No one's buying the Modi-fied GDP

Dec 03, 2018, 09:11 IST | Aditya Sinha

Farmers demanded a three- week session of Parliament to discuss their issues, the two most pressing being the farm loans problem, whose repayment has driven many an unable farmer to suicide

No one's buying the Modi-fied GDP
Tamil farmers return to Chennai on Sunday after taking part in a massive protest in New Delhi. Pic/ PTI

On Thursday and Friday, one lakh farmers from around the country gathered in Delhi to raise awareness of their problems, all manifestations of the agricultural distress resulting from the boneheaded November 2016 demonetisation.

They demanded a three- week session of Parliament to discuss their issues, the two most pressing being the farm loans problem, whose repayment has driven many an unable farmer to suicide; and crop prices, where the government keeps tackling the symptom — by raising the Minimum Support Price ( MSP), applicable to 22 crops, which cures nothing, since much agricultural produce is sold in the open market, not subject to MSP — instead of the disease itself, which includes a heavily and unnecessarily regulated farm sector. ( Even crop insurance, announced with much fanfare, has turned out to be a scam that favours insurers.)

It was an impressive and peaceful gathering, despite it's under-reporting by India’s electronic media.

Indeed, these news channels were focused on matters like Ayodhya, where, on November 25, a lakh were expected in support of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad’s ( VHP) increasing pressure on the government to start construction of a Ram Temple; only 30,000 showed up. Similarly, with the 26th anniversary of the Babri Masjid demolition around the corner, the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh ( RSS) organised a Sankalp Yatra in Delhi on Saturday, but less than a 100 people turned up. Now ask yourself whether the agricultural crisis or the Ram Temple ought to be prioritised by the government. The answer depends on December 11, when the votes to the five Assembly elections are counted.

Instead, this flailing government spends time not on creative solutions to the approaching global economic slowdown — trade barriers and interest rates are going up, while the big economies are expected to cool down — but on cooking its numbers.

In 2015, the government introduced a new method of calculating the country’s Gross Domestic Product ( GDP), which showed the country under Prime Minister Narendra Modi growing at over seven per cent, the highest of big economies in the world. The new method meant a recalculation of GDP numbers when Dr Manmohan Singh was PM. In July, that ‘ back series’ was provisionally calculated, and it turned out that growth touched double digits under Dr Singh, so the government immediately withdrew those numbers.

The final numbers emerged last week, showing that the Modi years produced higher growth than the Manmohan Singh years. Though this did not sync with various markers — for instance, cars sales grew 13.8 per cent from 2004- 2012, but only 1.1 per cent during the Modi years — it was fiercely defended by the Niti Aayog. ( Who knows what the Aayog’s members truly feel, given that former Chief Economic Advisor Arvind Subramanian, after two years of service to Modi, last week called demonetisation a “ massive draconian monetary shock”. Yes, he’s an opportunist, given that his book is publishing this month, but such opportunism characterises the members of this administration.) Ironically, during this controversy ( and while the foremost economic journals in the world were laughing at us), the latest quarter’s GDP dropped to 6.1 per cent. So much for acche din.

No wonder, then, that Modi typically chose not to bravely face the farmers, for he knew that bragging about how his GDP had been better than that under Manmohan Singh was not going to impress anyone, especially not farmers who got a Rs 60,000- crore loan waiver 10 years ago. As Arun Shourie said, this government does not know how to manage the economy, so it manages headlines instead, and that’s what the new GDP ‘ back series’ is meant for.

Instead, Modi fled Delhi and hightailed it to Argentina to attend the G- 20 summit and inflict on the world another of his puerile acronyms ( in this case, JAI, for Japan- America- India).

One of the alarming aspects of this summit was how Modi, among other blowhard strongmen, happily stood for a photo- op with Saudi crown prince Mohd bin Salman, who has been accused by his closest allies and the rest of the world of murdering a Saudi journalist in his country’s mission in Istanbul, Turkey, in September. Perhaps Modi supports this. After all, it is the followers of Modi who murdered journalist Gauri Lankesh a year earlier.

And while the two media- hating strongmen held hands, news emerged of how a journalist in Manipur was arrested for a Facebook post, in which he called his state chief minister Modi’s “ puppet”. He was arrested under the National Security Act, of all things. The court gave him bail, but the state administration promptly re-arrested him.

It’s a wonder that neither the farmers nor Arvind Subramanian were arrested under the NSA, since their opinions also amount to criticism of Modi. For nowadays, to ask about the much- promised but elusive achhe din is a threat to national security.

Modi would rather flaunt cooked- up GDP numbers in Argentina than face debt-ridden farmers who are unlikely to believe his claims of achhe din No wonder that Modi typically chose not to bravely face the farmers, for he knew that bragging about how his GDP had been better than that under Manmohan Singh was not going to impress anyone, especially not farmers who got a Rs 60,000- crore loan waiver 10 years ago

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 mailbag@ mid-day. com

The views expressed in this column are the individual’s and don’t represent those of the paper

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