New on my other blogs

KERALA LETTER
A Dalit poet writing in English, based in Kerala
Foreword to Media Tides on Kerala Coast
Teacher seeks V.S. Achuthanandan's intervention to end harassment by partymen
Change of heart? Or stooping to conquer?
Some thoughts on the historic Battle of Colachel

വായന

26 September, 2017

Grave threat to free media

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

India is turning out to be an increasingly dangerous place for journalists. Even as a wave of protests over the gruesome murder of Gauri Lankesh, a gutsy journalist, at Bangalore early this month was sweeping the country, two more were done to death, one in Tripura and the other in Punjab.

Gauri Lankesh, a bilingual journalist who edited a Kannada weekly which bore her name and wrote for English publications, was shot dead at her residence on Sept.5. The killers remain unidentified.

Shantanu Bhowmik, a reporter of Din-Raat, a television channel, was beaten to death while recording a clash between the police and workers of the Indigenous People’s Front of Tripura (IPFT) at Mandai in Tripura in the northeast. Police made two arrests the same day.

Karan Jeet Singh, 66, a veteran journalist who was working for online media after quitting mainstream publications, was found dead in his house at Mohali in Punjab with his throat slit and several stab injuries on his body. The unknown assailants also strangled to death his 92-year-old mother.

The three journalists are believed to have been silenced by groups annoyed by their professional work.

Gauri Lankesh was a trenchant critic of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s Hindutva plank. The needle of suspicion, therefore, pointed to groups associated with its ideological parent, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. She was killed in circumstances similar to those attending the unresolved murder of Narenra Dabholkar and Govind Pansare of Maharashtra and MM Kalburgi of Karnataka, all of them scholars whose writings had angered the Hindutva camp.

Pro-RSS cyber campaigners sought to deflect suspicion away from the Hindutva elements by drawing attention to Gauri Lankesh’s writings critical of Karnataka’s Congress government and her role in persuading a group of Naxalites to abandon the path of violence.

The Tripura police said IPFT men might have targeted Bhowmik as he was a member of the CPI(M).

KJ Singh’s assailants took away his car and a television set but the Punjab police ruled out theft as the motive of the crime since they had left other valuables behind.

The number of media persons killed since 2014 now stands at 13. With attacks on the rise and authorities failing to bring the culprits to book the safety of journalists and the state of press freedom have emerged as matters of grave concern.

In a report released early this year the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) had said 42 journalists were killed in India in the last 25 years. This was the fourth highest number of murder of journalists for reasons connected with their work, after Mexico and Russia (38 each) and Brazil (37).

Parliament was told last July that the National Crime Records Bureau, which began collating data relating to attacks on journalists in 2014, had reported 142 instances of assault during two years and 73 persons were arrested in connection with them.

Three large Hindi-speaking states accounted for most of the cases: Uttar Pradesh 64, Madhya Pradesh 26, Bihar 22. Madhya Pradesh accounted for 42 of the 73 arrests.

It is rare that journalists working for the large English-language newspapers, who know which side of the bread is buttered, are targeted. Most of the victims are low-paid reporters working for the regional media. For this reason the attacks did not attract national attention until recently. 

The Paris-based Reporters Without Borders (RWB) in its 2017 World Press Freedom Index placed India at the 136th position among 180 countries. Outlining the situation in the country, it said, “Journalists are increasingly the target of online smear campaigns by the most radical nationalists who vilify them and even threaten physical reprisals.”

The government dismissed the RWB report, saying “it does not portray a proper and comprehensive picture of freedom of the press in India”.

The recent cases of attacks on journalists have to be viewed against the growing climate of intolerance and the attempts by the ruling Establishment to emasculate the media.

According to Sohini Chattopadhyay, a columnist, what is going on is not just murder of journalists but murder of journalism itself. She writes: “The attacks are relentless – an editor fired here, a legal notice there, a TV show cancelled abruptly, a blackout of a TV channel. The majority of legacy media outlets, owned by corporate entities, have aligned themselves to toe the government line.”

