With stalled reforms, Indian government needs to win new friends
‘Deferred’ — Excessive use of this word is something that India cannot afford at this stage. Amid economic turmoil, reforms are desperately needed to signal the government’s resolve to fix the current situation.
But in yet another postponement on Thursday, the cabinet deferred the pension reform bill which proposed to open the sector to foreign investors, after key ally Mamata Banerjee, chief minister of West Bengal and Trinamool party chief, opposed it.
With 19 members in the Lok Sabha, parliament’s lower house, Banerjee’s party has acted like a roadblock for the UPA coalition for months. Maybe the government needs to seriously start thinking about replacing her in the coalition, or limp along as a lame duck administration until the next election.
From the pension bill, fuel price hikes, land acquisition proposals, to bills which proposed increasing foreign investments in multi-brand retail and aviation, she has opposed all of them. Her reason for each is generally the same — it’s against ‘people’s interest’.
So why is Banerjee a part of the government? If she is against most of the government’s initiatives, she should withdraw her support in protest.
Perhaps she has a reason. She needs New Delhi’s support to bail out West Bengal which is burdened with India’s highest state debt of nearly $40 billion. She also knows that there is no one else chomping at the bit to support the Congress-led UPA alliance at this very moment.
With the economy slowing and reforms on hold, perhaps Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s Congress party should try harder to make new friends.
The general elections are due in 2014 and the Congress needs to rebuild its image before that if they want people to forget the recent corruption scandals and the pain caused by slowing economic growth and high inflation. A difficult ally at this stage is only adding to its woes.
After power changed hands at India’s most populous state Uttar Pradesh in March, initial reports suggested the incoming Samajwadi Party (SP) would be willing to join the cabinet. The party has 22 members in the lower house.
But despite signs of warmth between the parties’ top leaders, the SP has so far offered only outside support and has not joined the government, which it has described as a ‘scam-vending machine’. The same party bailed out UPA-I in 2008 during a confidence vote over the India-US nuclear deal.
Manmohan Singh’s ruling Congress party and the Indian economy need one thing in common — a confidence boost, and without pushing reforms it is difficult to achieve that.
But first, political stalwarts in the ruling Congress party should concentrate on how they can get stronger with numbers in the lower house, rather than pushing for reforms which will be opposed by its allies.
A self-help book like Dale Carnegie’s ‘How to Win Friends and Influence People’ might help.
(Follow Aditya Kalra on Twitter @adityayk)