Heads I win, tails you lose for Modi Government

FPJ BureauUpdated: Wednesday, May 29, 2019, 02:47 AM IST
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(Photo by Prakash SINGH / AFP) |

The Narendra Modi government has not released the important report of the National Statistical Commission (NSC) having failed miserably in creating the requisite number of jobs as pledged amid much fanfare on coming to power five years back in 2014. For a country that lacks data and statistics in certain key areas of the economy, the significance of the countrywide survey cannot be undermined. This would have provided an insight where the ruling party had gone miserably wrong as it had already laid itself bare to a frontal attack by the Opposition.

The apprehension of the Modi government might well be that making public the high unemployment figures might well go against it with promises of “achhe din” nowhere in sight. At the same, the next general election is round the corner. Importantly, the BJP won a majority on its own in the Lok Sabha five years back for the first time since its formation in 1980 and along with its allies crossed the rubicon of 300 and was comfortably placed with 340 seats in the 543-members Lok Sabha. It was a highly creditable victory for the Lotus party with Modi in the vanguard. He is bidding for a second consecutive term as the Head of Government on the Raisina Hill in the national capital.

Keeping the crucial NSC report under wraps led to the resignation of two of its non-government members — acting Chairperson P C Mohanan and member J V Meenakshi — on the specious plea that the Centre was belittling the organsiation even though it had approved the report in December. The leaked job data is believed to be at a 45-year high of 6.1 per cent during 2017-18. It was a matter for serious concern. The Modi government failed to dish out any argument to refute the NSSO’s assessment of the rate of unemployment touching an alarming new high.

Instead, the central leadership took refuge in referring the report to the NITI Aayog on the plea that the NSSO survey was not verified. Expectedly, the Opposition just tore the government apart for failing miserably in creating the requisite jobs for the youth and others. The Modi government was on the defensive but held on to a slender thread that having done all the spadework in the last four-and-a-half years, it is hoping the creation of jobs is waiting to explode in the near future.

The frustrated youth in desperate need of employment dismissed it as nothing short of another “jumla” like building castles in the air. The exuberance of the people at large when Modi became the prime minister in May 2014 had led to inexplicable anxiety shattering their hopes and aspirations nearly five years later as the multitude of pledges made failed to materialise.
It is an irony that one of Modi’s senior ministers and former president of the BJP, Nitin Gadkari, maintained at a meeting recently that one should be doubly careful in making promises as failure to deliver them is bound to earn the wrath of the electorate.

It will not be out of place to mention here that in presenting a full Budget instead of an interim one, the Modi government appears to have attempted an overreach akin to a “Heads I win, tails you lose” gambit. Impartial observers believe that the disastrous demonetisation has hurt supply chains and informal jobs in the economy. In contrast, there was hardly any good news from the NSSO surveys of 2009-10 pertaining to household incomes and job creation in the wake of the global financial crisis. The UPA released the data despite the criticism.

Statisticians firmly believe that the Modi government should have followed the same path without casting doubts on the country’s statistical integrity. There is no doubt that statistics released by the government must be unimpeachable. This is not the first time that the Modi government has been accused of hiding official statistics. The NSC was earlier involved in a controversy over the calculation of back series data after the Modi government insisted the method of calculating the gross domestic product should be on basis of the total value of goods and services produced in the country annually.

The autonomous commission’s calculations found growth high during the Manmohan Singh years and low during Modi’s while the Union government controlled CSO and the Niti Ayog came to the opposite conclusion. The Modi government has discontinued the Labour Bureau’s quarterly enterprises surveys with the last report being released in March 2018. The annual Employment-Unemployment Survey was also scrapped in 2017. The government now relies only on provident fund data to calculate employment — a method widely criticised as being faulty. The Centre must stop the slide in data credibility before it is too late.

 T R Ramachandran is a senior journalist  and commentator.

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