At a time when farmers’ protests have put it on the back foot, it’s welcome that the Modi government has doubled down on the reform agenda in the Budget instead of succumbing to populist pressure. Unprecedented use of the word ‘privatisation’ suggests that it may be moving out of the ‘reform by stealth’ mode into acknowledging more frontally what the economy needs to climb out of the hole it’s currently in. Prime Minister Narendra Modi gave an important speech in Parliament on Wednesday, underlining that the time and world in which the government did everything are long gone. Now the private sector has to play a much bigger role in the India story. But that needs fighting our hidebound distrust of it: “How can we declare all of them dishonest?”
The politicisation of economic reforms has been the country’s Achilles heel. Every time a government attempts them, an opposition party takes up the faux mantle of aam admi. The subtext of charges like ‘suit boot ki sarkar’ is that ‘dhoti kurta sarkar’ would be better. New votaries of preserving status quo in agriculture who have come up from Sweden to the US, would blanch at current Indian practices being replicated in their backyard. But experts have long noted that the NDA government with its historic majority and Modi with his enormous political capital, can break this impasse with candid advocacy of reforms.
Time and again the gap between promises and execution has eroded trust in reform pledges. To win it back, the Modi government has to show actual progress in monetising assets, exiting non-strategic sectors. It also has to answer opposition charges of benefitting only select business houses, dispassionately and institutionally. Build the independent regulatory apparatus that will ensure competition. People’s doubts shouldn’t be vilified. The painstaking work of countering them with logic and hard evidence is absolutely necessary.
This piece appeared as an editorial opinion in the print edition of The Times of India.
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