Jaitley dumps decency

The personal attacks on senior Bharatiya Janata Party leader and former finance minister Yashwant Sinha are symptomatic of the new political culture that has taken root since Narendra Modi became Prime Minister. The prerequisites of democracy—that is, discussion, debate, dissent, decency—have no place in this culture. To criticism, the government takes recourse to the most reprehensible forms of protection—argumentum ad hominem (attacking the arguer rather than the argument) and tu quoque (your misdeed is bigger than mine).

So, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, instead of addressing the issues raised by his senior party colleague Sinha, hurls insinuations and innuendoes at him—“a job applicant at 80” who couldn’t control non-performing assets when holding the finance portfolio, who has turned a columnist to embarrass the government, etc.

It is, however, not the first time that BJP ministers and leaders have savaged criticism of the government. When Arun Shourie, who was a minister in the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government, slammed the Modi regime in April 2015 for not delivering on the economic front, Union Minister Piyush Goyal had said, “If some individuals probably have some grouse, they don’t get some positions, and want to make issues out of non-issues, I think they are best to left to judge whether they are saying the right thing. This government has shown that with sincerity of purpose and visionary leadership of Prime Minister Modi, India is on the right path to growth.”

BJP spokesperson Sambit Patra, who can defend every indefensible act of his government, said, “Many fair-weather friends want to gatecrash a party during good days and turn hostile when that doesn’t succeed.”

In other words, what Shourie said didn’t matter for the simple reason that he had the “grouse” that he didn’t get a ministerial berth; he was just making “issues out of non-issues” because of his own frustration. He was merely a fair-weather friend who wanted to “gatecrash a party.” This was the respect they showed to a tall Rightwing ideologue, a former minister of their own government, an eminent scholar and author. They didn’t criticize Shourie’s arguments, proving them to be unreasonable; they just calumniated him.

The tu quoque trick is also generously employed. Speaking at a function on Thursday, Jaitley insinuated against Sinha, saying, “I can conveniently forget the 15 per cent NPAs of 1998 and 2002 [this was a reference to Sinha’s term as finance minister]. I can conveniently forget the $4-billion reserve left in 1991 and I can switch over and change the narrative.” The message: you were more incompetent than I am.

But Jaitley, or anybody else in the government, hasn’t addressed the issues raised by Sinha in his Indian Express article (September 26). Calling Jaitley a lucky finance minister, “luckier than any in the post-liberalization era,” Sinha wrote, “Depressed global crude oil prices placed at his [Jaitley’s] disposal lakhs of crores of rupees. This unprecedented bonanza was waiting to be used imaginatively… But the oil bonanza has been wasted and the legacy problems have not only been allowed to persist, they have become worse.”

The bonanza was only for the government—at the expense of people. This is not what Sinha is saying; anybody with even an iota of commonsense, including this writer, is saying that. Jaitley doesn’t respond to this criticism.

Sinha painted a grim portrait of the Indian economy today? “Private investment has shrunk as never before in two decades, industrial production has all but collapsed, agriculture is in distress, construction industry, a big employer of the work force, is in the doldrums, the rest of the service sector is also in the slow lane, exports have dwindled, sector after sector of the economy is in distress, demonetization has proved to be an unmitigated economic disaster, a badly conceived and poorly implemented GST has played havoc with businesses and sunk many of them and countless millions have lost their jobs with hardly any new opportunities coming the way of the new entrants to the labor market. For quarter after quarter, the growth rate of the economy has been declining until it reached the low of 5.7 per cent in the first quarter of the current fiscal, the lowest in three years.”

Again, Jaitley doesn’t have any reasoned response, only innuendoes.

It’s not just politicians who are playing dirty. Niti Aayog member Bibek Debroy, recently appointed as Chairman of the Prime Minister’s Economic Advisory Council, compared Sinha with a quack who mistakes a “minor cold” with a “serious emergency.” Debroy, who is supposed to be a scholar and thus expected to knock some sense into ruling politicians, is actually instigating his political masters to behave in a more abominable manner.

The idea of writing this article is not to lionize Sinha. I don’t regard him as a great finance minister; in fact, he can be rightly accused of not being responsive to the concerns of the middle class, the BJP’s main constituency, thus playing a significant role in the party’s defeat in 2004. The issues raised by him, however, are indeed real. They should be addressed in a civil manner, not dismissed haughtily.

Picture courtesy: wikimedia.org