The economist Prime Minister Manmohan Singh sought to play on the fears of the people in his nationally televised address to the nation and convey a message that only way to salvage them from the economic dooms day was by restoring confidence of domestic and international investors back in his government and the country. “We need a revival in investor confidence domestically and globally. The decisions we have taken recently are necessary for this purpose”, he said.
If one was looking for a political message to restore confidence of the people in his government on a day when its second biggest ally withdrew support from his government, there was none.
On the contrary he said: “Where would the money for this have come from? Money does not grow on trees…. The time has come for hard decisions.”
According to conventional wisdom this could not be the hard message that the Prime Minister would convey in his last year of office. He did used the word Congress’s catchphrase “aam admi” twice but there was no mention of the social sector schemes, like the proposed food security bill that might unfold from the money generated by hike of diesel prices and cap on LPG cylinders.
He perhaps left it for a later date, restricting himself only to how his policies were guided by external factors. Like a good Professor, he tried to convince his people that the hike in diesel prices and LPG is actually good for them.
According to his estimates, half of the people who needed some support actually “used only six cylinders or less” in a year. An estimate that is sure to be fiercely contested in days to come.
To him the diesel price hike was still soft, howsoever, his critics and rival political parties and opposition parties may have cried hoarse and organized an all India bandh only a day ago. “We raised prices of diesel by just Rs 5 per litre instead of the Rs 17 that was needed to cut losses on diesel”, he said and then sought to strike a cord with the common man by questioning whether subsidized diesel must be used for big cars and SUVs used by rich and big factories.
“If we had not acted, it would have meant a higher fiscal deficit, an unsustainable increase in government expenditure vis-a-vis income. If unchecked this would lead to a further steep rise in prices and a loss of confidence in our economy. Interest rates would rise. Our companies would not be able to borrow abroad. Unemployment would increase”, he said.
It’s difficult to say for now much people would buy this argument from a Prime Minister who is at the helm for last eight-and-half years.
But he seemed to believe that the people still believe in him, if not for his two consecutive terms then for his stint as Finance Minister in Narshimha Rao’s government in 1991-96. He made the mention of 1991 three times in his speech, appealing to people.
In Hindi it sounded punchier “Aap en logon ke bahkawe me nahi aayen (don’t be misled by those who want to “confuse you by spreading fear and false information)”.
In Manmohan Singh's own words he went for a tough option by saying “Yes” to his latest reformist measures. He wants people to support him in the hard times for hard decisions. Whether the common man still believes in him the way he did in 2009 (though he didn’t mention 2009 and reminded only of 1991), only the unfolding events will tell.