Saturday, June 7, 2008

As Dr Manmohan Singh Makes a Bitter Announcement

AS I was watching Prime Minister Manmohan Singh the other day as he spoke to the nation on the unpopular decision to hike petroleum prices, I was struck by his quiet voice and his palpably sincere demeanor: It was clear he was speaking the truth though it was a bitter truth to tell, an unvarnished truth that no one wanted to listen to.

But as I sat through the speech delivered in a measured and unhurried tone, I realized it was this simple but straightforward approach that this man, who strayed into politics quite unpredictably, that made him a successful politician in a world where many a career politician crumbled like a pack of cards.

Dr Manmohan Singh was quite simple and forthright as he explained that if we put off this increase further, as his friends in the left parties seemed to suggest, then we would be accumulating these heavy burdens to pass on to our children.

Coming to think of it, I realize that a prime minister announcing such an unpalatable decision like a stiff increase in prices, a record increase in recent Indian history, must be a really tough and brave person because he is going to face a general election in less than ten months and has been facing defeats in most of the assembly elections his party had faced in the past four years. I say, this is moral courage because it is very clear that Dr Singh is a person who utters his words only after giving a serious thought to what he is going to say. He is convinced that the nation has no other way but to face this steep hike in global crude prices and I feel the nation, in the past two days, has shown that his words are taken at their face value. Life is going on as usual and the streets are not on flames.

In fact, except in Kerala and West Bengal where his left party friends are ruling, there has not been any major reaction to this announcement. Even in these two states, it is clear the bandh disguised as hartal was nothing but a political game to hoodwink the people. In fact we see many State governments like Andhra Pradesh, ruled by the Congress, making efforts to keep the burden light reducing sales tax, etc, while Kerala waited for two days to make any such announcement. They did finally as pressure mounted and even Congress governments were making a better show of their public commitment.

Now the question is, will the price hike seriously impair the Congress chances in the next election? I feel it is unlikely, because price rise is just one among many factors that the voters consider as they march to the polling booth. The first and foremost, is the quality of governance, and when we look back to the past four years of Manmohan Singh Government, I would say it is perhaps the best government that we have had in the past two decades.(After V P Singh, I must say.) Or ask any poor laborer in Wayanad or Idukky or Palakkad, where peasants used to commit suicide: They will say this government’s rural employment guarantee scheme would bear witness to Dr Singh’s commitment to poor people.

(Cartoon courtesy: Sudheernath, New Delhi.)

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Critics would say that Manmohan can afford to do this because he is not the political force behind the congress party. But it was a reality that this government showed signs of indecisiveness on many issues. Look at the strange logic of the situation. All oppose rational policies when they sit in opposition, even if it is very clear that there is no other option but to increase fuel prices. Probably that is the cost that we pay for democracy which give us many other benefits. I recently saw Anwar (in Malaysia) offering to reduce petrolium prices substantially if coming to power. Let us see how this is going to influence Malaysia which so far did not have such a strong democracy.