Monday, July 18, 2011

In defence of the UPA.....

Everyone’s bashing up the UPA. Most of the comments I get on my blog are against the UPA government. Today, it’s fashionable to bash up politicians. It’s fashionable to bash up the ruling government. It’s fashionable to bash up bureaucrats. This is the season for bash-up. Very seldom however have I found people actually understanding issues before launching their tirades against the government. It’s all emotions and biased opinions. That’s why all that energy goes wasted. We are angry about what’s going on all around us and that anger has colored our perception. We see what we want to see. It’s a self fulfiling prophesy.

Let us see how many of us.....and how many media outlets..... applaud the deal struck yesterday between the Center, Mamata and the Gorkhas. We will choose to quietly ignore the significance of a deal which has eluded the region for several decades. The people who may get prominence will be the Left party leaders who have been unable to think imaginatively about this problem for so long.....and who will definitely have something to complain about in this deal. But then screaming and complaining leaders always make for a better story. Who wants to read about happy things.....that would go counter to our present mood? We keep complaining that the PM does not speak up. This was proven yet again was not the PM but the Home Minister who represented the Central government in the signing of the accord? If it had been a dyed-in-the-wool politician PM, he would have rushed to grab all the TV footage. We know this PM is different. He likes to stay behind the glare of media publicity. Should we complain about it or take it as his personal style. Is poor oratory a sign of weakness? We tend to confuse a person’s aggressiveness on TV with his strength. We simply cannot understand that silent people can – and most likely are – stronger than those who yap yap yap all the time. Why do you think the popular phrase “Barking dogs seldom bite” comes around? In the case of the PM, his bark is silent, but his bite is not that bad. Here’s a contrary example. Advani is such a good orator....a fiery one at that. Why could he never become the PM in the first place? That honor was reserved for a much less aggressive Vajpayee. Vajpayee was also a terrific orator. Why then did he not win the elections again in 2004? So are we barking (why do we have so many phrases connected with barking?!) up the wrong tree here?

Since its unfashionable to defend the Congress or the PM, let me preface this defence of the party by clarifying that everyone deserves a good defence. Even Kasab gets a reasonably good defence. So why not the PM and the UPA?

I think that UPA’s and the PM’s track record on economic achievement needs to be highlighted. Since 2004, we have had the fasted growth this country has seen since its independence. We’ve averaged some 8.4% per annum (this is real of inflation. In nominal terms, the growth is some 15-17% per annum). There has been a fairly good distribution of this wealth, and much as the Left may not believe it, rural salaries have actually risen significantly. Swaminathan S Anklesaria Aiyar mentioned in a recent story of his that rural agricultural salaries have risen by 100% in the last three years in Andhra Pradesh and in most other states, by 60% or more. Another story in the papers yesterday (quoting NSSO data) shows that both rural and urban spends have risen significantly in the last10 years in real terms (taking inflation out). The NREGA is a scheme that may be poorly administered (with lots of leakages) but it has started showing results. Why do you think there is such a shortage of agricultural workers in states like Punjab? Bihari labor simply dont want to go out of their states now that they are getting work back at home. Of course, the Nitish Kumar government can also take credit for this. Look at the initiative of putting Nandan Nilekani behind a visionary project like the UID. We don’t see the results yet, but they will be stunning. If all Indians could eventually be covered, it would help put subsidies for fuel and food in the right hands (eliminating corruption in the process; raising the standards of living of the poor) and it could also eliminate crime.....after all, if we have fingerprinted and retina-scanned all Indians, the criminal is bound to be identified by the trails he leaves behind. And this would help deter future criminals. Our exports are booming. In the first quarter of this year, they were up 40% over last year. Is this not the government’s achievement?

Let’s be fair to the government. If we pan them for their mistakes, let’s give them credit where its due. The huge growth in telecom that we are all so proud about.....who should take credit for that? Sure, there have been process violations and corruption, but how big is it really? So far, all that has been even alleged by CBI (under direct supervision of the Supreme Court, I might add) is a corruption case of Rs 200 crores against Raja. Even this one has not been proved yet. (The CAG’s report was commented on policy. By the same token the govt subsidy of kerosene and LPG also amounts to corruption because the government loses money there). So if we blame the government for the mess, why don’t we give them credit for the much bigger achievement – the telecom revolution that they oversaw? Could the corruption have been avoided? You bet it could have been and should have been. And let’s pan the government for that. But let’s do it in a measured and mature way. Most of the people that I see on TV shows come from either an emotional platform (with no solutions to offer) or a political one (with an obvious agenda). What about the growth in our IT and BPO business....the one that got in our first glory globally? Did that happen in a policy vacuum? People may not remember but the government had provided a tax holiday for the industry which made it so strong in the first place. Apart from several other initiatives.

So the UPA’s economic successes cannot be belittled, just because they have floundered recently. Let’s look at the NDA rule for a comparison. The average GDP growth rate between 1999 and 2004 was just 5.8% (compared to 8.4% under UPA rule since then). And by the way, in the 5-years of Congress rule before 1999 also, the average GDP growth rate was higher at 6.7%. We talk about the success that is Gujarat and attribute its stellar performance to Mr Narendra Modi. For the record, the GDP growth of Gujarat under Modi has indeed been an impressive 14% or so per annum.....but hold your breath, the growth in the 10 years of Congress rule before Modi was also some 12% per annum. The marginal increase seen in Gujarat since Modi took over has been seen all over India. It cannot be attributed to Modi. Cannot believe it? Just check out the numbers. In reality, it is the people of Gujarat who should be credited.....not Modi. Modi is extremely popular in Gujarat but not for reasons of economic growth. The perception outside Gujarat is of course that Modi is the champion of Gujarat’s growth story, not least because he himself has projected it that way.

The fashionable thing for opponents of the UPA to say is that GDP growth is not everything. Of course it is not. It’s the same philosophical belief that middle class people often tell themselves. Money is not everything. But everyknows in his/her heart that without money, there is no meaning to life. There is no freedom. There is no status in society. There is no decent education. There is no future. In the same way, for a poor country like us, my belief is that GDP growth (but accompanied by good distribution across classes of people) should be the single most important focus area for the country. We can solve the many other problems that face us – corruption for example – along the way, but no matter what happens, we cannot stop the engines of growth. And that’s exactly what has happened of late.

Unfortunately, all the politics of the last year is conspiring to put a stop to the economic growth. The GDP growth is slowing down. Inflation is up (largely due to global factors). Interest rates are being increased all the time. The government is so wary of any action that it prefers to take none. A right-wing party like the BJP (on economic affairs) prefers to oppose economic reforms that it would otherwise support, with no consideration to its impact is on the country. Unfortunately, we the people of India are not realizing the consequences of all this. The ones who will be hurt the most by another slowdown are the most underprivileged. The ones who are looking for getting out of poverty. We owe it to them to keep the engines of economic growth chugging along.

The real truth is that we are being drowned in the sea of politics. We need to lighten up a bit on the politics. We need to ask the government tough questions on the economy, not only on the politics. Just like we penalize the government for corruption, we must applaud it for good work done. Everyone knows.....motivation helps improve performance. Cribbing and complaining all the time serves only the political interests of some parties. It’s a trap and we should realize it.

No comments:

Post a Comment