World Politics Review
Revolt Against Singh Could Stall India’s Economic Momentum
By Catherine Cheney, 21 Sep 2012, ‘Trend-lines’
In India, a growing number of political leaders are threatening to withdraw their support for the governing coalition of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in the face of new economic measures that, among other changes, allow for greater foreign investment by global retail giants in India’s heretofore protected domestic retail sector.*
The New York Times reported Wednesday that Mamata Banerjee, the populist chief minister of West Bengal, announced that her party, the Trinamool Congress, would formally leave the government. Meanwhile, Kunal Ghosh, a member of the Indian Parliament from the same party, suggested that Singh should resign.
“India is passing through a turbulent time, as are many other countries,” Bharat Karnad, a research professor in national security studies at the Center for Policy Research in New Delhi, India, told Trend Lines. “The real danger is that the country will relapse into its bad economic habits of a dominant state-controlled economy.” That, Karnad said, could cause India to lose its “economic momentum and energy, and accordingly blight its prospects of rising to great power status.”
Karnad explained that Singh’s decline started a few years ago, when the prime minister was unable to push his agenda of economic reforms because it clashed with the trademark “populist-socialist-statist” thinking of the president of the Indian National Congress, Sonia Gandhi, and the Gandhi family.
As an unelected prime minister nominated to the post by Gandhi, Singh does not have a constituency that he can rely on in political crises, Karnad added. According to Karnad, Gandhi found Singh to be an expedient choice for prime minister because he poses no threat to her or her son, Rahul Gandhi, who she is grooming for the post.
“Ruling by borrowed political heft means Singh is only as effective [as Gandhi] allows him to be,” explained Karnad.
He added that the various provincial and regional party agendas “do not necessarily coalesce well,” and there are concerns that the governing coalition, the United Progressive Alliance, may fall apart because of Banarjee’s withdrawal of support.
Karnad expected Gandhi to work hard to keep the governing coalition together until the next general elections set for 2014, mainly because Rahul is currently deemed unprepared for the role of prime minister. Opportunistic support from the Bahujan Samaj Party and the Samajwadi Party could allow the UPA to survive until then, he said, but elections may become necessary should either party decide to withdraw their support.
In terms of any impact Singh’s eventual ouster might have on relations with the United States, Karnad said that there “may be minor changes in rhetoric and atmospherics.” But he does not expect a negative impact on bilateral relations, because “there is now a political consensus among all parties” on the importance of maintaining the “strategic partnership” with the U.S.
“If Singh has put himself on the line for anything, even more than the economic reforms, it is improved relations with the United States,” Karnad said, mentioning the 2007 nuclear cooperation deal between the U.S. and India for which Singh survived a no confidence vote as the flagship issue for the prime minister.
The bigger impact of a governing coalition without Singh, Karnad noted, would be the potential rollback of his economic reforms, already menaced by the fractious political environment.*
“If Singh is out and his economic reforms agenda is junked, the country’s foreign policy orientation is unlikely to change,” Karnad said. But, he continued, India’s economic progress and growth rate will be seriously set back, with “all the consequences that will follow in the wake.”