The citizen’s real questions

Statistics and facts give the lie to P. Chidambaram’s ‘anecdotal evidence’ and stray remarks. If inflation had not fallen, and corruption continued, they would have figured at the top of his column.

Written by M J Akbar | Published: June 2, 2015 12:14:33 am
P Chidambaram, narendra modi, inflation, congress, bjp, food inflation, indian economy, bjp government, modi government, Chidambaram, M.J. Akbar column, indian express column P Chidambaram

Statistics and facts give the lie to P. Chidambaram’s ‘anecdotal evidence’ and stray remarks. If inflation had not fallen, and corruption continued, they would have figured at the top of his column

Average is not a term one easily associates with lawyer, politician and columnist P. Chidambaram. Whether you agree or disagree with him, he certainly has a brain far above average, family pedigree, substantial inheritance, an extremely lucrative profession and a political career that has made him home as well as finance minister. There is nothing average by any conventional parameter.

Perhaps this is why Chidambaram struck such a continuous series of false notes when he tried to disguise himself as an average citizen in his last column for this newspaper (‘Letter to the Prime Minister’, IE, June 1).

The first question that a genuinely average Indian would ask any prime minister of India would be about inflation, forcefully supported by the overwhelming 600 million living below or far below the median. Eighty Indians out of 100 worry about the cost of food; cost is the difference between comfort and subsistence. When Chidambaram was finance minister in April 2014, food inflation was 9.89 per cent; it has slumped to 5.36 per cent in 2014-15, when Arun Jaitley has replaced him and Narendra Modi is PM. Take basics: rice has dipped from plus 12.76 per cent to minus 0.04 per cent. Potatoes have come down from a soaring 33.01 per cent to minus 41.14 per cent on an April-to-April gauge. WPI inflation for April this year is actually minus 2.65 per cent. These statistics may not mean much to the well fed; they mean the earth to everyone else.

The second question from average India is about corruption. There has not been a single case of corruption during Narendra Modi’s year in office, in contrast to the torrent of sleaze and crony capitalism during the UPA decade. The average Indian wants to know why Chidambaram, as finance minister, was the author of zero-loss theories in massive scams, when the same spectrum and coal mines have delivered over Rs 300,000 crore to the public exchequer in just one year of a Modi government. The average Indian wants to know whether Chidambaram’s son was a direct beneficiary in a telecom deal, and why lobbyists were able to influence his government into appointing A. Raja as minister in charge of telecom (I hope you recall the Radia tapes). The average citizen wants to know why Chidambaram, as home minister, bugged the office of his senior colleague, Pranab Mukherjee, in the infamous chewing gum incident. The average citizen wants to know why Chidambaram manipulated figures to hide the truth about the fiscal deficit during his tenure, and slashed disbursements to social-sector departments.

You can lay a safe bet that if inflation had not fallen and corruption continued, they would have figured at the top of Chidambaram’s fudge-and-false-analogy column.

There is a reason why he never uses statistics, just “anecdotal evidence” and stray remarks. Statistical evidence would destroy his case, and every lawyer evades facts when they deflate his argument.

He says that he was told by a relative, a small businessman, that banks are loath to give loans. I don’t know how small the business is, but if it is small enough, the relative can check with Mudra Bank. This has been set up by Modi to help those running small businesses, like vegetable vendors. Why did Chidambaram never think of such a bank? Possibly because small for him means at least 100 crore.

Private projects are stalled, Chidambaram complains. When were they stalled? This year? Or when Chidambaram was FM? In 2013-14, stalled projects constituted 8.3 per cent of the GDP. In one year of the Modi government, this has come down to 6.9 per cent. FDI was $20,766 million during 2013-2014; it has shot up to $28,813 million. Indian companies raised Rs 29,381 crore in private equity when Chidambaram was FM; they have raised Rs 56,801 crore in 2014-15. When Chidambaram was in charge, the Index of Industrial Production (IIP) growth was minus 0.1 per cent [you read that correctly; it was negative]. This has climbed to 2.8 per cent in 2014-15. The former FM is frightened of facts.

The average citizen wants electricity, yet another subject missing from the bogey list. The average Indian wants power for bulbs, not air conditioners. Transmission lines have expanded from 16,743 km in 2013-14 to 22,101 km in the past year. Capacity addition has risen by 27 per cent, from 17,769 MW to 22,566 MW. Coal production has improved from 462 MT to 494 MT. There has been as much as 46 per cent growth in rural roads under the PM’s Gram Sadak Yojana. This means jobs for the poorest of the poor. Tourism is up by 8 per cent, which means earnings for the service sector, which supplies the most jobs. The 100 new cities will mean jobs, and more jobs, for those who need it most, as infrastructure is the biggest creator of employment. One could go on.

I am pleased, however, that Chidambaram did mention the case of a young Muslim in Mumbai who was denied a job because of his religion. Surely, it cannot be Chidambaram’s case that this is the first incident of its kind? Discrimination was rife under six decades of Congress dominance, as was the detention of Muslim youth against whom the police could not even muster a charge. But there is a difference. I admire the courage and confidence of this Mumbai youth. He put the facts out in the open. He was not a victim of fear. He is a child of a changing India. Equally, a dozen companies immediately offered him a job, yet another sign of change. This young man, rationally, selected the best offer. Where did the offer come from? The Adani group. Who are the Adanis? According to Chidambaram’s leader Rahul Gandhi, the Adanis are close to Narendra Modi. I cannot vouch for this, for such queries are far above my paygrade. But Rahul Gandhi says that the Adanis are supporters of Modi, a leader who promises development for all, and jobs for all — including Muslims.

There are two political parties whose support comes mainly, although not entirely, from minorities. Both Mufti Mohammad Sayeed’s PDP and Parkash Singh Badal’s Akali Dal are in alliance with the BJP. Have Mufti and Badal become allies because they think the PM is anti-minority? Do Mufti and Badal need lessons from Chidambaram on the welfare of Muslims and Sikhs? Let me tell you what the average citizen is asking. He is asking about Chidambaram’s complicity in the massacre of Muslims in Hashimpura in Uttar Pradesh when he was Union minister for internal security and there was a Congress government in Lucknow. He is asking Chidambaram about Batla House. He is asking why Chidambaram stopped the disbursement of allocated funds for the welfare of minority districts.

The average Indian lives with his feet on the ground, not on a podium of vested interests.

The writer is national spokesperson of the BJP

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