The Narendra Modi-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government is in celebration mode upon completing two years in power. Massive funds are being used to splurge on issuing entire front page colour advertisements in newspapers to list the NDA’s “achievements” alongside a full size photo of Modi, accompanied by a slogan – ‘Abki Bar, Desh Badal Raha Hai‘ (This time the country is changing). Indeed, such high paying advertisements come as a big relief for the media, which has been going though bad times in a prolonged economic slowdown.
But ask the drought affected farmers in the northern, central or western parts of India whether they feel the big change being boasted about in the advertisements issued by the Modi government and you will have your answer. In fact the farmers would feel deeply insulted by the government’s claims that the nation is transforming for the better. One is reminded of the premature ‘India shining’ campaign launched by the NDA in 2003.
Ironically, even as the Modi government claims big achievements in its two years in power, news comes from Maharashtra’s Lasangaon, the largest onion market in Asia, that onion prices have collapsed and the government is not intervening to give farmers a higher price. Devidas Parbhane, a 48-year-old farmer, was quoted in the media as saying he sold 952 kgs of onions at Rs. 1.60 per kg. Parbhane said after netting out the commission to the middleman and paying for transport to the mandi, he was left with nothing.
It is deeply ironical that farmers are facing this situation at a time when the government is celebrating two years of big “achievements”. Among the listed achievements is, ‘Abki Bar Kisan Vikas Ka Hissedar‘ (This time round the farmer will be partner in development). Remember the BJP manifesto had promised farmers 50% profits over the total cost of production and the recent budget had talked of doubling the farmers’ income. The kisan is still waiting to be made a partner in development.
Agriculture growth rate has been close to zero percent in the first two years of the Modi regime. The government could argue it got caught in a rare occurrence of back-to-back droughts for two years, which has happened only three times in the last 60 years. But its response to the situation has been wholly inadequate. The government has promised future crop insurance for farmers, but what about compensating for crops lost in one of the worst drought episodes affecting the livelihood of about 350 million people? It needed the Supreme Court to intervene and order relief measures. Even now, the demand under MNREGA coming from the district and panchayat levels is over 350 crore man days of work, but the Centre has provided funds for only half of that in the 2016-17 union budget, says Yogendra Yadav, co-founder of Swaraj Abhiyan, which has apprised the Supreme Court in detail about the drought situation in the country.
Frankly, Modi should have shown more sensitivity by announcing that the Centre would not celebrate the achievements of the government until the condition of the 350 million people affected by the drought improved.
In any case, it is a bit early to celebrate any achievement as the government itself has gone on record to say that the economy will take time to improve given the global economic headwinds and the lack of a pick-up in domestic private investment. Finance Minister Arun Jaitley has spoken about these challenges in detail. Yet the government, driven as it is by event mania, wants to have special celebrations by showcasing its “achievements” through the print and electronic media.
Among the NDA government’s many promises was to generate new jobs. But the government’s own data on jobs generated in eight key labour-intensive sectors – textiles, leather, IT/BPO, transport, handloom/powerloom, gems and jewellery, automobiles and metals – is quite dismal. It shows a 65% fall in jobs growth in these sectors, which can be taken as a proxy for the organised sector. In the worst years of performance – 2012, 2013 and 2014 – the additional jobs generated from these sectors were just over 4 lakh annually on average. In 2015, the additional jobs generation collapsed to 1.3 lakh. So what is going on in the economy?
There is a deeper problem that no one seems to be studying closely, although a BJP think tank led by Arun Shourie had analysed it as a flaw in the Congress-led government’s economic strategy in early 2014. The same flaw seems to have been magnified under the NDA because it remains unaddressed. One reason why employment growth has shown such a big fall is the growing automation in various industries. A NASSCOM spokesperson, who speaks for the entire IT and BPO sector, recently claimed the IT sector employs half the number of engineers today as compared to a decade ago for every $1 billion of output. Earlier the sector would employ over 35,000 software engineers for $1 billion of output. Today the same output can be generated by about 16,000 people. So instead of hiring some four lakh employees over the next few years, the IT/BPO sector will make do with less than two lakh workers. That is how jobs growth decelerate even as output grows. Consequently, a 7.5% GDP growth overall may not lead to a robust demand revival as the organised industry is showing lower job growth and the agri-sector is in the doldrums already. A favourable monsoon may improve the situation somewhat.
Other sectors like automobiles, steel and power are also so automated that capacity expansion is accompanied by increasingly fewer new recruitment.
Unfortunately, the government has no time to study how India will manage its job growth with increasing labour-replacing technologies being introduced in the organised industry. It is precisely on this count that one questions the jobs generating potential of the much touted ‘Make in India’ plan.
These are serious issues that need deeper study by the Centre and the many opposition governments running the states. One is not sure whether the Modi government has time for such discussions with the opposition parties, busy as it is strategising one state elections after another. Barely has the NDA come out of the gruelling four state assembly elections and we have Modi claiming to be a “UPwallah” in a public meeting in Sahranpur. The UP election is still eight months away yet it seems much closer than that.
The two years of the Modi government has also ushered in a new kind of confrontational politics that seems to have been designed and honed by Modi and Amit Shah. There is a method in the madness that put the opposition leaders off guard initially but now they have figured the contours of the project. By using the investigative agencies selectively to target opposition leaders, and at the same time going soft on their own chief ministers and well-wishers, like Amitabh Bachchan, the NDA is not coming across as non-partisan in the eyes of the people. The Sangh Parivar separately indulged in its own independent and calculated acts of confrontation by provoking the minorities in the first year of the NDA rule. The government claims this is not happening now.
Jaitley, in his many interviews to mark the two years of the government, accuses the opposition and Left intellectuals of orchestrating the intolerance debate before the Bihar elections. But he seems to forget that the intolerance debate was a response to Sangh Parivar’s aggressive political campaign around ghar wapsi, beef ban, the killing of Mohammad Akhlaq, and the early meddling with institutions in the cultural and educational space. The NDA just refuses to admit it has made any mistakes. The government has three more years left in its tenure in which to make more mistakes and not recognise them as such. This is also a gift of democracy!