Close on the heels of the put-down of the Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, by the Time magazine in its Asia Edition comes the article in The Independent, bearing the title “Manmohan Singh – India’s saviour or Sonia's poodle?” Earlier, The Economist had called him “lame duck” and other sections of the media too have been sporadically taking potshots at him.
Added to all this is the downgrading of India by some rating agencies. Cumulatively, they have all led to the projection of India as a country going economically downhill and incapable of coming to any good under the present political dispensation headed by Dr Singh.
Now, the comments of the US President, Mr Barack Obama, himself, in an interview to the Press Trust of India (PTI), have turned the heat on India further. He has reportedly permitted himself to observe: “It is still too hard to invest in India. In too many sectors, such as retail, India limits or prohibits the foreign investment which is necessary for India to continue to grow.’’
(The World Bank’s “Ease of Doing Business” rankings available at www.doingbusiness.org/rankings/ puts India at 132, close to the bottom, only ahead of Nigeria at 133; even Pakistan enjoys a more respectable 105). Mentioning the concerns of the business community over the deteriorating investment climate in India, he has said that “There appears to be a growing consensus in India that the time may be right for another wave of economic reforms to make India more competitive in the global economy.”
Some commentators read into these reports a conspiracy to bad mouth India by business and financial interests in the US and elsewhere. Impelling them is the circumstance that they are in sore straits in their own countries, and must quickly find new markets and new avenues of bolstering themselves.
Feeling thwarted in their attempts to penetrate into the gold mine that India represents, they are said to be blackmailing it to toe their line.
It is clear from their explicit words of condemnation that they have taken particular umbrage at the Government’s decision to negate the Supreme Court’s verdict on the Vodafone case.
In short, the media, the rating agencies, the business community and, to a certain extent, the ruling establishments themselves in Western countries are bent on indulging in pressure tactics without realising that India has every right to adopt policies that suit its best interest.
To be fair to Mr Obama, he has been guarded in his statements, citing others’ views and not his own opinion, and that too, not of his own volition but in replies to questions put by the PTI.
In fact, he is appreciative of the Indian economy continuing to grow “at an impressive rate,” and admitted that to some extent, India’s slower growth was a reflection of the larger slowdown in the global economy. I see nothing objectionable in Mr Obama’s remarks.
All said, though, India has to reckon with the fact that Mr Obama is not Mr Bush, with the same warmth for India and for Dr Singh. Still, he has been unstinting in praising both, acknowledging in his speech to Indian Parliament in November 2010 that he would not be where he was but for Mahatma Gandhi.
At the same time, he inherently suffers from the fear of the flight of American jobs overseas due to outsourcing and has been berating his Republican opponent, Mr Mitt Romney, in the Presidential race for being supposedly instrumental for it.
Even Indians are bewildered by India’s complexities and diversities, and India’s journey towards an inclusive society while still adhering to democratic values is nothing short of a miracle. In this light, the foreign critics could only be said to have resorted to uncharitable overkill.
By and large, India’s carefully calibrated approach to economic policy making has been prudent, although there could be honest differences on merits. Both the Corporate Minister, Mr Veerappa Moily, and the Commerce and Industry Minister, Mr Anand Sharma, have done well to disabuse open-minded observers of their doubts.
As Mr Obama himself has stated: “It is not the place of the United States to tell other nations, including India, how to chart its economic future. That is for Indians to decide.”
One hopes that this will put paid to a repetition of reckless forays by self-appointed mentors from abroad.