‘Imagining the silence? Really?’ Pawan Khera’s (Indian Express, July 19, 2013) rejoinder to Pratap Bhanu Mehta’s exquisitely crafted article ‘While we were silent’ (Indian Express, July 11 2013), displays exactly how political sycophancy can distort perception enough to see a glass half full when it is actually empty. It is unremarkable that Congress Party members fall over each other to show loyalty. This is the Indira Gandhi Blueprint in practice here. When so much of each apparatchik’s future depends on how he is perceived by the Power, why should uncomfortable facts get in the way of making a pitch of personal devotion of servitude? Indubitably, these articles are not written to convince the reader, because even those of the lowest intellect must know today’s Indian is not buying their act. They are written to ensure their status in the Party.
Shashi Tharoor’s ‘Note to UPA-bashers’ (Indian Express, July 24, 2013) is even worse. Chanting reams of statistics that show utter obliviousness to the reality on the ground of the hazards of implementation, Congress vassals see every article that exposes the real problems real people are struggling with, as a personal attack on the Congress. Neither Mehta, nor Shekhar Gupta in ‘National Interest: The deformists’ (Indian Express, July 20, 2013) hold any loyalty to the opposition or any political party – and both were refuted by Tharoor. Their articles have clearly been written in pain at the direction the country has slipped. Spokespersons for the Congress Party spout statistics from their documents showing successful schools, medical centres, electrification and clean water programmes, which they so gullibly believe exist because they ordered them. This, of course, belies all reports that have shown most of what they claim has not been implemented.
A verisimilitude of ratiocination cannot convince people who are trying to survive in a quicksand economy and struggling through daily life. Tharoor claims, “They (Mehta and Gupta) have apparently failed to notice that today’s India boasts a thriving, entrepreneurial and globalised economy, with a dynamic and creative business culture”. Oh! So India is Shining yet again? It might be time for the Congress Party to listen to farmers, weavers, unemployed youth, miserable businessmen, who incidentally are too afraid to be outspoken. Sadly, around the world, it is repeated that the India Story is over. It has not been “one bad year” as the Prime Minister said in his speech at ASSOCHAM (July 19, 2013). It was not a lightning bolt. It has been a slow, painstaking, careful destruction of a progressive India.
Tharoor adds, “To this over-the-top indictment, (Shekhar) Gupta adds his own: the UPA’s ‘welfarism’ has betrayed the promise of reform and created a doctrine of ‘povertarianism’, which condemns Indians to perpetual poverty”. Over the top? Mr Tharoor, there are enough economists including your Prime Minister, who believe handouts without the dignity of work destroy individuals and society. Tharoor adds: “When the UPA promotes food security, it is emboldened by its own efforts to strengthen agriculture, which have led to record production of food grain”. Good logic. If you feed someone for not working, the grain grows by itself, stupid.
Let’s look at some real statistics. “Suicide rates among Indian farmers were a chilling 47 per cent higher than they were for the rest of the population in 2011. In some of the States worst hit by the agrarian crisis, they were well over 100 per cent higher. The new Census 2011 data reveal a shrinking farmer population. At least 270,940 Indian farmers have taken their lives since 1995, NCRB records show. This occurred at an annual average of 14,462 in six years, from 1995 to 2000. And at a yearly average of 16,743 in 11 years between 2001 and 2011. That is around 46 farmer suicides each day, on average. Or nearly one every half-hour since 2001.” (P Sainath, The Hindu, May 18, 2013) What has the Congress party done to arrest this desperate trend? There have been enough stories of food grain rotting while people starved and the Congress Party did nothing.
In a brilliant sleight of hand in the craft of writing, Mehta takes us through every area of incompetence, miscalculation, bad economic decisions, insensitive responses, bull-headed stupidity, self-serving vote seeking policies, romancing the poor to their disgust, exposing how the UPA has destroyed 15 crucial vertebrae of the spine of India. They have broken, cracked and crushed it. What Mehta did not include, was the last final one: they are succeeding in crushing the spirit of India and Indians. Young people are facing unemployment for the first time in a decade. More and more leaders of business and industry are moving their capital abroad and shoring up their NRI status. Every day there are newsbreaks of companies firing hundreds of their employees and shutting down factories. Even a company like Mahindra laid off 400 employees last week and has suspended production for eight days during this month to cut down inventory pile up. Maruti asked about 400 workers to go on leave, is producing about 40 per cent less than its maximum capacity of 4,400 units a day. Tata Motors is to also cut production of the Nano at the Sanand plant by over 80 per cent this year and for other vehicles at the Pune plant by 30 to 40 per cent. (moneycontrol.com) Motorcycles have piled up at factories because retail sales are barely there. Media companies are not only firing employees but also cutting programming because the advertisements are just not coming in, even at the lowest rates. NDTV has fired hordes and CNBC is reportedly in the process of doing so.
