They say that things have to get worse before they get better. Question is: How much worse do they have to get for the country before some sparks of hope appear? Not much, according to finance minister Pranab Mukherjee, who reacted to the scathing “fallen angel” Standard and Poor’s report by saying that the economy is heading for a turnaround in 2012-13. “We are taking all necessary steps to ensure that we come back to the path of the targeted GDP growth,” he assured the nation. But what steps? Other than gouging telecom companies?
Now, official figures released have shown that annual industrial growth rate slumped to 0.1% in April, with as many as 10 of the 22 segments posting negative growth. In fact, capital goods output plummeted by 16.3%. Businessmen are not investing.
Mukherjee said he was disappointed. “Negative sentiments are there,” he told the media. “We have to take steps to give positive signals.”
Yes, right. So last week, the Prime Minister suddenly materialized like the phantom of the opera and set magnificently ambitious targets for investments in the infrastructure sector. Sure, the right signal, but how much of this is achievable? What about land acquisition? What about regulatory clearances, given the complete stasis in the bureaucracy ever since several scams broke a couple of years ago? Who’s going to lend the money, given that banks turned chary of these projects quite some time ago? What about the power situation—Dr Singh spoke of adding 18,000 MW of power generation capacity this fiscal year, but what about tariff reforms, coal, the still-unresolved issues in Kundamkulam? And how many state governments—even Congress-ruled ones—pay even lip service to the Union government?
Anyway, the Prime Minister said his say and disappeared into the caverns hidden under the opera house, and as usual, it’s all been left to Pranab Mukherjee, who has been playing at all positions from centre forward to goalkeeper in this government, and all at the same time. Even the biggest critic of this UPA government has to admire this gentleman’s energy.
If anyone deserves a peaceful retirement in Rashtrapati Bhavan, it is Mukherjee. But even that possibility is mired in coalition politics—Mamata Banerjee wants all state debt to be waived, even if much of that is from the private sector, and Mulayam Singh Yadav wants to get as much of anything he can before he agrees to support a candidate. These UPA years of an above-all-accountability power centre in the party and a Prime Minister who gets no respect from his Cabinet colleagues and coalition allies are leading up to some sort of chaotic climax. Political confusion and a yawning governance deficit have reigned for some time, stagflation has already arrived, what’s next on the menu?
Meanwhile, where is that man who embodies the future of India? The last I remember hearing about Rahul Gandhi was with reference to Sachin Tendulkar, who, apparently, had been allotted a bungalow next to Gandhi’s. So where is he? I checked Google News. The last political news item I found about the man was ten days old: Gandhi was in Karnataka, holding rallies and badmouthing the BJP-run state government. Karnataka goes to the polls next year, but Gandhi has already started net practice.
Things could get worse before they get any better.