The essence of democracy is the idea of “of the people, by the people, and for the people”. The people are the kings in a democracy, since they are the ones who choose the best among them to govern them and fulfil their aspirations and further the nation. Prime Minister Narendra Modi always says that the Janata is the janardan, which means that the people are God. Democracy is people-centric and its roots should be strong for the fruits of welfare and development to reach citizens in the remotest corners of the country. Both Pandit Deendayal Upadhyay’s Antyodaya and Mahatma Gandhi’s Gram Swaraj kept in mind the true spirit of democracy while implementing government policies. But, in order to carry out functions objectively in a democratic country, the Constitution must be the guide to operate all systems with reasonable checks and balances to safeguard the fundamental rights of citizens. According to the Constitution of India, no laws or enactments can prevail when those provisions infringe on the fundamental rights of the people of the nation.
The Fundamental Rights guaranteed by Articles 14, 20, 21, 21A, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27 and 28 are available to all persons, whether citizens of Bharat or foreigners, whereas Articles 15, 16, 19, 29 and 30 are available only to the citizens of Bharat. Hence, the interests of both Indian citizens and foreigners are protected by the Constitution. As per experts, while drafting the Constitution and setting up the system of checks and balances in governance, the Constituent Assembly’s debates had been vital, especially to understand the spirit of the Constitution. Everyone discharging their duties in the system was required to exercise their duties and responsibilities in accordance with the Articles laid down in the Constitution and not allowed to act beyond them.
In our democratic system, three pillars had been established initially as a safeguarding mechanism with adequate checks and balances: Parliament or the legislature, to frame policies, the executive for the implementation of the policies as laid down by Parliament, and the judiciary, to review whether the enactments, decisions and implementation of policies are valid according to the Constitution. Ultimately, the Constitution provided the opportunity to cease any policies which violate the provisions and spirit of the Constitution through the exercise of power by the judiciary.
In the recent past, we saw many incidents of interference between the judiciary and the two other pillars. Most particularly, the judiciary has played an important role in the state of Andhra Pradesh, where the government was facing challenges frequently due to unscrupulous behaviour which went against the basic premise of the Constitution. Several cases have been pending in the High Court of Andhra Pradesh against the state government, mostly pertaining to the breach of trust of the farmers who offered their lands within a land pooling system for the construction of the capital city. They were part of a valid agreement through the AP CRDA Act, but later the new government under the leadership of Chief Minister Y.S. Jaganmohan Reddy declared intentions to scrap plans for building the capital in Amaravati, against the interest of the farmers and the Constitution, repealing the AP CRDA Act and enacting new Laws for the trifurcation of the capital. Numerous cases were filed against the YSRCP government in the Supreme Court and High Court. I too, as a citizen of India and a resident of Andhra Pradesh, filed a PIL in this matter of the violation of the fundamental rights of the farmers and wasting the funds of the State Exchequer. The honourable High Court gave its verdict against the repeal of the AP CRDA recently, and trials on the remaining matters are still going on.
As far as Amaravati, the proposed capital of Andhra Pradesh, is concerned, there will be a landmark judgement by the courts. Apart from this, the AP Panchayati Raj Act, amended in contradiction to Article 243K of the Constitution to infringe upon the rights of the existing State Election Commissioner, has been dismissed by the Supreme Court to reinstate the existing SEC. Further, the state government of Andhra Pradesh under the leadership of Jaganmohan Reddy and the ranks and files of the Executive had not cooperated to conduct local body elections. The full bench of the High Court favoured conducting the elections as the decision of the SEC came into force under Article 243K of the Constitution by showcasing the Covid vaccination programme after issuing the local body elections schedule by the State Election Commission.
The Supreme Court gave a direction to conduct the elections as per the rights of the State Election Commission. Even the Executive failed to consider the fundamental rights of the citizens regarding decisions like forcing English-medium instructions and replacing Telugu-medium schools. Through the directions of the apex court, the decision has been reversed recently. We also saw a landmark judgement in the SR Bommai case, which became a yardstick for present judgements for when there is a constitutional deadlock in any particular state pertaining to the Floor Test in the Assembly and the roles and responsibilities of Governors and Speakers when there is a breakdown in the constitutional mechanism in any state.
Recently, the Union Government accepted the Supreme Court’s direction for the postponement of the three farm laws for 18 months to sort out the issues between the government and farmers’ associations by incorporating a committee. All these instances show that the Constitution of India has provided a system of checks and balances to protect the fundamental and other rights of citizens through the Judiciary.
Whether it is the Union or state government, they are required to maintain propriety while making and executing laws. While the Union government respected the judiciary and followed its directions regarding the three farm laws, the AP government has unleashed an open attack on the judiciary’s independence after the numerous verdicts on the constitutional and other violations by the state government. However, instead of rectifying mistakes, out of the arrogance of holding absolute power, Jaganmohan Reddy and his party representatives joined a chorus against the judiciary. This forms an unhealthy relation between the legislature and judiciary, where mutual cooperation is a primary requirement, instead of claiming supremacy. Duties and responsibilities are required to be discharged by the three pillars of our democracy within the ambit of our Constitution. Lastly, the media as the fourth pillar also enshrines the values of democracy, especially the very important fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression, and ensures that the values of the other three remain intact in the interest of the people of our country.
