BJP spokesperson scrambles for cover as panellists trot out figures to prove all is not well with the economy even if one keeps long term goals in sight
Fuel prices across India touched fresh highs on Saturday with the petrol price hiked by 38 paise and diesel price by 47 paise in Mumbai. Petrol is selling at Rs 87.77/litre while diesel is priced at Rs 76.98/litre in Mumbai, according to a price notification issued by Indian Oil Corporation. In 2014, incumbent Prime Minister Narendra Modi had sought votes saying petrol would be available at Rs 30 per litre under his government’s rule.
Experts opine that the decision to hike fuel prices may prove costly to the BJP-led central government in the coming elections. On Saturday’s edition of Mudda, Himanshu Dixit led a discussion among BJP leader Khemchand Sharma, Congress leader Ajay Verma, NCP leader Arun Mishra, SP leader Rajpal Kashyap, economist Rajat Mehra and senior journalist Govind Pant Raju. The panellists tried to find out if it was indeed the case.
Following the opening remarks, Kashyap painted a dismal picture of the current reality, saying: “What happened to the promise of landing Rs 15 lakh in every citizen’s account? Or to the one about creating two crore jobs? Farmers are committing suicide. Soldiers are dying on the border. Demonetisation has crushed the backbone of the economy. Today each LPG cylinder costs Rs 800 which is out of reach for the common villager, yet the government is boasting about free LPG and subsidies.”
Mishra pointed out that the Ujwala Yojana was a scam benefiting the LPG cylinder distribution agencies.
“All his schemes have fallen flat, be it Make in India, Namami Gange, or demonetisation. So if today the party keeps saying all is well, it smacks of overconfidence,” Raju felt.
Sharma, the BJP spokesperson, said the government has performed well. He said the LPG cylinder costs Rs 495 in Delhi and not Rs 800, and the poor do receive subsidised cylinders under the Ujwala Yojana. He also said the Congress which proclaimed Emergency in 1975 should not speak of tyranny. Citing the respective figures of 5.6, 6.3, 7, 7.7 and 8.2, he averred that the economy has been growing steadily in the last five quarters. Even the farming sector is growing at the rate of 5.3 percent, he said.
But the prices of essential commodities and fuel are rising higher and higher, Dixit interjected.
“But dal and atta prices are reasonable. So are the prices of onion, potatoes and tomatoes. The fuel price rise will impact transport costs and raise the prices of the veggies a bit. But we have done our bit and have a clean slate. Only international factors and Congress corruption have been holding us back,” Sharma said.
But your government’s polices did not bear fruit, Dixit persisted.
Well, tax collection has increased from to Rs 6.25 lakh crore to Rs 10 lakh tax crore, Sharma responded.
Yet the GST collection figures are falling, Dixit shot back.
“We gave Rs 13 crore to youth under the PM Mudra Yojana to help entrepreneurs,” said Sharma apropos nothing.
Verma then opened a very strong offensive against Sharma and the NDA government. “These figures are all bogus. Unemployment has increased, prices have gone up and the common man is crying for succour. It is Gautam Adani, Mukesh Ambani, Baba Ramdev and Jay Shah whose incomes have multiplies during Modi’s tenure. Talk about scams, there are n numbers of them be it the Rafale scam or the GSIDC scam. Vijay Mallya ran away and the government has okayed Rs 10,35,528 crore of bad loans taken by rich men such as him. In fact, this figure has risen since 2014 by around Rs 7 lakh crore. But when it comes to farmers, they have been waived amounts such as Rs 72 and Rs 150. And don’t bandy about those fake figures. Even Karnataka, which incidentally had a Congress government until very recently, has beaten the PM’s homes state, Gujarat, when it comes to growth,” he said. The Congress would have brought in GST at 12 percent while the BJP is doing it at 28 percent, he added.
Raju advised the BJP to keep its ear to the ground. “The common man today is not so pleased with the government anymore,” he observed.
But Mehra felt that the government is doing sufficiently well. “I am speaking as a classical economist. If you look at the twin deficits—current account deficit and fiscal deficit, or the inflation rate, interest rate, and the growth rate, they are not critical. All the figures are actually quite attractive. In 1994, too, the Vajpayee government had made its policies keeping in mind these key criteria. It had introduced the Fiscal Responsibility and Budget Management Act. It was the UPA that threw it out. Any incumbent government must make its policies keeping long term gains in mind,” he said.
“You did not speak of rising economic inequality,” responded Verma. “Economic inequality has shot up under this regime. In 2014, 49 percent of the national income was going to one percent of the people, now this figure has shot up to 72 percent,” he said.
Even Paul Krugman has asked this question, GDP growth for whom, said Dixit, agreeing with Verma.
