One fine evening I was travelling via cab to the hospital. I casually asked the driver, who was playing yesteryear Bollywood songs, when will COVID-19 end? He replied in desi style — Jab tak Ayodhya me Ram Mandir nahi banega, tab tak Corona Bharat se bahar nahi jaayega (till the time the Ram temple is not constructed in Ayodhya, Corona won't leave India). One could say, he joked, but he could have replied differently too! Why did Ayodhya get dragged into a question that had no connection with it? I am not against religious beliefs, but shall we go so deep into these and close our eyes on matters that perhaps hold more relevance for our survival? I mean, why are we not thinking about becoming rich? Why don't we ask tough questions on the economic front? If issues like Ayodhya are important, so are the ones associated with the economy. After all, the economy decides our livelihood in many ways! I will take you through to some economic issues on which we should have been vocal, instead of nodding to whatever came our way.
Demonetization of currencies was touted as a MASTERSTROKE to eliminate the roots of black money. The whole of India supported this government initiative by standing in long queues at banks and ATMs for more than a month. Even as the opposition attacked the government for making people stand for long hours, the public was in no mood to stay away from this out of the box initiative. However, the results of demonetization didn’t come as expected. The worst outcome was the closure of many small scale business units across India.
Lots of laborers were rendered jobless, but neither the media nor the public reacted much to this incident. That was shocking! A good initiative may not lead to good results, but it should not stop the media from criticizing the move. Don't you think constructive criticism should be encouraged in a democratic country like India?
The government, a year ago, announced its vision of making India a $5 trillion economy by 2025. A good thought from the current dispensation! But are we serious about achieving such a mammoth number? I mean, what explained its confidence in setting such a number and achieving it in the given time frame even as not much was done to kickstart the investment cycle? For instance, the government imposed a surcharge on super-rich in the Union Budget 2019, much to the annoyance of Dalal Street as Foreign Portfolio Investors (FPIs) withdrew more than $3 billion from the bourses (as per news reports) and made them cry until the government rolled back the surcharge.
Experts have nudged the government numerous times to set things right, instead of just throwing big numbers and making noises around them. But their advice seemed to have gone to deaf ears as we only heard flagship projects rolled out one after another, but nothing significant happened on the economic front. Investor summits happened, business tycoons came and pitched for large scale investments. However, investments moved at a rather slow pace. As per market reports, the fresh flow of investments to India hit a 15-year low in the first half of FY 2019-20 owing to the economic slowdown, falling further from FY 2018-19 when the value of new investments recorded the lowest in the previous five years at INR 11.9 Lakh Crore. Most of us chose to remain silent, believing that the government will set things in order. The silence meant we had to contend with abysmal GDP growth of 3-5% from the second half of 2019 till the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. The worst came later, yet a lot of us didn't bother. Catch more of it below.
The COVID-19 pandemic has caused shocks in our lives ever since it came to India. It triggered a shutdown of many offices and made many jobless for no fault of theirs. As per news reports, around 5 million salaried Indians lost jobs in July last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Some managed to prevent a job loss but were forced to accept a massive pay cut. However, only a few news channels highlighted this and so the pressure was not much on the government to improve the situation. If any of the opposition parties criticized the government for some of its shortcomings, all these news channels would unite and make the opposition appear foolish. Amidst all, the suicide case of Bollywood star, Sushant Singh Rajput surfaced and the media got the story it needed to firm up its Television Rating Points (TRPs). Rhea Chakraborty, the girlfriend of the late actor, and her entire family were brought into the case and the media chased them as ferociously as it could. Doesn't matter whether it was 6 a.m. or 9 p.m., we saw only one thing on news channels those days. If that was not enough, the controversy of another Bollywood star, Kangana Ranaut took place, giving the media enough to carry on with the journalism that we see these days.
Interestingly, during that time, the GDP contracted by as much as 23-24%, way poorer than what was feared by experts. But it was Sushant, Kangana, Rhea, and the Bollywood-drug mafia connection that hit the headlines. The GDP is still negative, yet the discussion is not happening on the same, at least on most news channels. I ask these news channels a simple question - When your GDP has become negative, can’t you spare an hour or two to discuss that and make the government take this issue seriously?
The Bottom Line
No one can have control over economic movements, but at least being sensible towards it could help take India to greater heights. If we are serious about changing our status to a developed nation, the economy should become the public agenda when elections come. This is where the media, particularly its electronic segment, needs to play its role honestly and to perfection.
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