The opposition scatter gives the UPA an opportunity to explain why reforms are crucial
Even as the Trinamool Congress dramatically withdrew its support to the UPA,other parties have also been making a show of their own unhappiness with this government. Nearly all the major non-Congress parties will register their protest in todays bandh. But they have no common charter,and each of them is visibly making their own calculations. It is a collection of several small movements,not a unified resistance that threatens the UPA. The BJP has demanded a special session of Parliament to discuss FDI in retail and test the governments strength. This was shot down by its own ally,the JD(U),and Nitish Kumar has indicated his willingness,presumably in the next election,to team up with anyone who offers Bihar special status. Even the Congresss ally DMK has joined the protest,and the Samajwadi Party,without denying its tacit support to the UPA,has planned coordinated agitations against the slew of reforms it has announced. This is essentially a scatter of political reactions,each party making its own individual statement,with nothing uniting them,apart from a desire to signal distance from the Congress.
Now that the government has changed the subject and made the first modest moves towards a growth-oriented economic environment,it must persevere. Its decisions to raise diesel prices,cap the cooking gas subsidy and bring in FDI in retail and aviation are not lightbulb ideas. They are not even likely to result in tangible gains soon. However,they are a crucial statement of intent. It must abide by these decisions at all cost,and follow up with more substantial financial reforms to revive investor confidence. It can afford to do so,given that its political opposition,for all the noise,is incoherent and unlikely to unseat it.
This is also the perfect opportunity for the Congress to make a rational argument for its economic strategy. Unlike the nuclear deal standoff in its last term,which was too abstract to mobilise opinion either way,this is clearly a matter with wide resonance. The government simply needs to make the better argument. The TMC has pitched its decision as a stand for the common people whose interests are being grievously shortchanged by FDI in retail,for instance. The UPA must aggressively counter such myths,and explain the consolidation and efficiency gains of the decision,how it will profit consumers,farmers and small businesses as well as upgrade infrastructure and supply chains. It must not allow the poor to be used as a rhetorical device. It should point out the ways in which welfare is inextricably linked with economic revival.