India is a country of villages. And in villages there is no change, Kashyap said. “Today people from villages come to cities daily and wait on the roadside to be hired as labour. At the end of the day, they return to their homes without any earnings. What was the effect of demonetisation? It was what translated into the BJP’s defeat in Gorakhpur, Phoolpur and Kairana in the LS bypolls,” he said
“India is also a country of youth. One of the favourite topics of BJP has been brain drain. They say they gave loans to two crore people for entrepreneurship. But will a CA or a doctor sell tea? Even former BJP president Nitin Gadkari has said there is no question of quotas as there are no jobs to go around,” Mishra said.
—Compiled by Sucheta Dasgupta
“Too much politics happening over corona in Delhi”
The Delhi chief minister’s decision was irresponsible, so it was overturned by the Lt Governor. Delhi belongs to everyone and such discrimination as Kejriwal proposed will not work. People know Kejriwal more for his wrong decisions than for any good work done by him
Even as Covid-19 cases in the country have crossed over 2.5 lakh, a petty spat has erupted over the issue of hospital beds. Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriewal said non-Delhi residents will not be able to access Delhi government healthcare for Covid-19, and Lt Governor Anil Baijal overruled the decision and ordered Delhi government hospitals to treat all patients. APN’s popular debate Mudda discussed the issue with BJP’s Anand Sahu, Congress’s Ajay Arora, AAP’s Vanshraj Dubey, political expert Niranjan Poddar and APN Editor Ajay Kaul.
Sahu said: “The Delhi chief minister’s decision was irresponsible, so it was overturned by the Lt Governor. Delhi belongs to everyone and such discrimination as Kejriwal proposed will not work. People know Kejriwal more for his wrong decisions than for any good work done by him.”
Vanshraj Dubey: “It was an expert team that had advised the Delhi CM in view of the likelihood of cases rising in the capital. Kejriwal has not taken any decision against the Centre’s orders.”
Arora said: “We are fighting a pandemic, the biggest battle-ever. These people are not bothered about Covid, they are looking at their vote-banks. They only want to enjoy power. BJP and AAP have turned Delhi into a football match, and the common man is getting ignored.”
Poddar said: “People get to see everything, and this petty politics has upset the people. All people want is safety and that their livelihoods and health should remain protected. Covid is spreading more in urban areas and not so much in rural areas. Delhi has around 2 crore people and therefore the number of Covid positive patients are rising. I don’t see anything wrong in Kejriwal’s decision to protect facilities for the people of Delhi. Politics is happening over Covid.”
Kaul said: “Discrimination of any kind is not good at all. Will a patient get his Aadhaar card, or should he look for relief when he comes to hospital?”
Dubey said: “Healthcare is free for the people of Delhi. In case there’s a serious case, the CM had already said he/she will not be denied government healthcare. Private hospitals are getting into black marketing of hospital beds.”
Kaul said: “Then Kejriwal should have made it all clear.”
Dubey said: “See if Delhi people do not get healthcare in Delhi, will they run to Ghaziabad? And will the UP government take such patients?”
Sahu said: “People will drive out AAP from Delhi.”
Arora said: “I agree with Kaul that the issue is why should people get discriminated for treatment. What if the child is a Delhi resident and parents are from Bihar? How will such a child get treatment for his patents in Delhi? Too much politics is happening over corona in Delhi.”
Dubey said: “See if patients want to take treatment in Delhi, there is nothing wrong in that. We have not challenged the Lt Governor’s decision. Problems arise when beds are scarce. Delhi will have its own budget, just like Haryana and UP also have.”
Poddar said: “Delhi has Delhi government hospitals, private hospitals and central government hospitals. Right now, inter-state traffic is limited. There are central government hospitals also where people can reach for healthcare. I am of the opinion there is nothing wrong in Delhi saving its facilities for its own people. Ambulances know where to take people.”
“Economy should be opened only gradually”
Economy will repair itself in time. But once lives are lost, they will not come back. Labour has gone back, so what good will we achieve by unlocking?”
On the one hand, coronavirus cases are rising and on the other, the country is now on unclock mode. After 75 days, temples, restaurants and malls have opened at various places. APN’s popular debate Mudda discussed the issue with medical experts Dr Rahul Bharadwaj, Dr Yash Gulati, Dr AK Shukla and Dr Ankit Kumar Sinha, economist Dr Ashok Kaithal and APN Editor, Ajay Kaul.
Bharadwaj said: “Every day, corona cases are rising. We shall soon overtake the US. We need to ensure strict discipline at containment zones. What’s the rationale behind opening of temples and gurudwaras? Economy will repair itself in time. But once lives are lost, they will not come back. Labour has gone back, so what good will we achieve by unlocking?”
