Pessimism Vs Optimism Discourse Shouldn't cloud Reality
OCTOBER 14, 2017
By Naresh Minocha, Consulting Editor
THE Prime Minister Narendra Modi has stirred a national debate on Pessimism versus Optimism while defending his Government's performance especially on the economic front.
Inaugurating Institute of Company Secretaries of India's (ICSI's) golden Jubilee Year Celebrations on 4th October, Mr. Modi said: "Some people take pleasure is spreading pessimism. They get a good sleep out of it. For them slowdown in GDP in one quarter is like a dose. There is a need to identify such people".
To avid news readers, this might ring in a quote from External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj's sterling speech delivered last month at the United Nations.
Mrs Swaraj quipped: "Look who's talking!" while referring to Pakistan Prime Minister Shahid Khakan's baseless allegation that India nurtured State-sponsored terrorism.
The 'Look' quote fits well on Modiji's hat because he himself once excelled in creating tsunami of pessimism. He, in fact, owes his elevation from the stature of Gujarat Chief Minister to India's PM to his success in spreading pessimism against UPA Government.
He brilliantly packaged gloom and doom with his growth mantra for about three years in the run-up to BJP's impressive victory in Lok Sabha polls in May 2014. From the core of his heart, PM knows that pessimism, if not nipped in bud, can become passport to power for the opposition parties. Before elaborating on this aspect, revert back to ICSI event.
He recalled role of a pessimistic character from Mahabharata - Shalya, who was charioteer of Karna. Mr. Modi stated: "Shalya always used to discourage those who were in the battle field and spread despair. He used to say, you don't have the courage, your horses and chariot are weak and how would you fight. Shalya belonged to the Mahabharata era. But still we have some people having the same Shalya mentality. Such people take pleasure in spreading the despair. The slowdown in the GDP even in one quarter has become the biggest news item these days for such people. They are perpetually in a mode of pessimism saying how will you do it and what will happen next".
What he did not disclose was that GDP growth had already declined in five successive quarters – a fact that would perturb anyone whose heart throbs for the poor.
In the same speech, PM claimed: "we do not take offence to the recent spate of criticisms of the Government on the economic front. The Government is sensitive towards the concerns of the people. We take even the harshest criticism in our stride".
This large-heartedness, shown by Mr. Modiji much later in his speech, was virtually ignored by the mainstream media. It realized that criticism was finally hurting the image of Mr. Modi and his government. Hence his stringent attack on his critics as the best form of defense.
He made a presentation citing selective data to drive home that economy was booming. He interpreted data to suit his purpose. The very fact that he compared his Government's performance on different economic yardsticks with the achievements of UPA Government shows comparison in mediocrity.
Mr. Modi should have compared his Government's performance with the targets and commitments made in BJP's Lok Sabha manifesto. Why he did not quote data on unemployment and underemployment trends?
Why he did not cite data on the rise in capital cost of projects due to sequential and multiple environmental approvals, coupled with delays caused by public interest litigation? Why he did not give a break-up of foreign direct investment (FDI) and foreign portfolio investment while flaunting foreign investment inflows?
Mr. Modi must know that critics and public at large would judge his performance with what he suggested to the Centre as Gujarat Chief Minister. Will he make presentation on why is now not implementing his own brilliant ideas? He prefers silence on this count.
Having stirred a revolution of public aspirations and expectations through his numerous speeches, Mr. Modi should realize he has himself created a high bar to judge his performance. The accountability norms for him have to be thus tough, matching his words.
If he can flaunt positive data, critics can also flaunt negative data on issues such as lack and poor quality of education, healthcare, hunger and malnutrition. These were, these are and these will remain a national shame due to population bomb and bad governance.
The myth about India's demographic dividend, which is Mr. Modi's hobbyhorse, gets shattered after reading of the World Development Report 2017 that focuses on learning crisis. It is loaded with horrible data on India. Would Mr. Modi berate the team of researchers that authored this report as economists with "Shalya mentality"? And what India's declining rating in Global Hunger Index 2017 Report?
An optimist PM always considers setbacks, failures and criticism as stepping stones to success whose political road will always be bristled with potholes and nails.
