Readers debated our Sept. 22 report on why India is not shining as brightly as it should under Manmohan Singh. They said the prime minister lacked "a full-fledged mandate," called his cabinet "a motley crew of built-in oppositions" and in one case defended his record of "major" reforms including cuts in red tape.
Why India Isn
Your analysis of Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's failure is spot-on ("How Singh Blew India's Moment," Sept. 22). He lacks the qualities needed to lead a diverse nation of more than a billion people, a federal entity where state autonomy often becomes synonymous with encapsulated misgovernance. He is also, as many "decent" people tend to be, weak and ineffective, lacking control over his own cabinet, which includes three of the worst ministers in India's history: Arjun Singh, who epitomizes political corruption and opportunism; Shivraj Patil, the impotent home minister; and Anbumani Ramadoss, the upstart windbag from Tamil Nadu who was foisted on Singh by the elder Ramadoss, leader of a bigoted Tamil political mafia. Singh is personally honest, which is an admirable attribute in a politician, but this becomes meaningless owing to his ineffectiveness in controlling the corruption, crass indiscipline and inertia among his cabinet colleagues and the bureaucracy. But this is nothing new. In 1919, when British rule in India was at its zenith, the Montague-Chelmsford Report had described the government machinery in the country as "soulless, wooden and antediluvian."
D. S. Goel
Invercargill, New Zealand
Jeremy Kahn's assessment of Manmohan Singh's four years in the office is baffling. Singh has "blown it," he says. Then Kahn goes on to list the things that have hobbled Singh: Singh does not have a political base of his own; his party does not have a majority in the lower house of the Parliament; he needed the communists, who make up a bloc of about 60 M.P.s, and who did not allow him to implement economic reforms. Kahn says that Singh should have gotten rid of them much earlier. But that became possible only after Congress could win over another party, to retain numbers in the house. Singh still managed to push the India-U.S. nuclear deal through. His government has provided stability. His predecessor, A. B. Vajpayee, one of the most popular leaders in the history of independent India, could not overcome opposition to economic reforms—which came from within his own party. Kahn admits that Singh did not have a full-fledged mandate. How then can Kahn say Singh has "blown it"?
As the proverb says, "don't look a gift horse in the mouth." In this case, the strident growth of India's recent past has escaped the scrutiny of serious analysts. The fact that this has been the sole achievement of a huge private-sector effort and that the government has failed to play its part should be quite obvious. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and the Congress party have been rightly blamed, but you cite no solid facts or the opinions of anyone who counts. It is not clear if Singh failed to embrace sensible economics in the guise of political necessities. Agriculture is a case where there are no two political standpoints. A look at the vastly progressive Gujarat state is a lesson that in India, good economics can make good politics too. It's telling that what one state could achieve for its citizens, Congress could not manage for India.
It is unfair to blame Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for having "failed to deliver." His government comprises a motley crew with a built-in opposition by the leftists that has imposed severe constraints on various policies. The formal opposition automatically and often thoughtlessly stood in the way of important decisions. The country has a huge, burgeoning population, with the majority being poor and illiterate. They are easily misled by politicians and exploited to carry out demonstrations and destruction. The roots of corruption go very deep, resulting in the poor implementation of welfare programs. Although outstanding progress has been made in several fields, India as a whole cannot shine with the existing system of governance. An obvious solution is the creation of a government of national unity by the coming together of the two major parties, the Congress and the BJP. "Lotus in hand" is not so improbable! That would also marginalize small parties and criminal politicians. An unfettered, democratically elected government could decisively act in the best interests of all the people of the country.
Rajendra N. Srivastava
New Delhi, India
While I fully agree with the observations Jeremy Kahn makes about the failures of Manmohan Singh's government in capitalizing on the boom in India, I do not understand the common idea that reforms in the banking, insurance and pension sectors means privatization. Before concluding that the reforms have not taken place because the government controls most of the assets in these sectors, the author should have examined the major improvements that have been implemented to reduce red tape in these sectors: improved customer service, the openness of government-owned banks and insurance companies to develop and provide products that match the private-sector offerings, performance-driven management systems and automation and technological advances. In fact, a poor country like India cannot afford to have the private sector play with pension funds and then get into a mess with the market making common men penniless. We are seeing such an outcome in probably the most privatized economy, that of the United States, where the government had to bail out two mortgage-funding companies. The reforms do not become effective just because they are implemented faster and mostly through privatization. India's economy has, for the most part, shown resilience against the international crises of the past two decades because of the slow and cautious approach its government has taken in implementing reforms in various sectors. This is probably the best way for India to move further on reform.
Crisis on the European Left
Your analysis of the difficulties facing Europe's left is fascinating ("The New Low Lights on the Left," Sept. 22), but the next "major" election it faces is not the German ballot next September—it is the European Parliament election in June. Analysts expect the biggest left-wing parties to lose ground. But this is not due to the short-term impact of right-wing parties cherry-picking left-wing proposals. In truth, the triangulation strategy was imported from the United States and has been used by European parties on the left as well as the right. Tony Blair was a master at it. The real reason for the left's current decline is not tactical failure—it is strategic irrelevance. Fewer and fewer European citizens believe that closed markets, higher taxes and national ownership can raise their standard of living or make their societies fairer. Given the recent havoc in the financial markets, what is striking is that so few are calling for the kind of response traditionally favored by the left despite the fact that underregulation of those markets is in part to blame for the ongoing crisis. Socialists dominated the European Parliament until the 1999 election. Since then, they have continued to shrink. If they win less than the 27 percent of seats they claimed at the last election—which seems likely—we will see the further erosion of socialist influence on EU policy and the steady movement toward a new era in which the key ideological debate in Europe is not between left and right, but between authoritarians and liberals. It will also serve as the most reliable indicator of what's coming for the left in national elections throughout Europe over the months and years ahead.
