'How do you deliver wealth when you don't have the slightest idea about it?' asks T C A Srinivasa Raghavan.
Illustration: Dominic Xavier/Rediff.com
One of the biggest problems that the BJP has is the absence of economic thinkers, as distinct from mere economists.
One consequence of this is that we have no idea of what its conception of wealth and value is, as distinct from mere money.
Nor does it seem to have a sense of how wealth and value are created in modern society.
There are two reasons why this is important.
The first is that the BJP has emerged as the flag bearer of a transformative majoritarian social philosoply for India.
This philosophy, though narrow in conception and socially disruptive in its consequences, is likely to dominate the political landscape for the next few decades.
The second reason is that if you have a narrow view of wealth, viewing it as mere money, you tend to treat it as something to be milked, not nurtured.
Ms Sitharaman's first Budget stands testimony to this.
So have all Budgets since 1957.
That is, the Congress had exactly the same approach.
But in its case at least we knew how its brain had been wired, first by the Harold Laski types and then, after two decades, in purely politically inspired mutation, by Indira Gandhi.
There is no equivalent of a pro-wealth Laski for the BJP -- and that is why it is persisting with the mutated version that Indira Gandhi imposed on us in 1970.
This is why the BJP needs to solve the following problem: Can you change the social philosophy governing the politics of a country and leave its economic philosophy untouched and indistinguishable from the old-fashioned Gandhian socialism of the 1970s?
As the politically dominant force, the BJP hasn't even begun to think systematically about the problem.
I had hoped that Bibek Debroy, who has the intellectual wherewithal, would become its lead thinker.
But he has fallen strangely silent.
In any case, he is not a party man.
Nor has Rajiv Kumar, who now heads NITI Aayog with its massive convening power, shown any inclination in this direction.
But NITI doesn't mean merely policy; it also means structured thought.
This inability to think appropriately about value and wealth has been the source of every one of our economic follies since independence.
This is because the Congress thought of wealth as a social evil.
Many economists who served it, however, had the opposite view.
I had the good fortune to learn economic policy from some of them.
But they were unable to counter what the Germans call the zeitgeist (the spirit of the times).
After 1970, when the Congress turned a deeper shade of pink, they all fell by the wayside.
Then the intellectual charlatans, fellow-travellers and groupies took over.
One such groupie even became prime minister.
As finance minister earlier, he did his best to change things.
But when he became prime minister he stopped trying.
So when Mr Narendra Damodardas Modi constantly talks about the Congress legacy, he forgets that this is the most important part of it, namely, the way a political party thinks about the only thing that matters: Wealth and how it is created.
That is why young Krishnamurthy Subramaniam can wax eloquent about behaviourial economics and nudge theory.
But he is targeting the wrong group.
It is the BJP he needs to nudge because it is the most in need of nudging right now.
It is no coincidence that the Europeans grew so rich and ruled the world for 500 years.
They devoted a lot of thought to the question of wealth and value and how they are created.
Above all, they knew that wealth -- even if the manner in which it is created changes -- must be preserved, not destroyed.
In India, after 1947, we have done the opposite.
It was the physicocrats who started the ball rolling and since then there have been various theories.
Bar the Communists, not one of these theories has come anywhere near our political parties, who have not tried to develop their own theories either.
As a result, they remain struck on religion and caste.
And there lies the paradox: In order to win elections, they have to promise wealth.
But when they come to power the fools destroy it.
Hence my question to them: How do you deliver wealth when you don't have the slightest idea about it?
The BJP has surmounted many political and social problems, but until it surmounts this particular intellectual problem, it is, I am afraid, going to remain incomplete.