At a recent public meeting, Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney said, “It’s still about the economy, and we’re not stupid.” Romney was invoking an old phrase - “It’s the economy, stupid,” famously used by Bill Clinton in his successful 1992 campaign, that unseated President George Bush (the father). Bush had won the Gulf War but lost focus on the economy. From a 90 per cent approval rating he fell to an unimaginable defeat.
As President Barack Obama celebrates one year since the killing of Osama bin Laden, his rival Mitt Romney is snapping at his heels, reminding the President that wars won abroad may not win elections at home. It is the economy and nothing else.
All across Europe, governments are in crisis, being toppled or about to be, from France, Spain, Greece, Ireland, Italy to tiny Netherlands. The juggernaut is rolling towards India too. Last week, Standard and Poor’s, the credit-rating agency downgraded the outlook for India’s debt rating from stable to negative. The agency blamed the political deadlock for the delay in implementing second-generation economic reforms and the subsequent slowdown.
If this has come as a shock to our experts in North Block and the Planning Commission, they are deluding themselves. All they had to do was ask their chauffeur, security guard, gardener, clerk, peon or domestic help, how bad things are in the country and who they blame for the mess. Sarkar.
According to a highly placed source, a survey conducted by a government agency showed that the Congress party could hope to win only 78-80 seats in the 2014 general elections. Most allies of the Congress are reading the signs and are about to jump ship. Things are not looking good for the UPA, however bombastic the spokespersons might sound on nightly television debates.
What the government needs to do is to watch TV on mute. Bofors and Bangaru are not top most on people’s mind. What concerns them is the skyrocketing price of vegetables. Okra, beans, carrots cost Rs 40-50 a kilo. Vegetable production was down by 25 per cent last month pushing up prices, yet again. Fruit is a luxury. In fact in many middle class homes it is a non-essential. What is summer without mangoes?!
While the price of vegetables is not really in the hands of the government, the fact is that if there is an ability to pay then there is a demand and that encourages production. A healthy supply pushes down prices. The ability to pay comes from sound economic policies but with inflation at 8.8 per cent there is little hope for the common man.
And the sense of hopelessness finds vent in elections. We saw this in the assembly elections of February. Good governance will be rewarded; empty rhetoric of caste and religion will be given the boot.
People see through posturing, so you can visit temples, mosques and homes of the poor and backward; at all these places people will receive you graciously and share with you their meal. But they will not vote in your favour just because you broke bread with them. Give them the ability to live a life of dignity and they will vote you back to power.
20 years since economic reforms were introduced, it is still bijli, sadak and pani that most of India wants. And then there are places where the promise made in the sixties of roti, kapda and makaan hasn’t been fulfilled. In all these places where governance and development hasn’t reached, the Maoists have. They have occupied the space vacated by the government.
The UPA has two years, which is certainly not enough to provide bijli + sadak + pani + roti + kapda + makaan to all of India. Actually all of India doesn’t even expect it out of them. All it hopes is now for a modest economic recovery. Stop the slide, arrest recessionary trends, help in job creation, get rid of toxic taxes, convince investors of your growth polices. Indians aren’t stupid, you know.
Smita Prakash is Editor, News at Asian News International. You can follow her on twitter @smitaprakash