How can we ensure 2012 is better than the year we’ve just, thankfully, left behind? That’s a question most of us will have asked ourselves in the last week. And not just in India but, probably, internationally. After all, whether you’re Pakistani, British, French, Russian or American, 2011 was one of the worst most people can remember.
For us, in India, a lot depends on the performance of the government and the message that it sends out. A government that knows what it wants and is determined to get it can give a sense of purpose and direction to the country. A floundering and indecisive administration — which is what we had last year — creates not just disappointment and disillusionment but, very possibly, depression.
I would say nothing will more convince the media and the chattering classes that the Manmohan Singh-led UPA has found a new resolve than an assertive — and successful — push ahead with reforms. We don’t need ministers talking about FDI in retail, GST, DTC, pension, banking and insurance reforms. We’ve had that till we’ve begun to disbelieve it. We need action i.e. delivery.
Why do I pick this basket of reforms? Because they would galvanise the economy, cheer-up industrialists, win the praise of the newspapers and news channels and make the middle class believe fresh life has been breathed into the flagging India story. Of course, India needs other reforms and some hold they are more important than the ones I’ve chosen. But these would be the best bet to change the image of the government and the mood of the country. That’s why I list them first. Then, no doubt, the others would have to follow.
But the problem is these reforms are stuck in Parliament or held up by the government’s own allies. To realise them Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has to break two political logjams. Will he? Or, do I mean, can he? I fear it’s the latter.
Let me explain. What’s needed is for the government to reach out — to the BJP, in Parliament, and its allies, the Trinamool Congress (TMC) in particular, in the UPA. Alas, this is easier said than done. Because for seven years the Congress has treated the BJP as political pariahs while UPA 2, if the TMC is to be believed, has taken it for granted.
What should be obvious seems to be either forgotten or ignored. A party that depends on its allies cannot afford to upset them. Mamata is awkward and troublesome, no doubt, but she has to be mollified if the government is to deliver. The policy paralysis of last year cannot continue.
By the same token, if you cannot carry your allies with you then you must find a way of reaching out to the BJP. Yashwant Sinha doesn’t deny that the roadblocks his party has placed can be shifted by a different political approach.
I’m told all of this will only happen if two people accept the need for it. They’re Sonia and Rahul Gandhi. They must first believe that the economic reforms I’ve identified are a priority for the government to really push for them. Only then will it effectively reach out to its allies and opponents to secure their passage.
In which case 2012 begins not with Singh but the Gandhi duo. They can ensure this is a better year or just a repeat of the one before. Will they? I don’t know but I hope ‘friends’ who claim the Gandhis have other priorities are wrong.
The views expressed by the author are personal