New Delhi: A controversy erupted Saturday over a 7-point recommendation made by eminent economists and activists, including Yogendra Yadav and Ramachandra Guha, which argued that all resources with citizens or within the nation should be treated as national resources during the Covid-19 crisis.
The clause was later deleted from the set of recommendations, called “Mission Jai Hind”, but only after historian and activist Guha publicly stated that he did not endorse the view, and that it was not shown to him in this form when he signed it.
Besides Yadav and Guha, the statement was backed by 22 eminent public intellectuals, including former Planning Commission member Abhijit Sen, former chief economic adviser Deepak Nayyar, R. Nagaraj of the Indira Gandhi Institute of Development Research, and economists Pranab Bardhan and Jean Drèze.
The statement was shared on Twitter by Yadav, who subsequently published an updated version after deleting the controversial point. While Guha later dismissed the controversy as a misunderstanding, Yadav refuted the allegation that the statement was not presented to the former in its final form, even though he said it was “poorly worded”.
Point 7.1 of the recommendations, which Guha questioned on Twitter, had said that “all the resources (cash, real estate, property, bonds, etc) with the citizens or within the nation must be treated as national resources available during this crisis”.
Guha said the point was not present in the statement sent to him.
“The Mission Jai Hind Statement that was sent to me had this broad statement of principle as clause 7.1, which I approved, namely: All resources within the nation are national resources, available for this mission. The published version had a radically different clause 7.1: All the resources (cash, real estate, property, bonds, etc) with the citizens or within the nation must be treated as national resources available during this crisis. I have not and do not endorse this,” Guha said in a three-part tweet, that has since been deleted.
“This clause, that has become deeply tendentious with the major changes made without the consent of some signatories, has taken attention away from the many sensible suggestions made in the statement,” he added.
After Guha’s objection, the recommendation was amended to say the government “must explore emergency ways of raising resources going beyond the usual set of taxes and levies to cope with the problem of funding large relief packages”.
When approached for a comment, Guha said, “It was just a misunderstanding… When 20-30 people are involved, something like this can happen.
“And Yogendra Yadav’s integrity is of the highest order,” he told ThePrint.
Sharing the updated version, Yadav tweeted, “Pt 7.1 has attracted undue attention & interpreted to mean a call for nationalisation/expropriation of private property. This was far from our intention.”
Pt 7.1 has attracted undue attention & interpreted to mean a call for nationalisation/expropriation of private property This was far from our intention
Reformulated it as below
Hope the debate will focus on the plan outlined to address health, economic & humanitarian crisis https://t.co/v6EGSGIpY6 pic.twitter.com/zaMme8TFwK
— Yogendra Yadav (@_YogendraYadav) May 23, 2020
Speaking to ThePrint, Yadav, who was the main coordinator of the project, said, “All I can say is I would never put someone’s signature on a statement without showing them the final version… That is the minimum propriety, and that is what was exactly done.”
‘Don’t nationalise, but increase taxes’
Yadav said the point was “poorly-worded”, adding that their intention was to suggest the “national crisis should take precedence over everything”.
“Of course, nationalisation and expropriation of property was not the intended idea at all,” he added. “But of course, taxes and levies is what will have to be done… The government has to come up with ways to increase the revenue outside of the existing set of taxes, and for that of course, taxation will have to be increased.”
Emphasising that the recommendations do not suggest the government go down the nationalisation route, Yadav said, “There was a point in the initial set of recommendations that said that any vehicle should be allowed to be requisitioned to carry migrants to their homes, but since Ram (Guha) had pointed out that it could be misconstrued, it was changed… to add the word ‘hire’ to that clause.”
Yadav was referring to Point 1.4 of the statement, which says, “If needed, government to requisition/hire any vehicle for transporting workers; army to be on standby to support civil aviation.”
While both Guha and Yadav sought to bury the controversy, they courted much criticism online, with some questioning their decision to advise the government when they could not even come up with a consensus on their own recommendations.
Akhilesh Mishra, CEO of the Delhi-based nonprofit Bluekraft Digital Foundation, which is involved in social welfare, tweeted, “Let’s take what @Ram_Guha is saying at face value. What does it tell us? That a group of 20 odd people, which cannot even agree on a 7 point action plan without fraud, deceit and lies wants to advice a duly elected government on managing national policy!”
Let's take what @Ram_Guha is saying at face value. What does it tell us?
That a group of 20 odd people, which cannot even agree on a 7 point action plan without fraud, deceit and lies wants to advice a duly elected government on managing national policy!https://t.co/7ndUoQ0aZL
— Akhilesh Mishra (@amishra77) May 23, 2020
Such “leading economists” have done enough damage already in this country. This document is an assault on private property in India. https://t.co/E9pzXcBRfM
— Prof Shamika Ravi (@ShamikaRavi) May 23, 2020
Lunacy par excellence https://t.co/wkZuZ4r5oE
— Raju Parulekar (@rajuparulekar) May 23, 2020
The document otherwise has some sensible suggestions. There was no need for 7.1. But in any group, there are people who want to overreach and propose something crazily illiberal just for the fun of it. It’s true of some RWA uncles; it’s also true of some eminent intellectuals.
— Andy Mukherjee (@andymukherjee70) May 23, 2020
The Covid-19 pandemic has thrust India as well as the world at large into an unprecedented crisis. In the absence of a vaccine, social distancing is said to be the key strategy to prevent transmission, and this forced countries around the world to announce comprehensive lockdowns that brought almost all economic activity to a halt. The toll of the lockdown — economic and humanitarian — has been immense in India, as it has crushed the economy and forced lakhs of migrant labourers, especially daily-wagers, to leave the cities in the absence of jobs.
However, this is not the first time controversial suggestions have been offered to aid India’s recovery.
Last month, 50 IRS officers made a representation calling for raising income tax rates to 40 per cent for those who earn over Rs 1 crore a year, re-introduction of the wealth tax, and effecting a one-time Covid-19 cess of 4 per cent on taxable incomes of over Rs 10 lakh.
The government had reacted sharply to the recommendations, suspending three senior IRS officers who it claimed had commissioned the report.