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Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Fifth Column: No boom, just gloom

The Modi government must prepare for an endless non-cooperation movement and get on with the task of governance.

Written by Tavleen Singh | Updated: December 20, 2015 12:16:02 am
arvind kejriwal, narendra modi, pm modi, modi, modi foreign tour, modi's foreign visit, modi, modi us tour Prime Minister Narendra Modi and AAP chief Arvind Kejriwal.

Not a week has gone by in recent months when shrieks of “resign, resign, resign” have not risen from our opposition parties. When Parliament is in session, the shrieks get more frenetic and bizarre. Last week we heard in the Rajya Sabha that there was an “undeclared state of Emergency” in the country. And outside Parliament, the Chief Minister of Delhi called the Prime Minister a “psychopath”. He added the charge that a bureaucrat in his office was being investigated only because he had files proving that the Finance Minister presided over corrupt practices in Delhi’s cricketing board. More cries of “resign, resign, resign” rent Delhi’s polluted air. By the time you read this, if the Gandhis succeed in rallying the troops, there will be further hysterics to accompany their appearance in court.

The Modi government must prepare for an endless non-cooperation movement. And get on with the task of governance. There is much that needs urgent attention, of which rebuilding the economy is the most urgent of all. Unless it becomes genuinely easier to do business, there is no chance of domestic investment picking up, and unless this happens, there is no chance of one million new jobs being created every month. Instead of confronting this grim truth, the Prime Minister appears to have lulled himself into a sense of false security. It’s great that Japan is going to help build a bullet train and terrific that India is supposedly growing faster than any other country, but as someone who remembers the atmosphere of the last boom, I can confirm that there is no boom happening yet.

There is gloom. And mixed signals from the government do not help. You cannot ask Indian investors to take risks and begin investing if you announce that anyone spending more than Rs 2 lakh in a shop needs to produce a PAN card. You cannot entrust your search for ‘black money’ to tax officials who are famously corrupt. Ironically the only Indians with real black money are politicians. Almost everyone else is only guilty of evading taxes on hard-earned money. Only politicians and government employees get mysteriously rich without showing how their wealth was earned.

My point is that it is time that the Prime Minister called his economic ministers to a private meeting and read them a tough sermon. He needs to ask many questions. Where are the jobs being created? How many stalled projects have started working again? How much infrastructure has been built since he became Prime Minister? How much have the Railways improved? And finally, if taxpayers are losing Rs 52 crore a day because of losses made by 53 companies, then why are we not talking of privatisation yet? Figures reported in The Times of India last week indicate that Air India and BSNL are bleeding most. For a Prime Minister who campaigned on the slogan that it was not “the government’s business to do business”, why has he not yet considered selling at least Air India?

As for making the investment climate better, let him consult just his own loyal supporter Baba Ramdev, who now heads a rapidly growing business empire. In a recent interview, this yoga guru said if the government cannot help entrepreneurs like him, let it at least learn to not obstruct them. All kinds of obstruction continue, which is why no more than a handful of jobs have been created in the private sector since Modi took charge. As a Gujarati who likes to say “I have money running in my veins”, he needs to start getting very worried about the economic failures he has presided over. Land laws and GST are far from being the only reforms needed. Huge improvements in basic governance need to be made, and if we want jobs to be created in the services sector, then major improvements will need to be made in school education and healthcare. These are state subjects, but can BJP chief ministers not be guided towards better policies?

The point I am making is that if the economy and governance had really improved, then no amount of hysteria from the Opposition parties would make the smallest difference. It is because there is a general sense of economic gloom instead of the hoped for economic boom that there is enough resonance for people to be seriously worried. Every time I write about economic issues in this column, I get trolls on social media telling me that I have no idea about such things and should just shut up. But the truth is that the biggest political problem at the moment in India is the economy, so as someone who thinks of myself as a responsible political columnist, I would fail in my duty if I did not point out that there are gloomy days ahead.

@ tavleen_singh

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