The deepening crisis of the Indian economy has begun to generate considerable discontent even within the core social base and thinking sections of the BJP. Two former finance ministers of the Vajpayee government – Arun Shourie and Yashwant Sinha – and an aspiring claimant for the finance minister’s position – Subramanian Swamy – have of late become pretty vocal in their criticism of the economic management of the Modi government. It is however Yashwant Sinha’s pointed appraisal of the alarming economic situation in an article published in the Indian Express on September 27 which seems to have rattled the Modi establishment the most. None other than Jayant Sinha, Yashwant Sinha’s son who currently is the Minister of State for Civil Aviation was deployed to rebut his father’s charges through another newspaper article while Arun Jaitley and several other BJP leaders and ministers started making tasteless personal attacks on the veteran BJP leader.
Why did an article by Yashwant Sinha rattle the BJP so badly? Indeed, the points that Sinha have raised have been raised before, but what must have hit the BJP hard is perhaps the fact that the points were made this time by a senior leader of Sinha’s stature. And more crucially that they concerned the biggest failure and betrayal of the Modi government even in the eyes of many of his core supporters not to mention those non-ideological voters who chose Modi believing that he was a strong leader who would curb black money and corruption and make India a truly shining country with powerful economic results. Yet ironically enough, by trying to rubbish Yashwant Sinha the BJP has only made sure that the points raised by Sinha grow into a major national debate. Sinha has since been interviewed by television channels and other newspapers and portals, giving him the opportunity to reiterate and elaborate whatever he had said.
So what did Sinha say? He of course had some uncharitable remarks about the performance of Arun Jaitley as a finance minister, while it is commonly believed that Jaitley has perhaps had very limited role in some of the most controversial and disastrous decisions of this government where the blame should be squarely laid at the doorsteps of the Prime Minister. Leaving the individuals concerned aside, let us focus on the substantive issues. Sinha has pointed out that not only has the GDP growth rate slumped to 5.6%, and if the figure still appears respectable it is because of the changed method of calculation introduced in 2015 which has pushed up the figure by about 2%. While the government’s habitual reference to the previous government for every economic ill no longer makes sense after being in charge for as long as 40 months during which problems only got worse, the fact is the government actually squandered away the huge oil bonanza which Modi had initially described as the ‘good luck’ had brought for the country!
Sinha calls demonetisation ‘an unmitigated economic disaster’ which coupled with ‘a badly conceived and poorly implemented GST has played havoc with businesses and sunk many of them and countless millions have lost their jobs’. With private investment having ‘shrunk as never before in two decades’, industrial production having ‘all but collapsed’, and agriculture ‘in distress’, the economy is in dire straits and even if corrective measures are initiated now Sinha does not see any tangible recovery by the time of the next elections in 2019. In one of his interviews, he debunks Amit Shah’s claims of creating 80 million jobs through lending under the MUDRA scheme. This, he points out, is just a repackaging of the erstwhile ‘Pradhan Mantri Swarozgar Yojana’, and with an average loan amount of just Rs 11,000 Sinha believes most of it must have been used up in meeting immediate expenditure needs with hardly any job creation.
To Sinha’s credit, he has not only made a sharp indictment of the government’s economic performance, but in some of his writings and interviews he has also strongly criticised the government’s Kashmir policy. Referring to Modi’s Independence Day speech in which he had said Kashmir’s problems can only be solved by ‘embracing the people of Kashmir’ and not by bullets or abuse, Sinha says the government has done nothing on that score and the people of Kashmir stand completely alienated. India has emotionally lost Kashmir, says Sinha quite categorically after his repeated interaction with cross-sections of the Kashmiri society. He also mentions Pakistan as a ‘necessary third party’ for a negotiated settlement of the Kashmir question.
The Sangh brigade is trying its best to polarise the country on communal issues and constant invocation of jingoistic sentiment against Pakistan and China. The festive season has indeed been marked by cases of communal mischief here and there. But uppermost in the general public discourse in the country has been the government’s massive failure on matters of the economy and governance. Whether it is the slump in sales and other obvious signs of growing economic depression or the criminal lapses in governance resulting in avoidable tragedies like the large-scale deaths of children in government hospitals in UP and Jharkhand or the loss of lives in stampede right in metropolitan Mumbai – these are the kinds of issues that have been looming large in the public mind. Strengthening the people’s voice to hold the governments accountable for their promises and performance is the need of the hour.