The writer holds a degree in commerce and works as an FCA. The views expressed are personal.
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SASIKALA’S QUITTING RAISES SEVERAL QUESTIONS
A majority of political analysts were of a considered view that V.K. Sasikala, a close aide of former Chief Minister J. Jayalalithaa would be the “X” factor in the Tamil Nadu Assembly elections which are barely a month away. However, the lady who was recently released from the prison on Wednesday took everyone by surprise by declaring that she was quitting politics. In fact, her decision has put a huge question mark over the outcome of the polls with many believing that she had withdrawn herself from the political arena either under some pressure or realising that AIADMK would find it very difficult to win, and it was pointless to contribute to the defeat. By choosing to stay away, Sasikala seems aware that Amma’s followers would rally around her subsequently, thereby decimating the current party leadership which in any case has betrayed her repeatedly. The reverse side of her decision is that DMK, which is the arch enemy of AIADMK, would have a better chance at forming the next government though in her statement, Sasikala claimed that she would want the DMK to be totally routed.
In the first election being held after the demise of both Jayalaithaa and M.K. Karunanidhi, Tamil Nadu politics could throw a few surprises. With M.K. Stalin being considered as a possible Chief Minister, the AIADMK and the BJP may find it extremely hard to galvanise the party workers, who in any case are disillusioned because of acute factionalism within the AIADMK. Sasikala’s nephew T.T.V. Dhinakaran, who had after winning the R.K. Nagar by-election, formed the Amma Makkal Munnetra Kazhagam (AMMK), is equally baffled by her decision. He was banking on her to bring Amma’s legacy to the newly formed political outfit whose aim was to both expose the AIADMK and contain the DMK. He is very disappointed and has now vowed to form a third front to offer a renewed challenge to the two established Dravidian parties in the state.
So far as Sasiskala is concerned, it is evident, she realises that with Amma gone, and after the death of her husband, it was pointless to pursue a career in politics. She has no children and therefore may have thought that she should be in politics for whom? The riddle is not as simple as it appears. Many of Sasikala’s supporters continue to wonder why she was jailed in the first place under the Prevention of Corruption Act since she had never held any public office. They attribute various kinds of motives behind her arrest. Now that she has voluntarily thought of saying goodbye to active politics, these same supporters may come up with some other theories as well. There is no doubt that Sasikala could have been a game changer in these elections and could have either helped the AIADMK or assisted her nephew’s party to become a dominant force. She would be the last person who would wish the DMK to be back in the saddle.
Tamil Nadu politics has its own complexities and so far as the lady is concerned, the last word on her is yet to be heard. Even by withdrawing, she would be a factor.
Communism in China: A hundred years later
As China prepares to celebrate the centenary of the Communist Party, the world must remember the massacres which Communist regimes have unleashed throughout history and question why Xi Jinping’s march towards the ‘New Era’ is marked by such aggression directed at neighbouring countries.
The year 2021 is supremely important for the Middle Kingdom and its Emperor: Not only will it bring the occasion to unveil the 14th Five-year Plan and China’s 2035 Vision, but, more importantly, Beijing will celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Communist Party of China.
Already, in January, President Xi Jinping declared that “the party and country are on the right track… time and momentum are on our side”, and even though the country faced “unprecedented challenges and opportunities,” he urged his Politburo colleagues to “create favourable social conditions” for the important anniversary.
On 1 March, Xi spoke at the opening ceremony of the training class for young and middle-aged cadres at the Central Party School in Beijing. He told the young cadres that they were the successors of the old comrades, “the glory of the party is in your hands”, and exhorted them to be the “faithful successor of the tradition and fine work-style of the Communist Party, constantly enhancing willpower, perseverance and self-control and making contributions in the new journey of comprehensively building a modern socialist country in the New Era while striving to create a worthy party, worthy of the Chinese people!”
And, of course, “loyalty to the party is the primary political quality of Communists,” he added.
The words of the new Great Helmsman sound great, but there is another side to the coin.
In 1997, French scholar Stéphane Courtois, along with other European academics, published Le Livre noir du communisme. It was later translated in several languages, with the title The Black Book of Communism: Crimes, Terror, Repression in English.
The Black Book, which sold millions of copies, is still considered by many as one of the most influential publications written about the history of Communism in the 20th century. The authors documented the history of political repression by Communist states, including genocides, extrajudicial executions, deportations, killing populations in labour camps as well as artificially-created famines.
Though some leftist ‘intellectuals’ objected to the Communist label being put on some of these dark events, the facts are difficult to change.
In the first chapter, The Crimes of Communism, Stéphane Courtois recalls, “Communist regimes turned mass crime into a full-blown system of government …and are responsible for a greater number of deaths than Nazism or any other political system. …Communism predated fascism and Nazism, outlived both, and left its mark on four continents.”
And today, it is still thriving in China and North Korea.
Quoting Plato’s Republic and Thomas More as Communist examples of ‘utopian philosophy’, Courtois explained, “We must make a distinction between the doctrine of communism and its practice. As a political philosophy, communism has existed for centuries, even millennia.”
Courtois gives figures, people killed by Communist governments amount to more than 94 million, including 65 million in the People’s Republic of China, 20 million in the Soviet Union, 2 million in Cambodia, 2 million in North Korea, 1.7 million in Ethiopia, 1.5 million in Afghanistan, 1 million in Vietnam.
