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|April 21, 2001||
A time to heal
Enough is enough. The tehelka is over. George Fernandes and Bangaru Laxman have resigned. N K Singh is about to step down and Brajesh Mishra, if signals from the Prime Minister's Office are to be trusted, will shortly find his wings clipped.
New political realignments have taken place in the states that are going to the polls. Who knows? After the polls, you might see realignments in the Centre as well. Can we please now get back to the task of putting India and the economy back on the rails?
Terrible damage has taken place in the past few months. Not just in Bhuj, where the earthquake struck with savage intensity, but all over India. The credibility of the Vajpayee government has taken a serious knocking. The stock markets have gone for a toss despite Yashwant Sinha's much-acclaimed Budget. The banking system has been hugely compromised. Millions of people have lost their life's savings. Foreign investors are shying away from putting in more money and the industrial growth rate, for the first time in many, many years, has slipped below 1 per cent.
Thousands of knowledge workers who had gone to the US to earn their livelihood have now been benched as the economy out there staggers through its worst turndown in a long time and companies like Lucent and AT&T are reportedly teetering on the edge. Nasdaq has crashed to an all-time low, making it almost impossible for Indian companies to raise money out there any more.
In India, all public offerings are on an indefinite hold. No one trusts the bourses any more. No one trusts the banks either. Pensioners, already hard hit, find their savings yielding much poorer returns in the wake of the interest cut by RBI. The rupee is slipping. The growth in software exports is down. Job cuts appear imminent. Mutual fund NAVs are at an all-time low and vast sums of hard-earned money have suddenly vanished into thin air. People are actually committing suicide out there, not knowing how to cope with sudden bankruptcy. The hopes of millions of people who were dreaming of a strong and economically stable India lie dashed.
The huge damage caused by the earthquake is there for everyone to see. Drought has hit Maharashtra hard. Farmers are not getting remunerative prices and, in some states, they have been so badly hit that they are taking their own life out of sheer frustration. Kashmir remains a bleeding, cancerous sore. Caste violence in Bihar never seems to stop. There is bad news all over. Yet no one is talking about national reconstruction. No one is talking about quick corrective measures to restore the economy to good health.
Newspapers continue to heap bad news on us every morning. In these desperate times, everyone is looking for scapegoats. Scapegoats to be sacrificed on the altar of political convenience. Ketan Parekh, unluckily for him, is right there on centrestage: the easiest bakra on whom everything can be blamed. The regulators, poor guys, are in the crosshairs of every typewriter assassin. So are the banks, the financial institutions, the brokers. Someone says Unit 64 is about to crash. Someone writes that the banks are in deep shit. Someone prognosticates the Sensex will soon fall below 2800. What they are all doing, often unknown to themselves, is creating a further crisis of confidence. They are talking down the market, destroying faith, scaring foreign investment away.
After all, we are what we think we are. If we keep telling ourselves (and the world) that we are a nation of crooks and scamsters, we will become a nation of crooks and scamsters.
So what is the answer?
We must realise that the economy is like a bank. If you keep running it down all the time, you will soon have a run on it. Foreign investors will be the first to pull out. Then will go the local institutions. No one invests in an economy where people undermine their own institutions, where the media runs down everything, and politics is conducted in an environment of complete mistrust.
This does not mean we must allow Enron to loot us. Or Ketan Parekh to go scot free. This does not mean the Madhavpura Mercantile Co-operative Bank should be allowed to get away with fake pay orders. What it only means is that we must learn to limit the damage, correct ourselves, and move on.
We cannot allow every scam to run away with India's future. We cannot allow every institution, be it RBI or SEBI, UTI or IDBI to be so easily written off. Instead, we must find out what exactly went wrong and try to set it right as quickly as possible. Otherwise, we may as well give up all pretence of parliamentary democracy and ask the CBI to run India.
One rogue trader does not make all equity trade suspect. One B P Verma does not make every Indian bureaucrat a bribe taker. One indiscreet minister in the Cabinet does not mean the entire security of the nation is compromised. One errant bank manager does not mean that our entire banking system is rotten to the core. One foolish investment decision does not always endanger an entire fund. One system failure, however serious, does not warrant giving the entire regulatory machinery a bad name.
The Opposition, I know, is desperate. They want to grab power at any cost. But they should not do this at the cost of India. The media, on the other hand, is mature, strong, well informed. Maybe they can afford to be a little more circumspect, a little less shrill and hysterical. While every crime must be exposed and every wrongdoing brought to public attention, we must also realise at the same time that we cannot destroy every institution that exists. In our war against corruption and wrongdoing we cannot afford to burn India down.
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