The prime minister is a man of caution. That is by no means a bad thing; he has no doubt saved the country thereby from many a contretemps. But there are times when he might with advantage relax his high standards of risk aversion. He himself is aware of this. There was a time not so long ago when he threw caution to the winds and collaborated with rajas and other men of doubtful morality, or at any rate, tolerated their excesses. If that was a time for risk taking, the present is even more so. For the costs of enterprise are low. Even if the government hung on to power till the last minute, it can stay for only about six months. Its tenure will end on April 16 at the latest. After that, its fate rests with the vote banks it has so assiduously nurtured with its populist programmes.
One matter on which Manmohan Singh can take an initiative without much to lose is Pakistan. He has come close to doing so a number of times in recent months. He seemed to be on the point of putting a foot forward when unknown Pakistanis ambushed and killed Indian soldiers on August 6 in Kashmir. The attack achieved its purpose: it froze Indo-Pakistani relations in their normal remote mode for some time longer.
Apart from the latent hostility, there was another good reason for not initiating any friendly action with Pakistan. For a long time, the Pakistani economy was moribund. Pakistanis thought that it was a waste of money to pay taxes; so the Pakistan government lived on dollops of foreign aid and on printing money. As long as its economy was terminally sick, Pakistan posed no threat to anyone. All that it could do was to launch terrorist attacks, whose news value was disproportionately large compared to the damage they did. However, Pakistan is no longer the same: it has changed in two respects. First, for the first time since independence perhaps, Pakistan has a government with no investment in hostility towards India. There was never a better time for constructive initiatives. And second, Pakistanís economy is no longer in such dire shape. The government has taken stern steps; for example, its ministers have cut their expenditures by 30 per cent, and have given up the power of making discretionary expenditures. Public utilities have also started functioning; electricity has again become available, at some times of the day at any rate. The black market in foreign exchange has been reined in; Pakistanis in the Middle East have started sending money home through banks. The Indian prime minister should make the friendly gesture he has so long left off, for a time may soon come when Pakistan is no longer short of friends. A few megawatt-hours of power across the border would be a good investment.