Elections 2014 has thrown up lot of expectations for the masses. We need a cheerful India.
-- AFP photo
The day the election results were pouring in (May 16, 2014) I happened to be on a TV channel at the prime time. In the midst of all the euphoria over the rising stock markets and the cheering proponents of the market reforms, I was asked whether the landslide verdict in favour of Narendra Modi-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) would really usher in the "acche din" (good days).
My answer was in the affirmative. But with a small clarification. "Acche din is not only for the stock markets, not only for the top 1% of the population, but more so for the huge mass that is somehow able to eek out a living, somehow managing two square meals a day." I narrated a small story to drive home the point. Just before coming to the studios I walked into a vegetable market in Noida. I asked the price of some vegetables. I told the vendor to reduce the price of lady finger that I intended to buy. His response was: "Ok Sir, today you can pay what you want. After all, Narendra Modi has been elected as the Prime Minister. Ab Acche din aane wale hain..."
So when I heard the Prime Minister-designate today say while addressing the newly elected NDA members: Ours will be a government that thinks, works and lives for the poor. This will be a government dedicated to the villages, youth and women of India," my hope was reinforced. Reading economists Jagdish Bhagwati/Arvind Panagariya as well as some other writers in the English-language newspapers for the past few days one gathered the impression as if the new government would be only for the top 1 per cent of the population. Sadly, I find that a section of the mainline media was only batting for the rich and powerful. As if the rest of India did not matter.
This reminds of what Mahatma Gandhi had famously said in his Talisman.
It is so depressing to read and hear every day that the first step the Prime Minister has to take is to reduce the fiscal deficit, and when they say fiscal deficit the TV anchors, mainline economists and the panelists blame the subsidies for the poor to be primarily responsible. I heard many panelists say that the new government should withdraw LPG subsidy by reducing the number of subsidised cylinders that each family gets in a year. We are told LPG subsidy comes to Rs 48,000-crore and this is a wasteful expenditure. I was asked the other day this question. My answer was that there is no need to reduce the number of subsidised cylinders for every household. Why not instead reduce the monumental subsidy that is being churned out to people who do not need it, and here I mean the corporates. For 2014-15, the government has given a subsidy of Rs 5.73 lakh crore by way of tax concessions. Isn't this a wasteful expenditure? Why no economist/journalist talks about it?
We are also told that the amount being spent on LPG subsidy -- Rs 48,000 crore -- is good enough to remove poverty for one year. If this is true, then let me tell you that the total subsidy/tax concessions doled out to Indian Inc since 2004-05 is Rs 31-lakh crores. If this amount was spent on fighting poverty, India could have easily wiped out poverty for the next 62 years. If you can remove poverty for 62 years, you actually remove it for all times to come. I don't know why there is a raging contempt for the poor and marginalised. You probably know the reason better than me.
I don't want to make any more suggestions on what needs to be done in the coming months. I would rather wait and watch. After all, any Prime Minister with such a clear mandate would like to leave his name permanently embedded in gold letters. It is Narendra Modi's opportunity to pull the country out of the morass, and catapult it to a stage of development where everyone (and I repeat everyone) emerges out of the blue; where everyone finds democracy coming to their doorsteps not to seek votes but to hold their hand. Let India carve a new pathway to development, which is both environmentally sustainable and equitable.
Let's all join hand, wherever we are, towards a new India where no one goes to sleep empty stomach, and where the development process does not leave behind a bleeding ecosystem.