By Arun Srivastava
Home Minister Rajnath Singh’s comment “anti-national forces can’t appreciate economic trends” betrays the acute compulsion of survival in the BJP. It also signifies a desperate attempt to distance himself from the remarks of his senior leader Yashwant Sinha. The use of the term anti-national for Sinha is indeed shocking.
While Rajnath has been quite ecstatic of the growth of the economy, the chairman of the newly-reconstituted Prime Minister’s Economic Advisory Council (PMEAC), Bibek Debroy and other members of the council, which includes Niti Aayog advisor and former finance secretary Ratan Watal, and economists Surjit Bhalla, Rathin Roy, and Ashima Goyal, have gone on record that the economy was witnessing slow down. Does Rajnath mean they are also anti national? His act can only be seen as the highest form of sycophancy.
The five-member Council was unanimous that the government shouldn’t stray from the path of fiscal consolidation, thus ruling out a fiscal stimulus to reverse the downturn. In fact, the panel has identified major priorities for accelerating economic growth over the next six months. These are employment and job creation, informal sector and integration, fiscal framework, monetary policy, public expenditure, institutions of economic governance, agriculture and animal husbandry, patterns of consumption and production, and the social sector.
It is pathetic that even after three years of Modi rule, the saffron economists have not made any serious effort to track key economic parameters, through possible mechanisms for monitoring the economy, using lead indicators and triggers for action. There is not even relevant data regarding jobs, employment and unemployment. The reason is no system was in place to carry out household surveys. The results of the previous National Sample Survey were released in 2011, and the next release is only in 2018.
Rajnath is not the only leader to condemn the critics, but he is certainly the only one to have used the term anti-national for these people. It has its own dynamics. After the outburst of Sinha the operational command against him was being managed by Amit Shah, Arun Jaitley and Modi himself. In the entire exercise Rajnath remained at the periphery. Naturally this was not to his liking. Modi aides point out that, “While claiming to be a ‘know-all’ economist, Sinha is conveniently glossing over his own disastrous performance as finance minister when he pledged India’s gold overseas. He has turned an unabashed apologist for the corrupt, inflationary, anti-poor and disastrous economic governance of the UPA.”
Just after the criticism of the government’s economic policies that was described as disastrous to the economy, the trio met without aides to take stock of the situation. Shah even skipped an important rally in Kerala, drawing ridicule from the Left and inviting scorn on social media in the southern state. The three leaders took stock of the crisis and worked out the modalities to counter the criticism. They feared that it may leave a bad impact on the rank and file.
As apprehended it had its impact. Among the first to openly question and criticise the economic policies of Modi was a senior RSS leader from Gujarat, Lalji Bhai Patel. He has been an RSS pracharak for over 50 years but has turned a rebel and is now leading a farmers’ agitation. He has floated an outfit Kisan Kranti Manch and launched an agitation to fight the misrule of the BJP government.
Warning signals have been given both by party insiders as well as the Sangh parivar on the state of discontent over the economic condition, GST and slowdown in factories. If the Reserve Bank of India is to be believed, the GDP growth rate may further go down. RBI’s Policy Committee has already made a dire prognosis, revising the valued added growth (GVA) to 6.7 per cent. However, Modi continues to be defiant. In this backdrop the question arises: who is right: Modi or the RBI?
Instead of abusing Sinha, Rajnath and Jaitley should turn to pragmatism. If they do not feel ashamed or hesitant to borrow the UPA’s much despised Economic Advisory Council (EAC) idea there is no reason for the BJP not to accept the failures publicly and amend its economic policy. On September 25 Modi constituted the EAC shedding a three-year policy of relying on loose-knit groups and reviving a formal set-up that had helped Manmohan Singh to tide over the global downturn in 2008. The “course correction” by Modi is linked to the failure of demonetisation and confusion in the implementation of GST.
Obviously, the Modi government does not have an economic policy. The economists owning allegiance to the saffron outfit have not succeeded in evolving a concrete economic policy suited the prevailing conditions in the country.
Employment prospects have been the biggest cause of worry. Apprehensions are being expressed that this may even lead to clashes amongst the job aspirants. Those loosing jobs in the urban areas are already coming back to the rural areas. This will simply aggravate the situation. The surveys undertaken by the RBI have indicated that consumer confidence was declining, business sentiment in manufacturing dipping, inflation on the rise and growth sliding. The findings are in sync with the RBI’s position in its monetary policy review on October 4, which slashed growth forecast from 7.3 per cent to 6.7 per cent for fiscal 2017-18. The general economic situation remained in the pessimistic zone for four successive quarters.
Close on the heels of Sinha tearing apart the claims of Modi of providing a new type of economic policy and defining its trajectory, the expose that Jay Shah, son of BJP chief Amit Shah, benefitted from the power of his father showed thee BJP belonged to the block of the same wood. Yashwant Sinha was absolutely right in saying “BJP has lost the high moral ground”. (IPA Service)