Reforms have got a push with a right PM-FM combo. But if Mamata Banerjee’s decision to pull out of the Government is any indication, there are turbulent days ahead.

The two most important developments of the last week were the big bang reforms to which Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had become a stranger, and the tragic killing of the American Ambassador to Libya, Chris Stevens. And, violence in many parts of the world, including India, over the film sarcastically titled Innocence of Muslims.

Taking the second first, out of sheer curiosity I watched a 10-minute clip of it on YouTube — oh yes, governments, including our own, may ban content on the Internet but it has a way of resurfacing in different avatars — and was genuinely puzzled about why anybody would waste their time, breath and any emotion at all on doing anything about such drivel.

Deserving of contempt

The footage I saw — and I am certain this is true for the rest of the film too — was so morally, intellectually and creatively bankrupt, its content so banal and inane that the only emotion it aroused in me was utter contempt for the guy who made it and amazement at the sucker who financed it.

It doesn’t require the least of intelligence to conclude that this is the work of an imbecile. (How appropriate that the name of the filmmaker — Sam Bacile — rhymes with imbecile!) So why waste so much of anger and emotion on the guy who made the film and the nationality to which he belongs?

Throwing shoes and chappals at the image of poor Barack Obama is such a stupid thing to do. As though he can be held responsible for every idiot or imbecile who resides in the US and has its citizenship.

Surely there are hundreds, if not thousands, of such characters in the nation that was once considered a land of milk and honey. Just as there are dimwits — mentally challenged, decadent, et al — in all nations, including Islamic ones.

One can talk about freedom of expression, and debate its pros and cons while discussing something that merits the label “expression”.

What is sought to be passed on under that label doesn’t even deserve a debate, leave alone violent action.

But the attack on the Ambassador Stevens was so vicious and well-planned that it might be wrong to link it to this superciliously silly film.

It had more to do with the great American dream of effecting regime changes around the world, particularly in Islamic nations which are ruled by leaders — call them dictators, maniacs or whatever — who refuse to be stooges of Uncle Sam.

The tragedy is that the man who was killed in Libya was one of those few and far between in the American diplomatic corps with a rare understanding of the Arab psyche and the way the Arab world operates.

Finally a sign of life

Nearer home, the financial and equity markets are toasting the long overdue sign of life from the UPA government.

While India Inc and foreign investors are hailing the government with huge pats, the fact remains that the government is so broke that neither the Prime Minister nor the Finance Minister has any money left in the kitty to humour Congress chief Sonia Gandhi’s socially relevant and politically expedient and profitable schemes to woo the aam aadmi.

So, reforms have finally got a push with the right PM-FM combo. The toughest, of course, are the Rs 5 hike in diesel price and allowing FDI in multi-brand retail.

The government has dexterously tried to weave its way around the expected storm of protests over the FDI in retail decision, by leaving it to the State governments to take a call.

As expected, all the Opposition States have slammed the move, and even a Congress-ruled State such as Kerala, where the Leftist ideology is strong and kicking, has said, “No, thank you.” The amusing part is that Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah has welcomed this decision, but how many foreign retail giants would want to plunge into the troubled waters of the Valley remains a question.

Survival of UPA II

More than economic or financial implications, the latest reform push has triggered a political turmoil and some realignment of allies will happen, now that the Trinamool Congress chief, Mamata Banerjee, has decided to withdraw support to the Government.

But the path before her is not going to be an easy one. It is unlikely that she will return to the NDA. And, of course, there is no question of her joining a Third Front which has the Left in it.

The Samajwadi Party has nothing to lose by voting against any motion of confidence, as it recently tasted a huge victory in UP. There is a possibility of the Congress prevailing on Mamata to change her mind. But if that doesn’t happen, it will turn to the Bahujan Samajwadi Party’s Mayawati. She would be only too happy to say “Aye” in a Trust vote and even grab a few ministerial berths from a grateful UPA. What does she have to lose?

As for Manmohan Singh, despite the threat of his Government falling looming large, he has dug his feet in — he can do it when he wishes; remember the nuclear issue? — and said there will be no rollback, and Finance Minister P. Chidambaram has reiterated his stance.

The buzz in the Congress is that the PM meant it, and has conveyed so to Sonia Gandhi, when he said that it is time to either do or perish and if he goes down, he’d rather go down fighting!

It is tempting to applaud his brave words but history will not judge him kindly for the kind of cesspool India and Indians were made to wade through in the last two years, bearing the stench of the mega corruption and absorbing the fury of the loot of public money under his watch.

Too little too late?

So low has India’s stock plunged in the last year or two, so pathetically dismal has public confidence been in the UPA government’s ability to do anything meaningful at all to ensure that the stiff taxes millions of honest citizens pay are going into nation building or people’s welfare, that to ordinary people, last week’s decisions seem to be too little too late.

Of course it is all very well for India Inc led by Anand Mahindra who tweeted “from famine to feast” to toast the government.

Business and industry will have to play their role in lifting our growth rate, which barely kept its head above 5 per cent when the numbers last came in, to the more respectable 8 per cent. But even when that happens, will it bring cheer to the aam aadmi is the question.

(This article was published on September 18, 2012)
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