Most of the journalists who came under attack were covering politics and corruption. The state’s poor record in handling cases of attacks on media persons contributes directly to the impunity with which those who dislike a free press operate. -- Gulf Today, Sharjah, September 26, 2017.

19 September, 2017

A Bullet train at high cost

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

The launch of the 508-kilometre high-speed railway project, which will link Ahmedabad, Gujarat’s industrial hub, with Mumbai, India’s financial capital, is sure to boost the prospects of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party in the assembly elections in his home state but there is much scepticism across the country over its intrinsic worth.

Modi and visiting Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe jointly inaugurated work on the mammoth project last week at Sabarmati, the Ahmedabad suburb where Gandhi had set up an ashram on his return from South Africa 102 years ago. Assembly elections are due in the state in December and the Opposition dubbed the event as inauguration of the BJP’s poll campaign.

Many view the proposed railway with Japanese style bullet trains moving at 320 kmph, which will cut travel time between the two cities from eight hours at present to a mere two hours, as a symbol of the New India that Modi is talking about.

Modi made an attempt to make the gullible believe that Abe is giving the Rs 1,100 billion project virtually free. The claim is based on Japan’s grant of a loan of Rs 880 billion, repayable over 50 years with an annual interest of 0.1 per cent, for this project.

Only two per cent of the high-speed line will run on the ground. As much as 92 per cent will be elevated and six per cent in a tunnel. Seven kilometres of the 21-km tunnel will be under the sea.

If the project is completed on schedule, the first bullet train will run in 2023. Modi is urging officials to advance it by a year. The project will be viable only if 40,000 passengers use it daily, paying Rs 3,000 to travel one way.

It remains to be seen how many people will switch from plane or night train to the bullet. In the 1960’s, Vikram Sarabhai, the father of Indian space science, travelled each week from his Ahmedabad base to Delhi on Monday, from Delhi to Mumbai on Wednesday and from Mumbai to Ahmedabad on Friday. The Mumbai-Ahmedabad journey was always by a night train. He said that helped him save daytime for work.

It will, of course, be wrong to draw a general lesson from one person’s experience. However, the proposed fare does appear to be a factor which may limit the bullet train’s appeal.

Japan has had a good deal. A pioneer of bullet train technology with large idle capacity it has been looking for foreign customers for years. The only one it could find so far was Taiwan. The United States did not show interest in its offers. Two years ago Indonesia picked China to execute its $5.5 billion bullet train project.

From India’s point of view, the crucial question is whether the project, as now conceived, is in its best interest.

Critics pooh-pooh Modi’s claim that the project comes virtually free of cost. Japan, they say, has done no favour in providing loan to cover more than 80 per cent of the cost of the project at a low rate of interest. In view of stiff competition with Chinese and European conglomerates, in the past 10 years it has offered loans at near-zero and even negative rates of interest.

They also point out that the interest payable by India may actually work out to three per cent or more as over the 50 years of the loan period the rupee is likely to depreciate against the yen. Besides, the agreement binds India down to use 35 per cent of the money to buy overpriced Japanese technology.

The strongest criticism of the project came from Jawed Usmani, a retired bureaucrat who was involved in the discussions with the Japanese by the Manmohan Singh government 12 years ago. He insinuated that the Japanese had tricked India into buying an expensive toy. The Mumbai-Ahmedabad bulletin train would need to be subsidised forever as the operations would not be economical, he said.

India’s rail system is one of the world’s largest. It runs 12,000 passenger trains which transport 23 million people and 7,000 freight trains which carry 2.65 million tonnes of goods each day. Its finances are in a bad shape, forcing it to look up to government for assistance and to delay investments in maintenance of tracks and rolling stock.

The government has shown poor judgment in giving priority to the high-cost bullet train project over measures to ensure rail safety such as filling posts of maintenance and signalling staff and doing away with unmanned level crossings. Nearly 60 major rail accidents have occurred since 2010 and more than 25,000 were killed while crossing railway lines last year. -gulf Today, Sharjah, September 19, 2017.

