The discourse of public and political opinion has undergone a “transformation” since the government opened up the economy in 1991, with the “emerging” India becoming impatient for reforms, finance minister Arun Jaitley said on Friday, adding that the arguments that were made 25 years back based on “fear of the unknown” don’t dominate the opinions now.
As far as the political and public opinion is concerned, there is a very interesting transformation in the last 25 years. I remember when Dr Manmohan Singh and Narsimha Rao initiated the process (of economic reforms in 1991), the constituency of those who opposed reforms was much larger. Therefore, for those to carry on that reform process was far more challenging,” Jaitley said.
He was speaking at launch of the book — India Transformed: 25 Years of Economic Reforms, edited by former Deputy Governor of Reserve Bank of India Rakesh Mohan. The launch was also attended by Singh, among other present and former Central officials such as Niti Aayog vice chairman Arvind Panagariya, chief economic adviser Arvind Subramanian, former Planning Commission deputy chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia.
Singh did not make a statement at the event. Giving an example, he said that when the government proposed opening up the telecom industry to the private sector, arguments such as a potential threat to national security was raised. “As we evolved all these years, I think public opinion has essentially changed, except in certain areas. Today, in terms of public opinion, predominant political opinion, the resistance to reforms is by and large over. In fact, the emerging India and the younger public opinion is becoming impatient and restless as to why are these things not happening,” the finance minister said.
Further, he also pointed out that to win elections, it was important for governments to blend in reforms with “clever politics”. “A government which maintains status quo and really does nothing is more likely to lose an election than a government which carries on with reforms but blends it with clever politics, because it’s essential that for winning elections you need some clever and competent politics, but if you can blend the two together, politics can be successfully managed in that process…,” he said.
Jaitley also said that there is no finishing line for reforms and India still has to cover a long distance so as to remove poverty and bridge infrastructure deficit. “There’s no finishing line as far as reforms are concerned and I think India still has to cover a huge distance,” Jaitley said. India needs to pump in huge amount of funds in sectors like health, education, rural infrastructure and irrigation, he said. He further said that given the more favourable global environment, India needs to improve upon its growth rate.