No bumps on the road to reforms
On his way to attend the G8 summit in Japan on Monday, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh forced the Left’s hand by announcing that India would formally go to the IAEA “very soon”. But knowing the Left, one could never be sure when — if not ‘how’ any longer — it would react to the PM’s assertion. On Tuesday, the communists reacted by announcing the withdrawal of their support from the UPA government and effectively have got off the back of a Prime Minister who, in the final months before his term expires, is keen to put India’s money where its mouth is: on the world stage. Without the drag coefficient of the Left, the nation — and, indeed, the world — is keenly watching what Mr Singh has to say in Japan and his government can do after he has returned in terms of policy reforms, especially of the economic kind.
The G8 summit is rightly derided as ‘the world’s most expensive photo-op’. The addition of the Group of Five emerging economies has done little to change the perception of a diplomatic do-nothing. But if the present summit earns itself a place in history, it will be solely because Mr Singh will use the get-together to kickstart the international diplomatic effort to bring the Indo-US nuclear cooperation agreement to a closure. Both India and the G-8 benefit from the symbolism. It helps to have the global effort to persuade the IAEA and the Nuclear Suppliers Group to grant India a special nuclear status start from the highest political level. The PM will need to dissipate an image of India as the country that ‘can’t say yes’. In return, he will need to seek not only the support of the 13 attendant countries, but, in many cases, a commitment to lobby on behalf of the deal with third countries. This is especially true for many smaller EU members who are the deal’s most devout sceptics.
The G-8 will also mull over what to do about rising oil and food prices. These are problems well beyond the power of the summiteers. But they must be seen to be doing something. Mr Singh will play his part in this theatre. Consider his call for a greater role by the IMF in the oil crisis. We will closely watch how an untrammelled government walks its talk.