Rebranding India: The BJP Way. Enough said.
No customary pleasantries required. You must be feeling proud of what you’ve achieved in the last two years.
When you came into power, I hoped that your election manifesto — would be like any other election manifesto — one that remains on paper. I liked to think of it as your market segmentation strategy (I am not using the more apt phrase ‘Divide and Rule’ as it brings unpleasant thoughts). You managed to convince many unsuspecting friends of mine that the communal allegations against you are false. To make things easier for you, the Congress Party had become toothless — partly due to your effort to stall the Parliament and partly due to their own undoing. Amidst all this, I was hoping against hope that all the polarization gimmicks would end with your election to power.
I just don’t like what I am seeing now and I cannot un-see them. You can feel it everywhere. I am very disappointed with you, B. J. P, for what you are doing to the idea of India (no, I did not use the word hate — I don’t want to give you a reason to charge me with hate-speech or sedition — whatever that means). A corrupt government was more tolerable than an intolerant communal government. 3 more years to tolerate, and I hope you and your ideology will never resurface again. I hope that the other parties, whoever they are, will become powerful enough to fight you. I hope the people will learn not to trust you again with control over the lives of more than one billion people.
You have made good use of this power. You have managed to add prestige to your party — using tax payers money. You have erected magnificent statues and there seems to be no end to the process. You now have great leaders to boast of, even though they will be turning in their graves if they knew the brand their great names you are associating them with. You have access to new channels of communication with the public — after all, the entire HRD ministry is with you. You can amend the entire education system at will — we gave you control over that too. You have the Vivekananda Foundation, the saffron think tank, advising you on important policy matters. The intellectuals over there will surely know the best way to remove the other two colours and the Chakra from our National Flag. It does seem like being intolerant is the new trend for country head. As Obama said, Indo-US partnership will be one of the defining partnerships in the 21st century. IF Donald Trump gets elected, it cannot be truer.
It does seem that the world is also conspiring you to do well — the oil prices, a major headache for long, have plummeted giving you ample resources to invest in nation building. And you have done that very well indeed.
You have come up with new slogans. Minimum Government — in market, not lives. You care deeply about what we speak and eat and interfere very little with what we do. Free and Open Markets — not minds. Open minded government? Common’ you are expecting too much from a bunch of elected people with a well documented ideology.
You have launched the NITI Aayog after doing away with the Planning Commission — even though oxford dictionary would mark them as synonyms. It is consistent with your policy of re-branding India, and hence, not surprising. You have got very good economists advising you in NITI Aayog. They have been very clear in their strategy — focus on economic growth first and once that is achieved, use it to finance health and education. Arvind Panagariya, a pro-free market economist from University of Columbia and the present head of NITI Aayog, has been vocal supporter of the ‘Gujarat Model of Development’ even while several argue that such a model is non-existent. At the same time, as a true free market economist, he also happens to believe that the Kerala experience of development has nothing to do with the left leaning policies of the state which focused on inclusive education and healthcare. No wonder you showed Amartya Sen the door and welcomed Panagariya in.
It is therefore not surprising to see the strategy adopted by your government. Social development has been second priority. The first is industrial policy and promotion. You have been pampering business houses, giving those poor fellows much needed sops to grow until they become ‘too big to fail’. I wonder whose money will be used to do bail them out when that happens? While 97% of budgeted amount — the highest percentage — was spent on Industry Policy and Promotion, less than 50% was spent on Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation, healthcare (Ayush) and Panchayati Raj (2015 statistics). The social sector expenditures were cut by a huge margin in your last years budget despite having more resources at disposal owing to falling oil prices.
You have got the priorities wrong here. Your focus is solely on driving economic growth. You forget that economic growth is not the outcome. While the economy will grow, for the benefits of the growth to reach the bottom tiers of the society, investment in social infrastructure is mandatory. Invest in people and make them smart. The places they live in will become smart too.
This present focus on economic growth and efficiency will be detrimental from a long term perspective. In the absence of quality social infrastructure in the form of education and healthcare, the poor sections of the society cannot make use of these opportunities that you are giving them. You are indirectly driving them out of the economy while accumulating the riches accrued from economic growth at the top tiers of the economy. Net result is an increase in economic inequality as witnessed in many nations that have adopted such a policy. It is important that you invest in social infrastructure — even if it means coping up with some amount of economic inefficiency in the short term. In case you didn’t notice, economic inequality has been rising in the country. And since the government has not yet considered it important to study on the more important ‘social mobility’, it escapes criticism on that front. I urge you to redefine your priorities.
Your efforts to remove archaic laws and regulatory barriers is a welcome move. But I caution you not to focus on the Ease of Doing Business Rankings. Low ranking in Ease of Doing Business (EoDB) need not necessarily imply presence of unnecessary government regulations. A high rank in EoDB could also imply that a country does not have even the necessary regulations in place. Since it is a (forced) ranking, even after doing away with all unnecessary procedures and laws, a country could still end up with a very low rank in EoDB. Thus, focus on doing away with unnecessary regulations — irrespective of the EoDB rank. Absence of necessary regulations could invite a repeat of 2008 crisis. It is important that in your quest of minimum government you do not make the government noticeable by its absence in areas where it is required.
Oh, by the way, the Scandinavian countries which boast of the world’s happiest people, the world’s most developed regions while also being ranked in the top 10 in all parameters one can conceive of — Ease of Doing Business, Economic Freedom Index, Happiness Index, Economic Equality and social mobility — has one of the largest governments in the government. Decreasing public expenditure, or decreasing the size of the government is not what you should be doing. I suggest that you ignore Panagariya’s free-market philosophy which looks at economic growth as the outcome with scant regard for equity. The size of the government should be the least of your concern.
What is important is whether the government is where the people want it to be, whether the voices of the minority are amplified enough to reach the ears of the government, whether the rights of the citizens are protected and whether the interests of the nation are upheld. For all these to happen, you must know what India needs. But then, do you know what ‘India’ is — in the first place? Well. I got it wrong here. I should be asking — do you know what India was.
Disclaimer: None. I own my views.