Prime Minister’s speech: Back-foot defence or last attempt?
Moneylife Digital Team 22 September 2012

Manmohan Singh’s televised address is being criticised by his political rivals, including Mamata Banerjee. Several economists and political analysts, while welcoming the reforms announced by the UPA government said they should have happened much earlier

Warning against the country slipping back into 1991 economic crisis, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Friday said time has come for “hard decisions” to put the country on the path of high and inclusive growth. Seeking trust and understanding of the people in a televised address to the nation, the prime minister asked them not to be misled by those who want to confuse by spreading fear and false information like they did unsuccessfully in 1991.


Speaking against the backdrop of Trinamool Congress (TMC) withdrawing support to the government on foreign direct investment (FDI) and diesel price hike and the opposition from other parties, Mr Singh said, “we have much to do to protect the interest of the nation and we must do it now.”



According to economists and political analysts, the exit of Trinamool Congress has actually created space for the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government for continuation of reforms. “The fact that the government has been reduced to a minority is seemingly negative, but in our view, TMC’s exit from UPA has actually created space for continuation of reforms. Besides, we do not anticipate a reversal of recent reforms (beyond a symbolic partial roll back of fuel price hike). Therefore, we continue to maintain our stance of ‘buy on dips’. Indeed, we feel that the coming months would offer several opportunities to buy given the political uncertainty,” said Edelweiss Securities, in a research note.


“Manmohan Singh has rediscovered his vim,” reads a story in the Economists, saying, “The initiatives that the prime minister announced on 13th and 14th September are nothing compared with the ‘big bang’ reforms of 1991 that set India growing and for which Mr Singh, then finance minister, was chiefly responsible. They do not even match the incremental reforms of Mr Singh’s first term as prime minister from 2004-09. Still, from an ageing man whose second-term performance has been feeble, they mark a welcome change.”


In a report, the Washington Post, said after pushing through unexpected economic reforms last week and refusing to back down in the face of protests and political threats, Mr Singh appeared to have rejuvenated a government thought hopelessly paralyzed. “Manmohan Singh’s coalition has splintered and his government is fighting for survival. But the Indian prime minister, who has been criticized for presiding meekly over a corrupt government, is suddenly being hailed as a bold, powerful leader,” the report said.


In the past, India has seen minority government functioning and completing full-term. Indeed, it was the minority government of Congress (1991-96) that actually initiated the first wave of economic reforms in India.


Opposition parties, however, are not ready to buy the logic put forward by Dr Singh. They said the prime minister is ‘misleading’ the country on FDI in multi-brand retail and appeared to be advocating interests of other countries while trying to “defend the indefensible”.


Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the main opposition party, described as “disappointing and uninspiring” prime minister Manmohan Singh’s address to the nation, saying that instead of rolling back the hike in diesel price and removing the cap on cooking gas cylinders he has only sought to justify them.


“The people were expecting some relief, that he will be taking back the hike in diesel price and the cap on LPG cylinders. But he has only made lame excuses,” BJP spokesperson Prakash Javadekar said.


Referring to the ballooning oil subsidy which would have touched Rs2 lakh crore this year, up by Rs60,000 crore last year, the prime minister, in his speech asked where would the money for this have come from.


“Money does not grow on trees. If we had not acted, it would have meant a higher fiscal deficit. That is an unsustainable increase in government expenditure vis-a-vis government income,” he said.


The BJP alleged that Mr Singh has only cited the economic crisis when the “real reason” behind the hike is corruption in UPA government. “The PM could have acted tough on corruption and announced cancellation of the coal blocks allocations and auctions which would have given Rs1.86 lakh crore to the government coffers,” Mr Javadekar said.


In a veiled criticism of prime minister Manmohan Singh’s justification of reforms tonight, TMC chief and West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee wondered if the power of the chair is being misused to “finish aam aadmi”.


“I want to ask—what is the definition of aam aadmi? What is the definition of democracy? Is it not becoming clear that use of the name of aam aadmi, and misuse of power of chair, is to finish Aam Aadmi? Is it the game plan?” she said on her Facebook page.


Drawing comparisons with the 1991 situation when the Congress government unleashed a wave of reforms, Mr Singh said nobody was willing to lend even small amounts of money then.


“We came out of that crisis by taking strong, resolute steps. You can see the positive results of those steps. We are not in that situation today, but we must act before people lose confidence in our economy,” he said.


Shivanand Tiwari, spokesperson for Janata Dal-United (JD-U), however alleged that the prime minister was trying to “spread confusion” in the country on the issue of economic reforms.


“Everybody knows that a major share of petrol and diesel is imported. But what steps has the government taken to bring down the consumption. He is accusing the opposition of creating confusion on the issue but, in fact, Singh himself is doing so,” Tiwari said.


Left parties described the prime minister’s rare televised address to the nation on the recent measures taken by the government as an attempt to “defend the indefensible” and questioned how can it take such decisions when it does not enjoy ‘overwhelming’ majority in Parliament.


“The prime minister has sought to defend the indefensible steps taken by the government. The prime minister has not answered how he could proceed with these measures when it does not have the support of the overwhelming majority in Parliament,” CPI (M) General Secretary Prakash Karat told PTI.


CPI national secretary D Raja described the address as a “very very desperate” bid by the prime minister to reach out to people. He claimed Mr Singh “miserably failed” to answer any questions raised by common man and parties.


Congress spokesperson Rashid Alvi, however, dismissed the criticism.


“The prime minister has explained each and everything as to why under the present circumstances, tough steps taken by the government were necessary. This should be appreciated by other parties,” he said.

Pradeep R Hattangadi
10 years ago
The problems are not with the reforms but the usual hype behind these reforms by saying farmers will benefit and the consumers will benefit. It all depends on how you formulate the policies which I am sure will be done the shrewd and cunning ministers with a lot of legalese to mask the actual intent. Inability of the PM to control his ministers and the execution of policies are the major impediments and hence a doubt about the positive impact on the economy.
10 years ago
Nobody is against Economic Reforms. But the civil society is apprehensive about the so called economic reforms announced now. They are very suspicious. The common man is worried about the Prime Minister’s ability to deliver as he is surrounded by shrewd and corrupt elements. The PM many a time cheated the people of India on the price rice issue. He repeatedly said the prices would come down. Since the prices did not come down he requested people to give him at least one year for making the prices to come to the normal level. But it never happened. Now, after the Diesel price hike the prices of essential commodities are likely to skyrocket within a few weeks. There is trust deficit. The common man does not trust Man Mohan Singh any more. What is the use by strengthening the hand of a chicken hearted person? He must resign immediately or he will be forced to resign soon. Wait!

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