Can be better

Tuesday, 17 May 2005
Parth J Shah
The Financial Express

Two of the brightest public economists of India occupy the two of the most powerful positions in the current government of India.  This is the first in the history of India. How has been this uniquely gifted government’s performance in the first year?  It is only fair to assess their performance, not against their own goals, the Common Minimum Program, but against their potential.  The right question is: How far has the government run by two great economists fulfilled its potential?

Compared to the potential, their performance is very poor indeed.  In none of the major acts of the government from replacing plastic cups with kullahads in railways to the Employment Guarantee Scheme to the Right to Information Act, there is much influence of the two economists.  In many cases, straightforward economic logic argues against the measures undertaken.  This is a spectacular failure of the two economists.

Since the government depends on the support of the Left parties for the passage of bills in the Parliament, one may give a benefit of doubt to the economists on the bills actually passed.  But there is absolutely no excuse for failing to use the powerful public platform to articulate and argue for continuation, and in some cases initiation, of reforms.

Neither the Prime Minister not the Finance Minister has used the power of their office to create and lead public discourse on economic and social reforms.  It is precisely because that they are unable to do much within the Parliament that a public dialogue on reforms becomes that much more critical.  Dependence on partners ideologically opposed to serious structural reforms leaves only the bully pulpit to make their case.

In my eyes, despite legislative failures or compromises, they would serve the country well if they use the bully pulpit effectively to speak their minds and hearts—to sustain a serious public discourse on economic and political reforms necessary to fulfil India’s potential.  In that they would have fulfilled their potential too.  The best place to start that discourse is education reforms--discuss the proposed Free and Compulsory Education Bill openly and frankly, as economists.