13 September, 2017

Journo Murder: Outlook article

A Life Defined By Fierce Agitations

A Hindutva surge that is end angering democracy worried Gauri. Her end highlights the risks serious journalism faces.



 


Gauri Lankesh belonged to a generation of young people who came into journalism in the 1980s when the press, mostly under a new crop of editors, was celebrating its freedom re-won after the Emergency that had forced it to go into subservience. She honed her skills, reporting on Karnataka developments for the English-language media. In the fullness of time, as most of her contemporaries settled down comfortably as upholders of the Establishment, Gauri metamorphosed into a restless, doughty anti-Establishment warrior.

The transformation of the scribe into an activist came into full view as Gauri switched to Kannada journalism on the death of her father, P. Lankesh, in 2000. He was a multifaceted personality and the founder-editor of the popular weekly Lankesh Patrike, whose conduct as a fighting paper blazed a new trail in Kannada journalism. Without leaving room for advertisers to dictate his agenda, Lankesh carved a niche role for his 1980-founded journal by vigorously championing the cause of the weak and the downtrodden, particularly the Dalits, peasants and women. Gauri carried forward the tradition with fresh vigour. Under her, the Lankesh brand acquired a new life. Five years later, she floated a new journal, appropriately styled as Gauri Lankesh Patrike.
Human rights issues were a major concern of hers and they started claiming much of Gauri’s energy and time. All the same, there was no weakening of her commitment to investigative journalism. She reportedly assured friends that she would continue to publish exposes as that was what a journalist was meant to do. Gauri made all causes that she considered just and legitimate and brought to bear a deep sense of commitment to them. She began reaching out beyond Karnataka, and identified herself, in the immediate past, with the struggles of the students of Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University, the Dalits of Gujarat and the youths of Kashmir. Agitations became a part of Gauri’s life and agitators became even members of her extended family.
She was an agitator with a problem-solving mind. At one stage, Gauri bent her energies towards dissuading the Maoists and the predatory state from continuing along the path of violence. Her efforts led to a few persons giving up arms and resettling to lead peaceful lives.
The rise of Hindutva worried Gauri. For, she saw it as a grave danger to India’s fragile democracy and a severe threat to its age-old secular fabric. As lawless elements enjoying the patronage of the Hindutva establishment unleas­hed terror across the country, hers was one of the loudest voices against it.
Gauri was disturbed by Karnataka dev­elopments that indicated attempts to convert the state into the Gujarat of the South. When the state was under President’s rule in November 2007 after a spell under a Bharatiya Janata Party-Janata Dal (Secular) coalition, she cited specific instances to show that much of the media had been saffronised. The varsities were being coerced to accept Sangh Parivar’s demands, she alleged, adding that Muslims, Dalits and backward classes were coming under attack, and the police were playing a partisan role. Late last year, a court found her guilty in a case of defamation filed by two BJP leaders. Gauri was sentenced to six months’ impr­isonment and fined too. She was immediately granted bail, pending appeal, but the BJP’s IT cell allegedly used the conviction to threaten other journalists who did not toe its line.
Dwelling on the situation in the state at the time, Gauri said, “In Karnataka today we are living in such times that Modi bhakts and the Hindutva brigade welcome killings, as in the case of Dr M.M. Kalburgi, and celebrate deaths, as in the case of U.R. Ananthamurthy, of those who oppose their ideology, their party and their supreme leader, Narendra Modi.” She added, “They are keen to somehow shut me up too. A jail stint for me would have warmed the cockles of their hearts”.
This September 5, they somehow did it. That evening as Gauri returned from work, three armed men intruded into Gauri’s house and shot her at point-blank range, killing her instantly. Gauri certainly was not unaware that she was living a dangerous life. Personal safety was not an issue that bothered her unduly. Individuals or inst­itutions were never her prim­ary concern. She was primarily concerned about the state of her society and polity.  
Gauri’s martyrdom momentarily highlighted the risks that serious journalism faces today. September 6 saw a spontan­eous display of solidarity by not only journalists but civil society country-­wide. But the total silence of the only two men who matter in the Establi­sh­ment and the gleeful celebration of her murder by Hindutards (incidentally reminiscent of the distribution of sweets by Hindu communalists after Mahatma Gandhi’s assassination on January 30, 1948) remind us that there is a battle ahead that needs to be fought to make safe our democracy and its institutions, including the media. That is a battle to be fought not in the studios of corporate television but in the citadels of democracy, and perhaps even in the streets where Gandhi had fought his battles.



