India Insight

Does inflation make sense to the common man?

Who is the Minister for Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation?

When is the National Statistics Day celebrated?

An average person may find it difficult to answer these questions.

Just as it is difficult to understand why the people are hurting even if the government inflation figures are near zero if not negative as they were a few weeks ago.

To talk of inflation near zero after visiting the vegetable vendor seems surreal.

Experts explain this as due to food items having less weight or influence in the weekly inflation measure which assesses wholesale prices.

An individual spends much more on food than the weekly inflation index makes allowance for.

Some of this is also due to creaky statistical infrastructure.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh himself indicated this in a speech to the conference of states on the management of statistics.

Peddling reforms for street vendors?

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has taken a step towards unshackling the poorest of entrepreneurs — the street vendors.

In a letter to chief ministers, this week, Singh called for a “new deal” for urban street vendors and implementation of the National Policy on Urban Street Vendors, 2009 — which would enable vendors to ply their trade without harassment.

These include hawkers, sidewalk traders or even the people selling clothes or utensils at the weekly market.

India, China leaders move to ease new strains in ties

While Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s meeting with Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari in Russia captured all the attention,  Singh’s talks with Chinese President Hu Jintao may turn out to be just as important in easing off renewed pressure on the complex relationship between the world’s rising powers.

India said this month it will bolster its defences on the unsettled China border, deploying up to 50,000 troops and its most latest Su-30 fighter aircraft at a base in the northeast.

While upgrading the defences has been a long-running objective, the timing seemed to suggest New Delhi’s renewed fears of “strategic encirclement” by China by deepening ties with all of its neighbours, not just Pakistan but also Sri Lanka and Nepal.

India’s election forecast: the street or the punters?

India’s bookies are still holding out on the Congress party scraping through a largely issueless election with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh the firm favourite to retain his post. They have given L.K. Advani, leader of the Bharatiya Janata Party, a 3-1 chance to win the top job.

But are the bookies, who operate below the radar, missing out on a possible late advance by BJP?

Shares rose 4 percent to their highest close on Tuesday on investor speculation that the BJP, seen as business-friendly, may have gained momentum in the final stages of a mammoth election.

Should the Prime Minister be a member of the Lok Sabha?

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is not contesting elections to the Lok Sabha, the lower and popular house of parliament.This is for reasons of health and also because the constitution permits the prime minister to be a member of either of the two houses of parliament.Like Singh, we have had prime ministers from the Rajya Sabha earlier but they sought to get elected to the lower house and succeeded easily.As the de facto head of the government, the prime minister is expected to earn people’s approval directly.Mayawati recently took a dig at Singh over the issue.”This Manmohan Singh has not contested any public election…he was brought back door in Rajya Sabha and made prime minister,” the Bahujan Samaj Party chief said at an election rally.”If Manmohan can become PM, why can’t an educated Dalit woman.”This is possibly the first instance in Indian politics where the sitting prime minister has decided to stay away from the race.But should India’s prime minister be a member of the Lok Sabha?The opposition, after initially trying to make it a poll issue, now seems to have lost the plot.The question keeps popping up on internet discussion boards.FOR– Those who support the idea of a prime minister from the lower house say that a popular vote marks acceptability by the people as compared to someone nominated to the Rajya Sabha.– Such a person having earned the people’s mandate is seen as less susceptible to manipulation.– A person’s performance as an MP is seen as a necessary test of his competence and claim to the top job.– Some even suggest that a prime ministerial candidate should seek election with a pre-announced team, something like the shadow cabinet system in Britain.AGAINST– The most convincing argument against the idea is that the constitution puts no such caveat.– The upper house is seen as a talent pool where competent candidates are sent after consideration. This compensates for impulsive behavior of voters which can sometimes make “good” candidates unelectable. For example, Manmohan Singh lost the 1999 Lok Sabha election from the posh South Delhi constituency.– It is also felt that any prime minister would work according to the party’s ideology, membership of a house being irrelevant to his policies and performance.– Moreover, the prime minister is in any case indirectly elected (by the party MPs), so the argument of his having greater acceptance may not cut much ice.– Some feel that if the person is a representative of the majority party and competent then nothing else should count. Others say the proposal calls into question the very rationale of having an upper house, and therefore, needs to be fleshed out.One comment on the online forum points to the question being a moral rather than a legal one.There are two facts to bear in mind.In the Westminster system of democracy, a prime minister from the upper house would be an anachronism.Secondly, the constitution review commission recognised the lower house’s pre-eminence in its recommendation that the prime minister be directly elected by the house in the event of a hung poll verdict.As for the practical aspect, the Congress is contesting around 400 seats in these elections, and finding a safe seat for a politician like Manmohan Singh, the sitting prime minister, should have been easy.In March, opposition leader L.K. Advani raised the issue at an election rally.”Singh will be more acceptable to the people of India if he decides to fight the elections and go to the Lok Sabha,” he said.Did Advani have a valid point?

Jury still out on Indo-U.S. “unclear” deal

US President Bush raises his glass for a toast with Indian Prime Minister Singh at an official dinner …US President Bush raises his glass for a toast with Indian Prime Minister Singh at an official dinner …You could be forgiven for thinking that the civilian nuclear deal with the United States is all about whether India holds early elections or not.

Every newspaper is speculating if Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who has staked his personal reputation on the deal, will resign to disassociate himself from an administration that failed to save a pact keenly watched by the world.

But are these the arguments India should be debating in the short-term or should we be discussing the real benefits and drawbacks of the deal?

Passport to hell – A day battling India’s stifling bureaucracy

Surojit GuptaHaving covered government policy for years, I have lost count of the number of foreign businessmen I have heard complaining about how difficult it was to set up in India. But a visit to a government passport office just outside the capital this week showed it can be just as frustrating getting out.

The government has been talking about easing rules for the issue of passports, and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has time and again called for better governance.

Both were in short supply in Ghaziabad, a chaotic urban mess in Uttar Pradesh state, one of India’s least developed, where to get anything done, it seems, you have to call in a favour.

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