Remember that time in school when you had to write the answer to the two mark question: What was the immediate cause for the start of World War-II or what was the immediate cause for the Battle of Plassey? Now, what really was the immediate cause for the launch of second-generation reforms last week? If social media were to be believed, then it would have to be that stinker of an article in the Washington Post calling Dr Manmohan Singh, “a dithering, ineffectual bureaucrat presiding over a deeply corrupt government.”
The PMO huffed and puffed at the ‘insult’ heaped by white skinned journalists from the TIME and Post audaciously editorialising in a blatant manner. It slipped their attention that the domestic media had already headlined that from Singh is King (2009) one had moved on to King is Singed. It was obvious to every body that there is policy lethargy if not a policy paralysis in the government. In the Prime Minister’s own words there was a “policy logjam”. You would have to be blind and deaf not to know this because blaring from television screens every night, wise gyanis pontificate on the “pathetic state of the nation”, studio hopping, looking grave and funereal. The parliament proceedings were no less depressing, with the monsoon session consisting only of screaming and yelling matches. Amidst all this, the ruling coalition looked lost and hopeless.
And then the Prime Minister, who had let the UPA-II dig its own grave of scams threw in the lifeline to his own government: big ticket reforms that are probably going to be the defining part of his Prime Ministerial legacy. Nobody can take away the credit from Singh for this round of Big Bang reforms. There is no Narasimha Rao this time around. This is his “so be it” moment of UPA-II: the same adamant streak that one saw in UPA-I when he wanted the nuclear deal with America to go through. And the same faith in his beliefs about economic liberalisation as the way forward for India. Manmohan Singh has often quoted Victor Hugo’s saying, “No power on earth can stop an idea whose time has come.” When he wants he can be a Singham as Narendra Modi branded him on Saturday last, but those occasions are very rare. Singham (2011) is the action film in which the protagonist is an honest police officer who uses non-violence to solve most crimes but roars like a tiger (singham) and uses force when the odds are insurmountable. Is this Dr Singh’s Singham moment? Narendra Modi says it is.
The way the equation is in the Congress party, the political consequences of the FDI decision is something the party will have to deal with, not Dr Singh. From the forked tongued responses of some of the UPA allies who seem to oppose the move, the past 10 months of ‘consensus building’, which is a euphemism for deal making, has been about ensuring a survival package till 2014.
In his budget speech as finance minister in the Narasimha Rao government, Dr Manmohan Singh quoted Pandit Ram Prasad Bismil’s verse, “Sarfaroshi ki tamanna ab hamare dil mein hai, Dekhna hai zor kitna baazu-e-qaatil mein hai. (The desire for sacrifice is now in our hearts. We shall now see what strength there is in the arms of the enemy.)” Dr Singh has rolled up his sleeves for battle; he has a sulking army behind him. Who is he headed out to battle with? The Opposition has fired its first salvo. A Bharat Bandh on September 20. Shut down shops, educational institutions, offices, stop traffic, promise urban voters that they will not get big shops or cheaper goods and air travel. That is because such demonstrations never reach semi-urban and rural areas where life goes on with little or no disruption. Politicians bother to venture to these zones only when elections come up, no WalMart or IKEA is coming up here, Emirates is not about to fly in travellers to semi-urban and rural India. The farmer has no option but to pay more for the diesel to fuel his water pump to irrigate his crops. But if FDI can provide him with a larger share of the farm to table revenues, then it is indeed an idea whose time has come.
Smita Prakash is Editor, News at Asian News International. You can follow her on twitter @smitaprakash