An Open Letter to Manmohan Singh

By Rajdeep Sardesai
10 June 2010 13:50 IST

Dear Dr Singh,

At the outset, many congratulations on completing six years in office, making you the longest serving Indian prime minister since Indira Gandhi. For a self- confessed 'accidental politician' this is truly a remarkable achievement, evidence that nice guys do sometimes finish first. Let me also apologise sir for having chosen to correspond with you through a column, but since I couldn't attend your press conference, just thought of using this forum to raise some questions swimming in the mind.

Let me start with the question that a recent CNN-IBN and Hindustan Times poll suggests remains the biggest concern of the 'aam admi' with UPA 2: rising prices. You mentioned that inflation would be brought under control by December. Could you explain the basis for your confidence since a similar assurance was given last year? As a supplementary, may I ask if you would concede that there has been mismanagement of the food economy?

Take the sugar sector for example where there has been little reform. Last year, there was a nine per cent reduction in cane production according to the economic survey. The signs of impending scarcity were there, yet analysts say there was at least a three month delay in allowing imports. Sugar production is expected to be high in the next season. That would be an opportune moment to decontrol the industry - abolish rationed-sugar quotas and government ordered releases of sugar into the open market. Private sugar mills will welcome this, but will the cooperatives who are virtually 'owned' by Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar's relent?

Food inflation has also been aggravated by high prices of fruit and vegetables. Should not the government encourage big retailers, including foreign ones, to enter into buying arrangements with farmers , so that they are assured of market and prices and also get the expertise to grow what consumers want? This may be politically contentious, but surely a sixth year in power demands biting the bullet.

May I also ask how you intend to deal with the paradox of overflowing granaries but steep prices? Last year, the government procured wheat and rice aggressively because of elections. Despite one of the worst droughts, we are now sitting on huge stocks. Our correspondents have done a series of reports about grain rotting in government warehouses across the country. The Vajpayee-government took flak for selling grain abroad at below BPL-prices. It will be the turn of your government now. The price at which the goverment procures for buffer stock (to protect consumers from price spurts ) and the support price for farmers (to insure against price slumps) cannot be the same, as is the case now.

Let me turn to the issue which as you say is the main internal security challenge facing the country: the rise of Naxalism. Is it true, as the home minister has suggested, that the government only has a 'limited mandate' in tackling the Maoists? As a supplementary may I ask if there is complete consensus within the government and the Congress party over just how to win the war against Maoists?

The war against the Maoists must be fought like any other battle: with a clarity of mind. Unfortunately, one has detected a certain confusion within decision-makers in recent weeks. Powerful sections of your party are insisting that the 'root causes' of Naxalism must be analysed before any armed action is taken. The home minister himself seems convinced about the need to use force, but yet seems to have got dragged into a personalised war of words with human rights activists. The Maoists have guns in the jungles, they will not be defeated by the 'politics of condemnation' in television studios. They must be defeated like all 'armed terrorists' (we cannot see them as 'misguided youth' any more) by a well trained and committed police force. But, as many security experts have pointed out, our state police and paramilitary forces are neither fully equipped or motivated to take on the Maoists on their own terrain.

The third issue which is of universal concern is corruption. There is little doubt sir of your personal integrity, but would you concede that its been difficult for you to check corruption amongst your ministerial colleagues? As a supplementary may I ask that if the CBI had been investigating a Congress minister and not an ally like A Raja of the DMK would you have shown the same leniency?

I appreciate that there are certain compulsions of coalition politics. The BJP, for example, which is demanding Mr Raja's head should be asked why it chose to close the tax files against the AIADMK chief Jayalalithaa when it was in a power-sharing arrangement with her. And yet, an important reason for the admiration one has for you is because of your unswerving commitment to probity in public life. With due respect sir, you can no longer be a Dhritirashtra-like figure who turns a blind eye to ministerial corruption. This is not just about Mr Raja, but a growing suspicion that several ministers have their hand in the till. I realize you need evidence to act against colleagues, but surely one signal from you will be enough for the government agencies to gather the proof.

Sir, I have just listed a few of the 'unfinished tasks' before you. From Pakistan to financial reform to speeding up highway projects , there is much else that remains to be done. At this rate, retirement and handing over power to a 'younger' leadership may be a long way away!

Post-script: I do hope that you will get the time to respond to some of my queries. And sir, you don't have to wait till next year's press conference to do so. A candid interview would do just fine!  

Blogger's Profile

Rajdeep Sardesai

One of India’s most respected journalists, Rajdeep Sardesai, has nearly three decades of journalistic experience in print and tv. He has been the founder- editor of chief of IBN 18 network, which included CNN IBN. Prior to setting up the IBN network, he was the managing editor of NDTV 24 x 7 and NDTV India. Rajdeep has won more than 100 national and international awards for journalism, including the Padma Shri in 2008. He is currently consulting editor at the India Today group.

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