If earlier CSO revision was ok, why fault this one?
Let us be clear. The GDP numbers don’t mean a fig to the average voter. Yes, at some level they do matter to every Indian, but the process is slow and the trickle-down effect largely invisible that it is better not to inflict the statistics of economic growth on the aam aadmi. For him, empirical evidence of growth lies in jobs, higher personal incomes, prices of essential goods and services, etc. And here, by and large, the economy in the last four years has done fairly well, especially when it comes to containing inflation and holding the fisc at a reasonable level. A vast majority of the people are unconcerned with the wordy duels that have broken out following the release of the latest GDP data.
Previous and current Finance Ministers are better qualified to engage in an argument, but in trying to rubbish the new data series of gross domestic product, P. Chidambaram has shown a remarkable lack of civility. Abuse is a poor substitute for cold facts and plain logic. Given that he is being kept busy by the CBI, which has filed a charge-sheet in one of the several cases under investigation against him and his consultant son, Karti, one can excuse his description of the new numbers as “a joke”, “a hatchet job”, etc. The slew of corruption cases may have diminished his public standing, but he feels obliged to try and project the same old image of a nonchalant arrogance.
But even Chidambaram cannot answer why, if the latest revision of growth undertaken by the Central Statistics Office was a joke, how come the previous revision undertaken under the Narendra Modi government by the same CSO in July met his ready approval. Was it because it had revised growth upwards in the UPA years? And now, when the latest numbers using a far bigger basket of goods and services and more refined with newer inputs from several sectors and sub-sectors of the economy reflect better numbers in the Modi years, Chidambaram is crying foul. He cannot have it both ways, accepting the referee’s decision when he likes it and quarrelling with him when given a foul.
For the lay reader it should be enough to know that it is common to revise the base year every decade or so. Indeed, under the UPA, the base year was upgraded. If the July revision raised growth between 2005-12, it also lowered it between 1994-95 to 2003-04, which includes the five years of the A.B. Vajpayee government. The new back series relies on the latest global statistical model, and as former chief statistician Pronob Sen said, it has sought to correct discrepancies between 2004-05 and 2011-12 statistics. The farm output in the new series in the UPA year has registered a decline.
Also, for instance, in the telecom sector, instead of relying on the number of cell phone connections, the latest numbers rely, most correctly, on the average user time. Incidentally, I have three cell phones of three different service providers, but use only one, which is my original. I hardly pay any usage charge for the other two dormant connections. Or manufacturing. Till 2015, the performance of 5,000 units was extrapolated to determine industrial output. Since then the database of one million companies registered with the Ministry of Company Affairs has provided a better picture of the manufacturing sector. Besides, lower inflation will naturally boost real growth in the NDA years, than it would under the UPA regime when inflation was much higher.
In any case, if Chidambaram is convinced of his case, he should pick up the gauntlet thrown by the NITI Aayog Vice-Chairman Rajiv Kumar for a televised debate. (Oh my, what have they done to me? Willing me to take on the likes of this glorified babu, when not long ago I had turned up my nose even at senior colleagues, the likes of that fellow, Pranab Mukherjee!) Kumar has most robustly defended the latest revision, though he did create bad optics by publicly associating with the CSO in the presentation of the new data.
In the ruling party circles there is hush-hush talk of a woman accused in the Saradha scam. She is out on bail after having spent time in jail. She is now trying to enlist the support of senior ministers in order to wriggle out of the case. She touts her family’s RSS connections, though during the time she was running her regional television channels, they had distanced themselves from the Sangh Parivar. Given that her involvement in the scam is public knowledge, the willingness of the senior ministers from the RSS stream is rather puzzling. Before there is a scandal, shouldn’t the concerned ministers be wary of her company?
His Chief Minister declined to go to Pakistan. But his loudmouthed junior minister went nonetheless, ignoring advice from the MEA. While there, his antics again confirmed his public profile as a noisemaker with no appreciation either of the solemnity of the occasion or its backdrop. In Pakistan, he embarrassed himself calling the ISI puppet, Prime Minister Imran Khan, as “mera yaar, dildar, Imran”. Throwing protocol to the wind, Sidhu addressed the gathering as if he was performing in another of those lowbrow comedy shows. On their part, Pakistanis massaged his ego, with Khan hoping that Pakistan does not have to wait for Sidhu to become Prime Minister before peace can be established in the sub-continent. Of course, the latest visit continued from where he had left off the questionable business of jhappi-pappies with the Pak army chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa, on an earlier visit a few weeks ago.
To complete the picture, Sidhu, a Congress minister in the sensitive border state, was filmed with the Khalistani head of a Sikh body in Pakistan, which is an extension of the ISI. Meanwhile, there is a feeling that the whole Kartarpur corridor thing was planned by the ISI to divert global attention from the tenth anniversary of the 26/11 terrorist attack. Sidhu is in danger of coming across as the unpaid and unwitting agent of the jihadi forces in his single-minded quest for publicity. He should go back to television comedy or try and acquire some gravitas.
Meanwhile, Sidhu’s claim that his real Captain—his Chief Minister, he said, was a mere Army Captain—Rahul Gandhi had cleared his Pak trip, was promptly rejected by the Congress president. Where does it leave the Thoko Taali master? Stranded midway between politics and comedy, and, thus, nowhere.
They say dog doesn’t eat dog. Why not? Is media a holy cow to be left alone, instead of being held to the same standards of accountability like all public institutions? In a way, media too is a public institution, albeit in the private sector. So, here is my thing. Every time he hires a new journalist, the oft-heard question in the media community is: where is he getting his money? Who is funding him? Frankly, nobody knows. But the hirings at handsome pay packages continue apace. Now, it can’t be that he is putting in his own money—and he has lots of it, ask his former employers whom he took them to the cleaners. So whose money is it that is bankrolling almost weekly new hires? Well, your guess is as good as mine.