                                         



12 September, 2017

Rejig of India-China relations

The global scenario may be changing but the security and diplomatic establishments of India and China are not free from the hangover of the past.

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

India-China relations underwent some quick changes in the last fortnight. For two and a half months the two countries were in an eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation at Doklam, high up in the Himalayas. Just ahead of the five-nation BRICS summit at Xiamen they ended the face-off to facilitate its smooth conduct.

The joint declaration issued at the end of the summit contained enough material for both the countries to claim diplomatic successes for themselves.

The Doklam face-off, which was accompanied by beating of war drums, had raised fears of a clash of arms although it was obvious that the Himalayan heights were not the best place for a test of military strength. The imminence of the scheduled summit of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa (BRICS) prompted the two sides to wind down.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi would have found it difficult to go to Xiamen when Indian and Chinese troops were staring at each other at Doklam. His absence would have robbed the summit of much of its significance since India is the second most important member of the group. China was the host and President Xi Jinping was keen that the summit should succeed.

The two governments differed in their interpretation of the terms of the Doklam disengagement. They were aware of each other’s need to satisfy domestic sentiments. If they were equally solicitous of each other’s strategic interests, the face-off might not have occurred.

China underestimated India’s readiness to step in to protect Bhutan’s interests which are intertwined with its own. India did not show sufficient sensitivity to China’s interests while cosying up to the United States.

China is a regional power which, by virtue of its increased economic clout, is a candidate for global-power status. Though way behind China in economic strength, India is moving in the same direction. As nations with similar ambitions, they are bound to find themselves in circumstances of competition from time to time. But the best chance of attaining their common goal lies in friendly competition rather than hostile confrontation.

Like the Doklam formula, the joint declaration issued at Xiamen was interpreted differently by India and China to satisfy people at home.

For a nation with global ambitions, India, under Modi, has limited the contours of its foreign policy parochially. As a global issue, terrorism was on the BRICS agenda. A few days before the summit, a Chinese spokeswoman, answering a newsman’s question, referred to India’s reservations about Pakistan’s counter-terrorism record and said it was not an appropriate topic for discussion at the summit.

That didn’t prevent Modi from raising the issue at other international forums. The declaration adopted at the summit, for the first time, named two Pakistan-based militant outfits, Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaishe-e-Mohammad, whose activities have been directed against India. The government claimed this was the result of Indian security managers’ carefully focused diplomacy.

China’s official English language newspaper the Global Times attributed the Indian claim of diplomatic success to lack of research. The United Nations and Pakistan had previously listed LeT and JeM as terrorist groups subject to strikes, and China had agreed to their inclusion in the declaration as it was in line with Pakistan’s official stance, it said.

China took the earliest opportunity to make it clear that the Xiamen declaration did not involve any change in its “unbreakable friendship” with Pakistan. Welcoming his Pakistani counterpart Khawaja Asif, who came to Beijing to discuss Afghanistan developments, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said, “Pakistan has been a good brother and an iron-clad friend to China. No country understands Pakistan better than China.”

Afghanistan may be where India and China face the next test. From Barack Obama’s time the US has viewed India as the country best suited to help in Afghanistan’s reconstruction after the conflict ends. While Pakistan was unhappy about it, China never raised any objection publicly.

