No roll back now; Yashwant Sinha chooses to bite the bullet
An investment banker friend in US asked me the other day for an inside out view of the TV news media in India. To sum up the sentiment, I blurted out that nuisance was the new nuance driving the prime time discourse.
Yes, indeed, our choice of top newsmakers makes for an interesting reading. It is a convenient journey from Rampal to Ram Rahim at one end of the spectrum to the ‘king of good times’ to the ‘queen of good times’ (read Honeypreet).
So, it has come as a pleasant surprise that in the ‘galaxy of stars’, an octogenarian politician has made a mark as the top news maker.
Oddly, this news maker has made the grade today, making a bold statement on the ‘dismal’ state of the economy.
Accordingly, the stupid boring dreary business of statistics and counter statistics is fast shaping up the prime time agenda.
The immediate trigger is not either the alleged collapse of the economy or the claimed sprouts of green shoots but a public no holds barred political onslaught launched by an unofficial member of the Margdarshak Mandal against the Finance minister.
It is, therefore, the politics of economics rather the academics of economics that has found fancy of the Honey drained television newsroom managers.
Yashwant Sinha Riot Act
There is unlikely a roll back here. For the man of the moment has cast his net wide and timed it perfectly to win an automatic support of those that loathed him in yesteryears for his own performance as custodian of the North Block.
So, while the focus remains firmly on the economy, the real story is about the internal politics of the party that not only rules India today but aims to take a confident shot for another term in 2019.
The roll back finance minister’s diatribe isn’t as much about failing economy as it is about pinning the blame on the top serving leadership that has sentenced him to the oblivion.
For a man of his experience and stature, the urge ‘to speak now’ is obviously not to prescribe a new medicine for economic ailment but to make a grand political statement singling out Arun Jaitley as the main villain. He has no love lost though for the Prime Minister.
Sinha, whose son presides over a key economic ministry in the NDA government and earlier served as Jaitley’s junior, is keen to show the mirror as if he is settling a personal score using economic data as the ammunition to shoot down a perceived enemy.
Politics of Economics
The quarrel here isn’t with either Sinha’s expression or his intended targets. Obviously, he leaves no stone unturned to name and shame Jaitley and his boss.
His articulation has expectedly found an immediate resonance with the finance minister in the UPA government P Chidambaram losing no time to lend credibility to the public attack.
The surround and amplification has worked to perfection perching Yashwant Sinha to the number one slot in the hierarchy of the newsmakers. So he makes waves for not offering a solution rather than giving a diagnosis of what he sees as an ailment.
The ruling dispensation, of which Sinha is yet a part, will have to make a choice between deep devil and deep sea. It is easier to dismiss a Subramanian Swamy on his economic pronouncements but rather difficult to disregard either Sinha or his views as the rant of an octogenarian crying for attention.
F(u)tility of the Margdarshak Mandal
To be fair to Sinha (in fact the entire Marg Darshak Mandal), civility and a nuanced support has marked their stint during the last three years. This is the first formal outburst on a macro issue against the establishment, which at least on paper is supposed to seek guidance from the elder advisory club at BJP. Nothing of that sort has happened during the last three years. The Mandal has been un-gainfully parked as a durable decoration.
Will Sinha get an endorsement from within the Mandal with veterans like L K Advani? This is critical to plot the first ever formal challenge to Modi’s hitherto undisputed leadership? That again might well depend upon how Modi and Jaitely respond to Sinha’s dismal assessment of them. Prime Minister and Jaitley can’t though merely wish away the attack.
As politics takes centre stage again, what is crystal clear is that economy will continue to get at best a cosmetic maker over. The ailment can get worse or self correct post the fading away of the twin attack of demonetization and GST. Or, else, the economy can actually show up. There are definite positive signs and the truth about how good or bad the economy today is in the grey rather than in the black and white.
Nuance over Nuisance
It is the grey matter of observing and administering the real economy that makes it daunting not just for economists, policy makers and politicians but also for celebrity anchors who conveniently seek and embrace the comfort of dabbling in politics of it all.
And as Yashwant Sinha, the former finance and external minister, makes the grade as the top trending newsmaker, he has to thank his Marg Darshak title to draw in the arc lights. He sure knows what will work and that is why perhaps he hasn’t rolled back to his days at North Block in his urge to address the nation.
Tweet @ Rakesh Khar