Dr Kaithal said: “We have not seen the desired result of the lockdown. Once lives are saved, economy will be saved. World economy is in bad shape, and can be opened only gradually, and slowly. Economy will be revived only after the manufacturing sector is opened.”
Dr Sinha said: “We have unlocked when the cases are rising. Over 50 to 70 percent patients are unable to access healthcare. We cannot stop corona. The government is more concerned about concealing the correct picture.”
Kaul said: “Economic activity has to be resumed. By having a further lockdown, corona will vanish. Till when can we suspend economic activity? Lockdown was supposed to put infrastructure in place, like PPEs, masks, hospital beds and so on. Opening of religious places is irrelevant, as that will not impact economy. Healthcare has failed India. Private hospitals are admitting patients selectively.”
Dr Bhargava said: “Lockdown was meant to ensure that the facilities match the demand, that we had enough beds and ventilators for the patients, because in the eventuality of an outburst, we cannot match the kind of healthcare strength that is needed. Lockdown was meant to flatten the curve. Corona is a pandemic. See, cancer patients will die if we do not have sufficient beds. Why was testing stopped in private labs? Did we visualize this kind of life that we will leave our old to die? Is this what we want? Where will middle-class people go?”
Dr Gulati said: “We are a poor country, and it’s important to focus our economy now. Corona cases are bound to rise. Luckily, our mortality rate is controlled. We cannot be left to die of hunger.”
Dr Kaithal said: “Cases are going up and the situation is frightening. We should revive the economy only gradually. Social distancing should be strictly enforced. Purchasing power of people needs to go up.”
Dr Sinha said: “I agree that we need to look into the economy now, but we should also focus on testing and contact tracing.”
Kaul said: “Lockdown was meant to strengthen the infrastructure. AIIMS chief Dr Guleria had said that in June cases are expected to peak, then why were we not prepared for that?”
Dr Shukla said: “It’s a respiratory virus. All will be affected in some way or the other. Use of masks and hand hygiene is important. It’s good that the economy has been opened but we must not take the precautionary measures lightly.”
“We need to focus on survival and revival”
The government has approved the road map for implementing the micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs), farmer and street vendor package that was announced earlier as part of the Rs 20 lakh crore stimulus to restart the economy. APN’s popular debate Mudda discussed the issue with economic experts Mukesh Mohan Gupta and Ajay Prakash, and UP Industrial Development Minister Satish Mahana.
Gupta said: “Challenges are being faced by all sectors, the reason being the global coronavirus pandemic. The new definition of MSME has broadened its scope. Moody’s has downgraded India’s rating, but that’s the same story with many other countries. In the US, there is unprecedented rioting happening, so that;’s no better. Manufacturing has been impacted here, so the rating will go down.”
Mahana said: “The Rs 20 lakh crore package is geared to instill confidence among the labour and industry stakeholders. See, the world is in the grip of an economic crisis, but PM Modi has been taking decisive steps. Unlock 1 will help to revive economic activities, and for that the consumer has to come in the market. No one can say how long Coronavirus will last. Under MNREGA, help has been reached out to the vulnerable sections… the effort is to go in for strong handholding. We have to focus on survival and revival. You just can’t look at industry for revival, agriculture also needs to be boosted, cash inflow has to be looked into. We are mapping the skills of the labour, and helping in matchmaking skills with needs. We will not leave any stone unturned in the interest of industry and the workers. Modi has been forward-looking and transparent, there is no room for corruption. We are looking at the opportunity behind the challenge. US is in the grip of a crisis. But a dialogue has been started with other countries. “Advantage UP” is being looked into in the fields of milk production, surface water, infrastructure, etc. We are focusing on Advantage UP and UP will be preferred state for investing in the country with ease of doing business. See, we are in a strong position, but the economic crisis is being faced globally, so how can we talk about our country alone? We have to focus on how to get out of the crisis.”
Prakash said: “India has huge numbers, but with no earning, demand has been low. We have been told 80 percent units have started work, but they are on 25 percent capacity. We are unable to utilize the capacity to the fullest because labour is away.”
Gupta said: “When sick, we can’t run, so how can we expect our economy to be normal. Demand is low, rating will be down. Cases are going up.”
Prakash said: “The Five Is pointed out by the PM– Intent, Inclusion, Investment, Infrastructure and Innovation are very important. Only the top 1 percent has been getting richer, now we need to broaden the base.”
Gupta said: “We need to think of local products to remain healthy.”
Prakash said: “We have the opportunity, but we need to act fast, we need labour reforms, tax systems, satisfaction has to be provided to the foreign investor. The desire is there to attract foreign investment but we have not been as fast as we should have been. At first, we need to get labour back, and restore the supply chain and value system, and check out competitor countries like Korea and some other south east Asian countries, we need to strengthen the base.”