Sunday, February 9, 2014

Waiting for Godot...

That is how the situation looks like. In a policy limbo for last three years, we have been waiting for the government to do something. Something decisive. The wait has become so elusive, it is almost pathetic.

When you start searching your memory when anything constructive was done last, you have to search really far and wide. The growth spurt that happened was either the result of easy money, or was riding on things that happened well before the last ten years. The telecom boost, the infra spurt started with golden quadrilateral and so on. The big thing that stands out is the nuclear deal. What else? The late 'surge' shown last year is also a mirage. FDI in retail will do exactly what? Large format retail needs large land pockets. Try buying land anywhere close to a large city in pockets like 20 acres, all the 'cost efficiency' goes down the tube right there. Who will drive 50 kilometers to save 5% on groceries? And what happened to WalMart when they tried opening a store? Unless a broad real estate reform is done, FDI in retail is DOA at best. What else has exactly been done in last ten years? Please drop me a line when you can recall what exactly has been done for the economy.

The irony is that everyone is just waiting now. Waiting for elections and waiting for deliverance of some sort. We are waiting for one saviour, one reformer, who has his / her policy thinking right, who can separate the populist stuff from economic substance. Hopes are being pinned on certain Mr. M. But when he speaks up on policy, the best that emerges is a muddle with no clarity. The party with a difference is proposing abolishing all taxes, and slapping a penalty (it is a penalty really) on those who are stupid or unfortunate enough to route their money through the formal banking system. Blessed are those who do everything in 1000 rupee notes, stuffed in large sacks. From now on, not only do they get away with paying nothing, but will be paragons of virtue also because paying no taxes will be fully legal. The Mr. G with a difference should also explain what he will do when everyone stops using the banking system and hundi and havala become the dominant 'economic channels'. What a path to prosperity.

On top of it all, we have found an 'alternative' to all the dirty politics. The great thing about this alternative is that the solution to all the problems is either a sting, or a vigilante law where the accuser and the investigator and the judge are just one person and that person can jail anyone on a whim, or a simple dharna. This is a great solution. No healthcare for the masses, not enough schools, no money to buy electricity, vegetables are too pricey; there is nothing a good dharna cannot solve.

So we are waiting for a policy messiah and for someone who can just decide. A lot of names will be thrown in the fray. With vehement denials, the dharna party has not only pressed ahead with everything populist but has also started radio ads touting the 'progress' made in one month. Sounds a little bit like 'char mahine banaam chaalis saal', the campaign slogan of the Chandra Shekhar government of 1991. I wish it doesn't become what became of that government; a nightmare that we will all like to forget. We have the regional kings and queens all vying for the national crown. With all the princes, kings, queens, chaiwallahs and jhadoowalas, there will be fair bit of choice for everyone. But will the messiah who will lift us out of this limbo of joblessness, crushing price increases, complete lack of movement on anything concerning the public (roads, bridges, power plants, water treatment facilities and so on, after all these are called 'public goods' for a reason) ever arrive?

The real nightmare is that it may turn out to be a wait like the one for Godot, when at the end of it all we don't even know whether the famed character, name it Godot or the messiah, even exists...


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