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Assessing Manmohan Singh: He was never a true reformist by instinct

December 28, 2011 Leave a comment

Assessing Manmohan Singh: He was never a true reformist by instinct

Bibek Debroy

Rare is the person who reads Robert Browning now. He wrote a poem titled “The Patriot” and it begins, “It was roses, roses, all the way, /With myrtle mixed in my path like mad.” Somewhere down the line, the poem says, “And you see my harvest, what I reap, /This very day, now a year is run.”

It has been more than a year now, seven years if one counts from 2004. As prime minister, Manmohan Singh (let’s call him MMS) is most likely on his way out, once the Congress figures out the exit policy.

Since clamours for removal have emanated from within the Congress too, we aren’t talking about 2014. More like 2012. As PM, the MMS legacy has been the nuclear deal, aborted peace initiatives with Pakistan and part-aborted agreements with Bangladesh. But MMS is an economist. As FM, he is the one who liberalised the economy in 1991 and reminded us about an idea (reforms) whose time has come.

Rao, Not Singh To put it mildly, the economy is in a shambles now. Reforms most likely are on permanent pause. The sound and fury over FDI in retail amounted to nothing. During UPA-I, we had RTI and NREG. The rest was a legacy. During UPA-II, we have Right to Education and may have Right to Food. As a reformer, lauded by the external world and urban India, I doubt MMS will be proud of this legacy.

But should we be surprised? We have conjured up an image of MMS as the original reforming FM. There are several problems with this identification. First, MMS wasn’t PV Narasimha Rao’s original choice as FM. IG Patel was, though that is neither here nor there. Second, the credit for those reforms should largely go to Rao, though the Congress conveniently chose to ignore this later. Indeed, MMS also distanced himself from Rao, though that too is perhaps neither here nor there, except that it reveals some of MMS’ personal attributes. The point is, any FM in 1991 would have had to introduce those reforms. The agenda was known. The blueprint was known.

All of these had been firmed up by the end of 1990. All that remained was for FM to read out the speech. MMS wasn’t the engineer or the architect. At best, he was the contractor.

Third, MMS may have been an economist once. But for years and years, he was a laterally inducted bureaucrat. A requisite characteristic of a successful bureaucrat is lack of conviction, economic, political or ideological.

You need to be malleable. And MMS was successful at that. It isn’t generally known that the “garibi hatao” slogan was thought of by MMS. Therefore, we have ourselves conjured up this ‘father of reforms’ image and MMS chose to go along.

Honest, But… Part of the image also concerns honesty. Honesty is a relative expression. I have been severely reprimanded by an MP for calling MPs and politicians dishonest. I have been advised to call them differently honest and there is a grain of truth in that.
There is absolutely no question that MMS is personally honest in pecuniary matters. I have plenty of anecdotes on this and so do all those who have interacted with him. But have you heard of House No. 3989, Nandan Nagar, Ward No. 51, Sarumataria? You probably haven’t. This is in Dispur and MMS is ostensibly a tenant there.

That’s because he is a Rajya Sabha MP from Assam. As I said, honesty is a relative term and I know of people who would baulk at this deception.

There is an anecdote in Yashwant Sinha’s book about how MMS had brought alone a file to Chandra Shekhar, who was then the PM, but had already resigned. The file concerned MMS’ appointment as UGC boss.

As Chandra Shekhar had already resigned as PM, he pointed out that he couldn’t morally sign the file. MMS retorted that he had backdated the file. Since this anecdote has gone uncontested, it is presumably true.

Therefore, if non-pecuniary transactions are involved, I have never been convinced MMS places a premium on “honesty”. It is for an individual to decide whether he feels comfortable looking at himself in the mirror.

I think this “personal honesty” point is driven too hard and is again part of the myth, not the reality. As is the statement, “MMS is not a politician”, with the word “politician” being used in a pejorative sense. In this context, what does the word politician mean? I guess it means someone who will do anything to further one’s own goals, even if it means discarding one’s friends and dining with the enemy. In politics, there are no permanent friends and no permanent enemies. Low on Charisma

If that is the definition, and not election to Lok Sabha or state assemblies, I find no evidence to suggest MMS is not a politician. On the contrary, I have met people who have worked with MMS in various capacities and who recount his ability to be extremely flexible for achieving goals. This is no big deal, in fact, it isn’t any deal at all.

The problem is with the MMS’s image. It’s far too removed from reality.

