Millennium Post

Modi’s economic vision, at last!

If Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) can be considered the master of obfuscation – under the able tutelage of that passed muster of making Shiv lings drink milk, the RSS – then Narendra Modi is a natural. But this column, for the first time, refuses to trifle with his trivialisations and go beyond his chhappan eench chhatee, and uncover some substance.

The substance is about his economic vision for the country; not the one that is coming out of the yogic contortions of Ramdev, but a bit of those that look a little more serious. Of course, these won’t be much different from the Manmohanomics of the past two decades – for there is a ‘national consensus’ on it that resides in the Congress Party’s imagination – but let’s see whether Modi does something for the margins at least. Let’s take his first promise on education and healthcare. Despite Amartya Sen’s avuncularity, he cannot but stop laughing about the promise to build an IIT, IIM and AIIMS in every state, made by Modi. The vision is clearly Nehruvian, who at the birth of the new nation thought the country’s tryst was with bridging the yawning gap between the developed West through a sharp skewing of public expenditure for what he called ‘centres of excellence.’

What Sen and Jean Dreze have pointed out, the result of this navel gazing policy was one of the highest school dropout rates and class five students barely being able to simple divisions. And clearly, the IIT, IIM and AIIMS’ pupils lacked the necessary ‘patriotism’ to justify this public expenditure of giving the best subsidised education possible to them, by leaving its shores at the earliest for the better ‘land/s of promises.’ Modi and BJP want to do more of the same.

On woeful public healthcare system of the country – besides its ever growing privatisation – Modi has brought in a quirk, which can be considered genuinely right-wing. He said at a Ficci do, that Indian hospitals (obviously the ones who double-up as healthotels) are known worldwide, ‘but we do not have the necessary insurance superstructure.’ Now what this actually means in terms of the actuaries is yet to be unveiled, but at least it signifies for the BJP trying to come out of its morass of Hindu revivalist agenda and turning into a rightwing party, necessary for a vibrant democracy, only with a little more imagination.

In that context, Modi and Ramdev’s presumably yogic consensus about simplifying the tax code is a laudable move. But of course neither of them would talk about raising the tax-GDP ratio, which remains the lowest for a country whose top five per cent earns more than an average of $5,00,000 annually per capita. But then if they did, why should there be necessity for an Alternate coalition’s alternative agenda. Modi also says that the mineral wealth of the country cannot just be sent out without any value-addition. That is entirely correct. But then he does not say how he will build the infrastructure for that value addition. He does not say where the money for building these roadheads, railheads and ports will come from after the reducing of the tax code (thus the burden too).

This is a conundrum that Jagdish Bhagwati and Arvind Pangariya will have to work on as a capsule – debating between Eisenhower’s national highway grids with public money and Reagan’s obsession with ‘no’ to taxes – and transport it to Modi-land (as opposed to Subhash Chandra’s Esselworld).
But then once Bhagwati-Pangariya gang does their job, of course, there would immediately be ‘urbanisation’ of the poor land-losers, who will set-up their shanty towns, fulfilling another of Modi-dreams.

Of course, if he takes a well-deserved break from  his hapless campaigning and decides to take the ferry from Yiqang (Three Gorges Dam) to Chongqing down the mighty Yangtze, he will get to know there is a way of doing urbanisation in an equally large agrarian society, where the urban centres came to where earlier there were villages.

May be, after his trip he can exchange notes with A P J Abdul Kalam about PURA (Providing Urban amenities in Rural Areas). But then if he does it all by himself, why should there be an Alternate coalition with an alternative agenda.

Finally, let’s try and put it succinctly if Gujarat and Gujaratis were to be role models of the country and the diaspora (with one solitary exception), then the people of the countries of the African continent would rather like India to be the first victim of rising sea levels due to the melting permafrost. One of the famous Modi-fables run thus: the state government has generated vast numbers of jobs. This was investigated by activists of the Gujarat based Jyoti Karmachari Mandal, an independent militant trade union, Amrish Brahmbhatt and Rohit Prajapati, did a close scrutiny of the state government’s latest ‘Employment Effort,’ in February/March 2012 as an instance.

In response to their RTI query, the government told them that spread over months, 489 (Rozgar) melas were organised, and 65,000 youth were given employment.

In April 2012, the two researchers filed a detailed RTI application to the Chief Minister’s Office and Principal Secretary, Labour department, seeking details on 18 counts.

Instead of getting collated data from the CMO or the Principal Secretary’s department, which would have given a state-wide comprehensive picture, they started getting fragmented replies from each of the District Employment and Training Departments across the state.

Collating that data, the researchers found instead of 65,000 beneficiaries, the number of jobs provided from 23 districts, totals only to 51,587. Out of that 11,172 are apprentices (30.4 per cent). i.e. the actual figure is 40,415 and not even 51,587. But, the names of only 32,372 were provided to us. But then Modi has not yet talked about his vision for the youth. May be he will, and ‘decisively’.

The author is a senior journalist
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