A peacock, divine providence and we

modi peacock

At that time, the peacock was eating the grain given by its lord in the bungalow of Lok Kalyan Marg. And by that time, the number of coronavirus affected people has reached 30 lakhs 30 thousand and 752. And 57 thousand 524 people have died. Exactly four days later, the finance minister of the country had discharged her duties by making the famous comment that the economic slump due to corona pandemic “as an act of God”. That is, she had implied that a corona pandemic is an act of God and the deep economic crisis is a fall out of that pandemic.  Well, what has the feeding of peacocks with grains got to do with corona-related deaths or the severe financial crisis? The relationship is symbolic. Prime Minister Narendra Modi was feeding the peacock, the national bird of the country. His ardent followers may naturally ask the question, where is the injustice? It is not wrong to feed animals and birds, but it is incorrect to publish that picture.

The happy photograph of a peacock eating grain, when our social milieu is shattered by the deadly virus and flood when the cries of millions of unemployed people can be heard,  is nothing but cruel irony. No matter how much the Union Ministers or the leaders of the ruling party boast that the situation is becoming more and more normal, the real situation is darker. The government has been trying hard to cover up the dark reality, but it has not always been possible. According to the annual report of the Reserve Bank of India, for the quarter ending in June 2020, the corona pandemic has adversely affected the demand side.  “An assessment of aggregate demand during the year so far suggests that the shock to consumption is severe, and it will take quite some time to mend and regain the pre-COVID-19 momentum.” The RBI has further informed that the private demand in the market has declined. In other words, 60 per cent of the GDP of the country comes from the consumer goods market, where the business has come to a standstill because the common man has no money. In the same report, the RBI has admitted that no appropriate economic boost has been provided to the poor people in order to help the poor.

The professor of  Economics in JNU, Prof.Arun Kumar has mentioned that it is straightforward and easy to understand that if there is no demand in the market, the production will not increase. And the demand will improve only when the majority of the people in the country have money in hand. Nobel laureate economist AbhijitBinayakBandopadhyay has been saying the same thing regularly. But those who are responsible for running the country have tie-ups somewhere else. Professor Arun Kumar has pointed out that in the package of  21 lakh crore that the central government had announced to boost the economy, only 2 lakh crore has been allocated for the benefit of the common poor. About Rs18 lakh crore has been allocated to support industry and trade, and most of which are loan projects. Hence, there was no particular benefit to the economy in that package of the Centre. Because of the lockdown, millions of people lost their jobs, and they were rendered penniless. As a result, the market demand is reduced further. In the unorganised sector, the situation is bleaker and is almost in a state of collapse. The government has urged the small and medium enterprises to take advantage of loans offered, but most of them did not feel enthused. It is because, even if one starts production or business after availing a loan, there is no buyer in the market. So no one is willing to take the burden of debt, and, as a result,the average per capita production is on a decline. This is a terrible omen for any economy. The current rulers of the country either do not understand this dangerous trend or they are pretending not to see anything like ostriches, in the popular adage, who bury their heads in the sand!

At a press conference after the conclusion of the  41st meeting of the GST, Finance Minister NirmalaSitharaman shied away from blaming the government for the current and future economic contraction and had termed it as the provision of the God. What a ridiculous and unscientific comment! The Finance Minister of a country, which boasts as the fifth-largest economy of the world, has blamed the economic crisis as an act of God!It is evident that it is just a ploy to confuse the devout majority by projecting their own failures as the wishes of God.  If we go back a little in time and look closely at the data, it is clear that the current financial crisis is not solely due to corona pandemic. The rate of average national production had started declining from the second quarter of the financial year 2019-20. In the first quarter of that financial year, i.e. in the period of April-May-June, the average GDP growth rate was 5%, which was the lowest in the previous ten years. In the second quarter of July-August-September, it decreased further to 4.5%. The third quarter of October-November-December saw a slight increase to 4.7%. But in the last quarter of that financial year, i.e. January-February-March 2020, the rate of production fell to 3.1%. If we have to accept that the present economic slump is due to the Covid or in general providence of God, then who should be held accountable for the slowdown in growth rate by about 2%? In the same year, the union government could not transfer the GST money payable to the states on time because of the financial crisis.

