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BJP spokesperson scrambles for cover as panellists trot out figures to prove all is not well with the economy even if one keeps long term goals in sight

Fuel prices across India touched fresh highs on Saturday with the petrol price hiked by 38 paise and diesel price by 47 paise in Mumbai. Petrol is selling at Rs 87.77/litre while diesel is priced at Rs 76.98/litre in Mumbai, according to a price notification issued by Indian Oil Corporation. In 2014, incumbent Prime Minister Narendra Modi had sought votes saying petrol would be available at Rs 30 per litre under his government’s rule.

Experts opine that the decision to hike fuel prices may prove costly to the BJP-led central government in the coming elections. On Saturday’s edition of Mudda, Himanshu Dixit led a discussion among BJP leader Khemchand Sharma, Congress leader Ajay Verma, NCP leader Arun Mishra, SP leader Rajpal Kashyap, economist Rajat Mehra and senior journalist Govind Pant Raju. The panellists tried to find out if it was indeed the case.

Following the opening remarks, Kashyap painted a dismal picture of the current reality, saying: “What happened to the promise of landing Rs 15 lakh in every citizen’s account? Or to the one about creating two crore jobs? Farmers are committing suicide. Soldiers are dying on the border. Demonetisation has crushed the backbone of the economy. Today each LPG cylinder costs Rs 800 which is out of reach for the common villager, yet the government is boasting about free LPG and subsidies.”

Mishra pointed out that the Ujwala Yojana was a scam benefiting the LPG cylinder distribution agencies.

“All his schemes have fallen flat, be it Make in India, Namami Gange, or demonetisation. So if today the party keeps saying all is well, it smacks of overconfidence,” Raju felt.

Sharma, the BJP spokesperson, said the government has performed well. He said the LPG cylinder costs Rs 495 in Delhi and not Rs 800, and the poor do receive subsidised cylinders under the Ujwala Yojana. He also said the Congress which proclaimed Emergency in 1975 should not speak of tyranny.  Citing the respective figures of 5.6, 6.3, 7, 7.7 and 8.2, he averred that the economy has been growing steadily in the last five quarters. Even the farming sector is growing at the rate of 5.3 percent, he said.

But the prices of essential commodities and fuel are rising higher and higher, Dixit interjected.

“But dal and atta prices are reasonable. So are the prices of onion, potatoes and tomatoes. The fuel price rise will impact transport costs and raise the prices of the veggies a bit. But we have done our bit and have a clean slate. Only international factors and Congress corruption have been holding us back,” Sharma said.

But your government’s polices did not bear fruit, Dixit persisted.

Well, tax collection has increased from to Rs 6.25 lakh crore to Rs 10 lakh tax crore, Sharma responded.

Yet the GST collection figures are falling, Dixit shot back.

“We gave Rs 13 crore to youth under the PM Mudra Yojana to help entrepreneurs,” said Sharma apropos nothing.

Verma then opened a very strong offensive against Sharma and the NDA government. “These figures are all bogus. Unemployment has increased, prices have gone up and the common man is crying for succour. It is Gautam Adani, Mukesh Ambani, Baba Ramdev and Jay Shah whose incomes have multiplies during Modi’s tenure. Talk about scams, there are n numbers of them be it the Rafale scam or the GSIDC scam. Vijay Mallya ran away and the government has okayed Rs 10,35,528 crore of bad loans taken by rich men such as him. In fact, this figure has risen since 2014 by around Rs 7 lakh crore. But when it comes to farmers, they have been waived amounts such as Rs 72 and Rs 150. And don’t bandy about those fake figures. Even Karnataka, which incidentally had a Congress government until very recently, has beaten the PM’s homes state, Gujarat, when it comes to growth,” he said. The Congress would have brought in GST at 12 percent while the BJP is doing it at 28 percent, he added.

Raju advised the BJP to keep its ear to the ground. “The common man today is not so pleased with the government anymore,” he observed.

But Mehra felt that the government is doing sufficiently well. “I am speaking as a classical economist. If you look at the twin deficits—current account deficit and fiscal deficit, or the inflation rate, interest rate, and the growth rate, they are not critical.  All the figures are actually quite attractive. In 1994, too, the Vajpayee government had made its policies keeping in mind these key criteria. It had introduced the Fiscal Responsibility and Budget Management Act. It was the UPA that threw it out. Any incumbent government must make its policies keeping long term gains in mind,” he said.

“You did not speak of rising economic inequality,” responded Verma. “Economic inequality has shot up under this regime. In 2014, 49 percent of the national income was going to one percent of the people, now this figure has shot up to 72 percent,” he said.

Even Paul Krugman has asked this question, GDP growth for whom, said Dixit, agreeing with Verma.

India is a country of villages. And in villages there is no change, Kashyap said. “Today people from villages come to cities daily and wait on the roadside to be hired as labour. At the end of the day, they return to their homes without any earnings. What was the effect of demonetisation? It was what translated into the BJP’s defeat in Gorakhpur, Phoolpur and Kairana in the LS bypolls,” he said

“India is also a country of youth. One of the favourite topics of BJP has been brain drain. They say they gave loans to two crore people for entrepreneurship. But will a CA or a doctor sell tea? Even former BJP president Nitin Gadkari has said there is no question of quotas as there are no jobs to go around,” Mishra said.

—Compiled by Sucheta Dasgupta

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