This economic downturn is manageable and reversible. However, before any corrective measure can be taken, it has to be diagnosed
It is obvious that the Indian economy is not in the pink of health. Despite all efforts, the present dispensation at the helm of affairs is failing to pull it out of the nosedive it has taken. And like it often happens once things start going haywire, debate or controversy is generated on the intention of the specialists. Those providing data to people are accused of distortions and worse. By definition, a lot of these debates remain unresolved because it doesn’t suit anyone to resolve them.
The latest beneficiary of such controversies is the electronic media. In the evenings one witnesses competitive bidding by channels for picking up, sometimes, almost a silly topic of the day and identifying a few people who are qualified for nothing better than high-pitched, theatrical argumentation. It suits the anchor to appear to pacify the participants by counselling patience and advising appropriate behaviour. There is another breed of anchors also, which in an almost free-for-all, indulges in high-pitched attention-seeking to drown the voices of the quarreling guests.
Hence, perversity is institutionalised and becomes a revenue stream. This is somewhat similar to the overall topography of what is happening to the economy. For the first two or three decades of Indian independence, at a policy level there was a popular notion that socialism was a great philosophy and was the panacea for human growth. At a particularly stressful time, a challenged Prime Minister even amended the Indian Constitution to add two words in the opening sentence: “socialism” and “secularism.”
Subsequently, “secularism” became a campaign slogan and replaced all economic theories of development. The results are there for all to see. If one goes through the themes in the media then perhaps, the most widely covered is that of religion. Of course, the concerns of temples and mosques of one variety or another are headliners but the places of worship of other denominations are second to none with their theory of uniqueness. For instance, there are different denominations of Christians, who have their inherent idiosyncrasies. Controversies of mutual acrimony are common to even the most democratic of religions.
Under such circumstances, to find space for true economic debate is a challenge in its own right. To say that the British legacy of “divide and rule” is to blame for the current situation in the country or to hold the Partition as a causative factor is not only to belie the reality but to oversimplify the problem almost to the point of making it insoluble. There was an active effort on the part of many movers and shakers dominating the political scene, to encourage a denominational approach to polity. Any attempt of talking about “nationalism” was almost ridiculed out of the arena. A backlash was inevitable.
During this period, self-employment and entrepreneurship continued to grow in many small formats and miniaturised incarnations. Small vendors and peddlers grew in number and there was an aversion to anything growing “big.” The trivialised vendor, under economic pressure, be it a milkman or a street grocer selling food grains, sugar or salt, found it advantageous to not only cut corners but to add to his/her insignificant profitability by institutionalised and skillful inter-mixing of unacceptable material to otherwise pure products.
Thus it is that dishonest adulteration of everyday material became a revenue stream as milk had water and even urea in it, flour had sawdust in it and rice had ground down pebbles in it. It became a way of life and many people reconciled to it. If someone wanted anything honest and pure, he had to go to the key point of production and get it. Illustratively if one wanted proper flour, he was expected to buy the wheat, wash it, dry it and carry it to the grinding shop where it would be ground into flour. It became a parallel industry in its own right.
The epidemic spread and cutting corners became a norm for almost anyone who wanted to move up the ladder or indeed keep going. Now, after 50-60 years, this practice has almost become a norm and we live with it. The present dispensation, while doing praiseworthy work to clear the debris, has missed a simple point. Debris cannot be cleared by importing wherewithal from companies and corporates which are not Indian and not rooted in the soil.
The writing on the wall has got so dimmed that the Western-trained intellectuals who still dominate the policy frame are now trying to find answers in alternative economic theories.
It may be hard to believe but this malaise of the economic downturn is indeed a process which is manageable and reversible with judicious planning and implementation of well thought out policies. However, before it can be handled or turned around, it has to be summarily diagnosed. And therein lies the twist in the tale.
(Writer: Vinayshil Gautam; Courtesy: The Pioneer)