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Now is the time for hard decisions

Now is the time for hard decisions
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First Published: Sun, May 17 2009. 12 46 AM IST

Ajit Ranade, Chief Economist, Aditya Birla Group
Ajit Ranade, Chief Economist, Aditya Birla Group
Updated: Sun, May 17 2009. 12 46 AM IST
Ajit Ranade, Chief Economist, Aditya Birla Group
In the aggregate, it wasn’t a nail-biting finish after all.
The exit pollsters were cautious on the eve of the results. Having been badly burnt in previous elections, they issued their predictions this time with plenty of health warnings. But that did not stop the other gang, the punters, from predicting a hung Parliament, or at least a cliffhanger.
Nothing of that sort happened. There was no photo finish.
It was as clear and as decisive a mandate as you could wish for. The ever-reliable Indian voter has given a wise mandate after all. This is a mandate for stability, for strength and a second chance for an underperforming team, which was supposedly hamstrung by the Left.
It is a mandate rejecting the divisiveness of the right wing, and the dirigisme of the Left.
We are undoubtedly in a historic moment. Our fractious and cacophonous democracy, prone to punishing incumbents, has voted back an incumbent prime minister with an ever stronger mandate—a first after four decades. In addition, there are at least seven states in the country that have returned incumbents, some even for a third time, with a loud and decisive approval. All of these electoral directives from the masses are either rewarding performance, or giving a legitimately earned second chance.
In the coming days, pundits will torture voting data to make it squeal whatever they want it to say. But please listen to the big silent story hanging in the air—the Indian public doesn’t care for divisive and negative politics. And yes, it does care and reward good governance.
The public’s appraisal of governments is getting more mature (hence the historic rout of the Left in their own bastion state). Most of all, the voters, including the absent ones, know the importance of political capital, of which they have consolidated and gifted plenty to the incoming government.
This political capital will need to be spent on some hard decisions, both domestic and international. It is high time that with a strongly fortified internal polity, we stared behaving like the world’s fourth largest economy.
On the external front, we need to be a frontline member in the newly formed Asian Monetary Fund (an idea shot down by the US in 1997). Our voting share in IMF (International Monetary Fund) needs to rise proportionally to our size.
We need to respond firmly to America’s shifting stance, whether about keeping their part of the nuclear deal, or their continuing kids’ gloves treatment of Pakistan-based terror networks.
We need a gutsy response to the surge of cheap Chinese goods; are other countries harvesting our fiscal stimulus? On coping with climate change, we must insist on equitable burden sharing, including paying for past sins by the West. We need to affirm right to power our growth with our own abundant coal.
On the domestic front, we need to remove mandi (informal market) control of agriculture, and HRD (human resource department) control of education. Mineral extraction ought to be wealth and employment creating, but most mineral-rich states are cursed with backwardness. Can this new government cut the Gordian knot, and liberalize mineral policy?
How about truly widening the tax net to include even rich agriculturists? The GST (goods and services tax) roll-out will also need a political resolve, which this unifying mandate can support.
For the 15th time in 60 years we have demonstrated to the world that a bloodless, large-scale power transfer is possible in India—just by hundreds of millions of people pressing a button. The button-pressing has led to a fortification of national unity, and is a humbling reminder of the wisdom and rationality of large numbers.
No amount of spin can erase this humbling lesson. But humility tends to be evanescent, especially among the victors.
So, before it evaporates, the new rulers should spend their political capital wisely, humbly, but quickly.
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First Published: Sun, May 17 2009. 12 46 AM IST