In China alone, there is no doubt today that the Great Leap Forward resulted in 40 to 50 million deaths. According to Frank Dikötter in his masterly Mao’s Great Famine: The History of China’s Most Devastating Catastrophe, “45 million people died unnecessarily …6 to 8 percent of the victims were tortured to death or summarily killed—amounting to at least 2.5 million people.” Yang Jisheng in Tombstone: The Great Chinese Famine, 1958–1962 put the tally between 43 million and 46 million.
We could argue that it was another age, another time. But in this case, why continue to eulogise Communism and the Party?
Of course, Xi Jinping’s Thought is known as Socialism with Chinese characteristics for a New Era. A couple of years ago, it was even enshrined in the Chinese Constitution.
But if it is a new era, why arrest all the pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong? Recently, pro-China prosecutors argued in court that the defendants were involved in a “massive and well-organised scheme to subvert the Hong Kong government” by organising and participating in an unofficial primary election last July, although CNN commented, “such contests are a normal function in democracies around the world, during which political parties select the strongest candidates for an election.”
Look at the situation in Xinjiang where millions of Uyghur Muslims have been forced to live in ‘reeducation camps’, in Tibet, where the Communist regime wants to impose its own Dalai Lama (over one hundred years, the Party seems to have acquired great knowledge in spiritual matters), in Taiwan, which perpetually lives under Beijing’s invasion threat, or closer to us, India, which during the past nine months was subjected to an uncalled for aggression on its borders. Examples could be multiplied to show that China has not really entered a ‘New Era’.
A few weeks ago, I was watching a Chinese program on Tibet and, to my surprise, spotted an old Maoist figure named Pasang, along with the present Standing Committee of the Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR). The old lady served Mao well during the darkest days of the Cultural Revolution. She managed to survive the purges of other leftist officials and even the fall of the Gang of Four in October 1976 to become a vice chairwoman of the TAR Revolutionary Committee in September 1968. In 1971, she was made a deputy party secretary in the TAR Party Committee, a position she held until her retirement in 2002.
The fact that China is ready to use figure-heads of the darkest days of Communism tends to prove that the New Era has not yet landed in the Middle Kingdom.
In the coming months, Chinese propaganda will try to convince us of the contrary.
Xi Jinping, the General Secretary of the Communist Party, likes to say, “The original aspiration and the mission of Chinese Communists is to seek happiness for the Chinese people and rejuvenation for the Chinese nation… This founding aspiration, this mission, is what inspires the Chinese Communists to advance.”
Today, former Premier Zhou Enlai, who joined the CPC in 1921, the year when the Party was founded, has become a ‘lofty character’ who selflessly pursued a just cause for the common good throughout his life, says Chinese propaganda.
We remember him in India as a Machiavellian politician who took the Nehru government for a ride. The recent happenings in Ladakh have their origin in Zhou’s lofty words—the world’s standard for ‘lofty’ are obviously different than the Chinese’s.
Large-scale massacre may not occur today (mainly due to the information revolution), but has the mindset really changed in Beijing?
It does not seem so, even in the New Era.
The writer is a French-born author, journalist, historian, Tibetologist and China expert. The views expressed are personal.
The Black Book, which sold millions of copies, is still considered by many as one of the most influential publications written about the history of Communism in the 20th century. The authors documented the history of political repression by Communist states, including genocides, extrajudicial executions, deportations, killing populations in labour camps as well as artificially-created famines.
TIME TO GET THE COVID-19 VACCINE
This is the one topic that everyone is talking about these days—have you got vaccinated or not as yet. And if so, which one? The vaccine hesitancy that we saw in the early days of the roll out with even health workers hesitant to take the needle is no longer the case. As you can see from the queues of Mercedes, BMWs and Maruti Suzukis parked outside hospitals, everyone who is eligible to take the dose, is lining up for it.
The registration part is simple, however when you reach your designated hospital they will check your papers, give you a token and ask you to wait. This can vary from an hour to longer depending on the queue as most hospitals even have a counter for walk-ins i.e. those who have not been able to register themselves on the Co-WIN website. But don’t let this deter you, because the vaccination is certainly worth the trouble. And this seems to be the general mood. Going for my morning walk in south Delhi, I saw a number of elderly leaving their homes at around 9 am, picnic baskets in tow, ready for a long wait but determined to make the vaccine trek.
There is some confusion about the gap between the two doses which currently has been set for 28 days. Not for Covaxin but Covishield as there are some reputed studies that state that a longer gap of between 8 to 12 weeks makes the dosage more effective. Since India is sticking to the 28 days gap (other countries like the UK have gone in for the longer one) it is left to the individual’s discretion. Another reason that explains the rush is that the vaccination is an added passport for those wanting to travel. India has been more successful than some other countries in combating the virus. Hence it makes sense to secure yourself before boarding that flight.
Of course, there are still some who are hesitant to take the vaccine. Some are waiting for the nasal dosage, others for the crowds to thin. But in the end, don’t forget for the vaccination to work it is important that everyone takes it. This is important not just for making the country safe again, but also for each individual for his or her own sake. For as more than one doctor has told me on the NewsX-Sunday Guardian Roundtable, the complications of taking the vaccine are nothing compared to the complications of not taking it. So, go, get that vaccine.
