Who says no one listens to Dr Manmohan Singh? The animals do. Ever since the Prime Minister of India ordered Indians to release their animal instincts, the bears have started a carnival on Dalal Street.
Maybe the instructions of our first economist-PM got mislaid in translation. He surely wanted bulls to march across Mumbai, conquering every stock exchange in an exhilarating stampede. Instead, horrible little bears arose from long hibernation, and turned into a wrecking crew that has left the economy gasping and government choked. In the meantime, picking up on another variation of the animal theme, the Indian rupee has turned into a truant chimpanzee, sliding down with pathetic glee and jumping up with an occasional wheeze, but quite certain that its destination is downhill.
If the great Indian animal farm of 2013 seems out of control, it is because the keepers have lost the map as well as the plot. The economy is only one casualty of self-generated mayhem. The political stability of India is equally a shambles.
The recent behaviour of the UPA government has been utterly bizarre. Congress might lose the plot, as it has done before, but it has enough experience in its DNA to manage a Parliament session. The current session is an object lesson in suicide. As seasoned a politician as Parliamentary Affairs Minister Kamal Nath gives the impression of being either a fool or a zombie; and since his track record proves that he is not silly, then he is under clear instructions to act like a robot.
Preparations for any session of Parliament rest on a basic principle: get your priorities right. The UPA’s declared priority was the Food Security Bill. They had even set a date for full rollout: 20 August, the late Rajiv Gandhi’s birthday. The rest was actually quite simple. All that government had to ensure was that atmospherics were under control when the session opened, so that the bill could go through in the first week. The Opposition was trapped. It could not say no, but was unwilling to say yes, for both fiscal and political reasons. It was the perfect environment for government to sail through, putting some ballast in its wings as it did so.
Instead, UPA, led by Mrs Sonia Gandhi and her faithful lieutenant Digvijaya Singh, for reasons that elude the comprehension of common sense, decided to kick up a massive storm over Telangana. Inevitably, dust from this storm blinded the monsoon session. Telangana has been on the anvil for four years; would another four weeks have mattered? In fact, the Prime Minister could have made the announcement on the floor of the House after the passage of food security; and if the rest of the session was washed out at the least this bill would have been home, high and dry.
Here is a little more to perplex you. Why did government suddenly abandon its opaque tactics of evasion and fudge over the missing coal scam files in the middle of the session? These “missing” files first came to public attention when last May CBI director Ranjit Sinha said publicly that he could not pursue investigations because he had not received them. We all know why. Government is in deep trouble over this colossal corruption. Its star industrialists in Parliament, like Naveen Jindal and Vijay Darda, are involved. There is nothing mysterious about the fact that files pertaining to these two are among those missing. It seems to be a case of theft compounded by abetment. A few more chunks of evasion would not have made absolution easier in the eyes of God, if God has time for Indian corruption anymore.
Moreover, in terms of purely Parliamentary tactics, if the Prime Minister was going to make a statement on the files, which was the Opposition’s demand, and which he was obliged to do as minister in charge of coal mines at the relevant time, why did he not make this statement on the very first day? Why did he have to wait a week to promise to do so, and thereby erase one-fourth of the session from the agenda? This makes no sense. It is not the Opposition that has delayed the Food Security Bill, however much it may have wanted to, but the government. The reason? Inexplicable. The worst damage is done by incompetence, not evil intent.
All careers, they say, end in futility — but only if you do not know when to quit. Dr Singh will understand this analogy, since he likes America and American businessmen. The share price of Microsoft just went up 7% after its chief executive officer, Steve Ballmer, announced he was leaving. Ballmer was once a hero of Micrsoft, and an astonishing videotape shows him bouncing across the stage at a company gathering, making cowboy noises, in the days when he took the job as an untarnished superstar.
How much will the share price of India rise when the government of Dr Manmohan Singh quits?