The sigh of relief is almost audible. This is odd because the cause of the relief is the departure of an ally from a coalition government. The prime minister, Manmohan Singh, as was evident from his address to the nation last evening, spoke in the manner that befits him, as an economic reformer working to bring about inclusive growth in India. He was conscious that his speech echoed those that he made in the early 1990s when he was finance minister and introducing the first phase of economic liberalization. It was apparent that he was able this time to don the mantle of reformer because the altered political context had freed him, albeit briefly, from the compulsions of coalition politics. His speech was marked by lucidity and confidence. He explained to the nation the need and the meaning of the economic measures that he has announced. He also corrected certain misconceptions about the reforms that were prevalent and misinformation about them that was deliberately being circulated. By speaking thus in a forthright manner he surprised those critics who had written him off and brought joy to his devoted club of admirers.
The Telegraph has every reason to be happy with the prime minister’s speech. For one thing, this newspaper, especially in these columns, has been a great champion of economic reforms. In fact, its only criticism of Mr Singh has been that on occasions he is not enough of a reformist. For another, The Telegraph’s persistent advice to the prime minister has been that he should speak directly to the nation as often as he can. Mr Singh does himself a disservice when he retreats into his shell. On the rare occasions that he decides to speak, he always makes an impact. The reason for this is not the rarity factor but because of the sincerity that Mr Singh invariably conveys. He is not a great orator as some politicians tend to be. But he speaks with conviction; and because he is a scholar fallen among politicians, he has the gift of explaining complex economic issues in very simple terms.
On a previous occasion when an ally attempted to hold him to ransom by threatening the majority of his government in the Lok Sabha, Mr Singh stood his ground and showed the Left the door. This brought him no political harm. On the contrary, there was an appreciation of the prime minister’s commitment. Mamata Banerjee — a political leader who sees herself as being hostile to the Left — also tried to hold a gun to Mr Singh’s head. The immediate outcome has been the same. The prime minister decided enough was enough and was not willing to mollycoddle the chief minister of West Bengal any more. He refused to roll back the reform measures he had announced and allowed the Trinamul Congress to exit the United Progressive Alliance. Not only is there no impending threat to the government but there is also the promise of the prime minister getting a fresh reformist wind. Mr Singh is in a position to use a political threat to his government to the country’s economic advantage. Mr Singh, conventional wisdom notwithstanding, always triumphs in a crisis.