The Long Con


Those of us who have followed the tenure of UPA over the last 9 years and consequently the subdued reign of present Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, know all too well, or in the least suspect, why he was elected, who pulls strings and how. Why both Congress party Chair Sonia and senior party leader/son Rahul, patricians budded from Nehru’s tree, touted as national figures, haven’t come to the fore-front to take their irrefutable position in the Government of India can be contended to no end. Both have the universal support of their coalition, not just their party. Their nod totes the power to joggle the entire establishment. I suppose if you wielded such influence and could simultaneously avoid accountability, why wouldn’t you? It is widely believed the puppetry will continue however, if UPA miraculously manages to win a 3rd consecutive term this time around especially now that progeny numero uno seems to have shrugged off responsibility in a fit of philosophy and somewhat ambiguously denied his prime ministerial ambitions; the main patsy’s post seems to be up for grabs yet again.

Usually marred by silence, unless we’re talking of economic surveys and statistics, the Prime Minister was seen spewing venom (only compared to his own standards) in a recent parliamentary session to the unanimous surprise of all alike. The content of his discourse was primarily economic one-upmanship, the target, of course, the Opposition. Was this transcendence? Or was the PM shirking responsibility with respect to the countless scandals his party members are alleged to have spawned under the cleverly disguised veil of economic mumbo jumbo? It sparked deliberation of exactly this nature, for the media feeds on such anomalous behaviour. The timing is controvertible, the bigger questions remain unanswered. Is Dr Singh ecstatic – with Rahul out of the way, does he feel his 3rd term is now secure? 9 years now under his belt, could this be him staking his claim?

The man behind the liberalisation of 1991, Dr Singh is an economic veteran. With 7.9% average GDP growth over the last 9 years as compared to NDA’s 6% for their preceding 6, he knows his numbers don’t fail him at least from what can be observed on the surface. Ex-boss Poltu da now warming the Presidential seat and favoured Finance Minister Chidu firmly on his side, the path seems all but clear for our current Prime Minister.

There is one major hurdle however. No consensus on the provisions of the Lokpal Bill and piling politico-familial conspiracies; the mounting question of corruption is the real skeleton for his government which is fortunately or unfortunately no longer in the closet. The only real rebuttal in the face of such profligation and perfidy is GDP growth. But with the global financial crisis at its peak since the fall of 2008 and no respite in sight, expanding GDP near the double-digit mark was always going to be more than an uphill task. So how does the PM get his party re-elected for the elusive 3rd term? How does he display stellar economic performance? Cut in then FM Pranab Mukherjee to announce the most dismal budget of the past two decades: Budget 2012. The strategy: stifle manufacturing, delay key infrastructure projects and clearances, scare away foreign investors (with retrospective tax regimes), don’t relent bottlenecks, procrastinate reforms, wait for the economy to come to grinding halt while food and oil prices rise along with one’s taxes. Populist budget or not, surely an economist of Dr Singh’s stature, with all his guile and wisdom, could’ve stopped this debauchery from unfolding seeing as he was in power. He commended the budget and gave it his blessing.

Budget 2013, to me, reveals what the Congress party clearly prescribes to: “you’re only as good as your last inning”. Dr Singh is well aware that 2013 will be the year of reckoning. Taking the economy from the abysmal 5% we’re slated in to clock by the year ending March 2013 to a minimum increase by 25% (to over 6-6.5%) in 2013-14 as stated in current budget should make it look like everything is back on track which could see him gleaming away to victory come 2014 on the back of strong economic revival. What’s more, we seem to be back on the reform track with concrete plans to boost investor confidence, foreign investment and reduce the crippling fiscal and current account deficits.

Could the woeful economic performance of 2012-13 be orchestrated – only to be adroitly surpassed by that of 2013-14? Has this been a devious plan from the start? Is this why Dr Singh found his voice in Parliament? Has our night watchman really scored a 6? Does he know something we don’t?

Financial year 2013-14 is yet to commence; it’s way too early to gloat. Even unparalleled economic performance doesn’t guarantee success in 2014 for Congress, that’s how bad they’ve had it these past couple of years. If however they somehow do manage to pull the rabbit out of the hat; Congress gets re-elected to power and Manmohan Singh to Prime Ministership, we may well have witnessed the longest con in the history of Indian politics. The economist may well have finally become the politician.

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