Pain before the gain
India will come to respect a Prime Minister who takes tough decisions at the cost of immediate unpopularity. It will not forgive one who ducks the challenge. Karan Thapar writes.columns Updated: Sep 22, 2012 21:42 IST
What is it that one admires and, actually, expects from a government? Ultimately, it's the ability to take tough but necessary decisions even when they are likely to be unpopular and could, in the short term, erode its support. I guess that's what Dr Manmohan Singh had in mind when he said: "We have to bite the bullet. If we have to go down, let us go down fighting."
The easy way out is rarely, if ever, the right one. Dr Manmohan Singh has taken three long and painful years to learn this simple lesson while India - and by that I mean you, I and hundreds of millions more - have paid the price. Not only has growth slumped, investment declined, deficits ballooned, inflation risen and reforms stalled but, as a result, the country's international image has suffered and its internal self-confidence diminished.
What's often overlooked is that all of this was damaging our future. We're a poor country and we, therefore, need to grow. No doubt we have great potential but if we don't realise it our dreams will remain firmly out of reach.
For India, as a nation, only growth can provide the resources for the improvements we need in healthcare, education, transport, infrastructure, defence, power - frankly, for everything. More importantly, for Indians, as a people, only growth can provide jobs - and we need tens of millions of them - so we can earn more and aspire to a better lifestyle.
This is what Dr Manmohan Singh's populist escapism had put in danger. Each time he refrained from a tough decision he may have, temporarily, made it a little easier for himself but he added a further level of doubt to our future. It wasn't just himself he was letting down, but us. He was condemning us to continue in the past we wished to be rid off.
So, today, we, the people of India, need to keep our fingers crossed in the hope the Prime Minister's newly found conviction and courage will not falter in the wake of Mamata Banerjee's revolt.
But will there be pain before we see gain? Yes, undoubtedly. Yet, once again, this is where the PM's earlier hesitation was so wrong. The Indian people know things are going badly and harsh remedies are needed. We know we are ailing and the cure will not be easy. Even if like most sick patients we sought to postpone the treatment, now that it's unavoidable we will grit our teeth and bear it. Because we have no alternative.
The PM should have known this and explained the brutal truth to us months, if not years, ago. We may not have liked what he said but we would have acknowledged its undeniability and accepted the inevitability of course-correction.
Instead, he kept silent. He kept promising that the future would be bright while ensuring through his inaction it would not. And, instinctively, intuitively, we realised things were getting steadily, even speedily, worse.
At last that slide has been stopped. No doubt more is needed to reverse it and I, for one, hope the PM will soldier steadily on. To benefit from what he's begun he needs to go all the way. To stop after a mere start is to be stranded mid-way.
The lesson - and clearly there is one - is straightforward and simple. India will come to respect a prime minister who takes tough decisions at the cost of immediate unpopularity. It will not forgive one who ducks the challenge.
Views expressed by the author are personal