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Money doesn’t grow on trees hence reforms, says Indian PM

(Agencies) / 22 September 2012

NEW DELHI — India needs reforms in the national interest and “hard decisions” will be pursued with people’s support, despite political opposition. This was the message a resolute Prime Minister Manmohan Singh sent out on Friday, barely hours after the Trinamool Congress withdrew from his 40-month-old government reducing it to a minority.

“No government wants to impose burdens on the common man,” Manmohan Singh said, seeking to reach out directly to the people and explaining to them the rationale behind “some important economic policy decisions” taken in recent days, harsh as they may seem.

“The time has come for hard decisions. For this I need your trust, your understanding and your cooperation,” he pleaded in a rare televised address to the nation at prime time on public broadcaster Doordarshan.

The address came shortly after all six Trinamool Congress ministers — the second largest party in the UPA — resigned from the government and withdrew the support of its 19 Lok Sabha members to the ruling coalition, three days after it said it was quitting the alliance over its latest round of reforms which it said were “anti-poor”.

Railway Minister Mukul Roy and five ministers of state called on the prime minister and handed over their resignations. The meeting barely lasted five minutes. They later went and submitted a letter to President Pranab Mukherjee withdrawing support to the UPA.

These developments have a defnite impact on the life of the UPA-II, which technically has 20 months more to go before the next national elections.

But Manmohan Singh, aware of the political fallout of these decisions, said he needed the support of every fellow citizen to put India “back on the path of high and inclusive growth.”

“Please do not be misled by those who want to confuse you by spreading fear and false information. The same tactics were adopted in 1991. They did not succeed then. They will not succeed now.

“I have full faith in the wisdom of the people of India,” he said.

In a series of reformist decisions, that was reminiscent of the liberalisation programme initiated by Manmohan Singh the finance minister in 1991 when he opened up the economy, the government last week allowed foreign equity in multi-brand retailing, further eased the norms on single-brand retailing and the broadcast sectors and permitted foreign airlines to pick stakes in domestic carriers.

These decisions, which came just a day after a go-ahead to oil marketing companies to raise prices of diesel and limit the subsidy on cooking gas to six cylinders per year, did not go down well with other parties, including a key ally, the Trinamool Congress.

This led to opposition parties staging a nationwide protest on Thursday, with the leaders the of Left Front and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) — otherwise at opposite ends of the political spectrum over their ideologies — even sharing a common platform.

But the UPA, with strong backing from the Congress party leadership, not just stuck to its guns but cocked a snook at the opposition by notifying the reforms and making them operational. With West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee-led Trinamool Congress, that has 19 members in the 545-seat Lok Sabha, keeping her promise of walking out of the UPA, it was left with an effective strength of 254 members, short of the mid-way mark of 273.

But it is counting on the support of Mulayam Singh Yadav’s Samajwadi Party with 22 members, Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party with 21 members and Lalu Prasad’s Rashtriya Janata Dal with four.

Mulayam Singh Yadav told journalists that, though his party was not in the UPA, they would support the government from outside “to keep the BJP out of power.” His party had however supported the opposition-sponsored nationwide shutdown against the recent measures.

With presumed support of both the main parties of Uttar Pradesh, the UPA’s numerical strength in the Lok Sabha should rise to 301, not counting some of the nine independent members.

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