Statements don’t equal reform

And why Manmohan Singh should quit

Sanjaya Baru, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s spinmeister-in-chief writes in to the editor of the Hindustan Times to defend his boss. He accuses Sagarika Ghose of being cavalier when she wrote that “…towering over the reforms process is a certain deafening silence on the part of Manmohan Singh on the needs and the ambitions of the 21st century Indian reformer”.

Manmohan Singh, Baru reminds us, “has…made other important statements on all the issues that Ghose wants a 21st century reformer to address”.

Ghose refers in particular to urban renewal and police reforms. Not only has the PM spoken on both issues, he has also spoken of the need for humane urbanisation. The PM has launched the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission and has also set up a mission on police reforms. [HT]

Of sure, Manmohan Singh has spoken about the need to reform a lot of things. He has even pointed out what is the biggest threat to India’s internal security. As have millions of ordinary citizens. Stating the need for reform is stating the obvious. The prime minister though—especially one with those much touted ‘reformist credentials’—is expected to, well, do the reforming bit. There is a distinct difference between statements and reforms that Baru is glossing over. Wags have a nice way of putting it: “No Action, Talk Only”.

If a government scheme has a name as long as Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission it safely can be counted to be as short in terms of actual results. Still, Manmohan Singh can take credit for launching it. But on police reform who is Baru kidding? The chief reason why there is movement on that front is because the judiciary stepped in to impose the reform on a reluctant government. The judiciary did so because of relentless action by civil society groups. It so happened that the judiciary’s decision came under Manmohan Singh’s watch. And there is still a good chance that Shivraj Patil, his home minister, will botch it up.

No amount of spin doctoring can hide the fact that the UPA government has little to show: the 8% economic growth is not because of it, but not yet in spite of it. But warning signs have already appeared. It is only the happily growing economy has caused the electorate to ignore Manmohan Singh’s overall failure.

Why Manmohan Singh should quit

On this blog: Why he lost the moral right to govern; zero for public leadership; and why he is doing more harm than good by covering up for a government that is running India to ground.

On The Indian National Interest: On his appeasement of Musharraf (on Retributions); on criminals in his cabinet (on Offstumped)

On Atanu Dey’s blog: on his institutionalising discrimination

15 thoughts on “Statements don’t equal reform”

  1. Although perceptions may differ I don’t think the Manmohan Singh Government is doing that bad.
    But perhaps the spectre of BJP coming back into power leads me to support this government

  2. history_lover,

    The issue is not one of whether a new government will deliver better results than this one—believing in the above proposition is what causes an “anti-incumbency factor” during elections. The issue is of holding the current government accountable, regardless of which party is in power.

    In the UPA’s case, all criticism is shaken off by (a) pointing out that Manmohan Singh is an good chap and (b) the alternative is ‘the spectre of BJP’/third front coming back into power. Btw, that’s similar to the argument used to prop up Musharraf in Pakistan. He too is a ‘good’ guy and the only alternative to him is the ‘spectre of Islamist/Military types’ coming into power. The Indian people and the American people believe their respective myths to the extent that they don’t insist the good guys deliver the goods.

  3. I’m not exactly quaking in my boots about the prospect of another BJP Government but I don’t think Singh is doing that badly either; let’s not forget that he is managing an unwieldy coalition — and the CPM is always there to take credit for the successful unpopulist policies that he implements and to blame him when his policies are not populist enough. Cut him some slack.

    Besides, in the long run, Manmohan Singh will lend a kind of legitimacy to the reforms that the BJP couldn’t, at least not with the left, who always held up the “nonsecular” trump card to end the discussion. (Whether one needs to justify reforms to the left is a different story but for another time). Anyway, it’s a little too soon to say that he has lost the moral right to govern, no?

  4. shreeharsh,

    You don’t justify reforms to the Left. You justify them to the people. As for lending legitimacy to the reforms: what reforms? Again, reforms are not something that ordinary people don’t appreciate. In fact, it is not Manmohan Singh that lend legitimacy to reforms. It is the other way around.

    It is never too soon to say that one has lost the moral right to govern. On the other hand, it can be too late.

    (Please do read some of the posts linked to in this post)

  5. I completely agree with Nitin on accountability. No one should go unpunished for incompetence and bad governance. If BJP government can’t do any better then it should be brought down too. Sooner the better, as it helps to dangle the stick in front of incumbents to make sure that they are upto the task. Once you let them off the hook they will be complacent and underperform. These are the people we pay the most (in their renumeration and perks). They have to perform commensurately (if that is a word) with the compensation they receive (I would suggest at least 50 hrs per week which is comparable to any unskilled workers labor to earn two meals for her family).

  6. Agree with you 100%. Manmohan Singh has proved to be utterly spineless in getting anything useful done. Being “a nice guy” doesn’t do jack.

  7. guys,
    does anyone know if there is a blog which keeps track of what happens in indian parliament? like the bill that are introduced or the discussions that take place, the laws enacted, who voted for what? anything thats related to real actions taken by our government?

  8. Yugan,

    That’s a great idea. Please contact me if you are interested in pursuing it further. Outside the blogosphere, you can check out

  9. I think the Congress party is intellectually bankrupt. Their only claim to better government is that their “Not the BJP”. As for Manmohan considered a reformer, it was more out of compulsion than anything else. The country faced a balance of payment crisis in 1991, and the congress had no option but to reform. The economy was choked from 1947 – 1991, Manmohan’s reforms in 1991 was merely a realisation of the bankruptcy of the treasury.

  10. There’s a simpler way of saying “No Action, Talk Only”. It goes “All talk, no ….” 🙂

    Manmohan’s spinelessness becomes even more obvious with this whole Shibu Soren farce.

  11. Nitin,
    I do partially agree, but for the first time such Qualified gentleman has occupied the hot seat doing a tight rope walking, which his predecessors of congress Govts did not need. I for one feel he is very deseving, and pordon my narrow outlook ,he is not from U.P. Let us give him a fair chance, If George Bush can be given a second term, Manmohan needs atleast one chance.

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