Friday, November 06, 2015

PM Modi's speech at Delhi Economic Conclave2015 interesting and problematic -- shows him to be a man who uses statistics like a salesman would, painting a rosy picture and refusing to address real problems and challenges, the real roadblocks and pitfalls

There is clear evidence that there is a change in Prime Minister Narendra Modi's team of speech-writers. There is an economist's hand in the speech that the Prime Minister delivered at the Delhi Economic Conclave. This was the sentence that gave away the barely-concealed economist-speech-writer: "The growth rate of trade exceeded GDP growth from 1983 to 2008. Since then, trade has been growing more slowly than GDP. Therefore, producing for domestic consumption is important for growth." There are any such economic verities strewn across the speech.

But the real Modi cannot remain hidden for too long, the populist Modi, the anti-intellectual Modi,the right-wing Modi. These are indeed his true calling cards. So we find him attacking and mocking the experts: "Before becoming Prime Minister, I had received many inputs about the reforms needed in India from many economic experts. However, none of them touched on the issue of cleanliness and sanitation."

The worrying part of Modi's populist rhetoric that he gets carried away by the notion of nation, which is befitting a right-wing politician. He elaborates his view, where people/citizens are mentioned, and he is as much for the poor people as any socialist or liberal could ever be.So he asks the rhetorical question and he gives the rhetorical answer: "The first is, REFORM FOR WHAT? (The capital letters are there in the written text of the speech released by the Press Information Bureau.) What is the aim of reform? Is it just to increase the measured rate of GDP growth? Or is it to bring about a transformation in society? My answer is clear. We must REFORM TO TRANSFORM."

Then he goes on to the next question: "The second question is, REFORM FOR WHOM? Who is the target audience? Is our aim to impress groups of experts and score points in intellectual discussion? Or to achieve ranks in some international league table? Again, my answer is clear. Reform is that which helps all citizens, and especially the poor, achieve a better life. It is Sabka Saath Sabka Vikas."

He delivers his final blow for his argumeent: "In short, reform is not an end in itself. Reform for me, is just a way station on the long journey to the destination. The destination is the transformation of India. Therefore, REFORM TO TRANSFORM. And reforming to transform is a marathon, not a sprint."

The rest of the speech is a statistical litany of what his government has achieved. For example: "We have undertaken major managerial improvements in the transport sector. Our major ports have seen a 5% growth in traffic and 11% increase in operating income in 2014-15 despite a global contraction in trade volume. The Shipping Corporation of India has been making losses continuously for several years and had a loss of Rs 275 crores in 2013-14. In 2014-15 it earned a profit of Rs 201 crores a turnaround of nearly Rs 500 crores in one year. The pace of award of new highway works has increased from 5.2 km per day in 2012-13 and 8.7 km per day in 2013-14 to 23.4 km per day currently. These managerial reforms in the working of the public sector will have large multiplier effects throughout the economy." It has to be noted that the operating phrase in the construction of highways is "The pace of award of new highway works..."

He is indeed an aggressive salesman and public relations man rolled into one. But if he overdoes this sales pitch/PR exercise, then the law of diminishing returns will kick in.

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