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Friday, July 20, 2018

Ignore the Cassandras

The dip in India’s economic growth is a temporary blip. There is no scope for gloom.

Written by Alok Mehta | Updated: October 17, 2017 12:35:09 am
Narendra Modi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Congress, BJP, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, PM Modi, demonetisation, GST, demonetisation effect, note ban Narendra Modi, GST rates, GST filling, Arun jaitley, Yashwant Sinha, Yashwant Sinha on indian economy, Yashwant Sinha article, Yashwant Sinha on BJP, Arun Shourie, Manmohan Singh, Indian economy, jobs ins India, GST Council, World Bank, Seventh Pay Commission, Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, indian express PM Modi has taken a major political risk with these two revolutionary initiatives. The Opposition believes the BJP has been weakened and it fancies a win in the ensuing elections.

Whether you impersonate Mahabharata characters Bhishma Pitamah or Yudhishtira, or Chanakya of the Mauryan era, can you tell your army or people that “everything has been lost, the country is drowning, and, all that is left before us is bleak and dark?” In the recent past, didn’t Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi and Atal Bihari Vajpayee try to invigorate their teammates, opponents and the masses to awaken new hopes? Vajpayee, while in the Opposition, used to strongly criticise the policies of the Congress governments, but he never told the people that the country has gone into an abyss. What is wrong, then, about Prime Minister Narendra Modi trying to awaken the hopes for a better future amid disappointing situations and problems arising after stringent economic decisions like demonetisation and GST? Is it possible that the government network — and his party — did not inform him about the problems of small businesses and other segments of the society? Haven’t journalists like us forewarned about the impending difficulties at different fora? Still, Yashwant Sinha, an expert at turning around the chariot, is calling himself “Bhishma Pitamah” and vowing to make sacrifices to save the country from a situation as shameful and grave as cheerharan.

At the moment, any criticism of Sinha or Arun Shourie can be termed as prejudiced or motivated. However, I had expressed my reservations about Sinha way back in 1996 when he joined the BJP. Sinha recorded his displeasure at my comments with the top management of the publication that carried my views. We met over a cup of tea and I listened to him. I explained to him that my comments were based on his name appearing in CBI chargesheets in the Hawala scam and some incriminating information I had come across while working as the editor of another newspaper in Patna in 1990-91. The issue was set aside.

I have interviewed him when he was the finance minister and criticised some of the decisions of the governments he has been a part of. After all, he was in the Chandra Shekhar government when the national reserves were at their lowest and the government had surrendered before the World Bank. The same government also took the decision to provide fuel to US forces in India. Many of these incidents are recorded in his book. He also claimed to have prepared the document of liberal economic revolution in India, which his successor, Manmohan Singh, implemented in 1991.

The socio-economic scenario of India has changed in a big way since 1991. The difficulties for small or cottage industries also started then. At that time, I had asked then finance minister, Manmohan Singh, whether the entry of large foreign companies would create a livelihood crisis for very small entrepreneurs, like the women who make pappads and nuggets in villages and towns? Singh’s response was categorical. “They too would have to compete with multinationals,” he said.

The sinful policy framework created by this apolitical finance minister, who later became the prime minister, crippled economic activities in rural and semi-urban India. Visit states like Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and even in the Northeast and you realise that relatively expensive food and snacks items produced by MNCs have rendered very small entrepreneurs such as pappad-nugget jobless. Given this history, the criticism of Sinha-Shourie-Manmohan against the new economic measures seems sheer hypocricy.

The note ban has caused a large number of small businesses to close down, which hit hard lowly-paid workers and labourers. Poor planning by North Block has resulted in GST troubling small businessmen. However, after the facts came to the knowledge of the finance minister, Arun Jaitley and the prime minister, Narendra Modi, rules have been changed. The GST Council has amended a few rules and tried to give relief to export and consumer sectors. The decision to reduce the excise duty on petrol and diesel is also considered a step in the right direction.

No doubt, PM Modi has taken a major political risk with these two revolutionary initiatives. The Opposition believes the BJP has been weakened and it fancies a win in the ensuing elections. However, unbiased journalists wouldn’t agree with such assessments. The Modi government and the BJP have a number of wily players. Meanwhile, World Bank chief Jim Yong King, who has no vested interest in Indian politics, has said the dip in India’s growth rate is temporary and the result of under-preparedness in implementing GST. “Ultimately it would cast a positive impact over the economy. Prime Minister Modi is committed to improve the scenario as India faces a number of challenges and, like other countries, there’s a lot of scope for improvement,” he said.

Positive sentiments have been expressed by industrial bigwigs like Adi Godrej who said the economic slowdown was likely to remain for a short period and would improve soon. The slide in the IT sector is likely to change and more investment in IT and infrastructure segments would create new employment opportunities. Team Modi and BJP-run state governments should focus on the revival of small and medium scale industries. The state governments must ensure that subsidies reach the grass roots. For instance, the farmers are yet to benefit from the loan waivers. The government has implemented the recommendations of the Seventh Pay Commission, but the officials and staff have not improved their work-efficiency. The dream of a better India may be voiced by a Nehru or a Modi, but only the confidence of its people can make it economically self-dependent and powerful.

The writer is former chief editor of ‘Outlook Hindi’.

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