According to a Reuters report: “India’s economic gloom deepened on Friday with a surprise drop in industrial output, a fall in exports and higher retail inflation, adding to the Reserve Bank of India’s challenge of reviving the economy and supporting the rupee. A global sell-off has made the rupee the worst-performing emerging Asian currency so far this year. It hit an all-time low of Rs 61.21 per dollar this week and is down more than 8 per cent against the dollar so far this year.”
Mr Khera and Mr Tharoor, are you aware of all this?
The writing is on the wall of every business, every farmer, every builder, every graduate, every recently unemployed person. Yet the writing on Pawan Khera and Shashi Tharoor’s wall is different. Khera calls Mehta’s article “hypnotic pamphleteering”! Some of Khera’s gems: “There are more to roads than highways.” “There’s more to the aviation sector than just Air India.” “Coupled with the midday meal, RTE will prove to be a game changer.” “MGNREGA has revolutionised the rural landscape and changed the destinies of 48 million households.” The romanticising of the Food Security Bill for which there was no allocation in the Budget: “No one with any experience of seeing a poor man eat will oppose this scheme”.
A simple question: who will pay for it and how? It is indeed ironical that when the Supreme Court (Sept 9, 2010) ordered the government to distribute grains (that were rotting in FCI and government godowns) for free to families living below the poverty line, PM Manmohan Singh rebuked the SC saying it should not interfere in policy issues. The PM argued that he was against the idea of giving away food for free, saying it would kill farmers’ incentive to produce.
And the pièce de résistance is this: “Never before has any government faced the kind of assertion that the UPA did. When was the last time anyone saw protesters laying siege to Rashtrapati Bhawan? Swati, the girl who entered Rashtrapati Bhawan, is not behind bars for entering a high security area, because the government understood the anger of the people”. No, you did not understand the anger of the people. You were too afraid to touch Swati because you knew the anger would spiral into violent fury. Never before have people laid siege to Rashtrapati Bhavan because never before have people been so frustrated and furious by the government’s inaction, ineptitude and corruption. The Congress Party has so easily dismissed the urban and the middle class whilst plying their carrots to the rural poor. The Congress Party may even return to power in the next election with a jigsaw puzzle coalition with any available partners, but will it be because they deserve it for governance or because of arithmetic?
Mr Khera wrote, “Never before has any government faced the kind of assertion that the UPA did”. What is obvious to most, this was not mere “assertion” but the desperate outrage of a deeply wounded, despairing public. Khera wrote, the government acknowledged the right of the people to be angry. Did even one politician of the ruling party ever come to meet or address the people on the streets of protest? All the government did was wring their hands in panic and blame the media. It is sheer arrogance to assert that it was the government who gave the people a voice that could be heard without waiting for elections. This exposes twisted and self-serving logic. It is like saying: “When I beat my wife, she screamed at me to stop. See, she is free and has a voice. She can tell me to stop. She has freedom”. But you will go on beating her.
Khera’s rather petty remarks about “Neemrana intellectuals” do him no favour. In all the 15 points made by Mehta, in each one of them there is a segment of India that you have destroyed and we bristle against you for doing it. Yet Khera pats the ruling Party on the back with: “The last four years of India’s democracy have been promising — an exciting chapter where citizens and the state have been locked in a loud and healthy debate”. Debate? Water cannons and lathi charge constitute a debate? Where Was Mr Khera? In Neemrana?
It is clear that the Congress party has taken Mahatma Gandhi’s three monkeys proverb literally, yet partially. They have shut their eyes. They have shut their ears. Now, if only they would shut their mouths.
This is the complete version of Madhu Trehan’s article, “A people in despair, a government in wonderland” which appeared in The Indian Express on July 27, 2013