Who should be held responsible for this delay due to the economic downturn? The recession of economy in a country, its rise or fall, is entirely dependent on the policymakers of the country and the thoughts of the planners. Two major economic decisions taken by the present Delhi-based ruler, have snowballed into the sliding down of the state of the economy of the country. In this big country of 1.3 billion people, demonetisation and note ban was declared without any proper plan and with a mere four-hour notice. Far from having any precedent in the modern world, no wise political leader could even have imagined such a decision! There was an outcry in social life as this triggered the decline of the economy. The second big decision was to enforce GST. There also weaknesses stemming from the lack of specific plans. As a result, three years after the introduction of GST on July 1, 2017, even after 41 meetings of the GST Council, it has not been able to stand on its own. During a discussion with the journalists after the conclusion of the 41st meeting of the GST Council, the Union Revenue Secretary had admitted that the implementation of the GST was faulty.  Economists think that there are problems not only in the implementation, but also in the structure.

No one discusses demonetisation anymore. The ‘great person’ who had suggested this  mind-boggling demonetisation plan, is probably trying to forget that decision as a nightmare. Demonetisation has been removed from the success list of the ruling NDA government. Is God also responsible for the catastrophic decision of demonetisation? NirmalaSitharaman has also blamed the corona infection,besides using the term provision of God, for the financial crisis. Well, who gave the order for the confinement of  1.3 billion people for home internment and that too with just a notice of a mere four hours? Was the order declared by the  God or corona? In a country where billions of people are migrant workers, billions are day labourers, or where about 800 million people live below or around the poverty level, should the Prime Minister announce a nationwide lockdown with just a four hour notice period? The whole country was stunned and stood still, and the result of such a quick declaration is for all to observe. The Prime Minister of a country, with a functioning federal structure, chose not to hold any talks with the Chief Ministers of the states before announcing such a big decision. The government had got about two months time after the World Health Organization (WHO) had declared the Covid-19 infection as a global health crisis or a state of emergency. The government could have utilised this time by making a comprehensive plan to deal with the Corona after due consultation with the experts. But that did not happen because the government and the main ruling party were then busy organising meeting of more than one lakh persons to welcome the US President and his wife. They were also busy in toppling the Congress-led Madhya Pradesh government, through the defection of the MLAs, and for forming their own government in Madhya Pradesh. After addressing these, the government became active in dealing with the Corona through the adoption of a national program of ringing bells! At the same time, the government had clamped curfew and followed it with a lockdown. The unplanned lockdown marked the beginning of a catastrophe not only for billions of poor people but also for industry, trade and the economy. At the same time, the health service sector also showed signs of failure. Even after one-and-a-half months of the announcement of the lockdown,  the states did not have the proper corona testing system and could not provide the necessary safety equipment for the doctors and the paramedics. However, the Prime Minister and other leaders of the ruling party want us to believe that India is showing the world how to fight with corona pandemic. And arising from this sense of mental satisfaction, probably a kind of ‘indifference’ is at work in the mind and action of the Prime Minister, as has been exemplified in several cases in the recent times. In addition to Corona pandemic, tens of millions of people in eleven states have been affected by the floods. The financial crisis has escalated to a point where state government officials are struggling to raise money for the payment of salary to their staff. The country has reached the second position in terms of the number of people affected by the disease. It is globally the first in terms of the number of daily additions of the affected citizens. In this background, isn’t it a cruel joke that the picture of the national bird, eating grains is broadcasted all over the media? However, after hearing the previously mentioned, “historical” comment of NirmalaSitharaman, a scenario is coming to my mind. Can we understand the statement of the finance minister a little differently? Keeping in mind the steps that I have discussed as the cause of the financial crisis, can we not imagine that the person whose action has the power to influence all of us is like a God to us?And devout people sincerely believe that God takes care of everything, animals, birds, and nature. Keeping these “acts of our God”in mind while thinking about the picture of a peacock side by side, it is hightime for us to ponder which direction we are heading towards.

Asish Gupta is a senior journalist



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