The transformation underway

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The transformation underway

Sunday, 30 December 2018 | Gautam Mukherjee

The transformation underway

Making of New India

Author : Bibek Debroy, Anirban Ganguly

Publisher : Wisdom Tree, Rs 995

This book offers insights into the many achievements of the Modi Government since it came to power in 2014. Instead of ignoring the arguments made against the BJP, the book attempts to narrate the ‘whole story’, says Gautam Mukherjee

It would have felt better if one was reviewing this book in the aftermath of a triumph at the recently held Assembly Elections. But alas, it was not to be, at least for the ruling dispensation, that managed to lose all three States in the Hindi heartland in a straight contest with the Congress. This impressive book is the best effort yet by the intellectual engines of the Modi Government and its sympathisers to articulate its achievements and challenges. It has been anchored and edited by the BJP think-tank Dr Syama Prasad Mookerjee Research Foundation (SPMRF), through its Director Dr Anirban Ganguly, and Niti Aayog using the services of Dr Bibek Debroy, Chairman, Economic Advisory Council to the Prime Minister, and his OSD Kishore Desai.

Its given importance is underlined by the fact that it was launched by presenting the first copy from the hands of the Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley to the President of India Ram Nath Kovind on November 27, 2018, at a formal occasion at Rashtrapati Bhavan.

Unveiled before an audience of some of the 56 individual contributors, Union Ministers, Members of Parliament, and a select few invited guests, the nearly 600-page hardbound book has come at the four-and-a-half-year mark of the Modi Government. While its tone is self-congratulatory, the stark realities of the angry rural and urban voters, once ardent fans of Narendra Modi, not being impressed by the apparent non-delivery of acche din hangs like a shadow over the exercise.

The Finance Minister made the point in his introductory address, that nearly 80 per cent of the country’s revenue was now flowing to the States, in an unstated but exemplary push towards greater federalism and empowerment of the States.

Presumably, this will make it easier for the newly won Congress States of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, and Chhattisgarh and the earlier win in Karnataka to waive off small farmer loans as promised. But, this, as we know, is easier said than done.

Notwithstanding the fact that a large number of the states now have BJP Governments, even as the bulk of the Opposition derives its salience from one or the other of the remaining ones, there is a deep-seated problem of fiscal extravagance in the states of the Indian Union. Sajid Chinoy of Morgan Stanley, one of the able contributors to this book, makes the telling point that the states were responsible for an ever widening fiscal deficit, which, in turn, was impacting the excellent fiscal management of the centre. It was driving up overall borrowing costs and making the private sector and foreign investors wary. This excess of borrow and spend, needs to be better managed. Of course, a few months before the General Elections, this is unpopular advice. 

Having said this, the Modi Government has succeeded in putting the country on a sound economic footing with robust growth trajectories. This, after coming to power in May 2014, with a very strong political mandate, but a correspondingly weak economy with a huge bad debt problem. India’s economy was dubbed, at the time, as being part of the “fragile five” emerging market economies by international observers.

But poised as it is politically, with a strong and credible challenge after the five State “semi-finals”, the BJP and the NDA must perforce look at greater populism in its final budget presentation on February 1, 2019. This may not be good news for the economy, but survival is likely to come first.

So is this book already out-of-date? Is it looking in the rear-view mirror or the road ahead? There has been disappointment on the creation of jobs, rural distress, anger at the ignoring of long pending Hindutva issues, lack of effective action against the corrupt  and so on. It is also true that no BJP Government, or for that matter, any Government, other than one led by Congress has ever enjoyed two consecutive terms. To change this “default position”, as Rahul Gandhi put it, is going to take some doing.

It is interesting how there is an immense defensiveness that permeates essay after essay in this book, as the writers first state and then argue against various Opposition accusations. This even though it was written when there were no threatening clouds in the sky. However, the “revival of nationalism” as Professor Makarand Paranjape put it, is definitely an endeavour of this Modi Government.

Another widely acknowledged plank of a “corruption-free Government,” at least at the top, has many takers. It has sections where senior journalists praise the mass connect of using Mann Ki Baat on a retro medium like the radio. Then there are those who extol the massive gains made by the wide implementation of the Aadhaar Cards as identity authenticators. The Bankruptcy Act is lauded by famed economist Arvind Virmani. Somdutt Singh argues the Government’s thrust towards “skill development” will, in time, bring on the jobs. Sadly, this is probably too slow for the voters.

There is an implied criticism in the way “employment is measured” in  the article by TCA Anant and the one after it by Pulak Ghosh and Somya Kanti Ghosh that speaks of gathering “payroll data” from the informal sector. The Government’s controversial targeting of “black money” and its achievements of better tax compliance is written about by Mukesh Butani. The tackling of “benami transactions” in real estate and the promulgation of RERA is the subject of Suparna Jain’s article. The visionary Sagarmala project seeks to implement port based development as per Vishwapati Trivedi’s essay. Hardeep Singh Puri writes on the “Smart Cities”. Kishore Desai, one of the editors of this volume, points out the strides made in the electrical power sector. The Ganga clean-up effort is written about by Harikishan Sharma.

Education, Health, Nutrition, the Swacch Bharat Mission, rural modernisation has largely remained a set of good intentions, but not if you read the chapters related to it. The Opposition likes to argue that ‘Make in India’ has not progressed beyond cellphones and  cars. But this book has a different picture to present. It also drawing the micro lending of the Mudra scheme into its purview. Defence and national security get quite a few chapters  and perhaps deservedly so, because the Modi Government has  shifted the inertia that plagued this area. Foreign policy and India’s soft power gets good marks since the Modi Government took over. There has been a positive rebooting of India’s relationship with multiple countries and several chapters dwell on this aspect.

All in all, though parts of the book seem hagiographic, what is obvious is the enormous scope of works undertaken by  this Government in what is just four and a half years. It is, in the end, a very good reference book to have in one’s library on Modi’s first term in office.

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