National Interest: A retreat to reform

Why a Congress in deep panic is preparing to shed its hypocrisy, recast the politics of its economics

Elsewhere in this newspaper this morning, Senior Assistant Editor D.K. Singh, one of India's sharpest political journalists, underlines the import of the rally the Congress party has planned in the capital this Sunday in support of FDI in retail. Not only is it the first time the party is coming out to support a substantive economic reform of any kind, it is also putting a great deal of emotion into it. And the impetus has come from the top. Most powerful Congressmen from around the country, including the party chief ministers and PCC chiefs, are being asked to come. We may not yet be sure at the time of writing this column if the party's leaders from Kerala will also participate, but the fact is, this is a genuine coming out party for its new economics.

So far, its economic discourse had floated within a zone that you may describe aptly, and with a straight face, as fifty shades of pink. Its reigning establishment purged and disowned Narasimha Rao and watched in some horror as Manmohan Singh, back as prime minister, did make a serious effort in UPA 1 to revisit the idea of 1991.

Whenever the prime minister and a few other UPA reformers risked doing something enterprising, the "party" looked the other way. It reminded me, often, of something the late Sitaram Kesri had said after he led a parliamentary delegation to China: "These Chinese communists are like drivers of Delhi's buses... they signal left, and turn right." Except, in this case, it seemed like the driver wished to turn right, but the party high command, playing traffic cop, was signalling left. Or at least that pretence, however farcical, was being maintained.

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