After President Donald Trump mentioned further development of US strategic partnership with India in the South Asia policy he outlined last month, China appears to have decided to take increased interest in Afghan affairs.

After the meeting with Asif, Wang announced that China, Pakistan and Afghanistan would hold tripartite discussions to push forward negotiations for a settlement with Taliban.

The global scenario may be changing but the security and diplomatic establishments of India and China are not free from the hangover of the past. --Gulf Today, September 12, 2017.

05 September, 2017

From the very beginning Modi was severely handicapped by the lack of talent in the BJP ranks. In the revamp, he has made an attempt to overcome this shortcoming by requisitioning the services of retired government officials who have joined the party.

A revamp left half done

BRP Bhaskar

As evidence of governance failure kept piling up, Prime Minister Narendra Modi reconstituted his council of ministers on Sunday, for the third time in as many years. Electoral calculations appear to have been a key consideration in the exercise.

Bharatiya Janata Party president Amit Shah has been egging party men for some time to prepare for the next parliamentary elections, which are due only in 2019 but can be advanced if Modi considers the political climate favourable to his party. He played a role behind the scenes in the revamp of the ministry.

It was Shah who asked the ministers who were to be excluded to hand in their resignations. He was also the one who liaised with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the party’s ideological powerhouse, on the revamp. The RSS is believed to have saved Uma Bharati, Hindutva’s woman face in the Cabinet, from being thrown out.

The quiet exclusion of six ministers is attributed to the Prime Minister’s dissatisfaction with their work. But if the purpose of the revamp was to eliminate poor performers, he has left the job half done.

Radha Mohan Singh, an embarrassing failure, remains Agriculture Minister. As farmers in distress killed themselves he famously said impotency and love affairs were the main reasons for suicide. When Madhya Pradesh was coping with a violent agitation by farmers, he was busy propagating yoga in his constituency and preparing to go abroad for a conference. Taking note of the sharp criticism of Singh’s conduct in the social media, Modi asked him to cancel the trip.

The promotion of four junior ministers, Nirmala Sitharaman (Commerce), Piyush Goyal (Power and Coal), Dharmendra Pradhan (Petroleum and Natural Gas) and Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi (Minority Affairs), to cabinet rank is seen as recognition of their good performance.

The promotion that received the most attention was that of Nirmala Sitharaman, who becomes the first woman Defence Minister, not counting Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, who had held the portfolio briefly. A product of the Jawaharlal Nehru University, which the RSS considers a den of liberals, and daughter-in-law of a Congress family, she is a highly articulate person and has picked up enough Hindutva lore to be able to argue that cow protectionism was the spirit behind the freedom movement.

The Defence portfolio has been held as an additional charge by Finance Minister Arun Jaitley since Manohar Parrikar left the Union Cabinet to head the Goa state government early this year. Nirmala Sitharaman takes charge of the ministry at a time when relations with two important neighbours, Pakistan and China, are in a difficult stage.

The principle of civilian supremacy, which was established firmly by early Defence Ministers, was eroded in the last stages of the Manmohan Singh government under AK Antony and in the Modi government under Parrikar. Whether the trend will continue under Nirmala Sitharaman or be reversed remains to be seen.

While Piyush Goyal has been entrusted with the Railways, Dharmendra Pradhan and Muktar Abbas Naqvi retain charge of their old ministries. With Naqvi’s elevation, Modi now has a Muslim minister with cabinet rank.

From the very beginning Modi was severely handicapped by the lack of talent in the BJP ranks. In the revamp, he has made an attempt to overcome this shortcoming by requisitioning the services of retired government officials who have joined the party.

Of the nine new ministers of state, four belong to this category. Two of them, Raj Kumar Singh and Alfons Kannanthanam, were members of the Indian Administrative Service. Hardeep Singh Puri belonged to the Indian Foreign Service and Satyapal Singh to the Indian Police Service.

