The opposition has targeted the government on
the state of the economy even more than usual
because of the fall in the growth rate. The criticism has been indiscriminating, in that it has failed to acknowledge the global factors responsible for a general downturn. This has, however, forced the government to put in greater effort into coming out with a nuanced budget this year that addresses most of the concerns. In the process, it can be said to have also promoted the otherwise much lacking ‘Indian’ concept of economics.
Traditionally, the budget has been a bare telling of figures, with sops distributed in turn to various sections of society in the form of tax relief and fund allocation. The structure of the economy after Independence was shaped largely by untested and idealistic socialist principles learned by Pt Nehru and his colleagues from foreign lands. In fact, the earliest split in the Congress party took place on economic issues, with those of the ‘right’ unable to accept this annihilative approach. The resulting ‘mixed’ economy failed to benefit from either ideology, wreaking havoc with nationalisation, mean-spirited targeting of various contesting elites and centralisation of powers. The top down approach only entrenched a certain class, as well as the crony capitalists, and income inequality grew despite even the ‘Hindu rate of growth’. Among the more structured economies of the East, India was gradually overtaken by even small countries till, once again, foreign dictated prescriptions were adopted to half-heartedly ‘liberalise’ the economy.
The early death of Mahatma Gandhi took away his emphasis on putting trust in the local genius. Now, the present government has placed increased emphasis on ‘swadeshi’ by working on Indian solutions to specifically local phenomena. It may be noted that so many of India’s influential economists over the years have basically studied abroad and imported practices that have rarely worked. During the Modi years, the conflict of ideas between them and the political masters came out in the open. The politically rejected elite snobbishly identified with these imported experts – whose ethnicity alone was Indian.
A close examination of Nirmala Sitharaman’s budget, intricate and detailed as it is, would reveal the transformation of an indigenously evolved economic philosophy into action. It addresses specific and sectoral issues from a mega perspective that has larger goals in mind. A serious application of mind has resulted in the integration of processes in a way that simplifies government functioning, withdraws from no-go areas, anticipates future opportunities and, above all, leaves it to the actual movers of the economy to get on with it. About time the political opposition acquired similar sophistication in its thinking, otherwise it will end up obsolete in a new world.