Accidental Prime Minister Versus Arrogant Prime Minister

Mala Jay

As 2018 draws to a close, a new controversy has erupted – this time about the film ‘An Accidental Prime Minister’.   Very clearly it is a propaganda film sponsored by the BJP to show the previous government under Manmohan Singh in a poor light.
A heated debate is raging on whether it is right or wrong to distort recent history and to defame and demean living personalities.  It is also a matter of opinion whether the film should be banned or allowed to be released on January 11 in the spirit of freedom of speech and expression.  

With crucial election looming large in the New Year, the bigger concern is whether Indian political parties and responsible political leaders realize the enormity of the opportunities and challenges facing the nation in the near future.  

The world outside views India very differently from the way Indian leaders view themselves and each other.   
The BJP is going all out to project the ten years of Congress-UPA rule between 2004 and 2013 as a disastrous period of policy paralysis and corruption – this is the main theme of the film ‘An Accidental Prime Minister’.  

The Congress on the other hand is campaigning with growing confidence on the thesis that the current five years of BJP-NDA rule from 2014 till date is a monumental mismanagement of the economy marked by false claims and broken promises.

If both BJP and Congress are right in their assessment, it will mean that since 2004 India has been going downhill at a suicidal pace.   Fortunately, that is not the case. The Manmohan years, particularly the first five years, witnessed some phenomenal progress and certain historic achievements.  

This is contrary to the message the film tries to send.  But that is in the nature of all propaganda - the good is buried and the weaknesses are exaggerated and highlighted.   

What the film does not deal with is the tremendous rise in GDP growth, close to double digits for three years on the trot, which India was able to achieve under Manmohan Singh before the 2008 global financial crisis tripped the momentum.   

Nor does it depict realistically the targeted stimulus packages that somehow kept the growth rate above the 5 or 6 per cent mark and saved the economy from meeting the fate of most other economies in the world in the meltdown era.  Evidently, having a globally renowned economist at the helm helped staved off a worse crisis.     

In the opinion of many economists, it was that life-saving injection that helped the economy to limp back towards normalcy post 2014,  the benefits of which were later credited to the Narendra Modi regime in its first two or three years. 

However, reckless decisions like demonetization came like body blows on an economy that was just beginning to regain its animal spirits -thereby bringing the country virtually to its knees. 

The consequence has been tragic in terms of destruction of small businesses, devastation of the rural economy, widespread joblessness and agrarian distress.  The government of the day has slipped into what looks like a state of policy paralysis much worse than what it accuses the UPA-2 to have lapsed into.   

Partisan political propaganda being what it is, the game of buck-passing and recrimination is currently on at fever pitch, regardless of fact and fiction.   The main aim of the film ‘An Accidental Prime Minister’ is to depict Manmohan Singh as a puppet in the hands of the all-powerful Gandhi family and to create the perception that during his prime ministership economic policies were rotten to the core.  

The Congress, politically resurgent under the leadership of a new president,  is equally vociferous in painting Narendra Modi as an empty vessel that makes a lot of noise and conjures up false narratives based on concocted statistics of production, development and growth.  

If the previous Prime Minister is being shown as an accidental and weak leader unable to stem sloth and sleaze, so also the present incumbent is seen as a deceitful despot who is utterly clueless about the grammar of development despite chanting the mantra of vikas, vikas, vikas.

Thus, the major political parties in India are wholly preoccupied in hurling invectives at each other and blaming one another for the frightening spectre of rising unemployment and increasing rural distress.   

Outside the country, paradoxically enough, serious analysts are focusing on the real issue of leveraging India’s biggest asset, its people.   The question uppermost on the minds of global economists is why India’s quarrelsome political class is not paying sufficient attention to the advantages – and dangers -- of having such an awe-inspiring number of youthful population.  

It is called Demographic Dividend and Indian leaders claim to be fully aware of the concept.   They also seem to vaguely aware how dangerous it can be to ignore the aspirations of the youth by failing to provide them with gainful employment.  

To the increasing consternation of the outside world, beyond making utopian election promises and sloganeering about harnessing the power of the youth, India’s political dispensation is not showing enough urgency in formulating socio-economic policies to achieve the objective.   

Latest available figures show that India’s population has risen by 1.1 per cent between 2016 and 2017 – from 1.324 billion to 1.339 billion.

The latest available IMF figures show that India is Sixth in the GDP ranking by country.   India’s GDP in 2017 was 2,611,012 million US dollars, behind USA, China, Japan, Germany and UK. 
But the implication of this is far less rosy when population is factored in to reveal the per capita reality.   Only China has a larger population.  Apart from USA which has one-third of India’s population, all the other three (Japan, Germany and UK) have less than one-tenth of India’s population. 

This tells its own story in terms of the challenges India faces and the opportunities that political parties seldom talk about.   

Dec 30, 2018

Mala Jay

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