Mr. Modi is neither the first nor the last PM to face deluge of pessimism hyped by critics. Pessimism is outcome of application of accountability norms to those who control levers of governance.
Recall the statesmanship with which ex-PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee handled what he called as "unnecessary pessimism and panic" over slowdown. Addressing a meeting of Economic Advisory Council on the 10th September 2001, Mr. Vajpayee had the courage to admit that certain good macro-economic data "cannot hide the deeper systemic maladies in the Indian economy. Nor should they cause complacency over the grave nature of the current economic slowdown".
Noting that economy stood at the "trough of a 5 percent growth rate" against growth target of 8%, He stated: "But climb this tall and difficult mountain, we must. For without faster and more balanced economic growth, there is simply no solution to the long-pending problems of poverty, unemployment, and regional and social imbalances".
Above all, Mr. Modi should always keep in mind that he acted as the high priest of gloom and doom during 2012-14 till he assumed office as PM. And the opposition leaders have every right to follow his footsteps.
He had marketed pessimism to convince the masses that he and only he can lead the country out of hopelessness. He repeatedly accused UPA Government of creating despondency. He lambasted UPA for intellectual bankruptcy and policy paralysis. He dubbed UPA Government as the "most hated" and as the "most corrupt" one since the Independence.
Speaking at 42nd anniversary of Thuglak Magazine on 14th January 2012, Mr. Modi observed: "Year 2012 dawned upon us with a baggage of doubts and worries due to slow economic growth, increase in inflation, and growing terrorism. Corruption has reached new heights in the UPA-led central government, all driven by vote bank politics. People have started wondering if at all there is a government at the centre."
He added: "The current mood of pessimism has already impacted the economy through drop in investments. There is a policy pause all around resulting in a crisis of confidence in the India story. Currently, the dream of the India story is fast turning into an economic and social nightmare".
Well 2012 ended with a bang for Mr. Modi as he again led BJP to victory in Gujarat assembly polls. This served as adrenaline for Mr. Modi to hammer pessimism in mind of all citizens at every given opportunity.
"It seems that there is no urgency or seriousness in tackling economic crises facing the country. There has been a virtual lack of direction in the macroeconomic management of the country," Mr. Modi observed while participating in a meeting of National Development Council on 27th December 2012
He said: "it is painful to note the unmistakable sense of pessimism in the Twelfth Plan document. This is all the more unfortunate because the document itself admits that it is not only global economic conditions that are responsible for this dismal scenario".
He added: "Significantly lowering the growth targets of the Twelfth Plan will further add to the mood of despondency and pessimism in the country and cast increasing doubts on the sustainability of the India Growth Story".
He elaborated on this issue a day later at BJP headquarters after taking oath as Gujarat CM for the 4th term. Referring to NDC meeting, Modi stated: "I told the prime minister that it was unfortunate that the country was going in the direction of hopelessness. I told him harshly that he had no action plan for development, no vision, no leadership and no political will to take the country ahead."
He noted that "A year ago, the Centre had envisaged 9% growth, but the figure got stuck at 7.9%. Now the government had given up 9% and targeted it at 8.2%, which means an increase of just 0.3% cent".
He successfully hawked doom and gloom at Delhi University while delivering the Shri Ram Memorial Oration held at Delhi University's Shri Ram College of Commerce on 6th February 2013. Mr. Modi stated: "There is a sense of despondency in the country. People feel nothing would change here. All are thieves, everything they do is waste. People consider it a curse to be born in India. They want to leave the country soon after completing their studies," Modi said.
"This nation is being ruined by vote bank politics. This nation requires development politics. If we switch to politics of development, we will soon be in a position to bring about lasting change and progress," Modi added.
It would be befitting to conclude with a quote from Mr. Modi. He once stated:
"Optimists say the glass is half full, pessimists say the glass is half empty- I say, this glass (is) full- filled half with air, half with water!"
Millions would endorse his positivity with caveat that his glass of performance has more air and less water. He has to thus shift gears from words to deeds if he wants to return to power at the Centre. He can't bank on the fact that as yet there is no alternative to him.