Does the fourth anniversary bash of the Congress-led UPA government have much to celebrate? There is, of course, the usual self-congratulation on its achievements in office and commitment to the common man that have been splashed in full-page advertisements. But the mood for partying certainly is sombre after the Karnataka electoral verdict. And with national elections also looming large over the horizon, more worrisome is inflation running at 7.8 per cent amid signs of a slowdown in overall economic growth.
The rising price of food certainly puts the UPA government’s aam admi commitments under strain. With global oil prices touching $135 a barrel, the government is indeed finding it difficult to balance insulating the common man and preventing state-owned oil companies from going under. All of this takes the shine from what the UPA considers its crowning achievement, notably, the Indian economy growing at a tigerish clip of 8.6 per cent; rapid build-up of foreign exchange reserves due to surging inflows of foreign portfolio and direct investments and so on. Nevertheless, there is, no doubt, that its biggest achievement is the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme that provides a universal, self-targeting guarantee of 100 days of employment to every rural household in 596 districts of the country. If implemented well, this is truly a historic scheme that has the potential to transform the face of rural India. But that is a big if, as a CAG report has raised concerns in this regard. Similarly, Bharat Nirman also has tremendous potential to make a huge difference to rural areas but must be implemented in letter and spirit.
Admittedly, the crisis-ridden global situation is partly responsible for the UPA’s current economic woes. But its total dependence on the Left for its political survival has sapped its will to push through reforms to sustain the robust growth momentum. The Left’s antipathy to neo-liberal reform has halted the government’s drive to privatise profitable public sector undertakings, raise limits for foreign investments in insurance and retail trade, pension and labour reforms. The big question naturally is for how long will the good times last on the India growth story? Not much to uncork the bubbly over, is there?