Several senior leaders of the government reassured people that there is no need to fear the government, reacting to comments from a leading industrialist who alluded to the same. Fact is corporate India almost never criticises the government in public. Under any government, the Indian promoter knows his or her place. Billionaires around the world are not equal. A Jeff Bezos can own a newspaper that often criticises the US president. The Apple CEO can express his disapproval of US government policies. Indian billionaires can’t.
They may have a thousand minions folding hands before them. However, in front of a senior IAS babu or minister, our billionaires fold their hands instead. That’s just the way life is in India. We all know our place, our auqaat, isn’t it?
And in India, even though people with money have massive auqaat, they know that political leaders are not to be messed with. Their business could be destroyed, and they could be harassed with the multitude of government regulators and rule enforcers with one phone call. More than fear, it is just more practical to fold hands and let the netas have their way and keep your business running. Making a political point or attacking the government is for Twitter warriors with no market cap to lose. Hence, when the TV anchor asks, “Mr Billionaire sir, so how was the Budget this year?” The answer always is: “It is a visionary budget. It will take India far, and all credit to the government. I would rate it 11 out 10.”
The question some ask is, has this fear increased? The simple answer is, the stronger the government in power in terms of public support, the more the fear. This explains why UPA-II was massively criticised while still in power. The mood of the nation had changed. Even though elections were a while away, UPA-II had lost in the eyes of the people. Take a jab to a falling star, fine. Take a jab to a rising one? You have to be mad.
Anyway, corporate India was never a source of feedback for the government. Their concerns are mostly limited to their sector. Their fear shall continue. Our babus and netas will never set the private sector free. It is, after all, fun to see a billionaire fold hands in front of you, isn’t it?
The problem we face now is if corporate India doesn’t do it, who is giving genuine feedback to this government? And more important, does the government listen to it?
It is easy to get complacent when you are doing well politically. The PM remains incredibly popular. There is an excellent second-term majority in Parliament. If you keep winning politically, do the critics even have a leg to stand on? Why care about GDP growth if our voters don’t?
The answers to these questions depend on how you choose to judge yourself. If the only criterion is to win elections, then the BJP is dead right. The critics are stupid. The election results at the national level are proof enough. Sure, state elections haven’t responded the same way, but they are still the leading party. However, being a leader isn’t just about winning elections. It is also about performance. And while you can make this as complicated as you want, in simple terms, this performance can be judged on two simple criteria. A good Indian leader is someone who can keep everybody together and deliver great GDP growth.
The first — keeping everyone together — is vital in a diverse country like India. Conflict is easy to find where there are so many differences among people. So, has India become more unified since this regime came into power? Or have we become more divided? I’ll let the government decide on that.
The second agenda item — a fantastic GDP growth — is almost a necessity for us. A strong GDP growth means more jobs, more investments, more infrastructure, more money in people’s pockets, more money available for welfare/equality schemes, more respect in the world and more power overall.
A 4.5% GDP growth rate for the latest quarter is anaemic. Even in scam-ridden, coalition-compulsion driven, analysis-paralysis UPA times, we were hovering around 8%. With all that’s better now, why haven’t we reached 10%?
Is it not a fair question? Again, the government can reflect and answer that. The above two criteria are the basics any Indian leader would be finally judged on. Political performance deserves praise, but eventually people expect more, whether or not they choose to express it. It is time the government reflects not only on how to remain in power, but also on the more fundamental question — what are we in power for?