Aditya Sinha: India's Mr 10 Per Cent, says Manmohan
The Modi govt's GDP calculations have made Manmohan Singh look like a wizard, but is it enough for India to give him a second chance?
Economists agree that to become a middle-income country, India needs its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) to grow over 10 per cent, so that hundreds of millions of people are lifted out of poverty as happened in China (the World Bank says China's poverty rate was 88 per cent in 1981 and came down to 6.5 per cent in 2012). Despite the economic reforms by Atal Behari Vajpayee's government and the consolidation during Manmohan Singh's first term, India's GDP growth had not hit double digits.
Narendra Modi, always looking for self-burnishing, changed the base year of GDP growth calculation; and while his economic management has not produced double-digit growth — it hovers stubbornly around seven per cent — it has made the UPA look good, with double-digit growth of 10.08 per cent in 2006-07. We can argue endlessly about why growth stumbled during the UPA years — was it the 2008 global economic crisis and finance minister Pranab Mukherjee's inept response; or was it Congress president Sonia Gandhi's electoral compulsions to spur consumption by reducing excise rates and waiving farmers' debt of R60,000 crore which led to unsustainable fiscal deficit expansion — but one thing is clear: Dr Manmohan Singh looks a whole lot better than when Modi pushed him out of office.
Over the weekend, I was tempted to write that in the next parliamentary election the Congress ought to roll Dr Singh out again and tell everyone that it was he who put money in your pockets. Make him PM once again. In theory, it makes sense because party president Rahul Gandhi still hasn't attained the critical mass of public opinion. It is an uphill climb, even though Rahul recently did a brave and unprecedented thing: he became the first political leader ever to name an industrialist, Anil Ambani, in a corruption case, Modi's single-handed renegotiation of the Rafale fighter aircraft. Even VP Singh never mentioned the Hinduja brothers, the London-based industrialists, while he campaigned on the single platform of the Bofors howitzer gun deal corruption, which brought down Rahul's father, Rajiv Gandhi.
Rahul has spoken uncomfortable truths earlier: in 2010 he was the first politician to talk of Punjab's drug problem. The political class ignored it until the lead-up to the 2017 state assembly election — the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) nearly captured Punjab because they highlighted this issue; it was thwarted by the ruling Akali Dal-BJP coalition who, faced with certain defeat, threw their lot in with the Congress to prevent, under any circumstance, the AAP from coming to power. In September 2013, in the run-up to 2014 parliamentary election, Rahul became famous for tearing up the ordinance that saved convicted legislators from disqualification. He called it "nonsense". Rahul was roundly condemned for disrespecting Dr Singh, though in hindsight disrespect was hardly the issue: Modi showed that the main issue was corruption, and Rahul showed he wanted to rid politics of it.
These days, Rahul relentlessly raises the Rafale deal allegations. Other opposition leaders are conspicuous by their silence, and the craven media, bullied into submission by Modi, tries to bury the story somewhere unnoticeable to the common person. Perhaps Rahul has been one step ahead of the zeitgeist. So why not bring Dr Singh out again? He's not too old, considering Mahathir Mohamad at 93 became PM of Malaysia again in May. The problem is the perception of corruption of the UPA-2 years, of which Modi shrewdly keeps reminding voters. This perception remains even though the Supreme Court in 2017 threw out the charges against the DMK's Kanimozhi and A Raja in the 2G spectrum case, and reallocated the coal mines. It is also suspicious that Vinod Rai, the Controller and Auditor General (CAG) who pronounced eye-popping monies in these scams, has humbly accepted all manner of sinecures, facilitated by a grateful Modi government, after he retired from his Constitutional position. Yet the perception persists.
Recent surveys in the media show that Modi's prospects in the next parliamentary election recede with each passing day. However, they also tell us with certainty that the election will turn on Modi himself. Voters around the country will ask themselves whether or not they want Modi back. Their supplementary question to themselves will then be: if we don't want Modi back, who will take his place? In these doubts, Dr Singh would possibly come up short. Perhaps that's why Rahul has been projecting former Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot wherever and whenever he can. To me, this is tragic. History, even when re-written by a desperate Modi, has been kind to Dr Singh, something he had predicted but did not expect so soon. History has already shown us that Manmohan Singh was the only PM capable of the double-digit growth India needs on a sustained basis to stop being a poor country.
Aditya Sinha's latest book, The Spy Chronicles: RAW, ISI and the Illusion of Peace, co-written with AS Dulat and Asad Durrani, is available now. He tweets @autumnshade Send your feedback to email@example.com
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