27/07/2017 9:51 AM IST | Updated 24/09/2018 6:55 PM IST

No, India Is Not Shining, It Wasn’t Then And It Certainly Isn’t Now

Adnan Abidi / Reuters

On Dalal Street, a frenzied euphoria is palpable. The Nifty has crossed the 10,000 milestone. In Indian stock-markets, in particular, where speculative transactions based on several sentimental considerations--like astrological forecasts and other inexplicable feel-good factors--far out number rigorous research, such touchstones are considered auspicious. They augur well, the promised El Dorado of Acche Din beckons for the 30 million strong community of equity investors. The BSE Sensex also appears remarkably pugilistic, punching past the 32,000 levels. The pink papers are in unrestrained exhilaration; foreign funds flow is high and the mighty bull has got the hirsute bear trampled below its massive size. It is party-time. The perennial naysayers are, of course, dismissing the raucous get-together as irrational exuberance. One is reminded of what the former Chairman of the US Federal Reserve Bank, Mr William McChesney Martin Jr once said: "What's good for the USA is good for the New York Stock Exchange, but what is good for the New York Stock Exchange might not be good for the United States". It is thus perhaps a perfect time for an introspective rewind to the year 2004.

2004 turned out to be a watershed year in Indian politics. The BJP-led NDA turned on a high decibel ear-splitting campaign on blazing horse-power; it was called India Shining. I remember being at a CII gathering where the mood was perceptibly upbeat. A gentleman, known for his impeccable sagacity stood with a transfixed smile on his face, in a state of luminous self-actualization. I queried him on his source of unbridled happiness. India Shining, he beamed. And then he beamed more. He was not the only one, there were several others, many in Saville Row suits sipping on fine champagne. Corporate India was sanguine, convinced that we had struck an inexhaustible supply of goldmine. BJP's election campaign theme was considered a creative masterstroke. The peripatetic Minister Pramod Mahajan was the favourite poster-boy. I received a phone call while watching a film, and the voice, known for its long pregnant pauses and lyrical prose, was very familiar. Of course, it was our very own Prime Minister Mr Atal Behari Vajpayee, imploring us to vote for the BJP. Most marvelled at the use of modern technology like SMS and voice services for election purposes, hitherto unprecedented.

As the BJP stood flabbergasted at the election outcome, it was evident that they had been carried away by their dazzling myopia. It is true that India's GDP growth during the preceding fiscal year of 2003-04 was 8.1%, the second-highest recorded in our economic history. But that was for just one year; its preceding years from 1998-2003, were far from flattering, having touched a nadir of 3.9% in 2001-02. One swallow does not a summer make, but given the fact that it was an election year, and the BJP had convincingly won state elections in Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan (Congress retained Delhi) just a few months before, a degree of exaggerated self-belief had converted into political hubris. Hyperbole is an essential formula in advertising campaigns, but when it is blended with political rhetoric, then it can assume a cloak of cockiness. India Shining reflected that superciliousness.

When Vajpayee called mobile phones, while some were suitably impressed with the personalised invitation to vote, the majority of India disconnected. Fed up of their daily struggles and continuing strife, the common man of India felt as if they were just a statistical measure in India of its gross output, measured in calories, crops and corporate profits. Nothing was farther from the truth. 37% of India 's population was living below the poverty line and having practically negligible social security net to fall back on. While the middle-class had definitely expanded it was far from the aspirational dreams that they had imagined. Clearly, India Shining was a chimaera, and the BJP was soundly trounced in the elections. The Gujarat riots of 2002, a damning stigma in our secular history also contributed to the disengagement of the vox populi from the India Shining narrative. No one likes social disturbances and communal tensions, barring vested interests playing vote-bank politics who use rogue and lumpen elements to polarise society. Fast forward to 2017.

India's suspect, over-inflated GDP (thanks to a new methodology) has slumped to 6.1% following the disastrous demonetization. 1.5 million were rendered jobless in the fourth quarter of last fiscal, as unemployment levels are soaring high with virtually negative accretion (600 lakh jobs were promised in 3 years); even the IT sector is sacking young software engineers, resulting in massive stress. Rural distress had led to a pan-India revolt (the Mandsaur mayhem being the tip of the iceberg) even as farmer suicides cross 37,000 deaths since 2014. PSU banks toxic assets have grown to over Rs 11 lakh crores, but the headline-grabbing government struggles to extradite the flamboyant lynchpin of NPA's, Mr Vijay Mallya. The latter has more pressing problems in London such as rebranding his Formula One car racing team. Credit offtake is at an all-time historic low, private capital investments are sluggish, and the value of stalled projects is skyrocketing. Frankly, if it was not for the gargantuan tail-wind of out number global prices of crude oil, India's economy would have gone belly-up. India's ranking in HDI and Ease of Doing Business languishes at the abyss. On Gender Disparity Index, we have an embarrassing performance. Several institutions are being relentlessly asphyxiated by the RSS Hindutva ideology. All is not well.

To add to our grave economic woes is the rising sectarian strife on account of ethnic chauvinism and bigoted fundamentalism. Our society appears fractured. Kashmir becomes a tinderbox and the Pakistan-China camaraderie is creating massive havoc at our borders. But Modi Sarkar's narcissistic celebrations are in full-swing. The Nifty is not so thrifty either. And the headlines are groovy. Why do I get a sense of déjà vu?

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