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Tuesday, 15 November 2011 03:19
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Don’t blame democracy

Internal opposition more to blame for policy paralysis

 

The popular discourse on policy paralysis has got conflated with the discourse on corruption and the fact that the Opposition is on the offensive post the 2G/CWG scams. There is an obvious link since the government needs the Opposition to pass critical Bills, which is what Mukesh Ambani referred to when he said on Sunday that there needed to be a minimum agreement between political parties. To be able to get this broad consensus is a good thing, but the larger issue is that much of the paralysis is of the government’s own making and has little to do with the lack of Opposition support or the increased Opposition unity—indeed there’s not that much evidence of great policy-making before the 2G/CWG scams came to the fore. The increased spending on populist programmes, the plan to make them even bigger … none of these have anything to do with the Opposition not passing legislation. No privatisation programme needs to be cleared by Parliament; the decision to allow foreign airlines to invest in Indian aviation, similarly, is not stuck in Parliament; it is stuck because the aviation ministry continues to bat on the side of those opposed to it. Allowing foreign investment in multi-brand retail doesn’t have to be cleared by Parliament; and while you can still argue there can be a political fallout of the decision, the same cannot be said for hiking foreign investment levels in single-brand retail from the current 51% to 100%.

The desire to appear people-friendly, for instance, is what ensured the Centre did not lean on electricity regulators to hike power tariffs when it was obvious the sector was hurtling towards disaster. And it was industrial lobbies more than anything else that ensured the government arm-twisted Cairn to allow ONGC to get away from the commitments it had agreed to. Of a similar nature is the decision to force Lavasa to shut operations for a year—indeed, while the Bombay High Court is deciding whether the project actually falls under the central jurisdiction, the Centre got the Maharashtra government to file a case against it for violation of the central law! The list of such projects and policies can be multiplied, but the best example is that of the UIDAI project—it is UPA-2’s flagship project and can help substantially cut leakages in subsidies, but rivalries within the UPA are trying to scuttle it. Let’s not give democracy a bad name.

 

 

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