States like Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan where Assembly elections are due next year, states like Uttar Pradeh and Bihar where the BJP wants to repeat in the next Lok Sabha polls its spectacular 2014 performance, and the southern states where it is keen to make a breakthrough received special attention in the Cabinet changes.

Several of the newly inducted ministers are long-time parliamentarians with RSS links. However, with the exception of Anant Kumar Hegde of Karnataka, there appears to be none who has invited opprobrium with words and deeds that betray an extremist disposition. If this indicates a change in approach dictated by the disastrous performance of Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath and Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar, it is a welcome development.

The ministerial changes did not involve any of the BJP’s partners in the National Democratic Alliance. The Shiv Sena, which revels in giving the big brother occasional pinpricks, demonstrated its displeasure by staying away from the swearing-in ceremony. -- Gulf Today, Sharjah, September 5, 2017.

29 August, 2017

Atavistic forces on the rise

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

The violence unleashed by followers of Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh, a cult leader who was convicted by a court last week on rape charges, is a rude reminder of the danger posed by atavistic forces that are gaining ground in the country.

Officials put the toll of the violence in Haryana state at 36 dead. Eight men in uniform, five women and one child were among the dead.

Cult figures, dubbed godmen or godwomen, have risen from time to time and attracted large numbers of people, rich and poor. Several of them have been accused of involvement in crimes like murder, rape and land grab. However, formal complaints against them are rare and serious investigation even rarer. 

Some godmen have thrived on their proximity to those in power. Dhirendra Brahmchari, who was active in Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s time, was characterised by a section of the media as Indian Rasputin. The judicial commission which probed Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam pointed to the possible involvement of Chandraswami, who was close to Prime Minister PV Narasimha Rao, in the crime. 

When the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh founded the Jana Sangh, predecessor of the Bharatiya Janata Party, it also set up an organisation of sanyasins, named Ram Rajya Parishad, to create a role for Hindu holy men in politics. Since the RRP did not make headway it was merged in the Jana Sangh.

Sanyasins played a big part in the RSS-affiliate Vishwa Hindu Parishad’s campaign to build a Ram temple at the site of the Babri Masjid. Uma Bharti, a woman in saffron robes who participated in that campaign, is now Minister for Water Resources in Narendra Modi’s government. Another participant, Yogi Adityanath, high priest of the Gorakhnath Mutt, is Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, the largest state.

The Hindu Yuva Vahini, a volunteer force founded by Adityanath, is alleged to have been involved in several communal incidents. The lynching incidents and other acts of violence in the name of cow protection in several states are a direct consequence of the rise of atavistic forces under religious auspices.

Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh, head of the Dera Sachha Sauda (meaning True Deal Camp) is a new generation spiritual leader who sings, dances and produces and acts in movies. Charges of rape, murder and castration did not prevent him from raising the cult’s following to 50 million and building scores of Dera centres in India and other countries including the USA.

Political parties sought his support at election time and plied him with money. A long-time backer of the Congress party, he switched support to the BJP in 2014 and is credited with having helped it to come to power in Haryana for the first time.

Gurmeet Singh’s flamboyant ways hid the atavistic character of his cult. One of the two women who admitted to the investigators that he had raped her claimed that in doing so he had purified her.

The case against him arose from an anonymous letter a rape survivor wrote to Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee 15 years ago. The government did not act on it.

Ranjit Singh, a follower who had fallen out with Gurmeet Singh, also levelled similar changes. Ram Chander Chattrapati, a journalist, wrote in a local publication about the complaints. Both of them were shot dead.

The Punjab and Haryana High Court, acting suo motu, ordered the Central Bureau of Investigation to probe the charges against Gurmeet Singh.

Devotees began gathering at the Dera headquarters days ahead of the date set by the CBI court for pronouncing its verdict. The violence that followed his conviction could have been averted if only the Central and state governments had prevented the assembly of a large crowd ignoring prohibitory orders.

