Beyond the first 100 days
The first utterances from the new government are comfortingly pro-reform. Couple this with data that show the economy is bloodied but still on its feet and the mood after the swearing in of Manmohan Singh’s second ministry is decidedly upbeat. The economy grew by 6.7 per cent in the year ending March 2009, which is not half bad in a world caught in a recession. The last quarter of 2008-09 witnessed the first efforts to stimulate the Indian economy after the sub-prime crisis hit home. This was the quarter when some demand destruction was arrested. The worst could be behind us as more of the government’s spending programme enters the system in successive quarters. So far, the Congress’s economy managers seem to have got it right.
Going forward, they seem to be making all the right noises. Pranab Mukherjee talks of reviving growth without letting the fisc slide too much, Murli Deora will unshackle oil prices from government fiat, Kamal Nath will unclog the arteries in funding highway projects, Salman Khurshid will dust the cobwebs off the new companies law, A. Raja will auction radio waves for next-generation telecom services with dispatch and Virbhadra Singh will seek tax protection for the steel industry. In promising to deliver on the top agenda items in their respective ministries, Dr Singh’s colleagues are, individually, at pains to establish their reformist credentials.
But a ministry is greater than the sum of its parts. Some of last week’s more ambitious pledges will have to fight their most bitter battles within the Cabinet as conflicts of interest surface among ministries. Which makes individual promises of scattered reforms less appealing than an overall vision from the government on what is actually feasible. A manifesto with actionable points would have been a good starting point. In its absence, the government needs to place before the people its medium-term economic strategy and a roadmap for removing structural rigidities in the Indian economy. Put down on paper what needs to be done and what can be done. An agenda for the first 100 days, which is in the works, is welcome but it would be a pity if the enthusiasm were to flag thereafter. The remaining 1,725 days too need focused governance.