Mamata Banerjee has the option of disallowing FDI in retail in her state. It would suffice if she announces in public that all retailers in Paschim Bongo are safe under her and they need not worry about the Walmarts and Carrefours of the world. It would enhance her image as the protector of the poor in the state and keep her vote bank safe. Why does she need to grandstand over the issue and reject the idea of FDI in retail in India altogether?
The question goes for all regional straps opposed to the FDI proposal and economic reforms in general and to the BJP too which seems to have committed itself dangerously to the anti-reforms agenda of other parties. If it is a broad issue of principle then the next general elections could well be a referendum on the desirability of economic reforms in the country. Given the trend at the moment no prizes for guessing the result.
Whichever party or combination of parties comes to power next will find it extremely difficult to push through reforms. Worse, neither will find virtually impossible to frame policies for the entire country. The trend is discernable. Mamata wants her say on pension and aviation reforms too. She won’t have the central government taking a call on Teesta water. Jayalalithaa’s AIADMK and other Tamil parties would like to have a say on the country’s policy on Sri Lanka. It’s only a matter time other regional straps had their say on national policy in different areas.
The message is clear. The Centre is withering away and the state satraps are keen on expanding their influence to the national level. They have no patience to capture power at the centre; they would be happy to backseat drive the national government sitting comfortable in state capitals. Their local, limited political agendas would have precedence over bigger considerations. Some would call it coming of age of Indian federalism. However, the feasibility of such an arrangement is open to questions. It would be interesting to watch how the political situation unfolds after the next elections.
For now, however, the issue is reforms. The Congress, on the backfoot after so many corruption allegations against it, would be happy to keep it on the front burner. It distracts attention from the more serious charges against it. If there’s an election, it would would like to go down portraying itself as the champion of reforms, a martyr for the cause. The more the opposition rakes up the issue, the more the party would be happy with it. It is possible that it would unleash a flurry of reforms measures in the coming days to keep the opposition going. To balance the negative impact out, it could let out the populist Food Security Bill at some point.
It’s a desperate party. There’s no point overstating the fact that the measures it has taken up now are an act of desperation. It is opportunism at its best. However, at the moment it is perceived or wants to be perceived as the face of Indian economic reform. But beyond the immediate politics around it the real questions are much bigger. Are economic reforms desirable? Does a government have the moral authority to carry out such reforms when almost the entire political class is opposed to it? If this government cannot do it then which government will?
If democracy is about popular choice and popular opinion and parties only articulate the voice of the people they represent, it is apparent that there’s is no support for the reforms process. The voices advocating it are too meek and too discredited to make an impact in elections. Moreover, the entire array of extra-government forces, including the civil society groups, which are active at the moment have strong Leftist inclinations. Thus even if there’s a modicum of consensus among political parties about reforms, there are other powerful players to negate it.
What happens to reforms in these circumstances? They are as good as dead. The elections will be the last nail in the coffin.