Across the Aisle: Truth, damned truth and statistics

We must forget past and filter memories through the prism of our individual preferences.

Written by P Chidambaram | Updated: February 8, 2015 12:31:20 am
GDP, P Chidambarm Let us not fool ourselves that a jump in the growth rate from 5.1 per cent to 6.9 per cent was a “recovery”.

Truth hurts. The UPA governments wasted the opportunity that was provided in May 2004 by the outgoing NDA government which had put the Indian economy on the growth path. The last year of the Vajpayee government, 2003-04, was the best ever — not just reckoning the years since 1947 but even going back to the last century, to the years of the East India Company, to the reign of Akbar and Ashoka, and to the time when our forefathers had discovered Pythagoras’s theorem, mastered the art of organ transplant and flew aircraft to other planets.

We must forget the past. Memories are dangerous in a democracy. We must filter memories through the prism of our individual or political preferences to create our perceptions.

Let us begin by forgetting the GDP numbers between 2004-05 and 2011-12. Let us tell the people that GDP is an imperfect measure, that growth collapsed in 2008-09, that the economy has not yet recovered, and that Achche din aanewale hain. Let us tell the people that China achieved the best growth rate during the last 10 years and that means India achieved the worst growth rate. Since India is incomparable, there is no need to bother about the other countries.

Let us forget that Lehman Brothers collapsed in September 2008 triggering what is now called the Great Recession. Bankruptcy is not an uncommon event, so what is the fuss about? Let us tell ourselves that the Great Recession was a period of growth and it was, after all, only the Great Recession and not the Great Depression of the 1930s. Yet the UPA government could record only growth rates of below 5 per cent in 2012-13 and 2013-14. (It has been since revised by a fellow called Anant to 5.1 per cent and 6.9 per cent, respectively.)

GDPLet us not fool ourselves that a jump in the growth rate from 5.1 per cent to 6.9 per cent was a “recovery”. Let us also forget that the average rate of growth during the 10 years of UPA was 7.5 per cent (or 7.7 per cent according to that fellow Anant). It was the highest decadal growth since Independence. So what? We achieved higher growth rates during the Vedic period and that was conclusively proved in a paper published at the Indian Science Congress. It will be reaffirmed in a paper that will be presented at the next Indian Mythology Congress. Anyway, 7.5 per cent or 7.7 per cent is still lower than the 7.9 per cent achieved by the NDA government in 2003-04. No matter that the former is the ten-year average and the latter is for only one year. It is easier to trumpet a solitary number than an average because people like an uncomplicated number.

Let us forget the data that shows
*that food grain production increased from 212 million tonnes in 2003-04 to 264 million tonnes in 2013-14;
*that installed capacity of power generation utilities jumped from 112,683 MW in March 2004 to 243,028 MW in March 2014;
*that tele-density rose from 7 per 100 persons in March 2004 to 75 per 100 persons in March 2014;
*that whatever be the starting point, the poverty ratio declined by at least 15 percentage points.

That fellow Anant’s data also shows that, during the UPA’s tenure, government expenditure as a percentage of GDP actually decreased. Public debt as a proportion of GDP came down from 61.1 per cent in 2003-04 to 49.4 per cent in 2013-14. The current account deficit had been contained at 1.7 per cent of GDP. The fiscal health of the country at the end of March 2014 was good, may be even robust. The share of manufacturing in GDP was 17.3 per cent and not 12.9 per cent as was believed. Mining and manufacturing were wrongly assumed to be contracting in 2013-14, while they actually grew at 5.4 per cent and 5.3 per cent, respectively. ‘Make in India’ was already underway.

Let us forget that the UPA brought new ideas to the table, such as nutrient-based subsidy for fertilisers, Aadhaar and Direct Benefit Transfer. It drew the blueprint for growth-enhancing reforms such as Goods and Services Tax and Direct Taxes Code. Let us chuckle that it did not draw on its political capital (limited by the lack of an absolute majority) to accelerate their implementation.

These are inconvenient truths and are best left in the recesses of our memory. Ignore the hack who wrote the editorial that said, “The previous government did a decent job of running the economy but a lousy one of noticing it and letting the public know.”

Let the truth remain shrouded by the froth of corruption charges. Let nothing — certainly not due process — come between ‘being called a witch’ and ‘being burned at the stake’.

Truth be damned. And statistics are lies.

It is time to give marching orders to Anant – following Avinash Chander and Sujatha Singh.

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