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Editorial: Standing on the shoulders of giants

The white paper delved into areas like the runaway fiscal deficit, decision stasis, banking crisis, corruption as well as scams

Editorial: Standing on the shoulders of giants

Parliament Building

CHENNAI: Last week, in the final Parliament session before the general elections, the BJP-led NDA government unveiled a white paper tearing into the Congress-led UPA rule, saying it had turned the economy into a non-performing entity via indiscriminate revenue expenditure, off-budget borrowings and piles of bad banking debts. The 54-page document detailed how the Modi-government pulled the economy out of the doldrums – from being counted among the most fragile-five in the world to being the fastest growing, most attractive investment destination.

The white paper delved into areas like the runaway fiscal deficit, decision stasis, banking crisis, corruption as well as scams. The UPA in its quest to maintain high economic growth by any means after the global financial crisis of 2008, severely undermined India’s macroeconomic foundations. It flagged non-transparent auction of coal blocks and telecom spectrum, retrospective taxation, unsustainable demand stimulus (post the 2008 crisis), poorly targeted subsidies, and reckless lending through the banks governed by favouritism. The paper also recalled corruption cases pertaining to the coal block allocation, 2G spectrum auction, CWG and Saradha Chit Fund, among others.

Fiscal fitness also found place in the white paper, which said owing to mismanagement, the UPA’s fiscal deficit ended up being far higher than expected, and it ended up borrowing 27% more from the market than what it had budgeted for in 2011-12. The paper says the budget size rose from 12.2% of the GDP in FY19 to 17.7% of the GDP in FY21 after the pandemic. Despite the substantial fiscal stimulus in FY21, the situation did not deteriorate thanks to a prudent and calibrated approach. This was in stark contrast to how the fiscal and revenue deficit was still rising in FY12, three years after the 2008 financial meltdown. Not to be cowed down by BJP’s braggadocio, the Congress released a black paper highlighting the failures of NDA. Pain points include the devastation of the economy and agriculture, aggravated unemployment, peak poverty, crimes against women and injustices against minority communities. The silence on inflation and price rise, especially of daily essentials including petrol, diesel and food items that has reached record levels finds no mention in the white paper.

Conspicuous by its absence in the white paper is demonetisation of 2016, and the Opposition’s favourite piñata – the privatisation of public sector enterprises, including ports, airports, railway, factories, oil refineries. The NDA’s document is also silent on the status of the procurement corruption allegations pertaining to the Augusta Westland Helicopter and Pilots Basic Trainer Aircraft.

Amidst this ping-pong, one thing is clear. NDA is creating an impression that only the present leadership has saved India, and that earlier administrations were effete. What is pitiable is the Opposition, especially the Congress, has been so ineffective in countering the BJP’s documented diatribe. A little homework could have helped it pin down the government on critical issues such as the bungled roll-out of GST or the absence of real GDP growth and employment rates. What is lost on both factions is that nation building is seldom the prerogative of one individual or party. It’s a virtuous cycle that involves standing on the shoulders of giants.

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