(This first appeared in the Sunday Guardian)
It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that the past couple of years haven’t really been the ‘best years’ of Manmohan Singh’s life. He has been humiliated by both friend and foe. Insulted both in public and in private. Called names to his face and behind his back. Each new day brought with it more pain, more heartbreak and more damage to his prostrate. He couldn’t look at a newspaper without having an ulcer. Now, he could tolerate being pissed on by the Indian press; those wankers have always had it out for him. He wasn’t also bothered by what the people of the country were saying about him; it’s not like he needed their vote or anything. What he couldn’t digest was when his friends in the foreign press started to shit on him. The very people he had nurtured like a constituency. He had given them scoops, actual exclusive interviews, not laughed and thrown them out of the room when they offered suggestions on how to fix the economy. Was his back hurting their knife?
Thus, he decided he had to do something. He wasn’t going to be remembered as the man who couldn’t get things done. If he couldn’t make the government work, he was going to douse the whole thing with petrol, take a match to it and burn it to the ground. If he couldn’t convince his asshole allies, he was going to try to convince the people. He knew the country was angry at him. So he tried to bring the romance back. He came home early from work one day, cooked us our favourite meal, cleaned all the dishes and wrote us a card promising to be nice to our parents when they came for a visit. He even made an iTunes playlist of all the songs we used to listen to when we first started dating. Songs like “Fiscal Fever” and “Don’t auction my gold!” and “Reform! Reform!” And then he put on his happy face and held a press conference to make the announcement for new economic reforms, pretending that he believed that people had a right to know what their government was upto. He also sent his least smug minister to give an ‘exclusive’ interview to all the news channels and argue in favour of these policies.
And lo and behold, the narrative changed. No more was he the Manmohan Singh who presided over one of the most corrupt governments in the history of the country. No more was he the Manmohan Singh who wanted to spend a large amount of taxpayer money to give freebies to people who could not afford them. No more was he a leader of a government which had garnered the reputation of being so lethargic that they couldn’t even pass a stone. He was back to being the champion of fiscal prudence. The only one who could jump-start the economy. Put that in your pipe and smoke it, Mr. Foreign Correspondent.
The analysts were clear: this was a game-changer! Old economists who had spent the past few years yearning for the Manmohan Singh of yore were quietly jizzing on television about how Singh had finally taken the bull by its horns. They believe that between FDI in multi-brand retail stores and the new season of KBC, we are going to eradicate poverty for once and for all. Even Lord Meghnad Desai and his hair – which, full disclosure, will be a huge beneficiary because it is large enough to house at least two Wal-Mart stores – were batting for the new economic reforms.
However, not everyone was impressed with the economic reforms announced by the Prime Minister. Most of the government’s allies and the opposition were dead set against his attempt at resituating the economy. Overnight, all of them seemed to have turned into card carrying members of the proletariat; they appeared to be very worried about the plight of the common man. What about families living below the poverty line? What about the friendly, neighbourhood ‘kirana’ store? What about the people in the unregulated sector who supply the fertilizer to those who sell synthetic milk?
Nobody made an actual economic argument. Everyone was battling on emotions and rhetoric. One side thought that just the announcement would bring in so much money that every person in the country would be swimming in it like a regular Uncle Scrooge whereas the other side proclaimed this as a bigger sell-out to ‘foreign powers’ than when in 1757 the Nawab of Bengal had appointed the East India company as its official tax collector.
If only there were some tools available to measure the impact of economic policies.