Why good economics can make for bad politics

a sticker bearing a portrait of Trinamool Congress (TMC) Leader Mamata Banerjee is seen on the forehead of a supporter outside a counting centre in Kolkata A supporter of Trinamool Congress leader Mamata Banerjee

Good economics can sometimes make for bad politics.

India's beleaguered Congress-led ruling coalition in Delhi is discovering that, in its attempts to push through major economic reforms.

On Tuesday evening, its unpredictable ally the Trinamool Congress pulled out from the government over its plans to open the retail sector to global supermarket chains and other economic reforms.

An intriguing lack of political consensus and informed public debate over the reforms, and an intensely fragmented polity, has scuppered attempts at key reforms - upgrading the country's archaic labour laws and eliminating non-essential subsidies, are two standout examples.

The near-complete breakdown in cooperation between the two main national parties - the Congress and the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party - hasn't helped matters.

Most regional parties have remained local in their outlook and have been found wanting in articulating their positions on the issues that will determine the future of India: What direction should the economy take? What should be India's place in the world?

So India's politics, many believe, has often been reduced to brinkmanship, bargaining and grabbing concessions from the state. Lack of inner-party democracy means that the politics of most parties - including the Congress - is largely held hostage to a bunch of regional satraps and their families.

So what could happen now that the Congress government has become a minority one?

Analysts point to a number of scenarios: the government can roll back the reforms (unlikely); continue to run a minority government like the one run by the late prime minister PV Narasimha Rao with the support of a couple of regional parties from outside (likely); the opposition pushes for a confidence vote against the government in parliament (possible); and the Congress decides to go for broke and call an early election (highly unlikely).

Some people say India is already staring at an early election. My hunch is that the Congress government will continue to limp along with the support of some regional parties and independents until the summer of 2014, when the next elections are due.

It will be an enfeebled, lameduck government, prone to pressure from parties who are supporting it. Not a very happy picture, but when did good politics make for good economics?

Soutik Biswas, Delhi correspondent Article written by Soutik Biswas Soutik Biswas Delhi correspondent

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  • rate this

    Comment number 17.

    @ Sam (8). Can you Pls tell which part of my comments (#1,2,3) you think are not true?

  • rate this

    Comment number 16.

    India needs to sync its urge for economic reforms with democracy. About a quarter of upper and middle class Indians have benefited from reforms in the last two decades but the majority of poor especially rural Indians have lost out. If wealth generated due to reforms can be proportionately shared with India's very hard working majority then possibly reforms can become democratically feasible.

  • rate this

    Comment number 15.

    Government is Union Govt - also known as Central Govt, established by Constitution of India = governing authority of 28 STATES + 7 TERRITORIES, collectively called the Republic of India. If a vote of no confidence is passed, then all the ministers headed by PM must resign. How cumbersome! Q.Why good economics can make for bad politics? In govt system is your answer!

  • rate this

    Comment number 14.

    India's opposition parties & trade unions strike over Govt plans to open the retail sector to global supermarket chains. What has gone wrong?
    Lack of political consensus, lack of public debate...India's labor laws are archaic; some subsidies are a mishmash.
    India must find a way to deal with smaller polities on a local level, and leace Central Govt for central affairs.

  • rate this

    Comment number 13.

    I truly believe that thre are many good, energized persons willing to contribute to the Governmental system, if only by voting. But something like introduction of supermarkets makes the Govt appear out-of-touch; it also frightens the owners of little outlets.
    The country is too big; its policies too big/spread. India should opperate as Federalism with central Govt deciding only central problems.

  • rate this

    Comment number 12.

    There is hardly any economic sense in what you claim! There will be short term boom when they are setting up the shop, but after that it is all downhill for Indian economy!
    The problems in the distribution network can be solved by India itself, if they put their mind to it.
    This decision by govt is to get few quick bucks before the next election so that they announce some populist measures!

  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    In a country where most people cannot meet basic needs, one has to ask who will benefit. If small farmers can benefit from a fair pay, could be a good idea. If it only benefits the middle class with cost effective consumer needs, then its not in the best interests of the nation. Such reforms should be done in synchronisation with institutional changes like guaranteed employment. It may work then.

  • rate this

    Comment number 10.

    Abhijit, it would be more apt to increase the character count to 2K from its current 400, and not force a 10-minute wait between posts--an idea easily achievable through linkup with Disqus (which sites such as WND have used for over a year).

  • rate this

    Comment number 9.

    Economic growth in India has been so managed that its benefit has stayed with only a handful of the population, this is largely because of corrupt practices which have now become the norm. About 900 million Indians live in day-in-day-out hardship, about half of them below poverty line, confirmed by the PM. This scenario cannot be the result of honest politics or of real and clean democracy.

  • rate this

    Comment number 8.


    You never said a truer word. Regardless of the political party, the politicians are corrupt. The politicians will block all these good measures (and plans to build new power plants or acting sternly when citizens from NE India are attacked), but should someone propose a new bill tomorrow to increase the salaries and pensions of the MPs, all of them will vote for it across party lines.

  • rate this

    Comment number 7.

    After a lot of wrong decisions by the Singh govt, this is a really good one, and people like Bennerjee are nipping the legs of the government. Competition will ensure that the customers get the best prices from the shops. The politicians do not care about the prices, but they know that if they can manage to rake up some issue, then they can use that excuse to cling on to power. God help India!

  • rate this

    Comment number 6.

    It would be a good idea if the moderator allows one person to comment only once in an article. Some people comment 6/7 times in order to by- pass the word count limit. The reason I am saying this is then we have the opportunity to hear diverse views than read only one individual's views. In a democracy everyone must be given the opportunity to express his views. Dialogue please BBC not monologues.

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    No surprise, given that pols are generally out to loot pseudo-legally!

  • rate this

    Comment number 4.

    The subsidies on Diesel,LPG,Kerosene,Petrol ,fertilizers have been grossly misused and the Kerosene,LPG etc are also given to undeserving people.The state govts will not act on them for vote bank politics and the MNREGA,SSA,and giving rice , wheat at Rs1/kg by Congress,UPA to make Rahul Gandhi PM are causing a fiscal deficit ,causing us to disinvestment of family silver.Food inflation is high.

  • rate this

    Comment number 3.

    Everyone wants its share of the loot in this post-1991 loot-as-you-can economy. Almost every sensible person is convinced that none really care abt the country & its long term consequences. Why should I (personally) suffer? Lets join the loot, follow the gangs. India does not have any, absolute NO, true leader with wisdom, vision AND political base. Everything is going-on on ad-hoc basis there.

  • rate this

    Comment number 2.

    Almost no one trust even "the most honest politician", Dr Manmohan Singh and for good reasons. Every successive scams proved that internal control mechanism & civil governance failed miserably. Almost all the scams surfaced due to private or court or media intervention. Few coalition politicians are made scapegoats but not many major politicians frm the ruling Congress party is prosecuted.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1.

    There will be no better future even in case of mid-term election.Only the issues will delayed at the cost of billions Rs & lives (of ground level workers). The main problem is- the credibility of Indian political establishment & national institutions are ruined. Nobody, not even the fellow political parties, trust each other. It need real leader(s) with vision & political base long time to fix.



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