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Mainstream, VOL LV No 42 New Delhi October 7, 2017

Of Courtiers and Court-jesters

Monday 9 October 2017

by Barun Das Gupta

Yashwant Sinha was the country’s Finance Minister in the Union Cabinet headed by Atal Behari Vajpayee. So when he says something about the Indian economy and Modi Government’s economic policies, it has to be taken seriously, because he is not talking through his hat. What he says cannot be dismissed with a shrug of the shoulders. His recent article ‘I Need to Speak Up Now’ in The Indian Express on what can only be called Modinomics, has set the proverbial cat among the BJP pigeons.

He has not only questioned the logic and wisdom of Modinomics being implemented by Finance Minister Arun Jaitley. He has gone a step ahead and claimed that “I am also convinced that what I am going to say reflects the sentiments of a large number of people in the BJP and elsewhere who are not speaking up out of fear.” In other words, he has accused the Modi Government of creating such an atmosphere of fear that the BJP people themselves are afraid of opening their mouth. So much about Modi and his loyal band’s professed commitment to democracy and free speech.

Home Minister Rajnath Singh, who is not known to be a great economist, refuted Yashwant’s criticism by claiming that “the whole world admits that India is the fastest growing economy in the world. No one should forget this fact.” What he forgot in his over-enthusiasm to please his boss is that economists are now saying that India’s growth rate has slowed down considerably. Let us recall what Yashwant Sinha had actually said:

“So, what is the picture of the Indian economy today? Private investment has shrunk as never before in two decades, industrial production has all but collapsed, agriculture is in distress, construction industry, a big employer of the work force, is in the doldrums, the rest of the service sector is also in the slow lane, exports have dwindled, sector after sector of the economy is in distress, demonetisation has proved to be an unmitigated economic disaster, a badly conceived and poorly implemented GST has played havoc with businesses and sunk many of them and countless millions have lost their jobs with hardly any new opportunities coming the way of the new entrants to the labour market.”

Neither Rajnath Singh nor the lesser luminaries in the BJP have dared to refute Yashwant’s charges point by point, with incontestable facts and figures. The fact is that the government is now trying desperately to hide the fact of the fall in the growth rate. Yashwant has pricked the NDA Government’s balloon of economic ‘growth’. Says he: “And please note that the methodology for calculation of the GDP was changed by the present government in 2015 as a result of which the growth rate recorded earlier increased statistically by over 200 basis points on an annual basis. So, according to the old method of calculation, the growth rate of 5.7 per cent is actually 3.7 per cent or less.”

In other words, the growth rate being touted now is a pure statistical jugglery. It is the same type of jugglery that the Planning Commission once used to resort to under its Deputy Chairman, Montek Singh Ahluwalia. He could put any percentage of people above or below the poverty level at will with just one stroke of his pen by changing the definition of poverty.

Arun Jaitley, while trying to rebut Yashwant’s charges, recalled that the BJP veteran, L.K. Advani, whom Modi has forced into political retirement, once told him “to focus on issues rather than persons”. “I have tried to follow it,” Jaitley claimed. But he contradicted his own claim when he made a sarcastic personal attack on Yashwant, calling him “a job applicant at 80”, insinuating that Yashwant’s criticism of Jaitley’s economic policies is out of personal animus because he (Yashwant) wanted to become the Finance Minister but did not get the coveted post.

Obviously, it is hard for the Prime Minister and his colleagues and courtiers to stomach Yashwant’s comment on the illusory growth rate. Yashwant had to be refuted. And who should be pressed into service for this job? Well, who else but his own son, Jayant Sinha, who is a Minister of State in the Modi Cabinet? The son has dutifully done his duty by joining issue with his father openly, without subtracting an iota from the force of facts and arguments adduced by his father.

Not to be left behind, Railway Minister Piyush Goyal also chimed in. He refuted the statement of Yashwant Sinha that the Indian economy is on a downward spiral. He asserted: “India has become the world’s fastest growing economy for three years in a row under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.”

Former Finance Minister Yashwant Sinha has hauled the present Finance Minister, Arun Jaitley, over the coals. Before Jaitley takes up the cudgel against Sinha on his boss’ behalf, he may be reminded of something he himself said not long ago, of course not about his own party but about the Congress and its leadership which means the Gandhis.

Talking about the National Emergency declared by Indira Gandhi in 1975 and how she and the Congress party deluded themselves into believing that the country supported it, Jaitley said: “A dictatorial regime is often misled by its own propaganda. It becomes consumer of its own propaganda with nobody else believing it. It [the Indira Government] misled itself to believe that the people were in support of the dictatorship.”

Was Arun Jaitley subconsciously thinking about himself and those whose company he keeps? Such collective self-delusion is natural, however, when the emperor loves to be surrounded by his courtiers and court-jesters who tell him just what he wants to hear. The emperor does not know, because nobody has dared to tell him, that he is without his clothes and the people know it. Yashwant Sinha’s statement that he sought an interview with the Prime Minister about a year ago but this was never granted, tells which people the PM does not want to meet.

One last question. Yashwant Sinha has alluded to people in his own party, the BJP, who are “afraid of opening their mouth”. But, eventually, under the relentless force of circumstances and of the stark reality staring them in the face, when the fearful overcome their fear and speak out, what will happen to the garden where everything seems so cosy and lovely now? Where will today’s retinue of fawning favour-seekers, courtiers and court-jesters be?

The author was a correspondent of The Hindu in Assam. He also worked in Patriot, Compass (Bengali), Mainstream. A veteran journalist, he comes from a Gandhian family and was intimately associated with the RCPI leader, Pannalal Das Gupta.

ISSN : 0542-1462 / RNI No. : 7064/62