India cannot achieve economic growth in the long term if it excludes the minorities and marginalised sections of society from the political process, veteran Congress leader and former Union Minister P. Chidambaram has cautioned.
He was delivering the first annual lecture of The Hindu Centre for Politics and Public Policy on “Will India Script an Uninterrupted Growth Story?” here on Monday.
Mr. Chidambaram pointed out that the BJP had not fielded a single Muslim candidate in the recent Assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh, despite the community constituting 19.3 % of the population in the State.
“Is it possible to ensure long term economic growth by excluding from the political process the largest community or women or the Scheduled Castes or the Scheduled Tribes,” he asked.
Multiplication of social fault lines
According to him, under the BJP government, throughout last year, the social fault lines multiplied and conflicts became the order of the day. If the social fault lines multiplied and deepened, the government cannot keep its eyes on the economy, and that is what happened in 2016.
Mr. Chidambaram felt the Modi government had failed to seize the opportunity to drive economic growth despite favourable conditions when it came to power in 2014. In March 2014, though there were clear signs of recovery and the growth rate had climbed back to 6.54%, the new [BJP] government didn’t have a coherent plan for the way forward. Citing Swachh Bharat, International Yoga Day, Make in India, Stand Up India and similar programmes, Mr. Chidambaram alleged there was a lot of activity but none of them contributed to the growth of the economy.
Religious conversions, ghar wapsi , the ban on cow slaughter, ban on sale and consumption of beef, love jihad, moral policing and other issues were the other distractions, he pointed out.
“The obvious measures of reform were not taken up. The recommendations of the Finance Sector Legislative Reforms Commission were neglected. The Direct Taxes Code was put on the backburner. Having opposed the GST when the BJP was in the Opposition, the government seemed reluctant to push the idea. Disinvestment was a crawl,” he alleged.
The NPA scare, the stand-off between the government and the RBI during the last year of the term of Raghuram Rajan, and demonetisation, which he described as the ‘most calamitous disruption, had all impacted growth.
“None of the stated objectives of demonetisation was achieved or are they likely to be achieved,” Mr. Chidambaram said, pointing to slowing economic growth rate, which slipped further in Q3 of 2016-17.
Bold reforms needed
Mr. Chidambaram made it clear that uninterrupted economic growth was not a given. The government was required to take bold and structural reforms and these cannot be accomplished by a few legislative or administrative changes. According to him, there have only been 11 true economic reforms since 1991 and after 2014, he considered only the GST a true reform.
Moderating an open session, Kasturi & Sons Limited Chairman N. Ram described Mr. Chidambaram’s lecture as thought provoking, nuanced and interesting.
In his introductory remarks, Kasturi & Sons Limited Director N. Ravi said The Hindu Centre for Politics and Public Policy in its four years of existence has supported 24 short term public policy scholars who have focussed their research on varied subjects, including parliamentary democracy, financial inclusion and voting preferences, among others.