The Punjab and Haryana High Court, reacting sharply to the authorities’ failure to act in time for political reasons, reminded them that the Prime Minister and the Chief Minister were holders of constitutional offices, and not party functionaries.

The admonition had a salutary effect. Ahead of the sentencing of Gurmeet Singh on Monday the authorities took strong measures to prevent rioting, including orders to shoot at sight. To avoid recurrence of violence the High Court issued instructions to the trial court to conduct its proceedings in the jail where the convict was lodged. -- Gulf Today, Sharjah, August 29, 2017.

22 August, 2017

Reforms slow down economy

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

While the authorities have not come out with the full data, there is enough material in the public domain to conclude that two reforms of the past year, demonetisation of high-denomination currency notes and roll-out of the new goods and services tax (GST) regime, have retarded the growth of India’s economy.

Nine months after Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced demonetisation and a time-frame for collecting new notes of Rs 2,000 and Rs 500 in exchange for the invalidated notes of Rs 1,000 and Rs 500 neither the government nor the Reserve Bank of India, which regulates currency flow, has revealed how much money was replaced. The last time RBI Governor Urjit Patel spoke on the subject, he said the notes were still being counted.

One of the proclaimed objectives of demonetisation was to weed out black money. It was believed the authorities were reluctant to reveal data as more money had come in than the RBI had put into circulation. This would mean that those with black money used the opportunity to launder their holdings.

In his Independence Day address last week, Modi confirmed this. He said following demonetisation Rs 3 trillion had come to the banks, including two trillion of black money.

The story has a bright side, though. Scrutiny of the data gathered by the government in the process of exchange of notes has revealed the existence of about 300,000 shell companies used by black money operators.

Also, as many as 1.8 million people were found to possess assets not commensurate with their known sources of income. One-fourth of them had accepted the finding, Modi said.

Figures released by the Finance Ministry last week show that the number of persons who file income tax returns now stands at 28.2 million. This is 5.6 million more than a year ago.

The government has said the new GST regime, introduced on July 1, has eased the logistics of businesses, and brought in 1.35 million new commercial tax payers.

Financial analysts are not inclined to take the claim that the reforms have led to increased revenues unquestioningly. Some of them have pointed out that, as of August 2017, there is no significant increase in the number of taxpayers or direct tax collection.

It is, of course, too early to dismiss the government’s claim as flow of information through official channels is notoriously slow. Assuming that demonetisation and GST have yielded financial benefits to the government, the question whether adequate preparations were made before the two measures were introduced is still relevant. Both measures had caused considerable dislocation of economic activity and imposed enormous hardship on the people, particularly the poor.

Figures for the first quarter of 2017 put the economic growth rate at 6.1 per cent as against earlier expectations of 7.1 per cent. This was the lowest growth rate since the last quarter of 2014. The fall was the result of the drop in consumer spending and investment following demonetisation.

Falsifying recent history to serve his political interests, Modi often accuses the Congress, which ruled the country longest, of not doing enough on the development front. Many young people, disillusioned with the state of the country, readily swallow such claims.

Statistical data shows that in the 65 years since Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru launched the first five-year plan in 1951 India’s GDP grew at an average annual rate of 6.1 per cent. The lowest growth rate of minus 5.2 per cent was recorded in the last quarter of 1979 under Charan Singh who was Prime Minister for nearly six months after the collapse of the Janata government headed by Morarji Desai. The economy recorded the highest growth of 11.40 per cent in the first quarter of 2010 under Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

Earlier this month the government, which, as usual, placed before Parliament an annual economic survey in February, took the unusual step of presenting a revised mid-year survey highlighting factors adversely affecting the economy. It said services sector growth, which was highly resilient even during the global financial crisis, was showing moderation. -- Gulf Today, Sharjah, August 22, 2017

Putting on a brave face, the government’s chief economic adviser, Arvind Subramanian, told an interviewer that the medium term outlook looked good but there were worries for the near term as the economy, which was decelerating, was heading towards deflation. That sounds like a warning to fasten the seat belts.