Sucheta Dalal It seems almost like yesterday when screaming headlines in economic dailies referred to India as the emerging superpower. Today, that story is dead as can be. Instead, we continue to be a story of lost opportunities and global media is beginning to turn the spotlight on our impending financial crisis which is likely to be precipitated by high inflation, poor governance, large giveaways and weak rupee as portfolio funds threaten to exit. Initially unwilling to dismiss the India story, global media is turning strident, in line with global banks. UBS recently said about India, “Growth is disappearing, the rupee is in disarray, and inflation is stuck at near-record levels. Investor sentiment has gone from cautious to outright scared.” And, yet, portfolio investors aren’t really rushing for the exit (net sale: $50 million in 2011), because the global situation is worse. It would be safe to say that sentiment within the country is probably more despondent and despairing than outside.
Business leaders, like Deepak Parekh, Azim Premji and even Dr Ashok Ganguly (a Rajya Sabha member), have repeatedly highlighted the government’s failure to steer reforms. But the worst indictment of the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance is on the governance front. Whether in dealing with Anna Hazare, the Lokpal issue, opening up the retail sector to foreign direct investment, or handling the demand for new states, the Congress seems bumbling and directionless. Yet, its leaders excel in character assassination and raising ill-timed bogeys such as Internet censorship. Pratap Bhanu Mehta says it best in a recent article (The Indian Express), written as a letter addressed to Rahul Gandhi: “The use of state power by the Congress has been ruthless, the corrosion of public discourse unconscionable, and the anti-intellectualism mind-boggling.” He goes on to outline how the government has failed to deliver on almost every front. Most tellingly, he says, “Most citizens of India understand that we need to build the state in the right places. What they do not understand is waste in the name of welfare, centralisation in the name of accountability, and bureaucratic power in the place of innovation.” Mr Mehta speaks for millions of tax-paying Indians when he tells the young PM-in-waiting: “You wreck the macro-economy in the name of the poor, and then cheat the poor because you refuse to govern.”