June 06, 2020
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"Our Politicians Think Money Grows On Trees"

Former finance minister Manmohan Singh on swadeshi, populism, economic vision and prime ministerial aspirations.

"Our Politicians Think Money Grows On Trees"

The Left and the BJP say that your reforms have led to joblessness, scams, rural-urban divide.

There is no evidence to suggest that liberalisation has led to joblessness. Planning Commission data suggests that jobs have been increasing every year since 1991. Critics, therefore, are mouthing their prejudices. As for scams, the securities scam had its origins in 1986. It was the by-product of over-regimented, unenforceable systems in which banks were restricted from lending to more profitable areas. Reforms have actually improved the terms of trade for agriculture. A 1 per cent improvement adds Rs 8,000 crore to agricultural income. Even the incidence of poverty has declined. The national sample survey 1993-94 substantiates this.

What about the anxiety that TNCs will swallow up domestic companies and brands?

In a dynamic economy, there will be some buyouts. We have a transparent takeover code to take care of well-managed companies. Managements cannot take for granted that they have a franchise for life. However, to prevent monopolistic islands, we need strong anti-monopoly legislation.

How were the UF's reforms different from yours?

Eighty per cent of the common minimum programme was a carrying forward of what we had done. The BJP, Left and UF talk of an alternative paradigm. They have none. They are just dotting the i's and crossing the t's.

How do you rate the UF government's performance?

Although they put their names to the common minimum programme, some of the 14 parties had reservations. So when it came to implementing some of the reforms, they got bogged down.

One of the biggest failures of reforms has been the inability to kickstart private investment in infrastructure.

The infrastructure problem cannot be solved only by private investment. We need strong public sector presence. But it will never have the resources if it runs at a loss. Tariff reforms are a must. People must pay. Politicians think money grows on trees.

But isn't Congress the high priest of populism?

The Congress might have created it but the time has come when we no longer can live with this competitive populism.

Your name has been mentioned for prime ministership.

There are many senior and competent leaders in our party. I am only a newcomer into politics. I am content where I am. I am not aspiring for the PM's job.

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