Arun Jaitley has erred on why there’s no social unrest

Although Arun Jaitley has not been in the pink of health, he is still an indefatigable blogger for the BJP. With the use of catchy phrases such as “manufactured dissent” for those who returned their awards, to the “lies, short-lived lies and now further lies” of critics of the Rafale deal, to the CBI’s “investigative adventurism” for a probe of which he did not approve, the Union finance minister, who could not present this year’s budget because of indisposition, has been on an overdrive with the expression of views on nearly all important topics.

His latest is on the National Statistical Commission’s leaked report on joblessness. Jaitley doesn’t give any credence to it because such a situation, according to him, would have led to considerable social unrest. His opinion is obviously based on the belief that distress and deprivation would automatically lead to an upheaval of the kind that was seen in Russia and China in the last century.

The social and political scene in India is different, however, from what it was in those countries in 1917 or 1949. First and foremost, Indian democracy gives the discontented the chance to change their rulers through the ballot box, which wasn’t possible in Russia or China.

Secondly, the Indian state is militarily too strong to be overthrown easily as the insurgents in the north-east and elsewhere have found out despite the assistance which they may have received from foreign powers.

And, thirdly, these changes – the possibility of dethroning would-be dictators by pressing a button on the voting machines and the government’s military prowess – have made even those parties which were ideologically committed to a violent upheaval change their line to a more moderate, parliamentary one. Only the Maoists continue to chase the chimera of replicating Mao Zedong’s peasant revolution, but with little success.

It is fatuous to believe, therefore, that all is quiet because there is no distress. The quietness is due to the fact that the people are waiting for their next visit to the polling stations. Besides, since elections at various levels – local bodies, by-polls, assemblies, even student unions – are taking place almost round the clock, they give an indication of the mood of hoi polloi, whether they are showing their unease with the existing dispensation or are satisfied.

It is these straws in the wind which play a part in assuring those who are politically restive that they may not have to wait for long before the change desired by them can be brought about peacefully.

At the same time, it will be wrong to believe that there hasn’t been any show of discontent. The recent farmers’ marches in Maharashtra and Delhi, and earlier the violence which took place in Mandsaur in Madhya Pradesh where the farmers were agitating, showed that anger may be simmering under the surface.

There is little doubt that some of this anger found expression in the BJP’s defeat in the Madhya Pradesh elections. The attempts, therefore, by Jaitley and others in the government to pooh-pooh the statistical commission’s report about the level of unemployment being the highest in the last four decades are an unwise endeavour to push inconvenient facts under the carpet.

Even worse, even laughable, is the assertion by the prime minister’s economic adviser that new official figures will be put out which will show an increase in employment. What is evident behind the claim is the Orwellian mindset where a decrease in the price of a commodity in George Orwell’s futuristic fiction, 1984, changed to an increase within a day in Big Brother’s regime.

The government’s penchant for fiddling with the figures has been evident for quite some time as when Subramanian Swamy, BJP MP, said that the Central Statistical Organization’s claim that there was no impact of demonetization on GDP was “bogus”. Not surprisingly, the agriculture ministry was directed to change for the better its report of an adverse impact of demonetization on the rural economy.

What Jaitley’s claims in his writings and the government’s attempt to play hide and seek with the truth underline is the BJP’s desire to live in a make-believe world where everything is hunky-dory. The wish is probably motivated by an eagerness to return to the glory days of the 2014 general election when everything was going swimmingly for the party.

But now that the underwater rocks and shoals in the political waters have begun to hamper its journey, the BJP is quite patently trying to pull the wool over the public’s eyes so that they do not see what the party does not want them to see.

It is not a tactic, however, which can stand it in good stead. Very little can be kept under the wraps in an open society and a federal polity. Since the truth is bound to emerge sooner or later, it can not only embarrass the prevaricator, but also fatally diminish his or her stature, especially if the person is in politics or, indeed, in any other profession.

Amulya Ganguli is a political analyst. The views expressed are personal.

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