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Letters to PM, for the record

Letters to PM, for the record

Author: Praful Kumar Singh
Publication: The Pioneer
Date: February 22, 2007

Congress president Sonia Gandhi, it seems, has a penchant for writing letters for the record. Usually, these are timed with upcoming elections. The politics of intervention in state policies - through letters leaked on purpose - adopted by Ms Gandhi is aimed at controlling the mounting public anger over different decisions taken by the UPA Government from time to time. The letters are, thus, shock absorbers of sorts. These also prove that Ms Gandhi's decision is supreme in the Government, undermining Prime Minister's authority.

The first letter written by Ms Gandhi to the Prime Minister was about rising prices of commodities. The Government dutifully obeyed the high command by announcing certain policy measures in controlling the prices of wheat and pulses. However, the prices of these commodities continue to be high.

The second letter was regarding the escalating cost of petrol and diesel. At the time Ms Gandhi wrote the letter, prices of crude oil were $70 per barrel. International prices have now come down to $50 per barrel but the Government's marginal cuts are hardly commensurate with the decline in world market pricing.

The latest letter is regarding FDI in retail. The Congress's strategy is clear: While it should not appear as favouring any particular corporate house, it does not want to invite the ire of farmers and small retailers who will be the worst affected by branded retailing.

First, the UPA Government's policies pertaining to agriculture have failed to prevent destitution of farmers, who continue to commit suicide at an alarming rate. Second, nearly five crore people are engaged in the retail sector where the Government has failed to generate employment. On the other hand it argues that the employment generated by foreign retailers would eventually benefit people. But will such employment be compensatory?

Finally, Ms Sonia Gandhi's interference in economic matters - of which Mr Manmohan Singh and Mr P Chidambaram are acknowledged experts - has invariably resulted in a rollback, but the concession was notional. Doesn't this mean that while her letters are playing to the gallery, her missives to the two executives fail to address the more substantive issues like inflation and FDI facing the Government and the nation. Such knee-jerk responses as hers may be good politics, but are bad economics.


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