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Development goes awry and pushes the economy downhill

The Indian economy has slowed down considerably. Small and medium businesses are shutting down, unemployment has risen steeply, social tensions are deepening. There is no resolution in sight to these and other problems. Instead they seem to be becoming more complex. Pankaj Bisht analyses the state of the economy

In the third week of September, a new phrase in Gujarati language surfaced on Facebook – “Vikas gando thayee gayo che” (Development has gone mad). Such a phrase could have been coined nowhere except in Gujarat, for the state has been bearing the brunt of “development” for the past three decades. It is no use asking who has benefited from “Vibrant Gujarat”. Coincidentally, Prime Minister Narendra Modi laid the foundation stone for the Rs 1 lakh-crore (1 trillion) bullet train project – a major part of which is in Gujarat – just when this phrase was doing the rounds in social media. Japanese technology and our capital! It is no secret that if the Indian Railways are running, the credit does not go to the efficiency of its staffers or to the political leadership but only to “Ram”. In 2016-17 alone, 193 people were killed in 66 train accidents. The bullet train project in Japan was not initiated with a bhoomipujan. Yet, the bullet trains there have not met with a single accident in 53 years.

A demonstration against demonetization

Before we proceed further, we need to remember that Modi had told the people of poll-bound Gujarat that the Rs 88000-crore (Rs 880 billion) loan being provided by Japan for the project would attract an interest of only Rs 0.01 per cent per annum. Waving his hands in the air – a style typical to Modi – he explained that the loan was virtually interest-free. He, however, did not divulge that things were not as simple as he was making them out to be. Japan is a developed country, with an inflation rate close to zero. On the other hand, India is a developing country with an annual inflation rate hovering around three per cent. Thus, over the next two decades, the value of rupee would fall by almost 60 per cent, swelling the Rs 88,000-crore loan to Rs 1,50,000 crore (Rs 1.5 trillion), even at the interest rate of 0.01 per cent. You can just imagine what the amount would be 30 years from now. Another fact that deserves notice is that trains travelling at superfast speeds have not been profitable in any part of the world. The reason is the high capital cost involved. The Ahmedabad-Mumbai bullet train would be financially viable only if 100,000 passengers use it every day. Estimates suggest that given the high price of tickets, this figure is unlikely to exceed 18,000. Last but not the least, if Japan was so keen to help India, why did it not extend this loan for overhauling our dilapidated railway system. The reason is simple: there are no takers for its bullet train technology.

In the present scenario in India, anyone saying that politics is not a gamble will draw only sneers. Given the unpredictability of elections in a democratic setup, it would be only natural to conclude that the possibility of the unlikeliest candidate grabbing power can never be ruled out. But monarchy is definitely not a gamble. Those in the know of things are not surprised that the “achievements” of the three-year rule of the BJP-led NDA government have become a millstone around its neck. The prime gambled with demonetization last November to win the elections in Uttar Pradesh. It is now proving to be a boomerang – a weapon native to Australia, which, if used by a novice, could bounce back to kill its launcher.

One problem with Modi is that his team is overflowing with great “talents” whose only qualification is that they talk big (Satyapal Singh and Alphons Kannanthanam are the latest additions to Modi’s Navratnas). They know that the Vedas and the Puranas can help us fly aircraft, travel to distant planets and perform in-vitro fertilization. They look for formulae in cow urine and in the Himalayas for making humans immortal. They claim that ancient India had weapons much more lethal than the present-day atomic missiles. Clearly, they are trying to hide their ignorance and stupidity by invoking the Puranas and religion.

Businessmen take to the streets against the BJP and its implementation of Goods and Services Tax (GST)

Even if we ignore Modi’s claim that plastic surgery was performed on Ganesha, his shallow comments like “Harvard versus hard work” – aimed at making a virtue out of his lack of education and knowledge – only expose his intellectual debauchery. But that was election time and promising the moon comes naturally to Indian politicians during polls [recall the biggest “jumla” (a hollow statement) of the 21st century: “Rs 16 lakhs in the bank account of every Indian”]. But by now, Modi must have realized that he has dug himself into a hole by making fun of Dr Manmohan Singh.

Copernicus was burnt alive and Galileo was threatened into submission. But that did not change the truth and 400 years later, the Church had to concede that it was wrong. The semi-literate and the uneducated, donning the cloak of religion, have always refused to accept the truth. This has been happening from time immemorial. However, by the 19th century, the developed countries had freed themselves from this vice. But we, in India, are increasingly getting sucked into it. At an individual level, it is a pointer to an inferiority complex. See this against the backdrop of the fact that it is doubtful whether Modi is even a graduate, let alone a postgraduate.

Now, something about “hard work”. Where does the Indian economy stand ten months after demonetization? What had Manmohan Singh said? Only that demonetization “would cause a drop of two percentage points in GDP” and that “this is an underestimate, not an overestimate”. He had described note ban as an “organized loot and legalized plunder”. He has been proved right to a T. The GDP growth rate, which was 7.9 per cent in the first quarter of the last fiscal year, fell to 5.7 per cent in the first quarter of fiscal year 2017-18. If 99 per cent of the demonetized currency notes are back in the vaults of the banks, what became of the black money? Or should we accept the contention of the Congress that the black money has turned white?