Graham Watson, M.E.P., Leader
Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe
The European Parliament
Prudence in Exaggerating Danger
Fareed Zakaria claims that we live in "remarkably peaceful times" and urges the United States not to exaggerate the dangers it faces for fear of making strategic mistakes ("The World Isn't So Dark," Sept. 22). But the paranoia and "rhetoric about transcendent threats" that he argues against would seem to me to be warranted by much of what's going on in the world today. In that very same issue there appear articles on Pakistan's dangerous double game that could trigger a new kind of war, and possible regime collapse and chaos in North Korea. And though Zakaria means to reassure us when he states that there are very few Muslims in the world who support Islamic fundamentalists, much of that population is oppressed and terrorized by its own leaders and has no impact on its countries' policies. It appears far easier to read history and to question past policy decisions when blessed with the luxury of hindsight—see as an example Jacob Zuma of South Africa, who was once considered a corrupt thug who nearly ruined his country, but now appears as a possible savior. Even the experts, with all their experience and documented data, have been known to err, at times with tragic consequences. When faced with real-time decisions, it's far better to be prudent and on the side of what I would call "conservative paranoia."
Nina R. Cohen
Fareed Zakaria states correctly in his Sept. 22 essay that overseas threats to our country are greatly exaggerated, but he misses the point that our vast global military presence is entirely a choice, hardly necessary for national survival. After the demise of the Soviet Union, we have no natural enemies, but do create them through our actions overseas. Yet we seldom question whether having bases in so many countries is a rational thing to do. The world may need a global police force, but we fail as police by ignoring places we don't care about (Rwanda, Zimbabwe, Darfur), overreaching where it suits us (Vietnam, Iraq), and creating bitter resentments leading to attacks like 9/11. We also invite bankruptcy paying for it all.
Fareed Zakaria's world view needs a challenge. He mentions the declining support of fundamentalists in Indonesia and Pakistan. But had he ever traveled to the hinterlands of these two countries perhaps he would have visited the madrassas, where the poor send their sons to be clothed and fed and schooled in the Qur'an by mostly fundamentalist preachers. In Indonesia and Pakistan, there are thousands of these schools, which spew out graduates trained to be religious teachers and nothing else. They are unemployable because they do not have any usable vocational skills. They are the firebrands who started and continue jihadist terror tactics in the bombing, destruction and annihilation of Western targets, such as the recent bombing of the Marriott hotel in Islamabad. With worsening economic conditions, and the inability to absorb these floods of young fundamentally trained Muslims, the world should prepare itself for darker days.
I just wanted to tell NEWSWEEK thank you for introducing so many of us to Fareed Zakaria. Now that he's been a frequent guest on "The Daily Show" and the like, and has landed his own cable show, many more have taken notice of this highly intelligent, witty and—dare I say— hot young journalist. Nevertheless, it is his series of insightful, concise NEWSWEEK pieces (to which the recent "The World Isn't So Dark" was no exception) that convince me he should be not the president, but the guy who sits next to the president and tells him what to do.
Fareed Zakaria considers John McCain's view of the world too dark because compared with the cold war, "the threats we face today are reduced." I would argue they are reduced in scope but not in likelihood. The Soviets had a return address and were not suicidal. Islamic radicals don't and are. There are many who consider another attack on our shores virtually inevitable, and the post-cold-war cross-border proliferation of nuclear materials and biological agents in non-state hands is nothing to be blasé about. Also, the Soviet threat, though potentially apocalyptic, was somewhat abstract to Americans, as it had never been experienced. By contrast, the Islamist threat is very real, as we have been through it.
Theodore C. George
Fareed Zakaria states, "ever since World War II, America has tended to make its strategic missteps by exaggerating dangers," ignoring the premise that hindsight is indeed 20/20. In fact, America's (and its allies') greatest strategic misstep came from underestimating the dangers of the rising Nazi menace and Adolf Hitler. What if America and its allies had pre-emptively struck at Hitler years before war was actually declared by the Allies? How many military and civilian lives would ultimately have been saved? Additionally, how many revisionists like Zakaria would have been critical of such a pre-emptive move at the time, not knowing the needless death and destruction that would follow without it?
Scotch Plains, New Jersey
A New Hope for South Africa?
Allow me to voice my doubts about the "transformation" of Jacob Zuma ("Transforming Jacob Zuma," Sept. 22). His record so far does not encourage much optimism. Robert Mugabe made the same conciliatory noises when he became the president of Zimbabwe as Zuma now does to placate South African voters: favoring democracy, development and market forces, and recognizing the values of a multiracial society, as do so many other African presidential hopefuls. Let us not delude ourselves: under Zuma, South Africa is likely to go the same way as the rest of Africa.