A rupee in free fall; a terrifyingly wide current-account deficit; a corrupt, stagnant bureaucracy: In 1991, then-Finance Minister Manmohan Singh helped to rescue India's economy from that near-death experience with a slew of liberalizing reforms, setting the stage for two decades of growth. Today, facing a similar, if less existential, crisis as India's prime minister, Singh may well be the man standing in the way of a solution.
Singh did not spark the rupee's current nose dive, which touched a record low for the third day in a row on Tuesday. U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke started the slide when he hinted that he might begin tapering the Fed's quantitative-easing program later this year, driving up yields. International investors naturally began moving funds out of emerging markets, including India, and back to the U.S.
India, however, confronts more than a currency crisis: It's facing a crisis of credibility. The outflow turned into a flood at the end of last week after the Reserve Bank of India announced what looked to many investors like the first tentative steps toward capital controls. Ministers have spent more time denying that any crisis exists than quelling their fears.
Half-measures meant to stem the rupee's plunge -- such as a new 36 percent tax on imported flat-panel televisions -- are not the answer. Investors are rendering a broader judgment onSouth Asia's would-be superpower. The reform process Singh inaugurated in 1991 has ground to a halt. Hundreds of infrastructure and industrial projects are again tangled in red tape. Indian businessmen -- never mind the foreign multinationals whose dollars are so desperately needed -- have no incentive to invest in new projects. Proposed industrial investments in the first five months of 2013 are off last year's pace, which itself showed a two-thirds decline from 2011.
There are many reasons for this state of affairs, and as prime minister for the last nine years, Singh must accept his share of the blame. In its second term, his Indian National Congress-led coalition government has focused too much on doling out subsidies rather than tackling still-daunting structural reforms such as modernizing labor and land laws. On Tuesday, as the stock market continued its fall, Parliament debated a bill that would provide hundreds of millions of Indians with subsidized grain, which would add to an already ugly fiscal deficit.
David Fuller's view I suspect many of India's citizens would
welcome an early general election. It was probably appropriate for Bloomberg
not to mention a preferred candidate but I do not feel a similar restraint.
If I were Indian, I would want to vote for Narendra Modi, frequently mentioned
in Fullermoney, because Governance is Everything. Here
is one of them.
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