Economic disenchantment

Gandhi’s India

By Shivaji Sarkar

The nation pays homage to Mahatma Gandhi, a grass-root thinker, amid protests by farmers in Uttar Pradesh for more relief, the core sector turning negative, increasing government borrowings, rebuilding or destroying New Delhi’s heritage identity, opulence in lifestyle and sermons on Gandhian simplicity.
There is more. Gandhi told the nation to preserve ecology but in the name of creating real estate, the nation plans to build an unnecessary airport and destroy its aquifers in western UP, mere 60 km from Delhi international airport. Gandhi was not for destroying heritage. The recent New Delhi destruction of heritage buildings and city may have been planned for the real estate and construction boom. It certainly would destroy the aesthetics and over 100 years of a planned beautiful city that rarely sees traffic jam.
Over 90 per cent of tourists thrill to see six-century old London or UK, which has maintained its heritage look. Can’t India maintain its national Capital? No Gandhi can accept this destruction of a planned heritage.
For Gandhi, the farmer was a necessity. It was not for the kisan being the annadata – food grower – but also the centre of rural productivity. A kisan and his family through production of implements, handicraft, handloom, textiles and an array of goods for the society was contributing to the happiness of the society as well adding to one of the highest GDP of the world. India’s share was a constant about 25 per cent of global GDP for about 200 years till the arrival of the British.
Till about 300 years ago, India accounted for over a quarter of the world’s GDP, says “India: The Giant Awakens” report by Aberdeen Asset Management. Aberdeen is one of the largest funds and it is bullish about India’s growth.
That indeed was the dream of Gandhi. His disenchantment for large monopolised industry is criticised as his opposition to industrialisation. Gandhi had love for technology but he never wanted technology to monopolise or ignore the man, for whose benefit it is needed.
Thus, he wanted the farmer to remain the pivot for the economic growth, an aspect the British tried to destroy. It created severe famines in 1770 in Bengal — killing a third of the population, 1865 in Orissa, 1873 in Bihar to 1943 Bengal famine — total of 10 catastrophes. Recent studies by IIT, Gandhinagar faculty Vimal Mishra finds that the 1943 famine was the result of British policy despite a 10-year good rainfall between 1935 and 1945.
But rumblings of farmers in UP, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Bihar and several long marches have not been able to draw much attention. Piecemeal doles or yearly pensions may have helped them a bit but have not focused on the inherent problems. Their biggest grudge is selling crops at prices less than the MSP. Sugarcane farmers dues rise by 54 times in a year to Rs 15,565 crore in 2018-19 (now stated to be about Rs 25,000 crore), according to Minister of State for Consumer Affairs D R Dadarao.
Uttar Pradesh farmers’ demands include regular waivers on loans. Gandhi would not have supported it. The kisans are ignored and their Rs 5 lakh crore budgetary support is a loan mechanism. Post-demonetisation the cash crunch and monstrous bank rules added to their misery. They are unable to contribute to the market sales and this has hit GDP growth.
That is exactly the reason for more government borrowings. Recently, the RBI was forced to give Rs 1.76 lakh crore dole to the government, which is now mulling another Rs 2.68 lakh crore borrowings. But it needs to rethink in terms of Gandhi. The spree of borrowing cannot be a solution unless the savings rise. It is coming down critically for government policies of taxing it and reducing interest rates.
The consequence is in reduction in industrial activities. “The last two quarters have been particularly tough for the industry because of subdued demand. There is need to reverse consumer sentiment”, says Shanti Ekmbram, President, Consumer banking at Kotak Mahindra.
Now growth worries are escalating with the output of core infrastructure sector contracting for the first time in more than four years in August. Output of coal (-8.6 pc), crude oil (-5.4 pc), natural gas (-4.9 pc) and electricity (-2.9 pc) and cement contracted. The view now is that the pickup in IIP in July did not signal the start of a recovery. The IIP is expected to fall to sub-1 per cent in August.
Amid this crisis, the industry wants further subsidy by clamouring for interest rate cut by RBI. It forgets that the lower interest rate is playing havoc with the consumers with low returns on deposits. Gandhi always criticised such doles as it causes deprivation of the poor.
Let us not forget that the UPA incentives in 2008 to industry and rate cuts led to the severe NPA crisis of over Rs 12 lakh crore. Much of it has not been repaid and book adjustments were done. The PMC bank in Maharashtra or IL&FS collapsed for these reasons.
Banks continue to be in crisis and dumping heavy unethical untruthful charges on the people. This is against the banking Gandhi had propagated. He promoted banking because it had people-friendly rates in his time. Today, he would have definitely deprecated unethical banking practices.
Demonetisation, some may, believe has reduced corruption. In reality, it has hiked it in all spheres because the perpetrators say, “the risk has gone up”. So the taxwala down to the chief medical officers have raised their cut money. If one needs to open a clinic the going rate is Rs 1 lakh, which was less than Rs 50,000 a few years back.
Gandhi may have been outdated in his industrial outlook but not his ideology of ensuring business honesty. Today, business wants results “whatever the means”. This is playing havoc. Small biz and entrepreneur, for who Gandhi tolled is nowhere today. His simplicity has been replaced by exhibition of opulence and big unreal sloganeering. The nation is unable to afford it.
The NITI Ayog is in a quandary and can call for round table with political parties, industry and social leaders how to inject Gandhian honesty and ethics in biz, banking and society for ensuring an all-round national morality and growth. That is it. The nation has to adapt Gandhi in practice for that would be the only honest tribute to the father of the nation and to create his dream country.—INFA