What has helped the optics is that the Prime Minister himself took the vaccination. This was something that needed to be done as the Opposition and other sceptics were raising this issue and wondering about his hesitancy to do something that other world leaders had done in full media glare. Finally, once the vaccine was opened to senior citizens (and not just emergency workers) the PM took the jab—that he opted for the Indian origin Covaxin instead of Covishield was a no brainer as that fits into his narrative of nationalism. But the larger message here was more important as it gave the confidence to others to overcome their hesitancy and take the vaccine.
India set to make a V-shaped recovery
The sharp improvement in the performance of core sectors and the quick resumption of high activity levels in the economy indicate that India is close to achieving a fast-paced and broad-based V-shaped recovery in the third quarter of FY21.
India’s GDP growth for Q3 FY21 has come in at 0.4%, versus the -7.3% recorded in Q2 of FY21. Earlier, the contraction for Q2 had been estimated at 7.5%, but has now been revised upwards to a decline of only 7.3%. Q1, on the other hand, has been revised from a 23.9% to a 24.4% contraction. The NSO said, “GDP at constant (2011-12) prices in Q3 of 2020-21 is estimated at Rs 36.22 lakh crore, as against Rs 36.08 lakh crore in Q3 of 2019-20, showing a growth of 0.4%.”
Will the Indian economy have a V-shaped recovery, as is now increasingly being touted? The answer, without doubt, is a resounding yes! With a Covid recovery rate of over 97%, a mortality rate of barely 1.4% and an active caseload of only 1.2%, and with over 15 million people vaccinated, the overall economy of the country is rapidly moving back to normalcy and the GDP numbers are only going to get better in Q4. This is evident from the IHS Markit India Manufacturing PMI reading of 57.5 and 57.7, recorded in February and January 2021, respectively. Composite PMI reading rose from 55.8 in January 2021 to 57.3 in February, the highest since October 2020, while Services PMI rose from 52.8 in January to 55.3 in February, the highest in a year. Unified payments interface (UPI) trades hit a new high of 2.3 billion transactions in January 2021, amounting to Rs 4.31 lakh crore in value terms. The blistering pace continued in February 2021, with 2.29 billion transactions, amounting to a value of Rs 4.25 lakh crore, further corroborating the full-fledged V-shaped recovery which is taking shape.
Services growth in Q3 fell by 1%, which is much lower than the 11.3% fall seen in Q2 and the 21.4% fall in Q1. Agriculture growth has come in at a solid 3.9% in Q3, versus 3% in Q2. Manufacturing sector grew by 1.6% in Q3, which is great news as the big decline of 35.9% in Q1 and the 1.5% fall in Q2, at the height of the Covid pandemic, has now turned into a positive number. The industrial sector witnessed a growth of 2.7% versus a -3.03% growth in Q2. This 2.7% growth was supported by a manufacturing growth of 1.6%, electricity, gas, water and utility services growth of 7.3% and a healthy growth in construction at 6.2%. The high traction in the real estate sector was on the back of the reduction in stamp duty and other levies across various states, thereby attracting home buyers to invest in new homes.
The output of eight core infrastructure sectors grew 0.1% in January 2021 as compared to last year. The infrastructure output, which comprises eight core sectors, including coal, crude oil, and electricity, fell by 8.8% during the April-January period in 2020-21, against a growth rate of 0.8% in the corresponding period in 2019-20. However, Q4 should see a turnaround in the infra space. The Modi government’s decision to invite private investment in 400 port and shipping projects worth Rs 2 lakh crore will give a fillip to the infra space. The Modi government is also aiming to attract investment worth Rs 3.39 lakh crore during the Maritime India Summit 2021, that kicked off on March 2, 2021.
The Indian Railways carried 119.79 million tonnes of freight in January 2021, the highest ever in a month, beating its previous record of 119.74 million tonnes in March 2019, showcasing how the Indian economy’s momentum is gaining rapid traction. In February 2021, the Indian Railways’ loading was 112.25 million tonnes, which is 10% higher compared to February last year, which had been 102.21 million tonnes. On just February 28, 2021, the freight loading of the Indian Railways was 5.23 million tonnes, which is 37% higher compared to last year’s loading for the same date, at 3.83 million tonnes.
For the December 2020 quarter, cement major ACC saw a solid 73% jump in profit, while cement behemoth Grasim saw profits rise by a massive 107%. Since cement sales are a lead indicator, it should be suffice to say that a core sector bounce is back on the cards. Car sales, another lead indicator, continued to be robust with a 16% growth year on year (YoY) in January 2021, with Toyota, Tata Motors, Honda and Nissan, witnessing a YoY growth of 92%, 94%, 114% and 220%, respectively. In February 2021, while Maruti saw a growth of 11.8% year on year (YoY), tractor major Escorts saw a growth of 30.6%, showing the all-pervasive nature of a demand resurgence that is underway in both rural and urban areas.
The economic growth in the coming year, i.e., 2021-22 (FY22) will be robust, with a broad-based momentum across various sectors. The government’s focus on infrastructure, real estate demand on the back of low-interest rates, recovery in commodity prices and healthy consumption expenditure all point to better times for the GDP trajectory. Private and foreign investment is also on the rise and capex should be higher than in previous years, aiding long-term growth. In the last one year, FPI and FDI inflows put together have been in excess of Rs 2.32 lakh crore, which speaks volumes about India’s attractiveness as an investment destination, all thanks to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s courage of conviction and reformist mindset which is now bearing fruit.
