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In Bengaluru, Manmohan Singh Roasts Narendra Modi Over Economic Turmoil

Former Prime Minister lauds Siddaramaiah for development work, rebukes Modi for “stooping low”

As the political atmosphere hots up in Karnataka with less than a week to go for the assembly polls, the Congress roped in former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to deliver a stinging critique of the Modi government. The former prime minister released a statement on Monday reminding the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government that the economy was in turmoil and the policymakers needed some serious brain-storming to fix issues such as unemployment, non-performing assets (NPAs), farm crisis and increase in fuel price for sustainable development.

Singh criticised the Union government’s attitude of blaming the Congress for everything. “Our farmers are facing an acute crisis, our aspirational youth are not finding opportunities, and the economy is growing below its potential. The unfortunate truth is that each of these crises was entirely avoidable,” the former Prime Minister said. Singh expressed his disappointment over the government’s attempt to stifle dissent when deficiencies were pointed out. “Innovation needs support, and an environment where ideas can be discussed and debated without apprehension or inhibitions,” he said. On a point-by-point basis, the renowned economist underlined how the Modi government had mishandled the economy:

1) Low average growth rate: Singh noted that the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government delivered an average growth rate of 7.8 per cent despite turbulent global conditions. “The National Democratic Alliance (NDA), on the other hand, has managed lesser growth rate despite a favourable international climate and low oil prices. In fact, growth rate under the NDA is lower in spite of the change in methodology, which paints a rosier picture than reality,” Singh said.

2) Mess created by demonetisation and GST: Singh called demonetisation and GST “two major avoidable blunders of the Modi government”. Underlining, the effects of these two, Singh said, “The losses the economy suffered due to these blunders have severely hurt our Micro Small and Medium Enterprise (MSME) sector and have resulted in the loss of tens of thousands of jobs.” While the global economy is reviving and exports of other Asian nations like Vietnam have grown very substantially, Singh pointed out that exports as a share of GDP have plunged to a 14-year low in India.

3) Rise in petrol, diesel prices: It is not unnoticed that petrol and diesel prices are at a historic high in India. This, despite the fall in international crude oil prices. “The Modi government chooses to levy excessive excise taxes. Instead of passing on the benefits of low prices to the people, the Modi government has punished the people,” Singh said. “Since the present government has assumed power, the international crude oil prices have declined to 67 per cent. However, petrol and diesel prices have on average increased at 110 per cent on both these products. Through constant increase in taxes and at the cost of the common man, the BJP government is projected to have earned over 10 lakh crore. India must demand answers as to what use this money was put to?” Comparing the situation with his tenure, Singh noted that in the face of high crude oil prices, the UPA government had cushioned the common people against their effects.

4) Banking sector woes: According to Singh, the mismanagement of the Modi government is most evident in this sector. “Today neither are banks lending nor is the private sector borrowing in order to make new investments. The growth engines of the economy are spluttering,” he said.

Pointing fingers towards fugitive like Nirav Modi and Mehul Choksi, Singh said, “The quantum of frauds in the banking sector has almost quadrupled from Rs 28,416 crore in September 2013 to Rs 1.11 lakh-crore in September 2017. Perpetrators of these frauds meanwhile escape with impunity.”

5) Cash shortage:  Expressing his displeasure with the turn of events, Singh asserted that the recent occurrences resulted in shortage of cash in many states.   Instead of taking prompt corrective action, he underlined that the government has been busy providing excuses and peddling conspiracy theories as to what led to the problem.

6) Corporate loans v/s farm loans: Singh drew a sharp contrast between waiving off of corporate loans and farm loans. “As write-offs to corporate houses have exponentially increased, unpayable agricultural loans due to heightened rural distress are not being waived. In three years, over Rs 2.41 lakh crore worth of loans have been written off by public sector banks,” he said.   Singh wondered why the government failed to provide capital for the growth engines of small and medium enterprises.

7) Farm income: “The aim of the present government to double farmers’ incomes by 2022 comes across as wishful thinking,” Singh noted. Singh pointed out that under the UPA II, the average annual MSP growth rate was 19.3 per cent, under the NDA government this has fallen to 3.6 per cent. “Agricultural exports, which had seen a five-fold increase under UPA, have since come down by 21 per cent. At the same time, agricultural imports have risen by over 60per cent,” Singh said, adding, “It is worth seeking answers from PM Modi as to how he seeks to double the incomes when his government has failed to even match the record of UPA.”

8) IT sector sees downfall: “The growth of export of software services has declined nationally, touching a record low in 2015-16 at 7.3 per cent,” Singh said.

Under Donald Trump’s rule, the situation could get worse if the Modi government fails in its duties at protecting H1, H4 and L1 visas for Indian professionals in the US, Singh said. “I urge the Prime Minister to utilise every possible channel to ensure that our professionals can continue to work in the US, which benefits both America and India.”

9) Urban schemes: Singh noted that Bengaluru was one of the inspirations for the UPA government’s farsighted focus on urban development. “The ideas that led to the creation of the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM) came from social entrepreneurs from Bengaluru.  Development of our cities should be a priority for every government. This requires sustained efforts funds and innovation,” Singh asserted. He blamed the Modi government for coming up with fancy schemes where the focus was on catchy tags like AMRUT and Smart Cities and underperformed spectacularly.

10) Scientific temper: Noting that India is the only country in the world to have incorporated in its Constitution the principle of promoting scientific temper in the society, Singh said, “It does not help that the ministers in PM Modi ji’s cabinet and even BJP chief ministers regularly make comments promoting irrationality.  It thus comes as no surprise when irrational policies hurting people are implemented.” It was an apparent attempt to underline statements made by various BJP leaders, including Tripura Chief Minister Biplab Deb. The former Prime Minster also highlighted that reduced budgets, administrative takeovers, and harassment of students and dissenting voices are a violation of Constitutional norms.

11) Doesn’t behove a PM to stoop so low: Singh also cornered Modi for having “stooped low” in his recent comments about opponents. It doesn’t “behove a Prime Minister”, Singh was quoted as saying by ANI news agency. “No Prime Minister in our country has used the Office of the Prime Minister to say things about his opponent that Mr Modi has been doing day in and day out. It doesn’t behove a Prime Minister to stoop so low and it is not good for the country as well,” Singh said at a press conference in Bengaluru.

Lessons to learn from Karnataka government:

1) Urban region: Singh noted that Siddaramaiah government’s Tender SURE project has transformed the way urban infrastructure is constructed, while ensuring that everyone, including pedestrians benefit. 

He also pointed out that metro connectivity has improved substantially. “The state government’s offer to bear 80 per cent of the costs has helped kick-start the Suburban Rail project. In spite of massive pressures due to growth in population and vehicles, the Karnataka government has brought about a tangible change to the lives of citizens of Bengaluru,” Singh said.

2) Start-up scene: Calling Bengaluru the “start-up capital”, Singh praised Siddaramaiah for innovative policies like ELEVATE. On the job front, Singh noted, “The Siddaramaiah government’s support for industry has made Karnataka the highest in translating investment intentions into reality, more than Gujarat or any other state. The Congress government in Karnataka is creating jobs for our youth and the results are clearly visible.”

“Karnataka was the first to announce a dedicated Start-Up policy, a Version 3 of Biotech Policy was announced to cater to the ever-changing demands. This response to a dynamic environment helps Bengaluru contribute $50 billion to India’s export basket,” Singh explained.

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