This leaves MMS’s attribute of humility, and I have plenty of anecdotes on that too. This attribute is without blemishes. But MMS never had fire in him. However, as FM, and as leader of the opposition later, he was fun to work with. He was knowledgeable and made you comfortable. As PM, and increasingly so, he looks tired and jaded.

I have refrained from personal anecdotes. But there is one I cannot resist. I forget the year. It was probably around 2000 and he was leader of the opposition in Rajya Sabha then. The context doesn’t matter for this story. I remarked, “Why don’t you forget all this? You will never become PM. Write a book.”

I wish he had never become PM, or had gracefully exited in 2009.

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Air India and Hydrocarbon losses – “Honest” PM Manmohan Singh

October 22, 2011 Leave a comment

“Honest” PM Moneymohan Singh in action yet again. For an economist, seems surprisingly ignorant of profit/loss economics when it comes to serving the CONgress party. But wait! Profit for the party and loss for the country!

On December 30, 2005, the United Progressive Alliance government moved uncharacteristically fast. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh concurred with a note sent by a select group of ministers on a commercial contract on the very day it reached his office.  Soon after, the aviation ministry under then minister Praful Patel informed the national carrier Air India about Singh’s decision. Air India promptly acted on it – all on the same day.

This contract was a Rs 33,197-crore deal Air India , signed with Boeing and General Electric to buy 50 planes. The sequence of events on that winter day is marked in red in a recent audit report of the aviation sector by the Comptroller and Auditor General, or CAG.

As it turned out, the plane acquisition deal triggered Air India’s nosedive. At the time of the deal, the airline was still in the black, with a net profit of Rs 96.3 crore on an income of Rs 7,630 crore in 2004/05. The airline had a Rs 1,801 crore balance sheet, of which debt was Rs 1,262 crore. Five years later in 2009/10, it would report a loss of Rs 5,552 crore – about twice the size of Sikkim’s economy – on an income of Rs 13,402 crore, along with a staggering debt of Rs 38,423 crore.

The single-day clearance is one of a number of dubious government decisions highlighted by the report. Similar revelations have also been made in another CAG report on the hydrocarbons sector. Both strongly criticise the government’s functioning, pointing out failures and systemic flaws in its processes.

http://businesstoday.intoday.in/story/cag-report-indicts-civil-aviation-and-hydrocarbons-sectors/1/18990.html

CBI names Vir Sanghvi and Barkha Dutt in 2G scam investigation

This column has repeatedly stressed that the Indian English Language Media is at its vociferous and foul mouthed best only when selectively taking on the likes of the BJP or the Sangh Parivar or Hindus in general. That the same treatment is not reserved for the Pseudosecular Congress or its myriad incarnations makes one suspect the agenda of the media. In a recent investigation (if it indeed is verified to be authentic), the CBI names Vir Sanghvi and Barkha Dutt as being involved with Niira Radia.

Barkha Vir tata


Where are the Pink Chaddis?

More than a week since the rioting in Shimoga and Hubli by Islamic terrorists opposing Taslima Nasreen and not a pip squeak from the pink chaddis who ostensibly stand for women’s rights, nor from the likes of Shabana Azmi and Renuka Choudhary.  Of course they loudly and aggressively go after the Ram Sene types because they know that the cost involved is nearly nil and they will be supported by Congress goons themselves. There is also a more serious issue with the Taslima Nasreen case  and that’s of the freedom of press but I don’t see any heated debates about danger to the country’s values, the kind that was there when the Shree Ram Sene roughed up some women in a Mangalore pub.  A case of what is good for the goose not good for the gander ehh?

Any nationalists in Bollywood?

February 24, 2010 2 comments

Question that comes to mind is why this Paki loving actorSRK,  acclaimed as “King Khan” by clueless Indians who historically have been and continue to be butchered by multiple maniacs with the same last name, does not get a strong rebuttal from his counterparts in the actor community? Why do the likes of Bachchan or his ilk or for that matter even the common man not pull up this guy (and teach him a stern lesson) for being blatantly anti-national, playing the Paki card, raking up and reviving a dying issue just in time for the release of his crappy movie? No wonder, it is left to the likes of the Shiva Sena to do what they do and more power to them.

