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Dr Singh’s tenure as finance minister.
That was then. While UPA-1 saw the government badly hamstrung by the Left, it remains an open secret that the real opposition lay within, with Congress president Sonia Gandhi more interested in her social agenda. So while the anti-money-laundering Act was passed, as was the one to set up an airport regulator and an Act passed to formalise SEZs, greater attention was paid to the ones on rights for forest dwellers, rural employment guarantee and the right to information Act. The Bill to hike FDI in insurance was a casualty to the Left and the BJP and it’s not clear why the coal denationalisation Bill was never passed, considering it was the BJP that brought it in when in power. While pushing public-private partnerships as a means to get more investments was something UPA-1 deserves credit for — the NDA will argue the Delhi and Mumbai airport privatisation process was begun during its tenure — subsidy spending saw a huge jump, from 1.4% of GDP to 2.1% by the end of UPA-1.
Although UPA-2 saw more reforms, global growth going into a tailspin along with Sonia Gandhi’s inclusion agenda at centre stage, is what really finished Dr Singh’s reputation. So while FDI in retail was an obvious reform, this was allowed to be delayed by over a year with the industry ministry playing spoilsport. Nandan Nilekani ensured Aadhaar was a stunning success but it was never implemented seriously. While FDI in aviation was a grand success, what was pushed more aggressively was a land acquisition Act that delays land purchases, a food security Act that adds massively to costs and lowers the incentive to work, a right to education Act that forces the private sector to bear a large part of the government’s responsibilities. And till the fag end of the government’s tenure, the environment ministry has chosen to stop as many large projects as possible on the grounds of protecting tribal and other people’s rights.
If reforms took place in UPA-1 and 2, it was either by stealth or by force — credit rating agency pressure, for instance, has ensured the fiscal deficit isn't breached, and it was the rupee’s collapse that ensured CAD-control took centre stage. These were good moves, but not enough to restore Dr Singh’s credibility as a reformer.
And we haven’t even talked about the 2G and