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The cake must be bigger to be sufficient for all
While it is true that India has made significant progress but it is also a fact that social discontent is on the rise. Prime Minister Modi has the acumen and charisma to create societal dialogue
The 71st year of independence bgan with the call by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to eradicate corruption, poverty, terrorism, casteism, communalism and to create a ‘new’ India. This is significant to re-shape the contours of
the Indian society and the economy. However, such calls have been there since independence. It is true that the nation has made progress. Standards of living have improved. In the 1970s, even the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi said so. But it is also true that disparity has also increased.
It is a fact that social discontent, though it may not be strife, is on the rise. Else, on August 9, on August kranti day, Mumbai would not have witnessed a silent rally by lakhs of Marathas. Yes, clannish, casteist protests of supposedly powerful social groups like the Patidars in Gujarat, Jats in Haryana, Gurjars in Rajasthan, farmers and other communities across the country have become the norm. They all are demanding jobs, reservations, loan-waivers and other concessions.
This, despite a functional Government since 2014. The Narendra Modi Government has instilled hopes and flooded the nation with a number of programmes such as, skill India, Pradhan Mantri Mudra Yojana, Make in India and others for almost every different group.
Modi’s August 9 call is significant. He wants to transform the nation. Accumulated problems, burgeoning population, scarce resources, vast expanse of the country come in the way.
So, would the nation’s wish to change in another five years remain a dream? It should not be so. But wishes alone cannot be the horses. Why during the last decades the nation could not achieve what it wanted? The answer is the countrymen achieved it in piecemeal. Some got it and many did not. Why? The Government could not bake a cake that is big and sufficient for all. Those who could pounce upon got a slice or more, others just lustily pined for it.
As they did not get, they got together in the name of cast, community, and other groups to express their discontent.
Socialistic slogans like, licence-permit raj, high taxes that rob the earners, neglect of agriculture and it being treated separately from the economic process, big industries, planning commission turning to Niti Aayog, liberalisation, globalisation, anti-China protests have not helped.
The cake has remained small. Equity remains elusive. High earners are dissatisfied at the taxes as the lowest one who also shells out as high as him. India has not tried to get rid of its impoverishing income tax — an average-salaried person loses four to five months’ wages. Higher tax collection (19 per cent more direct tax now) has not added to the pace of growth. And the Government cribs that production is slowing down. How can production go up if people have to pay irrational taxes and continuously face an inflationary situation? Except for 1998-2004, India rarely had a stable price regime or real low inflation with adequate productivity and high job growth.
Despite difficulties, India is awake and making strides almost in all spheres. Its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in 1950 was Rs 10,536 crore and this year it increased by Rs 1.4 lakh crore.
The First Plan, a concept first espoused by Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose in 1938, when he was the president of the Congress after the Haripura Congress Session and later implemented by Jawaharlal Nehru as Prime Minister, was considered to be revolutionary. It helped the nation achieve success in space technology, nuclear energy, industrialisation, information technology, education, women’s emancipation and overall improvement in living conditions.
In 1947 life expectancy was 32, now it is 68. Per capita income of Rs 249.6 has become Rs 1.03 lakh ($1575), and in terms of GDP India ranks third after China and the US. In 1947 only 1,500 villages, 0.025 per cent was electrified, now 73 per cent of targeted villages have electricity. Only 12 percent of the population had school education and now 74 percent are literate.
It is also true that the Comptroller and Auditor General has found fault with every Government, department big or small.
The latest Reserve Bank of India (RBI) consumer survey, in six cities of Bengaluru, Chennai, Hyderabad, Kolkata, Mumbai and New Delhi for June this year shows the percentage of people who said their income growth was lower than in December 2013 and March 2014, when the disenchantment with the United Progressive Alliance Government was at its peak.
The net response has been negative for six consecutive quarters now. Manufacturers have marginally increased employment. The RBI surveys, despite this, pointed out that the people largely still are hopeful of the job and other conditions improving by the next year.
The median forecast of Gross Fixed Capital Formation (GFCF) for 2018-19 is 29 per cent of GDP at current market prices, says RBI. The GFCF in 2013-14 at current prices was 31.3 per cent of GDP. Investment demand will get better, but it’s likely to be a slow uphill task.It means the cake is getting smaller but the hope remains.
This is the case in point; not only the Government, even the Opposition, planners, policy makers and the common people have to give a concerted thought.
The road ahead is well known though not marked. The Niti Aayog was supposed to play a pivotal role. However, its vision document under Arvind Panagariya, former Vice Chairman of Niti Aayog, was flawed. It has to change its style of functioning. Instead of coming out with documents in hurry, it should hold parleys across the country to find out the solutions to the social and economic ailments.
The Goods and Services Tax (GST) is a beginning but unless other taxes and cess are drastically reduced and a humane approach to taxation is adopted, the projected transformation may not be there. The GST has also not eliminated tax on tax. The solution is not simple. Neither is it complex.
The goal has to be increasing opportunities, protecting bank deposits, make banking cost-free, keeping utility prices like electricity and petroleum low and taking investment out of the private coffers. It needs a centric approach with people having differences coming together.
Modi has the acumen and charisma to create the societal dialogue and make all move together. The road is ahead. It has to be trudged with all others. India is ready for the transformation. The threads have to be put together.
(The writer is a senior journalist)
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