Significant recovery in manufacturing and construction segments also augurs well for the support these sectors are expected to provide to growth in FY 2021-22. Real GVA in manufacturing has improved from a contraction of 35.9% in Q1 to a positive growth of 1.6% in Q3, while in construction the recovery has been from a contraction of 49.4% in Q1 to a positive growth of 6.2% in Q3. Going ahead, only for a quarter at the most, we are likely to see the continuation of a K-shaped recovery, with some sectors growing faster than others. However, beyond Q4 FY21, the K-shaped recovery will soon transform into a sharp V-shaped recovery that will be both fast-paced and broad based in FY22.
The growth stimuli available from the Union Budget and additional measures, including the production linked incentive (PLI) scheme, will lead to a sturdy growth path over the recovery horizon. The real push will be visible in the Q4 (January-March) 2021 because lockdowns in many sectors, particularly hospitality and travel, have begun to ease substantially. The 1% growth in GVA and 0.7% growth in core GVA (core GVA excludes agriculture and public administration), in particular, marks the end of a contractionary phase. In fact, all the sectors except (a) mining and quarrying, (b) trade, hotels, transport and communication services, and (c) public administration, defence and other services, have recorded positive growth in the third quarter of FY21, which is great news as it vindicates the flurry of GDP upgrades seen in recent times. Even in trade and hotels, the pace of decline has slowed down significantly from a negative growth of 15.3% in Q2 to 7.7% in Q3. In public administration, the pace of fall has been reined in at -1.5% from -9.3% in Q2. The construction sector, which contributes about 9% to India’s GDP, is back with a bang on the back of a strong recovery in execution, registering a 6.2% growth in Q3 from -7.5% in Q2, which is nothing short of outstanding. India is amongst the very few economies which are posting growth for the December 2020 quarter—one amongst 16 major world economies – which shows that Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Rs 30 lakh crore stimulus package has been able to boost both business sentiment and spending via the multiplier effect.
While gross fixed capital formation (GFCF) has improved from a contraction of 46.4% in Q1 to a positive growth of 2.6% in Q3, private final consumption expenditure (PFCE) has recovered from a contraction of 26.2% in Q1 to a much smaller contraction of 2.4% in Q3. The revival of investment demand, triggered by capital spending by the Modi government, has helped in a big way. Besides the overall uptick in the economy, the resurgence of GFCF in Q3 was also triggered by capex by the Central Government, that increased year-on-year by 129% in October, 249% in November and 62% in December 2020. The fiscal multipliers associated with this capex are at least 3-4 times larger than government final consumption expenditure (GFCE), as capex induces much higher consumption spending than normal income transfers.
For the fortnight ending January 8, 2021, credit growth has picked up to 6.6% YoY, while deposit growth is 11.4%. Excellent results by banking sector biggies showcase the ongoing economic momentum. HDFC Bank and ICICI Bank posted profit growth of 18% and 19%, respectively, for the December 2020 quarter, with the retail loan book growing by anywhere between a healthy 13% to 16%. The robust profit growth for these two banking giants came about, despite a high provision coverage ratio (PCR) of 148% for HDFC and 78% for ICICI.
Needless to add, the Indian economy has seen a superb rebound from the onslaught of the Covid-19 pandemic, thanks to the Modi government’s relentless war against the Wuhan virus. From being a net importer in March 2020 to becoming the world’s second largest exporter of PPE kits and N95 masks, it is a telling tale of how “Make in India” is about a grand vision and also about the ability to translate that vision into a meaningful end result. India produced more than 60 million personal protection equipment (PPEs) and almost 150 million N-95 masks till October 2020, from almost zero in March 2020. India also exported more than 20 million PPE and over 40 million N-95 masks during this period. Speaking of Covid, the two states that account for over 72% of all the active coronavirus cases in India are Maharashtra and Kerala, one where the Congress in in power with allies and another which is a Left-ruled state. The horrific performance by these two states in reining in Covid is a testimony to all that is woefully wrong with both the politics and economics of the Congress and the CPI(M).
With a pro-growth budget, structural farm and labour market reforms and the Modi government’s bold decision to raise Rs 2.5 lakh crore by monetising 100 sick, loss making and unviable CPSEs, coupled with the RBI’s resolve to support the financial markets and economy, the Indian economy is well poised to ride the long-term structural growth path, despite states like Maharashtra being a drag due to the misgovernance of the Congress-centric Maha Vikas Agadhi (MVA) alliance.
Investments were the primary driver in pushing up Q3 GDP numbers and were up 2.1% YoY, versus a fall of 28.2% in the first half of fiscal year 2020-21 (1HFY21). Consumption was down only 2.2% YoY in Q3, versus a sharp fall of 16.7% in 1HFY21. The 4.9% growth in consumer durables and 2% growth in consumer non-durables in December 2020 are a precursor of demand resurgence. Even two-wheeler major Hero Moto Corp, for the last six months, has been selling over 4.5 lakh units every single month, with more than 14 lakh units sold in just the two months of October and November 2020. Tractor major M&M too has seen utility vehicle sales growing in excess of 20% on an average in the last few months, pointing towards a demand rejuvenation. Nominal GDP grew strongly at 5.3% in Q3, implying that GDP deflator was 4.8% in 3QFY21. While CSO/NSO expect a contraction of 1.1% YoY in 4QFY21, implying an 8% fall in FY21, this is highly unlikely. Many domestic investment banking houses believe Q4 real GDP growth could be as high as 3.5%, leading to a GDP decline of only 6.7% in FY21, versus CSO’s more conservative estimate of an 8% decline in GDP in FY21.
