India needs a prime minister

India's slowdown made international headlines last week when the economy recorded its slowest growth in a decade. This time our Finance Minister did not blame Greece but he did absolve himself and his lousy budget of responsibility by blaming the Eurozone crisis. And, with the reckless optimism he has exhibited every time the economic slowdown is mentioned, he said that he thought the worst was over. Clearly, North Block exists in a stratosphere so rarefied that it will not notice India's spiral into deepening gloom until we hit rock bottom.

The Finance Minister is, of course, to be blamed for making budgets and economic policies that have driven away investors and brought back memories of the licence raj but the man who is really to blame must now either accept responsibility or resign. That man is the Prime Minister. He has behaved, since the government won re-election in 2009 like the ghost of his former self. Wraithlike and smiling wanly, he has wandered through the corridors of power as if he were not really there. So a junior minister, Jairam Ramesh, was allowed to begin the process of taking the Indian economy down by stopping huge infrastructure projects after investments worth thousands of crore rupees had already been made. Why did the Prime Minister not stop the Ministry of Environment from being turned into a secret instrument for a new licence raj?

Why did he not speak up when the Comptroller & Auditor General (CAG) of India came up with his first set of laughable figures for the telecommunications 'scam'? When more sensible auditing is done, it will become clear that the loss was nowhere near the Rs 176,000 crores that CAG came up with but because the Prime Minister refused to defend his government at the outset, the government's personal auditor took to making all his reports public on national television. His reports have all contained statistics that are as fanciful as the ones he produced for the '2G scam' but not once has the Prime Minister spoken up. On the supposed 'windfall' given to private companies in the sale of coal assets, the figures are not just untrue but hilarious as has been ably pointed out in this newspaper by Surjit Bhalla. But, the Prime Minister said nothing.

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