Things now seem to be more or less set for the constituent assembly elections with the promulgation of the interim constitution, formation of the interim legislature and commencement of UN monitoring of the arms and the armies. The next logical step will be the formation of a new interim government, including the Maoists. While the peace process is moving along pretty well on the political front, there is also a pressing need to move ahead briskly along the economic path. The country which has already lost so much time and opportunity over the last decades cannot afford to lose any more of them. So the SPA and the Maoists should not accord lower priority to economic issues, saying these will be addressed by the elected government.
During the transition period, the parties will perforce have to agree on a minimum economic agenda. Indeed, it is necessary to work out a common minimum programme to address the problems of governance in all the important areas. Here, the Maoists should shed, at least shelve, some of their predilections, so should the other parties. This process will involve a lot of bargaining to satisfy all. Finance minister Dr Ram Sharan Mahat on January 15 called for a common economic agenda based on political consensus. This implies that the economic policies of the present government, including the current national budget, may need mid-stream revisions to accommodate some of the Maoists’ priorities.
The interim government will have a short life — of two years at the most. After that, the elected one will fashion its own economic policy and programmes. This makes it incumbent on the interim parliament and the interim government to focus unexceptionally on short-term policy and programmes. In this light, the idea of even a three-year development plan floated by the vice chairman of the National Planning Commission will be taking too long a view of the future and will hence be irrelevant. The government will be well advised to act on a yearly basis. Besides, the political parties need to display pragmatism, going beyond their so-called ideological compulsions when it comes to supplying inputs to the economic policy. The Maoists will face a severe test on this count as the general people as well as domestic and foreign investors think that the Maoist economic policy is unclear. With considerable progress on peacemaking, the country’s economic sector is witnessing increased activity, and foreign investors are waiting in the wings to come in with huge investment in various sectors, including hydropower development. This upbeat mood should be sustained. There is no alternative to a market economy, but its ills have to be minimised through enlightened government measures for building a level playing field. Transparency, accountability, protection of the interests of the weak and the needy, and an effective check on unscrupulous economic conduct should be the hallmarks of the economic behaviour from now onwards..