Will the Modi government take the criticisms raised by former prime minister Manmohan Sangh in the right spirit? Indications from the ruling party do not augur well on that score. What we see once again here is the usual response to either ignore or oppose.
Manmohan Singh alleges that the economic recession that has started tightening its noose around the country is the result of actions by Modi government. The charge is being rejected by finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman, in whose opinion there is no economic recession at all in the country. Even when the Reserve Bank, Niti Ayog deputy chairman and several other economists express the same concerns with the backing of figures, the government is rejecting them all. The government spokespersons think that once they admit the existence of economic recession, they will have to own up to its responsibility. But the first step to any problem solving is to recognize that there is a problem. And it is a also a marked quality of leadership to accept reality – however unsavoury that is.
It is in this context that Manmohan Singh demands that the government should be prepared to set aside vindictive politics, take the opinion of wise minds and tide over the crisis of the economy. The country is facing acute crisis in all sectors including agriculture and industry. National income is falling, job opportunities are shrinking, and with a tense situation prevailing in the country as in Kashmir and Assam, foreign investors are deserting. Even as outward pronouncements were made about making the country's economy a 5 trillion $ behemoth, attempt was made to lay hands on the surplus reserve of the Reserve Bank in a big way. If one should say that there is no crisis in spite of all this, it should be that much a result of ignorance, or a fond wish that the people could be misled. Both of these are harmful to the country.
Given this, one cannot blame those who conclude that lack of knowledge coupled with contempt to those have become the hallmarks of our ruling leadership. The chief qualification of those entrusted with key portfolios is not expertise or efficiency in the relative discipline. Even when the prime minister said that the competition is between Harvard and hard work, he was implicitly saying that when there is hard work, knowledge deficit is not an issue. Modi, who stressed during his Independence Day speech that what the country needed was wealth-creators, is not trying to help farmers or small scale entrepreneurs through rescue packages. And through the new 'revolution' of bank mergers, one can only hope to see more centraization, not operational efficiency. More than the poverty faced by 19.4 crore Indians, what disturbs the government is a few 'innocent rich' who fell into debt due to their own inefficiency. The nava ratna and platinum grade public sector undertakings have come to the list of losing firms. When indices like GDP and poverty line warn that the economy is falling, the authorities skillfully find a 'solution' by altering the methods of calculation.
Raghuram Rajan, who tried to employ his expertise in the running of the Reserve Bank, had to quit once he got fed up. Although he delivered a list of high ticket loan defaulters, as part of attempts to correct the bleeding of banks' capital, there was no action. And the note-ban, which he had opposed, was introduced with tall claims. The price the country had to pay for both of these was huge. And since no expertise or planning is required for the zeal of the novice, plans after plans were announced. Noen of the yielded any results. Had initiatives like Make in India, Digital India, Skill India, Start-up India produced any results, the country would have made major strides. But the right planning and execution were missing. Now, new slogan-drive lists like 'Fit India' have started coming out. If the note-ban was an example of economic ignorance, the Goods & Services Tax (GST) became an example of faulty planning. And now fake currency abounds; digital transactions are as scarce as before. The net balance is the hardship and loss from note-ban. Currently, GST is also becoming another tragedy.
If Modi and his coterie become willing to recognize that economy is not something subservient to the rationale of mob politics, that would be the first sign of the country saving itself. An atmosphere of conflict and lynching will only kill economic energy. And hence the call of former prime minister Manmohan Singh to the current government to eschew politics of vengeance and to focus on economy. India has the capacity to show its strength. But, that demends a leadership with sincere intention and wisdom.