An 8% or 6.7% GDP decline is less relevant. The more relevant part is that growth momentum is picking up pace significantly, with GST collections in January 2021 at Rs 1.19 lakh crore and February collections being equally healthy at Rs 1.13 lakh crore. GST collections have topped the Rs 1 lakh crore mark every single month from October 2020. FASTag collections hit Rs 102 crore last Friday, crossing the earlier high of Rs 80 crore collected by way of toll in a single day. E-way billing is applicable for inter-state sales in excess of Rs 50,000. Rs 6.42 crore E-way invoice reference numbers (IRNs) were generated in January 2021, versus a number of just 26 lakh IRNs that were generated in September 2020, once again vindicating the sharp uptick in routine business activity.
The GVA equivalent of manufacturing companies, arrived at after adding up wages, depreciation, interest and profit before tax (PBT), grew a robust 17% on a yearly basis in Q3 FY21, after a 9% growth in Q2 this fiscal and a 29% contraction in Q1. Since manufacturing GVA is a leading indicator of the manufacturing sector’s performance, the sharp uptick in manufacturing GVA is indeed highly reassuring. In many cases, GVA equivalent is a better predictor of manufacturing sector’s performance than IIP since the latter captures volume of production while the former captures value of production, ICICI Securities argues. Hence, the manufacturing sector is expected to record a healthy growth in the upcoming Q4FY21. The manufacturing GVA currently has a share of 19% in the country’s real gross value added (GVA).
Moody’s has raised India’s growth forecast to 13.7% for FY22, from the earlier 10.8%. For the current FY21 fiscal also, Moody’s revised its prediction of a contraction in real GDP to 7.1%, from the earlier projected contraction of 10.6%. Interestingly, Moody’s has also said that the Modi government’s fiscal deficit for FY21 and FY22 could be much lower than the projected 9.5% and 6.8% of GDP, respectively, supported by stronger revenue generation in the fourth quarter of FY21 and higher nominal GDP growth in 2021-22 (FY22). The big upside to growth projections in FY22 are absolutely realistic and not based on a low base effect. Rather, the massive growth upside in FY22 will be driven by facilitative government measures, including the Modi government’s capital expenditure increases, with the Central Government budgeting an impressive 34.5% rise in capital spending at Rs 5.54 lakh crore in FY22, compared to the revised estimate for FY21.
Exports which were lagging too have begun to pick up, with a 6% YoY growth in January 2021, and February seeing only a minor fall of 0.25%. Imports also grew by 7% in February, versus a 2.03% growth in January 2021. Interestingly, in February, while oil imports fell by 16.63% YoY, non-oil imports rose by 16.37%, suggesting both an economic revival and improving terms of trade.
The initial policy choice of “lives over livelihoods” succeeded by “lives as well as livelihoods” is now bearing excellent results, converging with the foresight the Modi government had about an imminent V-shaped recovery when it entered the war against the pandemic. The sharp V-shaped recovery is being driven by rebounds in both private final consumption expenditure (PFCE) and gross fixed capital formation (GFCF) as a combination of the astute handling of the lockdown and a calibrated fiscal stimulus that has allowed strong economic fundamentals to trigger quick resumption of high activity levels in the economy. It would be apt to sum up India’s swift economic recovery with a brilliant quote from Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Independence Day speech last year, where he emphasised the relevance of Aatmanirbhar Bharat, when he said, “It is now time for India to move forward with new policies and new customs. Now simple and ordinary will not work. Our policies, our processes, our products, everything should be the best.”
The author is an economist, national spokesperson for the BJP and the bestselling author of ‘Truth & Dare: The Modi Dynamic’. The views expressed are personal.
Even teams led by experienced and expert captains suffer from occasional self-goals. These are usually a consequence of the best of intentions, but end up as embarrassments. There was in the recent past a stray statement by a Union Minister that the gallant soldiers of the Indian Army had moved several more times in the direction of the PRC than PLA forces moving in the other direction. The movement of Indian troops, who are and have always been seeking only to safeguard or to re-occupy territory that belongs to India, cannot be compared to the transgressions of the PLA, which is seeking to expand through military means the territory controlled by them, every bit at the expense of India. That remark of a minister, possibly reported out of context, was swiftly used by PRC spin masters to try and spread the falsehood internationally that it was Indian forces and not the PLA who were theaggressors on the LAC.
Fortunately, the world knows the truth, and such deception was not believed except by the usual suspects, such as Prime Minister Imran Khan, who is swift to repeat as gospel whatever gets conveyed from Beijing. The minister who made the earlier (possibly misquoted) remark has distinguished himself for his service both before and after joining the Council of Ministers at the Centre, and has not repeated the earlier remark attributed to him. The movement of Indian troops is to safeguard existing control over land and to recover territory that has been snatched in the past. This can never be compared with the transgressions of the PLA, which has joined hands with GHQ Rawalpindi in the errand of seeking to constrain and damage the growth and stability of India. These need to fail repeatedly, an outcome that can be made possible through strong will and capability on the part of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his colleagues. Care needs to be taken to avoid statements that can be used by the other side to obscure facts and to discredit the factual narrative that has been disseminated by India about the situation on the borders.
