Illustration: Ramandeep Kaur | ThePrint
Illustration: Ramandeep Kaur | ThePrint
Text Size:

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s approach to economic issues has changed, the dividing marker being the 2019 re-election with an improved majority 21 months ago. Having also gained control of the Rajya Sabha, he has become progressively more ambitious about pushing through long-delayed economic reforms, confident enough to change direction if needed, and willing to challenge the conventional wisdom. His government’s bold announcement of a sweeping privatisation policy (sell or close all non-strategic government companies) follows the replacing of restrictive labour laws and the opening up of agricultural marketing. Touchy subjects, all of them.

In the process he has trodden on what states consider their turf. Where once he retreated in the face of Rahul Gandhi’s jibe about a “suit-boot ki sarkar”, he has now embraced the role of private enterprise, launched a well-aimed attack on the permanent civil service, and limited the role of the public sector to four strategic sectors. Amazingly, he has done so in the midst of an ongoing farmers’ agitation that is driven by the fear of corporate interests taking control of agricultural markets. There is no mistaking Modi’s new willingness to stake his position, although some of what he proposes could prove as contentious as the new laws on agricultural marketing, and no easier to implement. There is no hedging of bets here.

Modi has also abandoned his fiscal conservatism and adopted a more expansive stance on both deficits and public debt. And while the lack of faith in inherited free trade agreements was evident even in the first term, and the ratcheting up of tariffs began then, the launch last year of the ‘Atmanirbhar’ campaign showed a more open willingness to disregard the received wisdom in economics while re-thinking the ‘Make in India’ strategy. The prime minister is no longer shy of showing his real hand — as evident also in the aggressive moves to change the status of Jammu and Kashmir and introduce new citizenship laws.


Also read: National security won’t wait for economic development — Modi should learn from Nehru’s mistakes


 

The change of economic stance shows in his re-focusing government expenditure on capital investment, persuaded by the logic that this delivers a bigger growth multiplier. What has been given up, in the bargain, is any real increase in the budgets for his earlier focus area: Universalising a range of goods and services and expanding the safety net. Just when the pandemic has rendered millions jobless, and almost certainly reversed the steady if slow decline in poverty headcount numbers, this shift in the expenditure pattern is striking. Equally noteworthy is the blunt refusal, in the context of growing inequality, to look for redistribution through taxation policy and fiscal transfers. With every step, Modi is striding out in new directions.

One can but speculate on the reasons for the change in approach. Perhaps it is that the ruling party has control of the Rajya Sabha — which it did not have when the Modi government sought unsuccessfully, in 2015, to change land acquisition laws. Perhaps the faltering economic growth numbers even before the pandemic have led to a re-think on economic strategy. This might also explain the willingness to put aside concerns about the environment, in order to press ahead with building the economy’s physical infrastructure in even ecologically fragile areas like the Himalayas. The privatisation thrust could well be born out of frustration with the government’s banks and their endless need for fresh capital, as also by revenue considerations since both tax and non-tax revenues have fallen in relation to GDP. Finally, Modi may think that he is politically strong enough to take a few risks.

And risks there are. Despite the successes achieved and changes engineered after the 1991 reforms, much of India still draws mental comfort from a soft-state omnipresence that cossets even as it constricts and corrupts. Most of the private sector comprises small enterprises; there are only a handful of large business entities capable of putting out the money to buy government-held corporate assets. That makes privatisation a fraught enterprise. The new fiscal stance risks inflation — traditionally the economic issue that turns voters against a government. And if the bet is on growth, what if growth disappoints? Modi will have to find his way carefully through this minefield.


Also read: Let’s stop pretending. Indian banking sector needs to be mostly private to be healthy


 

Subscribe to our channels on YouTube & Telegram

Why news media is in crisis & How you can fix it

India needs free, fair, non-hyphenated and questioning journalism even more as it faces multiple crises.

But the news media is in a crisis of its own. There have been brutal layoffs and pay-cuts. The best of journalism is shrinking, yielding to crude prime-time spectacle.

ThePrint has the finest young reporters, columnists and editors working for it. Sustaining journalism of this quality needs smart and thinking people like you to pay for it. Whether you live in India or overseas, you can do it here.

Support Our Journalism

43 Comments Share Your Views

43 COMMENTS

  1. Some time ago, Shekhar Gupta was telling the economy is in free fall and he told us Ninan is The Print’s authoritative economic guru who looked at the numbers.

