A nation-wide strike in India has highlighted the difficulties in pushing through reforms in an era of fractious coalition politics despite the clamour for decisive action from business leaders.
The opposition as well as the ruling Congress coalition's biggest ally, the regional Trinamool Congress, have denounced the government's plans for a blitz of market-opening measures as a crushing attack on the poor.
The firestorm marks the latest political battle faced by the government since it was elected in 2004, with even minor policy changes such as hiking fares on the country's dilapidated rail system becoming major points of contention.
"India is a populous country with populist slogans — people fall for populist slogans. It is easy for politicians to say reforms are anti-poor," political analyst Subhash Agrawal, head of think-tank India Focus, told AFP.
Singh used to be hailed as India's "economic liberator" for igniting the fuse for faster growth by embracing freer markets when he was finance minister in 1991 and the economy was in the midst of crisis.
But his stint as prime minister has disappointed investors who had hoped for a second generation of liberalisation steps — something largely absent until last week when his government announced a slew of changes.
Foreign direct investment is to be allowed in the retail, aviation and broadcasting sectors, privatisations will resume, and steps have been taken to cut deficit-bloating subsidies on diesel and gas.
Analysts say Singh and more importantly his boss, Congress's pro-poor party president Sonia Gandhi, appeared to have been convinced such steps were necessary to improve the country's bleak economic outlook, analysts say.
India's deteriorating growth, ballooning fiscal deficit along with the threat of losing its investment grade status "all played a role in forcing the hand of authorities," said Credit Suisse economist Robert Prior-Wandesforde.
"It's a shame that the government waited so long to take action, but, as is often the case in India, it requires near crisis conditions before anything is done," he said.
But Singh's gamble could hasten elections, now due in 2014, as the powerful Trinamool party led by the mercurial Mamata Banerjee has said it will exit the ruling coalition, leaving the government in a minority.
"We have a sea of populist, totally opportunist parties," B.G. Verghese of India's Centre for Policy Research, a policy think-tank, told AFP.
On page two... India subjected to the vagaries of coalition politics