The armed forces defend the territory of India with zeal when given full support by the government. In several statements and through many actions, Prime Minister Modi has shown his commitment to stand by the courageous men and women in uniform who are tasked with defending the borders of the Republic of India, the most populous democracy on the face of the planet. Moreover, ours is a country that alone in its neighbourhood has remained a democracy and not fallen victim to authoritarian rule of any form, save a brief period of quasi-authoritarian rule during 1975-77 that was swiftly replaced with the holding of elections that led to the replacement of the existing government through the ballot box and to a peaceful and orderly transfer of power from Indira Gandhi to Morarji Desai in the PrimeMinister’s Office.
Now another self-goal has been scored, in the form of the remarks of a Union Minister that the power outage in Mumbai was not the consequence of a cyberattack executed by elements in the PRC but was the consequence of “human error”. The statement is reminiscent of several made by other policymakers in the past, when unexplained misfortunes afflicted some of the most potent weapons platforms of different wings of the armed forces. In some cases, entire platforms were rendered inoperable, to great human and material cost, besides causing gaps in defence preparedness. Very quickly, unnamed sources rushed to pin the blame on “human error”, whether these relate to naval personnel or air force pilots. Both risk their lives in defence of the country and have shown an exceptional degree of competence in handling the weapons given to them to operate. The possibility seems to have been ignored of malfunctioning of equipment as a consequence of glitches introduced clandestinely, and which have had the effect of so damaging operational capability that nothing the pilot or seaman did could have rescued the situation.
In the past, there were serial deaths of those associated with the nuclear and missile programme, and the dots were first connected by the Sunday Guardian after having been in the open for several years, in each of which those connected with these key programmes had their number reduced through “accidental” deaths or “suicides”. Circumstances indicated that such hastily reached conclusions were far from accurate. That there was a cyberattack is not a reflection on the Power Ministry but a warning that this is a threat needing much more attention than shown in the past. There are powerful lobbies involved in the import of critical infrastructure equipment from countries that have a record of hostility to India expressed in a kinetic way. Such lobbies should not be given a handle to continue to keep the country vulnerable through dependence on equipment or other services from companies deeply involved with strengthening the offensive capabilities of at least two foreign militaries that have attacked India in the past, and are expected to do so again. There must not be a rush to hasty conclusions and the giving of clean chits to those companies and entities who are transparent in their linkages to enemy forces, including in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, territory that belongs to India and where no other country has a right.
Prime Minister Modi has spoken firmly and often about the dangers facing the country. Among the reasons why the PM is popular is the trust voters have in his ability to defend the nation. That same strength of purpose and determination should be present in each of the members of the government. The country is facing a grave threat, and action is needed to reduce vulnerabilities and to expand capabilities. In such a task, it is all hands-on deck, and an end to remarks by policymakers that may be used by foes of India to paint themselves as innocent of the wrongs that they have flagrantly committed.
Embedded patriarchy in science must end
History and research have shown proof of how few women in science have received their due, despite making discoveries and providing services which have led to the progress of modern science and civilisation. Decision makers must find a way to put an end to the gender bias.
Two years of #MeToo have changed little in the world of scientific research, according to most women in science across the world. India has 43% of women as science graduates—the highest number in the world—but a mere 14% in science-related jobs. Despite the additional push the present government has provided since 2017, in which the Department of Science and Technology was provided Rs 2,000 crore to encourage more girls into science-related careers, the picture remains grim. Gender inequity, subtle discrimination, indifference, workplace derision and isolation have kept women in India out of the job market that matches their science training. This has serious challenges for the country’s developmental ambitions. As a McKinsey research report of 2020 emphasised, narrowing gender gaps in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) can lead to an increase of $12 trillion to $28 trillion in the global economy. Does this sound an alert for decision making bodies of science and the NITI Aayog?
In developed countries such as Sweden, women science graduates are much less than India, at 35% only, but 34 % of them get placements in STEM jobs. The lack of women in these jobs reflects gravely on India’s science policy as only one woman out of 41 men has been able to reach the position of an office bearer in 86 years of the existence of the Indian National Science Academy (INSA). This marginalization further unfolds in the shortlist for the INSA awards, which have so far gone to only 14 women as compared to 501 men. The situation is appallingly unfavourable towards women in other top science awards too, such as the Shanti Swaroop Bhatnagar Award which has been bestowed on only 16 women against 500 men beneficiaries. It appears that patriarchy rules most science academies across the world even if women are fortunate to obtain a STEM job, since globally only 12% women are represented in 69 science academies across the world.
India’s developmental dreams may have to crash land over an utterly deficient terrain if women in engineering and technology, despite holding a 50% share of undergraduate degrees, fail to get absorbed into appropriate jobs. As a consequence, many switch to non-science jobs or become homemakers—recent situations show that more than 49% women in science are ready to switch to other jobs which they would have otherwise rejected. The irony of the STEM job market is that it has the potential of creating 10.5 million additional jobs, if countries can promote gender equality, as was suggested by a report by the European Union. Most new fields in science such as artificial intelligence (AI) and big data are currently completely male-dominated with a pathetic 10-15% jobs going to women in top companies like Google and Facebook.
