Blame it on the Left?
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The trust vote, but perhaps not the taint, is firmly behind the government. Understandably there is renewed focus on the daunting economic challenges and a reform strategy that the government can complete in its remaining months in office. Rahul Gandhi in his speech in the Lok Sabha repeatedly sought a broader national consensus and conciliation on steps necessary to redress poverty, meet energy deficiency and make India a true global leader. I do believe that without such a consensus, undertaking important legislative changes will remain mired in multiple controversies.
No doubt in the administrative domain itself there is a lot that can be done and which can have a more immediate impact on our lives. Administrative reforms, improving quality of public services, speeding up project implementation, looking at ways for a quicker administration of justice as well as enforcement of contracts do not require legislative changes. Improving our rating in either the Global Competitiveness Index or on the "Ease of Doing Business" entails a host of procedural and administrative changes, which remain neglected. Many of these lie in the domain of the states. Improving governance quality in a federal polity may not be in the hands of the Central government but infusing greater trust in the matrix of Centre-state relations need not await the recommendations of the Commission on Centre-State Relations.
Equating economic reforms with those which primarily affect the banking or the financial sector in one way or the other, important as they may, cannot be the sum total of changes necessary to reinvigorate the faltering growth momentum. Improving the cost, reliability and efficiency of infrastructure is more a story of sloppy implementation than absence of enabling laws.
It is also somewhat of an exaggeration to entirely blame the Left for stalling the economic initiatives for several reasons. First, is there a consensus within the Congress party itself on the economic agenda? Many of us have not forgotten that the very reforms which are now intended were stalled by the Congress when the NDA was in office. The bill to reduce government equity in nationalised banks to 33 per cent introduced by the NDA was given a quiet burial since there was no consensus within the Congress party. Similarly the insistence on pegging a fixed number, namely 26 per cent, for foreign equity in the insurance sector was also at the insistence of the Congress. Efforts at labour reforms were resisted as much by the Congress-led trade unions as by organised labour unions of other political parties.