Column : Shivirs of anticipation

Jan 24 2013, 00:56 IST
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SummaryUPAs Chintan Shivir seems to have reaffirmed its commitment to reforms regardless of a positive election result in 2014.

How do you explain the relative ease with which the government is now taking tough economic decisions? In the recent past, it would have been unimaginable for this government to announce increases in diesel price gradually by R8 over the next 16 months. More so because India is scheduled to have general elections after 16 months. Strangely, the opposition to the diesel price hike over the next few months is also quite muted, relative to what one might have seen in the past. There have been no violent Bharat Bandhs announced so far by the BJP or other opposition parties. Suddenly UPA-II has decided to do all the right things without any regard fortheir political repercussions. So what is really going on?

This phenomenon can be looked at in different ways. One, it is possible that the opposition itself is a bit fatigued after raising its protest to peak level in 2011-12over various economic decisions such as FDI in multi-brand retail, direct cash transfers and so on. The UPA successfully changed the political-economy discourse over the past five months by pitching controversial reforms, like direct benefit transfers, which have the potential to attack entrenched interests. This seems to be deliberate and is being done to a plan. Rahul Gandhi had hinted in his Jaipur speech that the existing system needs a serious overhaul. Besides, the Congress has decided that it must fully own up to some of the most disruptive instruments of governance it has created. The RTI legislation is one of them.

It is possible that the Congress is well aware of the two-term anti-incumbency sentiment loaded against it and may have decided to do the right thing and play some serious politics of disruption. Some believe that Rahul Gandhi, sensing the mood of the youth in the country, wants the UPA government to shake up the entrenched interests, even if they are aligned to the Congress party. The implementation of the direct benefit transfer programme, if done well, will seriously attack the contractor-raj, which thrives on centrally funded programmes in state governments.

Cabinet minister Veerappa Moily, who had authored the series of administrative reforms commission reports, told me the Congress had decided at its Chintan Shivir in Jaipur that some key recommendations of the administrative reforms commission will be taken up for implementation over the next six months. This also includes giving the IAS cadre a reality check by officially allowing

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