Pratap Bhanu Mehta | Contributing Editor at The Indian Express and former vice-chancellor of Ashoka University
The Indian Express
Mehta writes that after the first 100 days of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s second term, we should question the nature of his regime. He lists two defining characteristics.
First, Modi is still extremely popular despite the economic downturn. He has “colonised our consciousness”, even criticism only underscores his importance.
Secondly, there is an unquestionable “authoritarian consolidation” over democracy and all independent institutions. Majoritarianism is another characteristic of this regime — even a BJP supporter like Swapan Dasgupta has begun to worry about the ‘ghettoisation’ of Muslims leading to an “estrangement”, writes Mehta.
The government’s action in Kashmir demonstrates these traits, but its handling of the economy is also similar: “Like Kashmir, the truth remains shrouded in a fog of triumphalism and complacency’’. And the handling the economy is also based on a show of “power, moralism and control’’ as demonstrated in the demonetisation process, Mehta writes.
Finally, Mehta wonders whether these 100 days suggest a “darker truth about ourselves’’, one that reveals our own “deepest desires’’. The danger and “political illusion” we face may be indicative of reality. “We are not in a grip of an illusion: This is who we want to be,” he says.
Rajeev Bhargava | Professor, Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, Delhi
Bhargava writes about the notion that economic development will supersede issues regarding identity. He says that India’s first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru believed that the country’s economic progress would solve issues of religious identity and communal conflict. The current government, too, echoes this as it feels if Kashmiris are given better jobs, healthcare and consumer goods, “development’ shall trump identity” and peaceful assimilation with India will follow.
Bhargava lists three aspects of the idea of identity. Firstly, even though identities are acquired in childhood, we grow more “self-reflexive” with age and start to “question, revise and even reject them”. Secondly, we eventually become part of more than one “socio-cultural framework” and assume “multiple identities”. Third, identities come from various different sources. Kashmiri identity is complex and “unfolds like a peeled onion, layer by layer”. Its history is not Hindu or Muslim, it includes histories of Pakistan, Afghanistan, Vedic culture, Shaivism, Sufism and even Buddhism. Identities being a result of multiple sources is true for all parts of India, the author says.
The state needs to take care of people’s identities and not just material welfare. A good federal system is needed to provide political autonomy to different groups and uphold the interests of different cultures. Risking federal arrangements for a simple idea of “unity” is unwise, and will only hamper development.
Kanwal Sibal | Former foreign secretary of India
Sibal writes about how India should navigate interference from “friends and enemies” after its decision to change Jammu and Kashmir’s constitutional status, specifically with regard to China and Pakistan.
Pakistan never accepted J&K’s accession to India, and, hence, Article 370 has no relevance to Pakistan. Even the Shimla Agreement and United Nations resolutions on Kashmir do not mention anything about Article 370, hence Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan’s concerns over it are baseless.Ladakh becoming a union territory should not affect Aksai Chin and the Line of Actual Control as our official maps have always shown this region as being part of India.
China’s solidarity with Pakistan on the Kashmir issue shows its “unrelenting strategic hostility” towards India. In its UNSC closed-door discussion, it berated India on human rights issues when its own record is “abysmal”.
“The Kashmir situation is in a flux,” writes Sibal. Those who support an India-Pakistan dialogue are ignoring Imran Khan’s “hysterical efforts to internationalise the Kashmir issue”.
Renu Kohli | New Delhi-based macroeconomist
Kohli identifies four narratives of the 2012 slowdown that “guided Modi 1.0’s policy responses”, and are imperative to understand the recent downswing in GDP growth.
The prominent reason for the slowdown was identified as a “policy paralysis” of the coalition government — a diagnosis that was always “overblown, limited” and avoided other nuances since investment never recovered, even under the new majority Modi government, she says.
The second prominent idea at the time was that external factors “mattered little” and growth was “domestic-demand oriented.” According to Kohli, exports lost competitiveness due to this and that has “proved costly.”
The third major policy decision taken by the Modi 1.0 government were the structural reforms of demonetisation, GST, IBC, NPA resolution, among others — all of which failed to propel growth. Fourth, excess welfare spending increased capital expenditure through “large off-budget borrowings” and this pushed up private borrowing costs while creating a resource constraint.
Mahesh Vyas | CEO, Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy
Vyas makes an interesting argument vis-a-vis unemployment in Jammu & Kashmir, especially during the lockdown. He writes that the Consumer Pyramid Housing Survey could only survey 36 houses in J&K in August this year as opposed to previous surveys where the sample size was 2,588 households. While in the past surveys the labour force was calculated as 4.3 million in the region, the data from this month is unreliable because of the small sample size.
Since there are no tourists and movement is restricted, all enterprises would lay-off labour and all self-employed entrepreneurs would be “rendered unemployed”. Since everything is closed and there is no work to look for, they would in effect exit the labour-force.
Thus, since no one is actively looking for jobs or willing to work under current conditions, “technically the recorded unemployment rate would be zero”.
According to Vyas, Kashmiris face “no job, no income” but also no unemployment, which is “not funny”, he says.
Ajay Shankar | Distinguished Fellow, TERI
Hindu Business Line
In his piece, Shankar suggests a few “unconventional measures” to revive growth amid India’s economic slowdown. So far, reforms suggested by the Centre like bank consolidation or making credit readily available at lower interest rates, can only stimulate growth “in the medium term”.
On the other hand, a grant-based stimulus for the auto sector, reviving idle power projects and lowering the exchange rate to boost exports are more viable solutions in the long term. These measures, explains Shankar, can usher in additional demand in the coming quarters.
Devaluation of the rupee, a “standard IMF rescue package”, could also provide relief. It would be “a clear signal” from the RBI that it intends to prevent the appreciation of the real exchange rate, thereby nudging investors and market participants to “act accordingly”.
Amish Mehta | Chief Operating Officer, CRISIL
The Times of India
Mehta calls for “out-of-box incentivisations and game changers” to revive India’s economy. Given the government’s commitment to fiscal prudence, boosting the economy “lies in monetary policy”.
Mehta makes a link between the dent in consumer sentiment, which drives consumption and investments, and “tepid” wage growth. It indicates that the slowdown has impacted sectors that generate significant employment, writes Mehta. Even the rural market, which was growing “twice as fast as urban”, has plateaued and adversely affected consumer spending.
Mehta does credit the government’s tax regime corrections and renewed focus on start-up policies that will help “woo big investments”.
Outside domestic conditions, global economic growth is worrisome, writes Mehta, given the drop in US manufacturing activity and its intensifying trade war with China. Mehta calls the trade war “a double-edged sword” for India because depreciating the rupee can boost exports but also “bloat India’s oil bill”.