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PM Singh’s Support for Reform Splits India’s Government

Mamata Banerjee, who some people call India’s Sarah Palin, jumped on Facebook today to exhort her loyal followers to rally in Delhi next week in protest of India’s recent economic reforms. Mamata is new to the opposition, having withdrawn her party’s ministers from the governing coalition late last week.

As chief minister of West Bengal and the head of the Trinamool Congress, Mamata was a member of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s coalition until Friday. She has passionately resisted Singh’s proposed economic reforms in the past, like the contentious question of whether to allow foreign investment in India’s multi-brand retail outfits or to reign in costly fuel subsidies. Last week the government passed changes to both the subsidies program and multi-brand retail, prompting Mamata and her party to quit. At a rally on Friday she thundered:

Your shops will be no more, your land will be no more and you will have no food to eat. Moreover, they have also increased the prices of diesel and LPG (cooking gas). What will you people do? Will you accept all these or give a befitting reply? […]

If you try to scare me, I will not get afraid. Because my life is a history of struggle. I will live like a tiger till my death. I can sever ties with every thing for Ma, Mati and Manush [mother, land and people], but cannot sever tie with them for anything.

Plenty of powerful Indian officials and ministers oppose economic reforms like the ones passed last week, yet Prime Minister Singh and his allies, joined by international investors, say they are essential for India’s economy to mature and keep pace with China. Unfortunately, nothing is easy in a sluggish democracy like India’s. Divisive economic reforms that make everyday essentials like cooking gas more expensive and threaten local shops are deeply unpopular across the country and among politicians like Mamata.

Prime Minister Singh now finds himself in a difficult position. Without his allies from the Trinamool Congress, his governing coalition is weak. Popular opinion is against the reforms he pushed through last week. With Mamata gathering steam for a big rally in Delhi next week, things could get tougher still.

And thus India’s journey along the difficult road to a strong and reliable economy remains as bumpy as ever. Thus also do populist politicians wreck the future of the voters they claim to help.

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