Former prime minister and eminent economist Manmohan Singh broke long his silence recently to make an anguished appeal and request the ruling dispensation to shed its ‘vendetta politics’ and reach out to all the sane voices and thinking minds to pull the country out of the ‘man-made crisis’ it is facing now.
He described the state of the economy as ‘deeply worrying’ and the near-zero percent growth in the manufacturing sector, and the decline in the farming activity were causes for grave concern, especially as the country has not fully recovered from the ‘blunders of demonetisation and the hasty implemented GST.’ He pointed out that the last quarter’s growth rate of 5 percent signalled that ‘we are in the midst of a prolonged slowdown.’ The all-round mismanagement of the Modi government, he deduced, has brought us to the slowdown phase.
The demographic dividend of the youth, farm hands, small entrepreneurs and the marginalised sections, all deserve a better deal than what has been served to them. ‘India cannot afford to continue down this path. Therefore, I urge the government to put aside vendetta politics, and reach out to all, to steer our economy out of this man-made crisis,’ he appealed. Moreover it ‘is particularly distressing that the manufacturing sector’s growth is tottering’. Projecting a grim picture of depressed demand and consumption, lower tax revenues, job losses in the formal and informal sector, negative investor sentiment and tax terrorism, he criticised the government for eroding the autonomy of the independent institutions and even credibility of government data.
He cautioned that the Centre’s appropriation of Rs. 1.76 lakh crore from the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) reserves will test the resilience of the central bank. A former RBI Governor himself, he said with this record transfer not only the very credibility of India’s data has come under question. Budget announcements and rollbacks have shaken the confidence of international investors and India has not been able to increase its exports to seize the opportunities arisen in global trade due to geopolitical realignments.
He claimed that the low inflation figures ‘showcased’ by the Modi government have come at the cost of farmers. ‘Rural India is in terrible shape. Farmers are not receiving adequate prices and rural incomes have declined. The low inflation rate the government likes to showcase comes at the cost of our farmers and their incomes, by inflicting misery on over 50% of the population.’
Piling up the litany of misadventures and rashness of the Modi Government, he said, ‘The government’s policies are resulting in massive jobless growth. More than 3.5 lakh jobs have been lost in the automobile sector alone. There will similarly be large scale job losses in the informal sector, hurting our most vulnerable workers.’
These attacks coming as they do after his long silence seemed to have been perfectly timed with a reported slow GDP growth rate of 5 percent for the first quarter of this fiscal, with sharp deceleration in manufacturing output and subdued farm sector activity.
The government, predictably, was quick to rebuff these charges, saying it does not subscribe to his analysis. India has now become the world's fifth largest economy from 11th during this time, the Information and Broadcast Minister Prakash Javadekar said. Amid the economic growth slowing to over six-year low of 5 per cent in the first quarter of the current fiscal, he said the government was not looking at the economy in a piecemeal manner. ‘What we are doing is, being a responsive government, addressing the issues and we have seen this process in GST also. The GST Council met every month and took relevant decisions and it is now fine-tuned. So that is the way how the people-friendly government works and that is how we are working.’
Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman’s slew of measures to boost liquidity in the NBFC sector, to push economic growth, and the merging of 10 public sector banks into four to catalyse credit, necessary for making India a 5 trillion dollar economy are all steps in this direction.
Manmohan Singh’s comments seemed to have been perfectly timed on the heels of the filing of cases against P. Chidambaram and the Karnataka leader Shivkumar and their being subsequently taken into custody, and hence the reference to vendetta politics. Graft charges and CBI raids against political leaders always have an element of vendetta, of getting even with the adversary and that is nothing new.
All this has also come at a time when there is some deep introspection going on among Congress leaders in the light of the vacuum at the top and the party’s recent electoral losses. This is also what has prompted some leaders like Shashi Tharoor and Jairam Ramesh to call a halt to the constant demonising of the prime minister. It is time credit is given where it is due, which is how civilised discourses are carried out, they have opined. This sane advice had not gone well with some in the leadership and there have even been calls to pull them up for such anti-party activities.‘The role of a Congress lawmaker is to oppose the BJP policies and not to glorify Modi,’ said the convenor of the Congress-led UDF in Kerala. Another leader, in a letter to the interim Congress chief Sonia Gandhi, asked her to rein in leaders glorifying Modi. Tharoor was prompt to react saying he stood by his remarks. ‘It didn't mean I support Modi,’ he said.
Jairam Ramesh said at a function in Delhi that the Prime Minister’s governance model is not a ‘complete negative story’ and not recognising his work and demonising him all the time is not going to help.
It is time we recognise Modi’s work and what he did between 2014 and 2019 due to which he was voted back by over ‘30 per cent of the electorate’, Ramesh pointed out. ‘He [Modi] talks in a language that connects him with the people. Unless we recognise that he is doing things which people recognise and which have not been done in the past, we are not going to be able to confront this guy,’ he said. ‘Also, if you are going to demonise him all the time, you are not going to be able to confront him,’ he cautioned. He gave the example of the Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana (PMUJ) and how successful it turned out for him.
‘In 2019, all of us made fun of one or two of his programmes, but it has turned out in all electoral studies that the PMUJ is one single program which has been able to connect him with crores of women and given him the political traction which he didn’t have in 2014,’ Ramesh said. ‘Now if we are going to run this down and say this is all hocus-pocus and say these are wrong numbers, we are not going to confront this guy.’
Joining this bandwagon was another colleague, Abhishek Manu Singhvi, who said ‘demonising the Prime Minister is wrong’ and actions should be judged ‘issue-wise, and not person-wise’.‘I have always said demonising Modi is wrong. Not only is he the PM of the nation, a one way opposition actually helps him. Acts are always good, bad and indifferent — they must be judged issue wise and not person wise. Certainly, Ujjawala scheme is only one amongst other good deeds.’
‘I have argued for six years now that Modi should be praised whenever he says or does the right thing, which would add credibility to our criticisms whenever he errs. I welcome others in opposition coming around to a view for which I was excoriated,’ said Tharoor.
These remarks have come after the party witnessed a difference of opinion recently when many leaders went against the party line to support the Central government’s decision to abrogate Article 370 and bifurcate Jammu and Kashmir and make them Union Territories.
Now that the national elections are behind us it would do much good if the ruling party and the opposition Congress, that has a 130-year pedigree behind, settler down to some constructive dialogue and tackle the many daunting problems that the country faces. They can also chalk out their plans for the next five years, ten years and also for a quarter century and not get bogged down in the minutiae of small things, leaving these to the media that lives from moment to moment and report from ‘ground zero’ of the ‘blood bath at Dalal Street.’
The facts and views expressed in the article are those of the writer.