The rut that the brilliant Oxbridge-trained economist Manmohan Singh has let his second term as Indian prime minister descend into defies belief.
At a press conference last month marking the end of the first year of his second term as prime minister of the Congress party-lead UPA-II government, Singh showed surprising and unappealing impatience with the idea of leaving any kind of a legacy behind. The prime minister said he had been given a job to do, and had had no intention of retiring until he had done it, although he would make a place for Rahul Gandhi, son of Congress Party President Sonia Gandhi—if the party so desired.
Singh gave his government six out of ten for its performance in the first year of his first term, but he was reluctant to grade himself this time. India’s best-known contemporary historian, Ramchandra Guha, was more forthcoming, suggesting 5, while prominent economist Bibek Debroy, based on the government’s failure to implement various policy programmes, was more scathing, giving the Singh government a lowly1.6 out of 10.Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.
The results of the government’s shortcomings are being felt across the country and will come back to haunt this administration.
Food inflation is currently raging at about 17 percent, having touched 11-year highs earlier this year. Despite mountains of grain reportedly being held in government granaries, corrupt officials are believed to have created market shortages in order to reap the profits. Agriculture and Food Minister Sharad Pawar, for example, has been held largely accountable by critics for surging prices after publicly predicting food shortages, remarks that many felt benefited commodity speculators. There’s a strong case for removing Pawar, but because the Congress and the party Pawar leads, the NCP, run the Maharashtra coalition government (of which Bombay, the country’s greatest milch cow, is the capital) Singh apparently sees himself as powerless to remove him.
Yet when it has suited Singh, such as with his pro-Americanism, he has asserted himself to the point of putting his premiership on the line. In 2008, he threatened to resign if the Parliament didn’t approve the Indo-US nuclear deal (which has since, in reality, brought general or civil nuclear ties with the United States no closer, although it did open the gates for Russian and French reactors and uranium fuel). As a result, in an effort to placate Singh, the Congress ditched its nuclear deal-opposing Left allies, and is said to have leaned on regional politicians such as Mulayam Singh Yadav with the prospect of anti-corruption proceedings to secure their support for the agreement.