By -- TALMIZUR RAHMAN
Since the BJP-led NDA government came to power at the Centre in 2014, the state of affairs witnessed by the nation on the economic front in the initial years was to some extent virtually a continuation the existing economic landscape - a creation of the earlier Congress regime. However, even in those times, there were marked differences between the governance by the two governments like non-stop and continuous sky-rocketing of prices of all commodities, including food items, coming to stay without any break from 2014 till date. One hopes the nation has not forgotten that the price of onion at one time soared to close to Rs 200 per kg. Again, the BJP-led government has always been marked by its accordance to the Hindutva agenda as its number one agenda. Another difference was that the NDA government proved to be a specialist in letting loose high voltage rhetoric and bombastic statements to cover up its shortcomings even when onion became an exclusive luxury item for a wealthy few.
As years rolled by, nothing outstanding or out-of-the-box could be seen on the economic front save galloping inflation, a jobless scenario and rising unemployment laced with big announcements of mundane schemes, towering statements and electrifying rhetoric by the Centre and the saffron brigade. In contrast, all along the working class was compelled to shed a lot more toil and sweat for every piece of bread than ever before. However, the Hindutva agenda of the ruling dispensation roved triumphantly over all other issues across the length and breadth of the country with eyes all set on multiplying the saffron vote bank. In this context, Assam witnessed the observance of the multi-crore, flamboyant, fabulously sparkling and almost celestial Namami Brahmaputra festival and later the Namami Barak festival. On the other hand, while ambitious multi-crore schemes found full expression in government files and offices, 'roti, kaapda aur maakan' (food, clothing and shelter) turned into a mirage for crores of real needy and destitute. Quite often these fabulous government schemes proved to be a huge blessing for the non-needy and affluent.
By way of example, immediately after Unlock-1, nominal financial grants were made to farmers to cope up with the loss suffered by them during the lockdown. Everyone in Assam knows how the powerful corrupt lobby tat rubs shoulders in the corridors of power derailed the programme for their benefit and a few selected others while causing a huge number of poor farmers to be left high and dry without any benefit. When the hue and cry against such robbery of the farmers' dues rocked the state, Dispur responded by instituting an enquiry. Over the decades all government enquiries have proved to be farce and jokes in the superlative degree. It is a time buying process on the part of the authority to dupe the public. The enquiry report never makes way to the public domain. Same is likely to be the case with the instant report and as usual, the swindlers are likely to go scot-free.
Indeed, there is a lot more to write on farcical mismanagement on the economic front both by the Centre and the state government. Unfortunately, the present canvas does not give one the luxury of unlimitless space. Space is hugely constrained.
Be that as it may, the first few years of the first term of the BJP-led NDA government at the Centre was marked by purely hanky-panky approach with patches of undercurrent of the Hindutva and pro-capitalist agenda on the economic horizon. The outcome witnessed obviously was the spectacle of the commoners and some others slipping rapidly down the economic ladder in their fight for daily bread, just one piece if not two.
It was at this stage the nation came under a heavy economic bombardment - the announcement of Demonetisation by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. With currencies of Rs 500/= and Rs 1000/= coming under the ambit of 'note bandi' and banks crowded by tens of thousands at any given moment for paltry withdrawal, the life of the general people with empty pockets came to a grinding halt. What followed was months of suffering, particularly by the working class and the teeming multitude. The situation was not simply ugly but in reality life-threatening for the crores whose only God is 'roti, kaapda aur maakan'. And 'roti, kaapda aur maakan' was transforming into a rare commodity for tens of millions of the toiling lot under the black eclipse of 'note bandi'.
The overall scenario was that the national economy began nose-diving towards the rock-bottom under the impact of Demonetisation. The Centre led by the Prime Minister made several fervent appeals to the nation that the sufferings caused by the 'note bandi' was purely a temporary one. He explained to the nation that the process was carried out to recover the black money from every nook and corner of the country and that the recovered money would give a massive boost to nation-building which in turn would be beneficial to every Indian. Ironically, till date, neither the RBI nor the Centre has made public as to how much black money has been recovered through 'note bandi'.
Grapevines are also buzzing with the news that the Demonetisation exercise was carried out essentially to facilitate the black money kingpins to make their black money white. Rumours were also rife in the air that the news of approaching 'note bandi' leaked out a few days before the announcement which in turn gave the friends close to those in the corridors of power to give a slip to the exercise. Even foreign agents are also reported to have availed the slipping leeway to the 'note bandi' process. The raging rumours go much in favour of the ruling party big wigs while some close to the opposition reportedly faced a difficult time. However, the news is rife in the air that irrespective of one being in the ruling party camp or the opposition, through money power a way was always devised to mock at the Demonetisation process.
However, as pointed out, the process not only literally shattered the backbone of the Indian economy but caused the same to be stricken with paralysis. The extremely bitter reality was that the national economy seemingly slipped into the ICU aided by the ventilator. It was the beginning of economic activities dwindling many-fold with the nation yet to recover from the same.
Again and most significantly, as a Prime Ministerial candidate in 2014, Modi made the electoral promise in meeting after meeting that the huge amount of money laundered away from the country by the corrupt Indians and stashed in foreign banks would be brought back within 100 days. Again failure cum joke. Not a single penny has returned to the country till date.
The grotesque Demonetisation process, in turn, proved to be highly and totally instrumental in leading to the galloping economic slowdown as the order of the day in the country. Even in normal times, in an economically backward state like Assam, the blow of the slowdown was unbearable and as horrendous as virtually a death-blow despite the brave face put up by the Dispur Sultans. Leave alone the COVID-19 impact that came much later, one fails to be optimistic that Assam and for that matter, the country would have recovered economically from the blow of rapidly plummeting economic slowdown even if the COVID-19 pandemic had not occurred. Looking back now, would one deviate too much from the truth if the 'note bandi' fiasco be termed as 'anti-people and anti-India'?
As of now, the COVID pandemic is projected by the government as the reason behind the virtual collapse of the economy and all other failures. However, the chronological reality is that the economic slowdown began with the Demonetisation process - long before Covid-19 made its appearance even in China. Again, towards the end of 2019 and January 2020, several studies and research reports (both national and global) clearly pointed out that the government was failing to check the economic slowdown and that the purchasing power of the people was dwindling at a rapid pace. Significantly, it was long after these reports appeared that COVID-19 made its appearance in India in the real sense.
Recent reports by some global agencies point to the fact that the Markit Services Purchasing Managers’ Index registered below the 50-mark for the sixth consecutive month in August. The period is marked by huge loss of a job as per an industry survey. Other studies show that the service sector which is an engine of economic growth has almost derailed off the rails and it may involve the considerable length of time before the wheels may start rolling.
On the COVID-19 front, India is now the second-highest COVID infected country in the world after the US. India has outstripped Brazil in the number of COVID positive cases to push the Latin American country to the third spot. As per estimates by experts, at this rate, it may be just about one more month before India beats the US to become the country with the highest number of COVID positive cases. The COVID spike in India obviously is a mighty roadblock in the path towards even marginal recovery of the economy.
With the scenario being that bleak, nay, black, it is perhaps time that the commoner realised that the need of the hour is to earn his daily bread, be it just one piece, and struggle for survival amidst COVID-19. Simultaneously, he may upload the COVID-19 death card in his mental framework. In short, live with COVID and possibly die with COVID while being economically strangulated.