|Modi morphs into Amartya Sen|
|Thursday, 15 August 2013 00:00|
In an attempt to show he doesn't have kam passion for the poor, Modi damages his development credentials
An Independence Day column should normally be addressed to a prime minister since it is he that has the power to change a country’s destiny, but given how the BJP is convinced it is coming to power soon now that Narendra Modi is in charge, perhaps it is a good idea to address this to him.
More so, with the economy in tatters on India’s 66th birth anniversary, it is Modi’s combination of loh purush and development purush that is supposed to deliver the teaming youth and middle classes to him—going by Bihar’s former finance minister Sushil Kumar Modi’s statement, while the secularists are “raising the bogey of Godhra, which is a part of history now … the younger generation does not even know what is Godhra, and they want development, they want jobs”.
Despite the weight of these expectations, however, Modi’s letter to the Prime Minister (http://goo.gl/x3ORvi) shows a fuzziness that is difficult to comprehend, much less appreciate. On India’s 66th birthday, Modi needed to focus on the relevance of that number. If, as India turns 66, 66% of Indians have access to electricity and 66% have mobile phones, how can 66% be so poor as to need subsidised food? Instead of focusing on how growth has delivered people out of poverty—138 million in just 7 years—the BJP’s prime ministerial hopeful seems desperate to prove, to distort the finance minister’s favourite line, that he doesn’t have kam passion for the poor. Chidambaram’s one liner, in the context of the Bhagwati-Sen faceoff: while passion for growth is important, you must have compassion for the poor.
The curious logic, of course, is not limited to Modi. Former finance minister Yashwant Sinha who spoke of how India was afflicted by Manmonia (FE columnist Surjit Bhalla’s Brangelina equivalent) and how its Food Security Bill could cost India 3% of GDP, for instance, has also come out saying the BJP in Chhattisgarh offers PDS to everyone, not just to 66% of people in the way the Food Security Bill does. Modi has bettered even this, leaving everyone confused as to where he stands—for a candidate trying to come across as different in a mass of politicians mouthing the same-old inanities, that’s probably suicidal.
Modi begins well, by saying it is curious a 66% target of beneficiaries should first be fixed and, once this is done, the states be asked to identify the chosen 66%. While it may be an exaggeration to say, as he does, the identification could be a matter of judicial scrutiny—since each state would have its own criterion—you think Modi is warming up to saying he does not support the Bill.
Of course he doesn’t, but why he doesn’t is the interesting story. The man who believes in growth says “he noted with deep concern the fact that the ordinance proposes to reduce the entitlement of BPL families from 35 kg per family to only 25 kg per family”. Huh? Isn’t Modi appalled by the waste in such programmes and doesn’t he think the money is better spent on irrigation or creating hospitals?
Not quite, it appears. Since the grain quota has been reduced, Modi talks of how each family will now have to spend R85 more per month—never mind that this is around half the minimum daily wage in Modi’s Gujarat, making it obvious that the poor would prefer more jobs to more subsidised grain.
Modi’s calculations suggest, in fact, that he wants to increase the size of the Food Bill five times. The proposed Food Bill, Modi’s letter says, provides only 165 grams of food per person per day, or around 500 calories as compared to the 2,500 calories recommended for people involved in labour-intensive work—his backroom boys have clearly had a field day with Google and an excel sheet!
It’s just politics, you can be tempted to say, Modi doesn’t really mean it, he is just showing up the Prime Minister’s concern for the poor as humbug. If the BJP had no hope of coming to power, and it still may not, none of this would really matter. The point is, if the BJP thinks it has more than a sliver or a chance of coming to power, it needs to start behaving a bit responsibly. The Bills that it is helping pass in Parliament, or the Bills it is not allowing to pass, all have a critical bearing on it when it comes to power. The 3% of GDP cost of Manmonia, even 15% if you go by Modi’s letter, will be a cost the BJP government will have to bear every year.
Or take the Land Acquisition Bill, a Bill that the BJP’s Sumitra Mahajan-led Parliamentary Standing Committee wanted to be even more anti-industry than it is in its current avatar (see http://goo.gl/7OGTKB for a fuller explanation). If the Bill is to become an Act, Modi cannot ever hope to give a Tata Motors 1,100 acres of land without having a Social Impact Audit (SIA), a process that can take 50 months going by the timelines prescribed for each step of the SIA in the Land Bill. He can safely forget sending “swagatam” SMSs to potential investors—when the Tatas announced they were pulling out of Singur, Modi’s “swagatam” SMS to Ratan Tata is what started negotiations between the two.
For a Gujarati who understands business, how can Modi preside over a party whose Shanta Kumar has just come out with a report on FDI in pharmaceuticals—he heads the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Commerce—that is full of the 1970s prejudices and anti-business sentiment. There is no evidence of foreign takeovers of existing pharma units having resulted in curtailed production or higher costs—the report provides none as there is none—but BJP’s Kumar comes out against allowing foreign takeovers of existing units on these very grounds. It talks of how, when India wants to issue compulsory licences, there will be no takers because there will be no Indian generics players left—India has over 20,000 producers of all manner of drugs! It wants India to regularly issue compulsory licences to lower costs of new patented drugs—never mind what it does to pharma firms bringing in new drugs—and seems oblivious of the fact that 30% of medicines in the country are already under price control. It wants, to quote the report, “the Department to pierce the veil, take cognizance of the real threat, and take appropriate measures to ensure drugs security of the country”. Drugs security, no Indian producers left …? What world is the BJP living in? And how can it argue that more FDI in insurance is a bad idea given the lessons of the global financial crisis? The crisis was led by sub-prime loans, not plain vanilla insurance companies.
It was frightening enough that a Narendra Modi had to countenance the arguments put forth by a Sumitra Mahajan and a Shanta Kumar. When he himself starts shooting off missives of the sort he sent out to the Prime Minister, India’s development-hungry youth are certain to get alarmed. Whether or not they have heard of Godhra, and whether or not they hold Modi responsible.