Wednesday, February 21, 2024

UPA-2 grappling to stay afloat

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There is a general buzz in the country about what will happen post May 2014. Media polls are going crazy trying to predict which party or groups of parties will ride the victory chariot to the national capital. As diverse as India is in terms of caste, class, religion and race it is not easy for pollsters to predict the outcomes of the next general elections. If the UPA is a beleaguered conglomerate of disparate forces hoping to stay afloat somehow, the opposition which is largely led by the BJP is unable to fill the governance vacuum and has not yet got its act together. And this is the troubling part. Narendra Modi who is anointed to lead the 2014 elections for the BJP does not have the blessings of senior patriarchs in the Party. Yet the need for change is palpable across the length and breadth of the country. The reasons of course are aplenty.

Price rise is threatening to push large sections of poor Indians into the malnutrition hole. It will take more than the Right to Food Act to get them out of that hell-hole. The Act, like all others before it, will have to be implemented by an obtuse, corrupt and inept bureaucracy which had earlier made capital from the Public Distribution System (PDS). It is naive of the UPA-2 to expect this Act to turn things around for the poor. The Act is aimed at winning votes and will cost the exchequer a whopping 1.26 lakh crore. India is at the moment heading towards becoming a banana republic. The rupee has reached its lowest ebb ever and crisis managers are only looking at cosmetic changes to bolster the exchange rate. This will not work because the problem is systemic in nature. Our investment climate is uncertain. There is no knowing what law the country will suddenly come up with when under pressure from sundry interest groups. It is the law of business that investors prefer friendly regimes and a more or less predictable profit graph.

It is in this bleak scenario reminiscent of the late 1980’s when liberalisation was pushed through as a last resort that the country will be heading towards the general elections. But liberalisation had not paid lasting dividends as is evident today. Once again we seem to have drifted back to the licence, permit raj which could not even anticipate that the price of onions would shoot up due to a false scarcity created by traders. How can people vote back a Government they have lost their trust on? And yet the options are so bleak! That’s the tragedy facing the Indian people right now.

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