    Now like Gupta, Ninan expresses optimism and hopeful expectation of Modi – the new Modi and ache din, which will come, you just have to wait !

    It looks like once in a while, they write the truth, but they have to write 5 articles afterwards praising the Great Hope (packaged permanently as the New Modi), so that sedition charges are not framed.

  2. Mr Modi was hiding his head in sand like an ostrich when he should have looked the problem straight in the face. That was a few years ago. Has he woken up to the reality too late? Only economists like Mr Ninan can tell.

  3. New Modi, LOL.

    You mean he is sporting a new Tagore beard, to look like a guru ? Shakha to Chai wallah to chowkidar to pseudo intellectual.

  4. Good. Finally India will say good bye to Nehru’s socialism, secualrist & non-alignment license raj Hopefully age of Ambassdor or Crony capitalism of Bajaj’s substandard Rikshaws, damaging operator if not careful, is over and Nehruism & secularism goes into dustbin of history.

    • Whatever India has is due to Nehru. If this lot had come to power in 1947, we would be stuck with gobar. Making gold out of gomutra according to a VHP pamphlet.

      Nehru will be replaced by 1930s fascism, which Germany has given up.

        • Why are you paranoid about our minorities, Harry? They are just as good or bad as the Majority community in India. How do they trouble you?

        • This lot was always incompetent and cowardly. They could not come to power in 1947 because they stayed aloof from the freedom struggle. They had only one interest : threaten Muslims. The result was partition – if they are so good, why could they not stop it ?

          And their mentality is such that they will continue in the same way talking about saving Hindus while breaking the India that remains.

          Fascism has failed everywhere, starting with Nazi Germany, what makes you think it will succeed in India ?

      • Outstanding comment Mr Tog !

        Had it not been for Nehru, the Hindu mullahs would have been running India just as the Muslim mullahs took over the reins of power in Pakistan. In any case, the way things are going in India with even educated Indians backing these saffron policies, expect Ayothollah Adityanath to be in power soon. Gomutra addict Harry being a case in point.

        As the French diplomat Joseph de Maistre said:

        “Every nation gets the government it deserves”

        • Thanks Kili.

          Nehru’s books show who is a nationalist. His book ‘Discovery of India’ is a a marvellous showcasing of India. No Sanghi will be able to write a book like that – which can impress others about India. I met a Sudanese who extolled Nehru. I asked why. He had read Nehru’s ‘Glimpses of World History’ – in Arabic translation ! I have seen a Pakistani article long ago wistfully remark why India got ahead was because Nehru laid the foundations of secular democracy in his 17 years, while Jinnah passed away soon after. On the other hand, what Golwalkar wrote about India is borrowed Hitlerian ideas – it will not bring admirers outside India, in fact it is repulsive.

          It was Nehru who initiated the nuclear and space programme. He brought back Vikram Sarabhai and Homi Bhabha from Cambridge. He built the first steel mills and dams. Even the computer proficiency India gained is due to Rajiv Gandhi. The BJP used that IT knowhow – but for destructive purposes.

          The BJP-RSS does not have anyone of any intellect. Just look at Modi. His latest acronym is FDI = Foreign Destructive Ideology ! This is in reaction to Greta Thunberg. Can you imagine Nehru responding like that ?

          If you meet people who are above 60, they know what Nehru did for India. Most of the new generation, in their 40s, have been brainwashed by incessant RSS propaganda. These are the people who would have been aged 10-15 in 1990, when Advani raised a mob and demolished the Babari masjid. They are in their 40s now, they grew up in a communalised and resentment-soaked atmosphere, and they have imbibed the hatreds the BJP injected. Only a few in the new generation would have read Nehru, they go by Whats App messages telling them Nehru was the illegitimate son of Sheikh Abdullah (the best way to discredit a Hindu is to say he is Muslim). Once when I remarked to one bhakth that India has degenerated so much that they are building a temple for Godse, his remark was ‘so what, you can build a temple for Sonia Gandhi’.

          They have grown up in an atmosphere of hating Nehru and Gandhi, secular democracy, minorities, and reservation, and they have been told that all these need to be reversed for India to have its rightful place under the sun (that is, become the vishwa guru teaching the world). This is nationalism for them. To them, it is obvious India would have been a great power, had it not been for the anti-national plottings of Nehru, Gandhi,Congress, seculars, leftists, minorities and foreigners . Hence, their rage.

          But we have to respond rationally – like Nehru.

