Don't lose sleep over mauling of money-minded markets, instead join the masses
Dear Prime Minister,
As a former student of yours, I must confess that your speech in the Rajya Sabha was shockingly un-Manmohanlike. The content, diction and body language gave your adversaries enough ammunition to dub it a speech delivered by a backbencher looking for attention. You are still respected globally and in a large part of India as a leader who knows his economics right but his politics utterly wrong. Survival in office for nine years is no mean feat. But you are not associated with that kind of politics of survival in which convenience, and not conviction, plays an important role. Sonia Gandhi chose you as PM over senior Congress leaders who were once your bosses in government only because she wanted a reputed economist with impeccable personal integrity to improve upon the record set by the NDA government in reviving the economy. You weren’t expected to lead the political discourse. That was to be defined and dictated by her. It was a clear division of power between the head of the party and the head of the government.
It worked during UPA I as you decided to run the government on your own terms and achieve your mission of becoming the darling of Global Capital. You staked your government to get the Indo-US Civil Nuclear Treaty through in Parliament not because you were feared but because you stood firm in your conviction. International leaders always gave you a place on the high table of economic diplomacy.
During the past few years, Newton’s law of “what goes up must come down’’ validated itself in your career. If we trust the opinion polls conducted by various media organisations and marketing agencies, your popularity has plummeted faster than the value of the rupee in the past few months. Silence is always a potent weapon for a credible Prime Minister. Your predecessor, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, hardly spoke. And when he did, after a pause he demolished his detractors. It’s no wonder that even after being out of power for 10 years, his popularity is intact. On Friday, you spoke too much after having kept silent on a wounded economy and fractured politics. More than half the members of your own party were missing from the Treasury benches. The Congress’s habitual rabble-rousers who have mastered the art of filibusting were conspicuous by their absence. Barring an unusually aggressive Finance Minister P Chidambaram, over two-thirds of your mammoth Cabinet chose to stay away to nurse better platforms than the Rajya Sabha. Some of your colleagues felt that your aggressive offence against the Opposition turned out to be your weakest defence. Otherwise, a widely admired economist like you wouldn’t blow your own trumpet when you claimed that “despite what some members may say, I do command a respect in the Council of G-20 (a forum of top 20 powerful nations)... Have you ever heard of any democracy where the Opposition doesn’t allow its Prime Minister to introduce his ministers?” Your agonised expression reflected the crises of identity and authority which were bothering you.
Parliament expected a doctor-like PM to tell its members about what was ailing the economy and what needs to be done individually and collectively. Instead, you were finding fault with the rotten food rather than the rot in the vegetables. You failed to fix any accountability or suggest remedial measures. You wanted the country to believe that the use of chemical weapons in Syria has inflicted wounds on the Indian psyche. While you did admit to some mistakes, the thrust of your extempore narrative was that it is the entire country that has let the people down. Don’t forget that your team of advisers trained and educated abroad gave every possible concession and encouragement to investors, both in India and overseas. You opened up every sector so that they could get the environment they need to boost economic growth. Your government even made the import of pricey foreign liquor free for all five-star hotels so that their rendezvous in India would bring in more dollars. All these supporters were your most powerful megaphones as long as the going was good for them. But they failed to create wealth in India. They ignored unskilled labour. They went on pushing you to give them more incentives and withdraw subsidies from products, which the middle and lower classes use. Moolah for the rich and misery for the poor became the hallmark of your government’s economic philosophy. SEZs went underground even before their foundations were dug. FDI in retail is still a mirage. The corporates got what they wanted and termed your team a dream. Now they are the same people who are running your government down. They want to avoid your government’s company. They are blaming your policies for their non-performance and asset stripping. They have spent their money on luxuries, and now want more to run their businesses. They neither want to invest nor make their units more productive. Parliament wanted you to assert your authority on these avaricious corporate buccaneers. Your party expected you ensure that over $40 billion stuck as Non-productive Assets with corporate leaders are recovered and put to use. The Opposition wanted you to unfold a road map, which would restore your credibility as an economist, revive the India Growth story and make you the mascot of good news for the Congress. Your advisers must study and analyse how those who once saw Narendra Modi as the villain of disharmony and divisive politics now perceive him as their hero and the saviour of a sinking economy. For them, once you were the God of Boom. Now they feel your government is the harbinger of doom.
Moral of the story: Those who use you for their success also dump you when you lose your utility. You will lose nothing and make monumental gains if you don’t lose sleep over the mauling of money-minded markets and instead join the masses.
(firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow me on Twitter @PrabhuChawla)