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Modi's Huge Challenge: The Economy

June 30, 2021 07:25 IST
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After 24 months of slowdown beginning in January 2018 before the pandemic and then 18 months of collapse since January 2020, we have become the world's worst performing economy, observes Aakar Patel.

IMAGE: Prime Minister Narendra Damodardas Modi addresses the International Yoga Day programme, June 21, 2021. Photograph: Press Information Bureau

It is not easy to find good news in India and has not been easy for a long time now.

A report said that the Indian economy is contracting again in this quarter, between April and June, by more than double digits.

This report from one agency was carried in multiple media outlets, but it was not refuted or commented upon by others including by the government.

It was just assumed to be true. After 24 months of slowdown beginning in January 2018 before the pandemic and then 18 months of collapse since January 2020, we have become the world's worst performing economy.

India's economic growth has been falling for 42 months now, but the government has not spoken about why that is and what went wrong or what it plans to do to correct it.

Manmohan Singh last year in an interview offered five points to correct course, but he added that a course correction was possible only after one acknowledged that there is a problem.

Since we have not accepted that anything is wrong, we will continue.

CMIE, the only body offering regular employment data (the Modi government has little data and says that it is conducting some surveys whose results will come around the end of the year) says unemployment in India is at 11%, higher than Pakistan and Bangladesh.

Inflation is high though demand is low and wholesale prices at their highest since 1992.

Petrol is Rs 100 a litre, diesel is almost there and the price of crude oil is expected to rise another 20% by the end of the year.

Exports are at the same level as they were in 2014 and in seven years under Modi have shown no growth though in the same period Bangladesh and Vietnam have grown and China has held onto its share.

80 crore Indians are being given free food for seven months from May till November.

Five kilos of wheat or rice per person per month and one kilo of dal.

In May, 16 lakh tons of wheat and 15 lakh tons of rice was distributed.

60% of Indians depend on free food. This should tell you more than enough about the state of poverty in India today.

When Modi took over in 2014 he said MGNREGA was a monument to the failure of the Manmohan Singh government.

He would give people real jobs and not MGNREGA jobs. The size of the MGNREGA programme last year was three times what it was under the UPA because crores of people have lost their jobs and fallen into poverty and now depend on MGNREGA and free foodgrain.

The Gujarat government put out a statement last week which said MGNREGA was a lifesaver.

Elsewhere, it has been a year since the clash in Ladakh.

China has stopped its disengagement. This means India has to keep tens of thousands of troops in that area permanently.

China has also told us it is demoting the level of talks, and now only area commanders will discuss specific issues rather than general disagreement.

Our soldiers still cannot patrol in Depsang but the government has not acknowledged that or held a single press briefing on Ladakh since the crisis began.

Opacity is the hallmark of dictatorships and not democracies, but this is the status of our national security.

India was supposed to be the Vaccine Guru and Vaccine Factory for the world.

Instead, India has wrecked the world's vaccination programme by stopping delivery of vaccines others already paid for in advance and which were manufactured in India.

Our government has begun taking over those stocks while the world waits.

Even with that, India has only managed to fully vaccinate 3% of its population against the world's average of 9%. Why? We have not been told.

Every day there is a report of excess deaths from states being between four and 10 times the official Covid toll.

India appears to lead the world by far in both cases and deaths.

There has not been a government initiative to find out the true number of cases and deaths and the media continues to parrot the official numbers and at the same time publishing reports on the excess deaths.

Mass faking of tests at the Kumbh has been reported and this is also par for the course.

At the G7 meeting in the UK the prime minister signed a document called the Open Societies Statement in which he pledged India would practice and promote human rights and civil liberties.

At home, those who ask for these he has locked up under UAPA.

The farmers protest continues with tens of thousands living on the highway outside Delhi.

The laws have been suspended. but not withdrawn. Why?

We do not know because Modi has not spoken about the laws since they were suspended by the Supreme Court six months ago.

It doesn't matter whether you are a supporter of Modi or an opponent or a neutral.

Anyone looking around the state that India finds itself in will find it hard to extract any good news and find it difficult to be optimistic.

Aakar Patel is a columnist and writer and you can read Aakar's earlier columns here.

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