Dear Dr Manmohan Singh
Today you complete one year of your second term as Prime Minister. As Indians we are usually polite and courteous on such occasions – even if we are not entirely happy with how your government has performed. We could have sent you a trite anniversary greeting card that read “May today be filled with happy memories of the past year and bright hopes of the future” and left it at that.
But you are leader of a nation of a billion plus and any action of yours lends itself to review and criticism. As someone entering his seventh year as prime minister – only three other prime ministers in the past 62 years have done that – your skin by now must have thickened to the barbs. Decency and unimpeachable integrity are your virtues. Your strength has always been action, not words. And you seem to believe in the idiom that if your work speaks for itself, then let it.
So you wouldn’t mind some plain-speaking about your government’s performance and of course, some ticking off. Before we do that we must compliment you on the good your government has done in the past year. When you came to power for the second time, there was a global economic meltdown and doomsday seemed nigh. Yet with timely monetary stimulus and the aura of stability, confidence and continuity created by your government, the Indian economy continues to grow at a healthy 8 per cent. You and your team deserves kudos for that.
Then the country faced a severe drought and you had said rather emotionally, “We will not allow anyone to go hungry.” Despite the massive shortfall in food-grain production in 2009, your government ensured that very few went to bed on an empty stomach. That is commendable. But that came at a price. Rather prices went up and we all had to pay dearly. Inflation hovers at a high 10 per cent. The prices of vegetables, grain and other essentials continue to burn a deep hole in our pockets. This is without doubt your government’s biggest failure and needs to be remedied – on a war footing.
There is another war your government needs to wage urgently – against the growing clout of the Maoists in certain states of India and their ability to seemingly strike at will. Dantewada is too fresh in our memories and the bodies of policemen strewn like ragdolls on the road are as searing and demoralizing as the Taj aflame during the Mumbai terror attacks. P. Chidambaram did seem to be doing a fine job as Home Minister having lessened the jihadi threat and made us all feel safer. But he has lost a bit of his sheen after the repeated strikes by Naxals and there is a lack of a clear-cut strategy by both the Centre and States to tackle what you yourself had said is the number one security threat that India faces. Thwarting the Naxals will now be your government’s litmus test in the year ahead.
No government can have a single-point agenda – so you would also be judged by the other big challenges that you face. In education, where reforms are urgently needed, Kapil Sibal has been bold, bright and rightly in a hurry. He should not be slowed down in his efforts by the exigencies of coalition politics. In environment too, the government has been farsighted in its plan to combat climate change even though Jairam Ramesh has sullied his record by his indiscreet remarks.
On foreign affairs, thanks to you India now finds itself at the high table, but your government’s performance has been mixed. After the misstep at Sharm-el-Sheikh you have done well to restart the dialogue process with Pakistan by mixing caution with vision. With the US, the loose-ends of the nuclear deal still need to be tied up apart from pushing ahead with the strategic dialogue.
We could go on and we are because it’s important that we do so. The following pages of The Tribune would give you and our readers an in-depth assessment of your government’s performance in the past year. And also suggest what you and your team could focus on in the year ahead. But to sum up your government’s performance we believe it’s still work in progress. You have miles to go and, we are afraid, you will not have much time for sleep.
With best wishes
Raj Chengappa, Editor-in-Chief