Focus on real challenges instead of creating diversions

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India, like the rest of the world, was grappling with the ill effects of the Covid-induced economic crisis, but there was a general belief that we would bounce back sooner than later. Fundamentals of the economy were strong, and there were few reasons to suspect further downslide. But, the Russian invasion of Ukraine came as a bolt from the blue, inventing fresh concerns about disruption in supply chains and soaring prices of commodities. Sanctions imposed by America-led NATO deepened the uncertainties, and challenges became more serious for countries like India. The impact of a lurking crisis of wheat, edible oils, and fertilisers is already visible. Experts believe this can be far worse in the coming months, telling on both food inflation and agricultural activities. Even if the war ends now, the consequences of devastation will be felt for a long time. Food inflation is a global reality, but in a poor country like India, high prices can have debilitating implications. Prices of essential items have already increased savagely, ranging from 40% to more than 100%. The poor were already struggling with job losses and income cuts, and now this terrible burden of prices has made their life miserable. Petrol selling at more than Rs. 110 per litre and cooking gas cylinder for more than Rs. 1000 are no ordinary crises. Add to that the abnormally high prices of vegetables and edible oils, and the budget of the middle-class household goes awry. The price of wheat flour (atta) has started increasing.

The Narendra Modi government has already signaled a crisis by increasing the quantity of rice in the free distribution scheme. The Reserve Bank of India also stepped in with monetary tightening, indicating serious worries on the inflation front. Slow economic growth coupled with high inflation can play havoc with the economy. The investment climate still looks sluggish. The RBI itself has indicated that India will be able to recover fully from the impact of Covid only by 2035. That’s not a good sign at all; the government needs to take exceptional measures now. One expects the entire energy and resources to be focused on crisis management. The Modi government should do well to acknowledge the gravity of the situation and start responding seriously instead of trying to suppress the reality for political reasons. This seems to be a crisis that cannot be swept under the carpet. Sadly, public discourse is littered with trivia at this critical juncture. What is the purpose of raising issues like Hanuman Chalisa, bulldozer justice, hijab, and sundry communal disputes at this point of national life? As if these are not bad enough, news reports like the plea to open rooms of Taj Mahals to check whether they hide Hindu idols indicate a lack of sincerity and purpose in our country. Both the government and civil society should wake up to the real challenges instead of creating diversions and futile issues that have significance only for cheap politicking.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi said in 2014 that let there be a moratorium on contentious issues and communal politics for ten years. Though such issues should be buried forever, nobody paid any heed to the Prime Minister’s suggestion; least of all, members of his own ideological fraternity. Toxic discourse reached an all-time high, creating an impression that India is grappling with incurable social turmoil. Serious economic challenges require a peaceful social milieu; the nation-building exercise cannot be sustained amidst lingering discord. Perhaps, the time has come for the Prime Minister to take this menace seriously and guide the nation out of this quagmire. Modi needs to identify real challenges before the nation and clearly articulate his concerns about the avoidable distractions in the path of recovery. It is he who stands to gain the most politically if India marches towards the path of economic recovery and regains the robust GDP growth that is expected of this great country. Economic distress and social turmoil have the potential of throwing up political alternatives that look improbable at this stage. While the BJP has surprised critics by winning Uttar Pradesh, Goa, and Uttarakhand in the last round of assembly elections, a deepening economic crisis will only make the political challenge to their hegemony much more formidable. Emotive issues do not have unlimited power; economic distress can alter political loyalties. Attempts to suppress the truth too have limited success; truth will manifest itself sooner or later. And the truth is that India stares at a crisis both on economic and social fronts.

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