Science, to be appropriate, should be able to absorb dynamic social relationships from the living and non-living or everything around it. Women have proved to be more perceptible and transdisciplinary in their approach than men with similar training. Traditional societies which were hierarchical, orthodox, fatalistic and believed in supernatural forces offered little space for modern science to flourish. Yet when modern science came, it also became a source of immense power which was soon captured by men. Modern science advanced through state power and started distancing itself from a holistic social relevance, inadvertently falling into a trap of increased productivity and control which the industrial revolution brought about.
Minnie Vaid’s book on the role of women space scientists in the Mangalyaan mission exposes an embedded gender bias that pushes women out of key positions where they can perform better than their fellow men. Nonetheless, this bias can also help analyse an unanswered question that most students in social science classrooms are perplexed about: why did Einstein win the Nobel Prize when his invention destroyed the world? Did Einstein know what could happen when his invented genie would be released from the laboratory to a wider and ever-advancing world of power aggrandizement?
The nature of science is founded on a matrix of human disconnect, and after reading an interesting Paul Halpern’s science narrative from 2015, titled Einstein’s Dice and Schrodinger’s Cat: How the Two Great Minds Battled Quantum Randomness to Create a Unified Theory of Physics,the fact reveals, to our dismay, that scientists give much greater priority to winning the right scientific algorithm than the world around them. These power pathways of science have ignored many achievements by women who fed and fuelled these discoveries within the fortresses of labs. This was a terrain where questions on social conscience were never ever asked.
This does not mean that all scientists are directly influenced by dominant interests as many are also instructed by their own or their society’s cultural framework which is embedded in their individual morality, values, beliefs and community ethics. An example is the case of Joseph Rotblat who withdrew from the Manhattan Project in 1939 for he firmly believed that such weapons of mass destruction should be avoided due to their catastrophic impact upon humanity. He preferred to receive a Nobel Prize for Peace rather than for Physics which was awarded to his number two scientist, Einstein. However, the most astounding is the revelation about Einstein’s wife, Mileva Marić, who, despite being a classmate of Einstein with an equal or even stronger disciplinary training in physics, was not acknowledged for her influence and contribution to Einstein’s achievement. A 2019 book Einstein’s Wife, written by Allen Esterson and David C. Cassidy, with Ruth Lewin Sime, presents an evidence-based history of Marić’s life with Einstein. Science historians have repeatedly established that Marićs ideas were central to Einstein’s science but while her pregnancy, childbirths and divorce gradually weakened her relationship with science, Einstein marched ahead to the Nobel Prize.
Another astounding case is that of Henrietta Leavitt who in 1900 joined the Harvard College Observatory as an assistant for Edward Pickering. There were some far-reaching astronomical revelations which were observed and discovered by her. One such observation was that slower-moving stars were more luminous through which the size of the galaxy and much more on the study of variable stars could have been discovered. She paved the way for modern astronomy. enabling scientists to measure the universe. Edwin Hubble, the American astronomer, became famous by using Leavitt’s ground-breaking research and he also admitted that it was she who deserved the Nobel Prize. But Levitt watched all this as a silent worker at the laboratory, where she was paid half of what her fellow men researchers got ($10.5 a week) and did not raise an alarm when Pickering published her findings without giving her due credit.
The laboratory’s new director Harlow Shapely also used her work without acknowledging her phenomenal contribution. The patriarchal culture in science of keeping women out of mainstream publications and awards has been so strong that the world has wasted many years seeing men scientists reach milestones which had already been achieved by women much earlier. Leavitt’s work was interrupted by her family obligations and her early death by stomach cancer ended the tragic and continuous marginalisation she suffered because of her powerful male colleagues.
The world of science has not changed much. Most laboratories belong to men scientists who continue to control them even after they are transferred, retire or are thrown into disrepute through charges of corruption or sexual harassment. Women scientists, on the other hand, are made to leave their laboratories immediately when they retire or are transferred, notwithstanding that their ongoing research might prove a great contribution to society. From life sciences to physical, environmental and geophysical sciences, a woman’s journey is gripped by obstructions and gendered ostracism. From Muthuswamy to Swaminathan, some leading women scientists—the ones who led the ICMR towards an accountable bioethical journey or silently brought out key cancer research findings in the biochemistry lab at AIIMS while taking care of her ailing father or dedicated herself to set up the Brain Research Institute at Manesar—have definitely not received their due despite their services being of utmost importance to the progress of India. The country needs to look for more of them in the IITs, CSIR, INSA, ICMR, AIIMS and other science institutes for more holistic progress of science. Why should one hear science policy talk only from male scientists, who are now also controlling NITI Aayog as well as the TV channels?
Unless the needs, capacities and acceptability patterns for women are absorbed in the behaviour of decision makers, the road to gender equity in science would remain bumpy and hazardous. Science shapes society and women in science break stereotypical frames of research, bringing acceptable solutions to the problems of development and acting as catalysts for change and progress.
The writer is president, NAPSIPAG Disaster Research Group, and former Professor at Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi. The views expressed are personal.
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