearly, Mamata did us all a favor by quitting the UPA.….

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