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Fifth Column: It’s the economy, stupid

What is most worrying is that the Prime Minister seems even to have allowed Rahul Gandhi to get under his skin with his ‘suit-boot ki sarkar’ comment.

Written by Tavleen Singh |
September 13, 2015 12:30:34 am
Bihar polls 2015, Narendra Modi, Sonia Gandhi, Bihar elections, Bihar elections campaign, Rahul Gandhi, Indian economy, hawabaazi comment, iecolumnist, Tavleen Singh, The indian Express When the Prime Minister met big businessmen last week, he reportedly urged them to take more risks so that India could take advantage of China’s economy currently being in trouble.

There are worrying signs that the Prime Minister has started to take the dynasty he ousted seriously. Or why should he have bothered to respond to Sonia Gandhi’s silly, meaningless comment about ‘hawabaazi’ at all? India’s former Rajmata started accusing Narendra Modi of making false promises during the 2014 election campaign and has not changed her tune since. The only thing she has stopped saying is that if he succeeded in becoming prime minister only ‘God would be able to save India’.

There has not been one comment from her that indicates that she has noticed that in the past year there has been a restoration of confidence and hope that died completely in the last three years of her rule. If the Prime Minister still believes that her attitude towards him will change if he does little favours like allowing her son-in-law to evade frisking at airports, then it is time he stopped. There is no chance that the Gandhis will cooperate at any level with the Modi government, because it is in its failure that lies their only chance of reclaiming what they consider their birthright.

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What is most worrying is that the Prime Minister seems even to have allowed Rahul Gandhi to get under his skin with his ‘suit-boot ki sarkar’ comment. Or why did he let more than a year pass before he met Indian businessmen to find out why they are so reluctant to begin investing again? Foreign investors are useful and must be lured to our shores, but it is much more important for Indian investors to invest, because unless they do, there is no chance of creating those elusive 12 million jobs a year. It is on this that the Prime Minister should concentrate his attention, not on the silly comments of the two people who despise him for taking India away from them.

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When the Prime Minister met big businessmen last week, he reportedly urged them to take more risks so that India could take advantage of China’s economy currently being in trouble. Has he not observed that the reason why Indian investors are reluctant to invest is because it has become no easier to do business than it was in the last three years of Sonia’s reign? The same silly taxes remain in place, the same tax hounds harass investors, the same endless permissions need to be taken, and on top of this are labour laws, that force most Indian workers into the unorganised sector. Has the Prime Minister not noticed that ‘Make in India’ can never happen as long as it remains virtually impossible to sack workers? Has he not noticed that it was possible for China to set up huge factories employing thousands of workers mainly because they did not have such foolish laws?

India’s biggest political problem is the economy. And it cannot revive until there are drastic changes in the rules that govern economic activities. Decades of Nehruvian socialism have created a mindset in officials across the country that makes them see enterprise as evil. So they spend their time crushing underfoot anyone who dares to become an entrepreneur. The irony is that the humblest street entrepreneurs face the most repression, because they cannot afford to pay the bribes needed to prevent municipal officials from confiscating their goods and destroying them. Captains of industry have the money power to keep officials at bay, but have now started saying publicly that doing business in India has not become easier.

This is what the Prime Minister should worry about. And he should worry about why infrastructure remains so bad that it is not just industry that suffers but agriculture. If farmers had access to halfway decent roads and cold storage chains, the entrepreneurial skills of rural India would be unlocked in a way that has never happened before. The Congress way has been the way of ‘alleviating poverty’ through programmes like MNREGA, that serve mostly to bring a degree of comfort to people who live in extreme poverty. Modi has a real chance to show that he believes in doing things differently.

Before sitting down to write this piece, I looked up some of the speeches he made before becoming Prime Minister. Speeches in which he talked of bringing prosperity through tourism and through encouraging farmers to think in terms of exporting their produce to the markets of the world. Why do we not hear him speak this kind of language any more? There is no point in travelling to foreign cities and assuring investors that India is open for business if nothing changes on the ground in India. It is true that the last three years of Sonia’s reign left a legacy of bad governance, bad policies and an economy in bad trouble. But why has more not changed in the past year?

@ tavleen_singh

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