A week is a long time in politics; ten days is an eternity. Ten days ago, the Congress-led UPA government was weighed down by the scams and scandals that have enveloped it since its return to power in 2009. The economy was down, the fiscal deficit was up, the ratings were near-junk, the writing was on the wall.
It was deja vu 1991 in circa 2012.
But the partial rationalisation of diesel prices followed by the announcement of foreign direct investment (FDI) in multi-brand retail, aviation and broadcasting (followed by a slew of measures including one rank-one pension for Army wallahs, dearness allowance hike for government employees, etc) have changed the headlines.
Suddenly, the coal scam is off the front pages and nightly news.
Suddenly, the main obstacle to reforms (Mamata Banerjee) is out.
Suddenly, the “underachiever” prime minister is talking.
Suddenly, there is talk of a reshuffle of the Union ministry and Congress party apparatus.
And, on top of all that, the entire opposition from the left to right is united in its opposition to FDI in retail, citing the interests of everybody from the farmer down to the consumer, to dire warnings of economic slavery and colonisation of the mind. Even Narendra Damodardas Modi who has gone around with the FDI bowl in his hand to more countries than most chief ministers is warning of the “foreign hand”.
What last week’s Bharat bandh (in which UPA ally DMK too took part) and today’s BJP suggestion of a rollback of the FDI in retail should it come to power, have done is to willy-nilly paint the Congress as the only “pro-reforms” party in the country ahead of 2014, which is all the more surprising because this was the party which in the last few years had turned subsidies into an entitlement.
Questions: Will the reforms work in reviving the economy and will that in turn convince the electorate to plump for UPA-III? Or, is it just a desperate last-ditch effort by the Congress to revive its chances, one doomed to electoral failure? Will the aam admi see through the xenophobia, or will he let his wallet do the voting?
The New York Times: Reforms do win elections in India