FE Editorial Reforms, finally

Written by The Financial Express | Updated: Jul 25 2008, 03:48am hrs
Will the post-Left, post-trust-vote-win UPA turn from a timid non-reformer to a firebrand change-maker Of course, many things can be done. As our columnist points out today, the whole edifice of the financial sector needs rebuilding. But political realities will have to be factored in. Three Billson insurance FDI, foreign investor voting rights in banks and pension reformare getting star billing as the first evidence of the new, improved UPAs policy determination. But whether the government would want another divisionwhich is what passing any Bill would requireon the floor of Parliament, is a good question to ask. To the extent cross-voting from non-UPA MPs helped during the trust vote, UPA political managers would not be itching for more floor tests. So the Bills can be passed, but the UPAs wish to test that proposition may not be a foregone conclusion. Big retail reform doesnt require legislation, but is a political hot potato whose temperature hasnt come down after the trust vote win. Not everyone in the Congress is comfortable about foreign retail stores. One doesnt know how the Samajwadi Party will react to such a proposal either. The one thing the UPA can do and had wanted to do but couldnt do because of the Left is small amounts of disinvestment. Selling small stakes in profitable PSUs wont probably upset anyone in the UPA and, given that the real fiscal situation is grim and there are Pay Commission recommendations to think about, theres great incentive for this policy. The government would, of course, have to assess stock market appetite for new issues before selling PSU stakes.

The fiscal deficit is one big macroeconomic problem for this government. The other is inflation. It would be silly not to recognise that the governments economic thinking concentratess on inflation the most. For a variety of reasons, all referred to and explained in these columns many times, the governments and RBIs responses to inflation has been less than brilliant. Industrial growth is already faltering and theres a high oil price, subsidised domestic price, unchecked consumption, rupee depreciation cycle that the government is unlikely to have the political guts to breakbecause subsidies have to be reducedand which makes inflation management difficult in more ways than one. So, yes, temper reform expectations.