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Views | The ends and the means

Views | The ends and the means
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First Published: Mon, Nov 14 2011. 02 01 PM IST

RIL chairman Mukesh Ambani with commerce minister Anand Sharma during the India Economic Summit in Mumbai. (PTI photo)
RIL chairman Mukesh Ambani with commerce minister Anand Sharma during the India Economic Summit in Mumbai. (PTI photo)
Updated: Mon, Nov 14 2011. 02 01 PM IST
Well, it all came down to that one inevitable thing, didn’t it, at the WEF India Economic Summit that’s currently on in Mumbai? Speed. Mukesh Ambani led from the front, saying that what the country needed was quicker decisions and policy-making. India is growing younger, and its population wants things faster and better, said Ambani, and government decision-making style has to be move from the 20th century to the 21st.
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Also Read | WEF India Summit 2011 ( Full Coverage )
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RIL chairman Mukesh Ambani with commerce minister Anand Sharma during the India Economic Summit in Mumbai. (PTI photo)
On the sidelines of the summit, industrialists complained that there has been a huge slowdown in infrastructure-building in the country due to sluggish and erratic policy. The pace of construction in almost every sector, from power to highways to ports, has sputtered. India is likely to miss its $500 billion infrastructure-building target for the five years ending in March 2012 by 10-12%. The chairman of a multinational freight moving firm pointed out to Reuters that goods have to pass through 36 checkpoints and can take up to 10 days to cover a distance of 1400 km between Gurgaon and Mumbai port.
Losses from poor infrastructure shave an estimated 2% off India’s gross domestic product (GDP) and add to pressure on inflation that seems stuck at near double-digit figures, in spite of all the huffing and puffing of all the king’s soldiers and all the king’s men.
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Click here to read Sandipan Deb’s earlier columns
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But the government representatives’ response to the urgings of the private sector was little short of throwing up one’s arms in helplessness. It was all couched in terms like “inclusive growth” and “managing diversity of aspirations” and that tired moan about “no political consensus””. But in effect, the government was publicly conceding that it currently lacked the gumption or energy to give a hefty policy push in any area. There are a number of important economic bills that are supposed to placed before Parliament during the winter session, but no one really believes that anything much will happen: the Goods and Services Tax (GST), land acquisition reforms, new foreign investment caps in retail.
It seems clear now that the government is going to do nothing much that doesn’t have a direct and visible bearing on the UPA’s fortunes in the next Lok Sabha elections. This has become so obvious that Indian industrialists—who have traditionally been loathe to criticize a Union Government in public—have in the past few months thrown caution to the winds, frequently using terms like “policy pause” and “policy paralysis” when talking to the press. The gulf between government and business has perhaps never been so wide since the economic reforms began.
Responding to Ambani, Maharashtra Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan argued that while India Inc is pushing for more reforms, others are insisting that the government focus on those who have not enjoyed the fruits of economic liberalization. “We might not be able to satisfy either end,” he said. “Those who are left behind and those who want to move faster.” Did he mean “both ends” when he said “either end”?
Though “either end” is definitely the more correct term to use in the current circumstances.
Chavan was paradropped into his present position after the Adarsh Housing Society scam broke, and has since ruled Maharashtra on the simple principle that if the government does nothing at all, then the corrupt won’t have a chance to make money.
What the UPA sadly does not seem to realize is that by not helping business grow or make the economy more efficient, it is unlikely to bring cheer to the voting masses either. Periodic handouts and ad hoc largesse are not enough to keep the aam aadmi happy. He has grown smarter than to be taken in by all that. A sneaking return to socialistic principles will help neither the economy nor the increasingly desperate politicians in power.
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First Published: Mon, Nov 14 2011. 02 01 PM IST