          • Tog you & Kili praising each other reminds me an animal story. Since you guys are limited in knowledge let me tell that story.

            In marriage of camels, donkeys were invited as entertainers. Both of them praise each other.
            Donkeys said: ” what a handsome couple”.
            Camels responded: ” what a beautiful voice”.

          • “He built the first steel mills…

            LOL. Steel mills in India were build way before Independence, by Jamshedji Tata. You are typical of Nehru family sycophants. According to you guys only Nehru was key freedom fighters. Gandhi, Patel, Bose were side shows.

            Present prosperity of India owes to Narsimha Rao, whose even dead body was paid homage by you guys and claimed dog eat his body.

            As beneficiary of Nehru’s raj you have no problem with 3-4% growth. But people realized that these are self-serving people.
            Nehru is more popular outside India than in India like Gorbachev’s case in Russia.

            Nehru is godfather of Pakistan. He let them take G& B to become geopolitically important. He signed water sharing agreement that highly favored Pakistan. His betrayal of Tibet & Khan Abdul Gaffar Khan is well known. He can be considered Guardian Angel for Muslim league supporters in India.

        • Kili, I consider Pakistanis as our brothers. So I am hoping that you will move to Pakistan to help our Pakistani brothers guild minority friendly secular Pakistan of Jinnah’s dream with your ‘infinite wisdom”. Pakistans were deprived of wisdom of such eminent son of soil like Harsh Mander, Tarun Tejpal, Ram Puniyani , Justice Sachar, Kudip Nayar, Vinod Sharma to mention a few.

          Now now that you disappointed with India try out in Pakistan. Give us some glimpse of life there.

        • Correction:
          Present prosperity of India owes to Narsimha Rao, whose even dead body was paid homage by you guys and claimed dog eat his body.

          Should read:
          Present prosperity of India owes to Narsimha Rao, whose even dead body was NOT paid homage by you guys and claimed dog eat his body.

  5. Modi is as much a populist as any past PM. He wants to gift one crore more free gas connections to the poor. He will do it by borrowing more, not by taxing the rich. He can always tax the middle class more who vote for him unfailingly.

      • People couldn’t care, other than Taqiyyas like you. We don’t need Mani Shankar Aiyar everywhere. He was better In Lahore.

        This is one reason I don’t like CAA. It had no provision to send fake refugees back. It should modified to allow government to send back to Pakistan fake refugees who came since 1947. Jinnah had declared Pakistan to be a secular state. So a Secular Hindu in Pakistan is no persecuted or under any threat. So Harsh Mander, Ram Puniyani are fake refugees. CAA should have provision of sending back retroactively such fake refugees. There should be no-witch hunt. But a beast of burden instead of pulling cart starts lecturing he should be investigated.

      • Mr Sanjiv Bhatla: I was being sarcastic when I mentioned the PM being a graduate of Delhi University. After all, had he attended a basic course in economics, he wouldn’t have implemented foolish policies like demonetisation …

        All that we can be sure is that PM Modi is a graduate of the RSS school of Hindutva.

        • In any other country, a forged degree would be a criminal offence.

          But in New India, that qualifies you to be PM, and once PM, his supporters will defend criminality and say ‘How dare you question the PM, his post is sacred in democracy’.

          But he said he did not have time for Harvard, only for hard work !

  6. Modi has finally figured that Half-Measures and pussy-footing around the edges gets you nowhere. With most of his pet projects (Ayodhya, CAA, Abolition of Art 370 etc.,) out of the way) and control of both houses of parliament, he probably figures he can now take some risks on a few ‘bold’ reforms…and even if they come acropper, for whatever reasons, he could still say “well, at least I tried”.

    • After 6 years, the PM will only be known for his miserably failed demonetization in the Indian history books. No credit for trying such things at all.

  7. The article is delusional. Modi may take decisions, but what are the results ?

    We have heard such optimistic stories before : the new Modi, the new India, and the bright tomorrow which never comes.

    5 trillion economy; stopped by Act of God. Decline of auto sector because Indians use Uber. Doubling of farmers’ income – so why are they on strike ? 56 inch chowkidar, who ceded land and said nothing happened. Swach Bharat – but Modi has to build a wall so his phraind Trump does not see Gujarat’s squalor.

    India is at the bottom of most social indicators of progress.

    Shekhar Gupta has been informing us how the economy is in free fall.

    In fact, I cannot think of a single tangible achievement that was beneficial. What was demonetisation ? Has corruption ended ?

