Vol 2, PW 25 (06 Jan 99) People & Policy

What is behind this surge in popularity for Congress; less than a year after it received the worst electoral drubbing in its history Answer: the economy.

One editorialist put it bluntly: "Big bombs dont make a nation. Its the economy".

True, the BJP cant be blamed for decades of inherited economic mismanagement, but it has singularly failed to make a bad situation better. In the nine months since it took power the price of basic foodstuffs has skyrocketed to mind-numbing levels, largely because of central government incompetence.

This has left the poor vulnerable, and the middle class (bastion of BJP support) seething. As for privatisation of the Gas Authority of India (GAIL) and Indian Oil Corporation (IOC), people have now lost count of the number of "deadlines" announced.

To cap it all, in the last week of December, parliament - in an extraordinary act of democratic vandalism - sabotaged two crucial pro-reform bills: to set up the Insurance Regulatory Authority (IRA) ahead of granting foreign insurers a maximum 40% stake in Indian joint ventures; and pass the Patents (Amendment) Bill, demanded by the World Trade Organisation (WTO). At the helm of this organisational chaos, sits a former bureaucrat, Yashwant Sinha, Minister of Finance.

All smiles, Sinha has is now recognised for what he is: a bungling amateur, out of his depth; no match for the piercing intellect of the two finance ministers who preceded him: Palaniappan Chidambaram of the United Front and Manmohan Singh of Congress. It is an open secret that Sinha was not Vajpayees first choice as finance minister.

Sacrificing him may be the government best option in the next cabinet reshuffle, expected later this month.