Karan Thapar’s breakthrough: Law of Assumption

May 1, 2009 2 comments

While Newton may have given the world the fundamental laws of motion, Karan “Sudden removal of Modi” Thapar is finally on his way to codifying the laws of the anti-national pseudo-liberal English media. In an interview with Arun Shourie, self appointed Congress party/Gandhi family  spokeperson Thapar gave the world the “Law of Assumption”.  Based purely on this law, Karan Thapar makes the startling claim that the bulk of Indians money in Swiss banks is actually legal. The fundamental basis of the “law of assumption” is that the BJP is always wrong and the pseudosecular intelligentsia is free to cook up arguments based on whimsical notions which are mostly in lockstep with the Congress party/Gandhi family’s ideals. While all available indicators point towards Indians being among the largest hoarders of illegal money, Karan Thapar seems quite amazed that this may be actually true.

Manmohan Singh – what he actually said and what he really meant

April 11, 2009 Leave a comment

Said: “We have not been successful in warding off terror”

Meant: “It is impossible to do this without upsetting our electoral calculations and hurting our muslim votebanks”

Said: “Terrorists could attempt to destabilise the electoral process”

Meant:”Its all finally left to chance, we can do only so much and will only do so little.”

Said:”Though we have made every effort to deal with it, we have to do more to strengthen intellligence, state police system and also our ability to minimise the fallout of terror sttacks”.

Meant:”Lets learn to be tolerant of terror, lets take cosmetic measures which make it seem like we are doing something about it, we do not want to piss off our votebanks by taking strong measures which address the real root causes”.

Said:”The US could take draconan measures to ensure no terror attacks after 9/11 which we cannot. We are a country of 1 billion people”

Meant:”We do not want to be seen as being rude to terrrorists, do we? We also have a 200 million muslim segment to constantly appease”

Said:”Taliban is a threat, dialogue with Pakistan is important”

Meant:”I agree with the Pakistani leaders, Pakistan itself is a victim of terror, as I had said before in Cuba. It is India’s duty to make sure that Pakistan becomes strong enough so that they can refocus their energy on cleaning out the remaining few Pandits in Kashmir.”

Said:”Dreaded terrorists were released and taken to Kandahar by NDA leaders, we did not negotiate with the Mumbai terrorists, we sent our trained commandos instead”.

Meant:”Lets forget that to begin with, our home minister changed his clothes thrice before our commandos could get into action. Lets also forget that despite a dozen attacks prior to that, we were ill prepared to handle any terror related emergencies”

Said:”Due to our diplomatic initiative, Pakistan for the first time admitted that its territory was being used to provoke terror against India”

Meant:”Lets forget that under severe NDA pressure, Musharraf went on national Pakistan National Television and swore to not allowing Pakistani territory being used as a launchpad for terror against India”.

Said:”I have great regard for the Left leaders”

Meant:”After all I shared their communist command-control ideology for the most of my career, including as chairman of the Planning Commission and RBI governor. Both the Congress and the Communists are in perfect synergy in their belief  that Muslims are a votebank that needs careful nurturing. Nevermind that occasionally we let them be butchered like in Nandigram. Both  us in the Congress and the left also strongly oppose nasty things which respectable societies possess like say a Uniform Civil Code. Also the Congress and the left firmly believe that Muslims have the first right over national resources. We both agree that the biggest enemy of the country are the communal Hindus. With all this synergy we are but natural bed fellows, we may sleep with others when needed but those are ignorable details”

Said:”The Indo-US nuclear deal was my biggest achievement. We negotiated with the US  for three years and if it did not get signed after that it would have been bad for India’s reputation. I staked my reputation for India’s honor”

Meant: “Throwing gunny bags of cash at legislators and buying their support needed a lot of skill.  It was a watershed moment which actually marked my coming out as a seasoned politician. It helped me break away from the image of simply being Sonia’s water bearer.  Also as I have said before when I was at Cambridge University, India is currently what it is only because we were civilized by the whites, and consequently its also India’s rightful place to be a pliant satellite of the west, so what if our hard built nuclear sovereignty has been signed away. You see my ability and very reputation to faithfully serve the west was at stake, and so once negotiations started it was only imperative that it be hurriedly signed in whatever form it was before my term ended, never mind that the deal was loaded against the Indians. Also minor things like say that the terms of the deal had significantly deviated from what GW Bush had promised at the outset of the deal matter very little.”

Said:”I am not contesting polls because of my heart surgery”

Meant:”Why bother about minor details like seeking the peoples mandate when there is an assured way of weaselling my way in as a Rajya Sabha member? This is an assured time tested way as the party’s nominee as chief-clerk and will ensure that our plans not be hindered by unplanned events like an election loss”.