ELECTIONS: WHO BENEFITS FROM UNCERTAINTY?

Vol 2, PW 23 (09 Dec 98) People & Policy
     

Answer: journalists and bureaucrats.

Journalists because the prospect of elections breaks the monotony of daily reporting and gives them something "big" to ponder. Bureaucrats because it provides a perfect excuse to sit tight and do nothing.

This is not the first time in the last eight months that the English language press has stirred up election fever. Luckily for the BJP, less than 10% of India reads English, so the power of the English-language press to influence events is at best limited, at worst, non-existent.

Unfortunately, Indian bureaucrats can read English and they thrive on this type of political uncertainty. If a project "file" moves slower than usual in the months ahead, it will be because officials are reluctant to approve projects carrying the name of a government which may soon lose power to Congress.

Naturally, you wont be told this. In India, it is an established fact that political uncertainty encourages inaction.

No surprise, therefore, that - through no fault of the BJP - little has moved in the eight months since it took power. Take the most common criticism: that the BJP is incapable of extending liberalisation.

False. In the last eight months the BJP has announced more measures to free the economy than the combined efforts of the two United Front governments before it.

Take the hugely successful privatisation of the Container Corporation of India (CONCOR) and the impending deregulation of the insurance sector, two areas which no previous Indian government has dared touch. The BJPs problem is not lack of political will; it is having to deal with an entrenched bureaucracy which comes up with ever more sophisticated ways of blocking reform.