By Sakhi Nair
Edited by Shambhavi Singh, Senior Editor, The Indian Economist
I recently attended a Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) meeting called “Vision@India – Challenges and Achievements” where Mr. Arun Jaitley, Union Minister for Defence and Finance, gave the audience an insight into his vision for India. Attended by young and old, party members and political enthusiasts, press members and students alike, it was one packed hall. Covering some important points, his speech went on for more than 60 minutes.
“Modiji gave an excellent speech on our 68th Independence Day yesterday. But it also worried me.”
Referring to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s iconic Independence Day speech, Mr. Jaitley said that 68 years is an era. If even after an era we still have to say that women in our country don’t get respect, they don’t have an equal standing, we still hang our heads in shame when there’s a crime against women, that only 58% of the population has access to banking, that we will have to give incentives for investment, it is a shameful thing. He said that the fact that we don’t have sanitation in schools is a shameful thing. Reflecting on the past decades, he said that the 70s and 80s were wasted decades; because we achieved no milestones during those years, only a slow placed growth and sluggish development. And the entire backlog is pressurizing us now. If we had taken action 20 years ago, we wouldn’t look at China and be envious of their growth. Federalism and regional aspirations were not problems in the 50s and 60s. But now people are asking for their rights. They are not ready to accept poverty and slow growth. Control and command economy have evolved into a market-oriented economy with a social conscience. Each region has to grow. New Delhi can’t tell each region what to do. Financial problems have formed the centre of the political agenda of the country.
“Pro-business and pro-poor are not contradictory, they’re complementary.”
Further, Mr. Jaitley explained his plans for growth of the economy, and said that he finds nothing wrong with being pro-business. Unless the government has money, how is it supposed to implement pro-poor schemes? Increasing investment will boost business and profits, which will further boost economic growth. According to him the Modi government is a tax-free government. Retrospective taxation became a defining moment towards a negative sentiment. High taxation has discouraged investment. People want to buy products and not be burdened with heavy taxes. How do we incentivize manufacturing? Two new words have been added to taxation – policy paralysis and tax terrorism. Years of populist policies and high taxation led to the growth of the manufacturing sector being flat, and then going into negative. Manufacturing sector creates jobs, but ignoring that we have been introducing new schemes for generating employment only in theory, not in practice. One day we ourselves we dig a hole and fill it the next.
“I asked a Congress Member of Parliament, “Why are we entitled to subsidies?’’
We need fiscal discipline, not fiscal deficit. The government subsidizes products where it’s not needed, and then experiences a fiscal deficit. Giving his own example, he said, “Half of us who get subsidies don’t even need it. I myself get subsidies on diesel and fuel, but am I entitled to it?” We need to give subsidies to those who really need them. Subsidies are not merely for gaining votes.
“The Congress government left us with a huge challenge, and 7 lakh crore worth of incomplete projects.’’
Talking about corrupt practices and excessive delays, Mr. Jaitley spoke about the challenges ahead of them. After 1947, we have expanded railway tracks to only around 10% of what the Britishers left us. In February this year, the railway board approached the UPA government saying they were running into losses and the railways could shut down soon, if not for rail fare hikes. The government agreed but seeing it as an unpopular decision, rail fare hike was to be made effective only from May, when the next government comes in. Fortunately the people understood the need for a rail fare hike. Users have to pay for services they receive. They have to choose between a world-class rail network and a ram-shackled one. Highway projects such as the Golden Quadrilateral changed the face of India. Railways can also contribute to this change. We have had coal reserves for 200 years and 70% of our power comes from coal. Today those coal mines are stagnant, victim to corrupt practices and scams, and we are spending crores to import coal.
“One of my army friends jokingly said, “All that Pakistan has to do is make anonymous letters to weaken our defence sector.”
Following on Modi’s motto of ‘Make In India’, Mr. Jaitley stressed on the importance of being self-sufficient in the defense sector. We buy more than 70% of our defence equipment from foreign companies and governments, and therefore it follows a detailed and careful procedure. So if in case we get letters from anonymous sellers, we stop all defence purchases immediately. It is imperative that we establish Indian defence companies with maximum Indian control.
Mr. Arun Jaitley’s speech was thought provoking and he gave some great ideas on how the new government seeks to overcome various challenges, right from fiscal deficit to manufacturing, from poverty to safety of women. Will they overcome their challenges? Will Jaitley’s vision for India see the light of day? Only time will tell if India really does wake to see the ‘Acche Din’.
Sakhi is a 12th grade student planning to pursue Mass Communication. She is a keen observer of everything that her eyes can see and never leaves herself out of a stimulating conversation. She considers the freedom of expression to be the fourth necessity of life and believes the world could be a better place if we could just listen. Her interests include photography, music and satire. You can wade through her musings at http://www.neuroticpeanuts.blogspot.com.