Uneasy head that wears the crown by Dr Mohammad Manzoor Alam (November 28, 2018)
Dr Mohammad Manzoor Alam
I begin this piece with a request to the reader to read it as a continuation of my last article (The magic moment, again!, November 13, 2018).
And with that I am going to make a paradoxical statement: whoever wins the Lok Sabha election in 2019 will be an unhappy person. The next prime minister from the party winning the majority seats would be the unhappiest and unluckiest person in India as he/she would be inheriting problems from this government that cannot be solved, only postponed, to become greater and more unmanageable for future governments. The new prime minister in 2019 (even if we are cursed to have Mr Modi again as prime minister for another term) will be sitting on a stove of burning coal.
Why? Because the four and a half-year misrule of Mr Modi has destroyed major democratic institutions, torn the social fabric of the country with hate propaganda and given the licence to rowdy Sangh foot soldiers to lynch Muslims, Dalits, women and other weaker people at will, with impunity, because policemen act as spectators and bystanders, if not active participants.
Possibly no less a matter of concern is the economy, particularly rural economy. Some indicators of the rural economy’s health are: prices of agricultural and horticultural products, sale of motorcycles (which shows movement in the rural economy), sale of cement and steel (which indicates prosperity and construction of new houses in villages) - all these show adverse trends for village economy. The rural economy was shattered after a reckless and irrational note ban two years ago as millions of rural daily wage workers in cities suddenly became jobless and returned to their villages because there was no cash available to pay them.
The rural economy was shattered as it had more mouths to feed, but more idle hands. Villages did not need new workers. The supply of labour in the villages far exceeded the demand for them. As a result, rural wages fell suddenly. The government has been concealing the negative impact of the double whammy of note ban and GST, but the fact is that the national economy has badly staggered under their impact and slackened at a time when the economy of the rest of the world is showing an upward trend.
The worst thing to happen for the next government is a full-blown banking crisis blowing up in its face in 2019 itself. The medicine government has forced the Reserve Bank of India to dispense to failing banks and NBFCs will be worse than the disease and empty out India’s treasured wealth. The crisis is only being postponed for the elections, and it is going to return in a more powerful form.
Meanwhile, I would like to quote from a recent column of the economist and former finance minister P. Chidambram:
India occupies the ‘heights’ in other respects too:
In the Global Hunger Index, India’s place is 103, denoting severe hunger. Sixteen countries have higher (meaning worse) ranks.
- In the Gender Inequality Index, India’s rank is 125 out of 188 countries.
- In the Index of Economic Freedom, India occupies rank 130 out of 180 countries.
- In the Human Development Index, it ranks 130 out of 189 countries. India is in the bottom third.
- In the Freedom of Press Index, the rank is 138 on a descending scale of 180 countries.
- In per capita GDP, India’s rank is 140, also in the bottom third of 188 countries.
- In the Education Index, it is worse: 145 out of 191.
We can take satisfaction that India has not reached the ‘height’ of 182 in any index constructed after a survey of a maximum of 191 countries. However, ranks of 103, 125, 130, 138, 140 and 145 are not such that they can be dismissed in a cavalier manner by citing dubious statistics. What do these ranks tell us? That the high rate of growth and considerable economic progress achieved by the country have not put an end to the abject poverty of a significant proportion of the population. We can debate the size of that proportion, but even at 20 percent, it means that 250 million have been left behind. While poverty cuts across race, religion and caste, it is an undeniable fact that most of the 250 million of the very poor are Dalits, Scheduled Tribes, most backward classes, minorities and the disabled.
Pity the next prime minister who is going to inherit the bitter fruit of Mr Modi’s misrule. Even Mr Modi is not going to handle the situation well if he inherits himself.