Trade has come to a virtual standstill. Investment is at its lowest. Lack of demand is bound to lead to a drop in production – and it has. The economic growth rate has fallen from 8.6 per cent to 3.5 per cent in Modi’s regime. The jobs scene is appalling. According to estimates, from December last year to April this year, around 15 lakh jobs were lost. The GST, which was touted as the panacea for all ills plaguing the Indian economy, has proved the proverbial last straw that broke the camel’s back. It was implemented in a tearing hurry and has broken the back of small traders. For whose benefit or under whose pressure was the GST regime introduced? Clearly, it was to boost the profits of mega corporate houses and MNCs and to make things convenient for them. It must not be forgotten that the finance minister of this government has opened up the entire economy – barring retail trade – to FDI. But the economy continues to go downhill faster and faster. The way, this hard-working government (We are told our prime minister’s working day extends to 18 hours) has ruined a sound and growing economy is shocking to say the least. In the words of Yashwant Sinha, finance minister in the Cabinet led by prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and a senior BJP leader, “… sector after sector of the economy is in distress, demonetization has proved to be an unmitigated economic disaster, a badly conceived and poorly implemented GST has played havoc with businesses …” (‘I need to speak up now’, The Indian Express, 27 September 2017).

But the BJP ministers, parroting Amit Shah’s “jumla”, are saying that the slowdown is due to technical reasons. Let someone ask them what they mean by “technical reasons”. Isn’t modern economy entirely technical? It is not the semi-literate’s cup of tea.

A helpless farmer

Modi Government has failed on all fronts. But it is trying to cover itself in glory by claiming that there are no graft charges against its functionaries. What about Nadda and his ilk enjoying the patronage of the current regime? Why an honest officer like Sanjeev Chaturvedi could not find a place in the government? Why was Adani so terrified by an article published in Economic and Political Weekly that he pressured the trustees of the magazine to sack the editor? The article exposed the close relations between Modi and Adani. If this government is as squeaky clean as it claims to be, why didn’t it order a probe into what the article claimed. As Sinha has written in his above-quoted article, “Instilling fear in the minds of the people is the name of the new game”. The recent CBI and Income Tax raids are enough evidence to prove that Sinha is right. The way newspapers like The Times of India and Hindustan Times are changing not only their news but also their editors at the behest of the government also proves that the ruling dispensation intends to use fear as an instrument for consolidating its hold on power.

The question is, why is “Vikas Purush” proving to be a “Mandi Purush”? Had he not spruced up Gujarat? The fact is that Gujarat is not even one-third of the size of Uttar Pradesh. India is much, much larger. What can be done in Gujarat cannot be replicated in a country like India with its huge size and bewildering diversity, although it is also true that communal polarization and caste-based repression had worsened in Gujarat when Modi was chief minister of the state. As for the social sector, suffice it to say that Gujarat has the highest girl-child malnourishment rate in the county. If the capital from all over the world was invested in Gujarat, why the Patidars, one of the biggest admirers of the BJP, are clamouring for reservations? The Patidars dominate the agricultural, business and industrial sectors of the state. Clearly, the private sector has failed to generate employment.

Modi has been taking the credit for the Sardar Sarovar Dam project on the Narmada River. On his birthday, Modi announced that the project has been fully implemented. How is it then that 30,000 km-long canals, which were to carry the Narmada waters to Saurashtra, north Gujarat and Kutch, are yet to be constructed? These are official figures, mind you – and this when the target has been slashed from the original 48,000 km. Secondly, is it not true that the Narmada water is benefiting south Gujarat, which already had enough water, the most? Interestingly, south Gujarat is the most prosperous and politically dominant region of the state.

The Modi government’s failures on the economic front are serious and debilitating. They are the outcome of Modi’s inexperience, short-sighted economic and political policies, overconfidence and narcissism and of course, his good-for-nothing team. The way the Government of India had to bow to China on the Doklam issue was shameful. Kashmir, where the BJP is a part of the government, continues to be on the boil. Leave aside foreign affairs, the miseries of the people are bound to multiply due to the government’s disastrous economic policies.

From September this year, murmurs of dissent against Modi started becoming audible even within the BJP. Uma Bharati, who was about to be dropped from the ministry citing health reasons, was retained after she threatened to revolt, though she was assigned a different department. She accepted the new assignment under protest. An MP was next. He said that the leadership does not listen to the MPs. And before the month ended, Yashwant Sinha came out with his explosive article. Clearly, the rumours of discontent within the BJP are proving to be true.

There is one sinister aspect of all this, which needs to be kept in mind. A politically weak and failed Modi may, as a last resort, fan communalism and social tension in the country. Combating it would be a big challenge.

This article was the editorial piece of the October 2017 issue of Samyantar. It has been republished here with the permission of the author.   

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About The Author

Pankaj Bisht

Pankaj Bisht is the editor of the Hindi monthly ‘Samyantar’. He is also an acclaimed novelist. He has held key editorial roles in the Department of Publications, Government of India. He was editor and assistant editor (English), ‘Aajkal’ and ‘Yojana’, respectively, both of which are magazines published by the department. He was a correspondent and an assistant news editor with All India Radio. Bisht is also a former editor of ‘Akashwani’ magazine. He has been a scriptwriter for the Indian government’s films division

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