Updated: July 5, 2015 12:00:15 am
Funny how the ‘scandal’ that mesmerised us for two weeks died the day Lalit Modi mentioned Sonia Gandhi’s name. Jairam Ramesh abruptly stopped appearing at his daily press conferences looking like a hysterical tabla player. And, as abruptly, news channels seemed to discover that there were other things of greater importance happening in the world. Like major terrorist attacks, like our elected representatives trying to give themselves a massive pay hike, like Indian businessmen meeting the Prime Minister to tell him that the economy remains in bad shape.
The media has not come out of ‘Lalitgate’ well. Senior television journalists disgraced themselves by not following that most fundamental of journalistic principles: check the story out before running with it. And, they disgraced themselves further by showing that when it came to Sonia Gandhi they remembered how much they enjoyed those private invitations to tea in 10 Janpath. India’s former de facto prime minister gave few interviews but communicated regularly with journalists through cozy tea parties. It was a good strategy that worked well then and continues to pay dividends. Those tea parties ensured that nobody made a fuss when the Government of India quietly unblocked Ottavio Quattrocchi’s bank accounts in London in the last days of Dr Manmohan Singh’s first term as prime minister. Was he not wanted in India? Was Bofors bribe money not found in Swiss accounts in his and his wife’s name? Why did nobody ask why a fertilizer salesman was paid money by an armaments company? These are questions that could and should have been asked in the past two weeks. They
No. The media has not come out well. But, nobody has come out worse than the Congress Party. What it saw as its moment of renewal turned so quickly into its moment of disgrace that we can only hope that lessons have been learned and that the monsoon session of Parliament is not wasted on further hysterics. What has become sadly apparent is that the Congress Party has not got used to being out of power. Jairam Ramesh actually said in one of his press conferences that ‘soon we will have our government in Delhi and in Rajasthan.’
Not yet. Not for at least another four years. If those who lead the Congress Party remember this, there is some chance that the Prime Minister will be criticised for the mistakes he is making. Mistakes that could eventually cause India serious harm. Instead of ordering the Prime Minister around as if he were just a ‘chai-wallah’ and telling him which ministers to sack when and when to speak, why does Congress not attack him for his government’s obvious failures?
There are many that are becoming slowly very obvious and of these the most worrying is that the economy continues to be in the doldrums. This can no longer be blamed on ‘legacy issues’ because there are too many mistakes that have been made in the past year both of omission and of commission. For a start you cannot hope for ‘Make in India’ and go after black money at the same time. When tax hounds (often corrupt) are unleashed on investors they usually flee. By making black money such a big issue the signal to the tax department is: go forth and harass. Since the Modi government came to power major international companies have been hounded for taxes of ‘retroactive’ nature. The Finance Minister said to me once that the retroactive tax was among the worst legacies he inherited. So why is it still there?
On his travels abroad the Prime Minister assures investors that India is truly open for business. So why are there no signs that those layers of red tape have started being cut? No sign from the ministers in charge of important economic ministries that they welcome private investment? It is pretty much business as usual. If private investment does not come there will be no jobs and if jobs do not urgently start being created, the despair of the past few years will quickly return. In France, the Prime Minister said in a speech to the Indian community that he hoped to make India into a country that young Indians would not need to run away from in search of employment. So why are things moving so slowly? If there is one single thing that will ensure Modi’s defeat in the next general election it will be his failure to revive the moribund economy he inherited. When the Congress Party’s leaders discover this they will also discover their path back to power. But, perhaps this is useless advice since Rahul Gandhi has made it perfectly clear that he wants to take India back to that ‘gareebi hatao’ time when his grandmother’s socialist policies ensured that nearly every Indian was poor, hungry and illiterate.
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