  8. Crybaby leftist journalist trying to discourage the creation of wealth and prosperity. India has moved on and anyone with a sound instinct knows this. Even the farm laws are being opposed only by a small minority of vested interests. Modi tapped into this desire for change in 2014 but failed to bring in the change he spoke about such as minimum government etc. Hopefully he now walks the talk.

    • India has moved on where ?

      In most indicators, India is at the bottom of the pile of Third World nations and it has sunk further in that direction.

      The BJP promised a 5 trillion economy, double farmer’s incomes, Make in India, attract companies leaving China – nothing has materialised. India moves on from slogan to slogan. Bhakths want to believe. Many Indians don’t believe India is progressing, that is why they slap sedition charges against them – which only confirms India is not progressing. But the rest of the world also does not believe, what will you do ? Charge Greta ?

      • “Many Indians don’t believe India is progressing, that is why they slap sedition charges against them ”

        Those Indians can catch Samjhota Express and live in Islamabad. Their children will be proficient in Arabic.

        • If Modi’s policies are so successful, they will speak for themselves, you would not need to put sedition charges or send Indians to Islamabad. That response is proof he is a monumental failure.

        • You mean all the sensible people of India should go to Pakistan? Why do you want to do Pakistan such a big favor, are you a Pakistani agent?

          • Yes. We want to do them a favor. They are our brothers. If you think you guys are so valuable surely our Pakistani brothers will appreciate it and we would have friendly relations with them.
            But it they don’t value you guys and kill you as Kufrs , we will fold our hand and watch, we will not raise a finger to save you or not blame them.

            So it is win win for all.

      • If Indians hadn’t moved on they would be still be voting for the same bunch that has kept India at the bottom of the pile of Third world countries, discouraged entrepreneurs, encouraged obstructionist policies, regressive laws like the backdated tax laws. One can hope that India’s fake socialism where wealth gets transferred to cronies from tax payers now gets a burial.

    • “creation of wealth” is a phrase which has totally different meanings in the west and in our country. Here, in India, with its capitalists steeped in MANUVADI THINKING, the wealth never “percilates down”, but continues to swell the accounts of the wealthy. Don’t follow western theories blindly.

      • You have touched on India’s core problem but the Manuvadis deny there is a caste system – while staunchly practising it. They will accuse you of dividing Hindus and get very angry.

        Prannoy Roy interviewed the Yogi and asked him his thought on the caste system. Yogi said the caste system was very good, but he was against casteism (meaning he was against caste based reservation).

        They think they are on a par with the west. They have no desire to deconstruct the Manuvadi system, they think the problem is Dalits and minorities are holding them back.

        • they think the problem is Dalits and minorities are holding them back.
          Well then why don’t minorities leave India for Pakistan and prove that point.

          • They don’t have to leave India, they belong to India, and they fight for a better India – as they did during CAA-NRC and the farmers are doing.

          • They don’t belong to India. it is majority that rules. Majority of them chose Pakistan. They are here because of Nehru, Pakistan’s godfather.

          • Harry: So minorities such as Dalits should leave India ? What about Gorkhas ? Tribals ? Parsis? Tamil Iyengars ? The inhabitants of Sentinel Islands in the Andamans ? Should all these minorities also be sent to Pakistan ?

          • Killi,
            Only Muslims, not dalit tribal or Iyengars, have been given almost 1/4 of British India asHomeland .. So they should go., since Muslims kicked out indigenous Hindus from their area to make room for Mohajirs. Nehru with monkey brain kept them, while Jinnah got rid of Hindus & Sikhs.

            FYI large numbers, if not majority, of VHP members are dalit or Tribal, even you Teesta Setalvad said that.. Your Mani Shankar Aiyar is refugee from Lahore, so he should move back.

            So by lumping Muslims with dalit, tribal you talking nonsense like other secus do. .Dalit, Tribal have nothing to do with Muslims. As a matter of fact Muslims have been competing against Dalit, tribal for scarce jobs since Independence , Muslims don’t against you guys.

            Inhabitant of Andaman Island are doing good job of keeping Jihadis & missionaries out. They taught a lesson to that convert Chinese evangelist.

      • That’s just your opinion. There is no shortage of inequality in the West as well, just as there is no shortage of philanthropists in India. All one needs is to shed one’s blinkers. Of course if there is no wealth, there is nothing to distribute or percolate, Manuvadi or otherwise.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here