“OUR goal is higher growth leading to inclusive and sustainable development. That is the mool mantra. Growth is a necessary condition and we must unhesitatingly embrace growth as the highest goal. It is growth that will lead to inclusive development, without growth there will be neither development nor inclusiveness.” Quiz a random sampling of people reading this line to identify the speaker. Chances are an overwhelming majority may attribute them to Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi, hailed as the undisputed architect of the Growth and Governance story not just by the people of the state but domestic and international audiences as well.
It then comes as a huge surprise when you are told that the speaker happens to be India’s veteran Finance Minister and the occasion the presentation of the Union Budget of India 2013-14. But for the UPA II which stares at an inevitable rout at the hustings next year or even earlier, its not surprising that they have chosen to take a leaf out of the book of their most feared political opponent and the NDA’s strongest contender for the country’s top job.
What this brazen plagiarisation of Gujarat’s mool mantra and making it their own also shows is a desperate, rudderless government plagued by a bankruptcy of ideas and nothing to show for its almost ten years of misrule. By talking Modi’s talk however the Congress and its pathetic clutch of allies forget that they must also know how to walk this talk.
For India as a whole to follow the very exacting and enviable track record set by Gujarat in the same ten years may clearly be a tough act to copy. Inadvertently acknowledging the great Gujarat growth story, the Union Finance Minister states in his Budget speech,” We have examples of states growing at a fast rate, but leaving behind women, the scheduled castes, the scheduled tribes, the minorities, and some backward classes. The UPA does not accept that model.”
Ironically for the Harvard-educated Chidambaram, the Nehru-Gandhi led Congress party and the UPA II as a whole, the joke is on them. For it is not under the Gujarat government but under the Congress-led government at the Centre that women, SCs, STs and minorities are being left behind. In fact, it is on account of the sheer callousness, apathy and mismanagement of the country as a whole that the Central government is today facing its worst crisis of confidence.
I cannot but help recall the statement made by one of the talking heads on a popular English channel in a heated pre-Budget discussion prior to the Budget. “Forget fiscal deficits and current account deficits. What the government is facing today and should address immediately is the total trust deficit it is facing. People just don’t have confidence in the government anymore,” she succinctly stated.
But what is really unfortunate though not at all surprising is that Budget 2013-14 is completely lackluster and unlikely to revive a sagging economy buffeted by negative sentiments emanating both from the domestic and global markets. In what could have been a game changer budget which could have redeemed the Congress party by lifting its sagging electoral fortunes, the overly cautious FM, on the advice of his once-upon-a-time great economist PM Manmohan Singh, has chosen to play so safe that he has presented an inert Budget, written off by the markets as a non-event even before the FM’s speech was over. The stock market movement during the course of the speech itself was indicative of a rather indifferent reaction to the Budget bordering on disappointment.
While the Budget was not expected to bring about a sea change, it was hoped that there would be measures to spur investment. There are no path breaking measures in the Budget to push the economic growth of the country and to take it out of its present state of slumber. There has been more than expected focus on populism. The fine print has created more confusion than solving it. It is a missed opportunity which could have been used to present India story to the world.
Compare this to the imaginative and inspired Gujarat Budget tabled just a week ago. Not only does it show a state government committed to the progress of Gujarat but also its determination to increase the pace of development in the state. “We want to take the fruits of development to the villages, to the poor and that is clear from this Budget,” says a state BJP leader.
But it’s the Congress party’s most dreaded political foe who has perhaps described most pithily the difference between his government and the UPA II. According to the Gujarat CM, if one is to view the plan and non-plan expenditure of the Budgets of Centre and the Budget of the Gujarat Government, they are pictures in contrast.
“In their case, 65% of the wealth is spent on running the Government whereas only 35% is spent on development. In our case it is the opposite. 65% is spent on development while 35% spent on running the Government and it is due to this that the development in Gujarat is possible.” Clearly, mere mimicking of a winning formula does not help. It requires skills and brains even to be a copycat.