Despite Piyush Goyal’s ‘infectious enthusiasm’, sobering messages from Davos and EU

After the stinging criticism by George Soros of the divisive and undemocratic policies, India this week has to brace for a discussion on CAA and the lockdown in Kashmir in the European Parliament

Despite Piyush Goyal’s ‘infectious enthusiasm’, sobering messages from Davos and EU

Ranjona Banerji

The world spent last week at Davos, Switzerland. The World Economic Forum might be a bit of a tamasha but people pay attention to it because moneybags attend and so do those who have messages for the moneybags.

And this time, it seems India didn’t quite send the messages it would have wanted to. I’m not talking about the guff put out by Union Railway and Commerce and Industry Minister Piyush Goyal who said (no, nothing about the railways, more like mythical Vedic spacecraft) that the Indian economy was “poised” for take-off and that there was lots of “infectious enthusiasm” to invest in India. With the coronavirus scaring the world right now, not sure whether the use of the word “infectious” was wise but anyway. Why am I quibbling about the ill-use of one word when we have a lot more to worry about?

Industrialist Anand Mahindra informed people that the Indian economy is undergoing “detoxification” (I think that means removal of growth, jobs, livelihood, manufacturing, not drinking lots of green tea and getting massages) and that Prime Minister Narendra Modi has ended corruption and brought in transparency. Maybe Davos also has a stand-up comedy section that I know nothing about.

Even worse was the “guru” Jaggi Vasudev who went to Davos to discuss how no one was investing in India because anti-CAA, NRC and NPR protestors had burnt buses. In fact, no investor has discussed a burnt bus. Those who have spoken about the protests have expressed concern about the Modi government’s discriminatory policies – which Vasudev defended – and the brutal takedown of protestors across India.

The International Monetary Fund meanwhile reduced India’s growth prospects and then connected the global slowdown to India’s slowdown. Things might look up in the future, the IMF also said. That’s good news but it’s a bit like saying there’s hope that the planet won’t collapse because of some weak measures to fight climate change or that there’s hope you might win the lottery if you buy a lottery ticket. It is true, you might.

Investor and philanthropist George Soros drew attention to the rise of Hindu nationalism in India, thanks to Modi and the BJP. He linked this to India’s economic problems. The Indian government and its representatives have thrown unedifying mini-tantrums over comments on India’s immigration police by Microsoft chief Satya Nadella, over questions on Kashmir by US politicians and cold-shouldered Amazon chief Jeff Bezos because the Washington Post, which he owns, has criticised the Modi government.

The level of pettiness of this government is matched by its incompetence in all matters of governance. The only “achievement” has been religious discrimination and polarisation of society. And now the world has linked the two. “Infectious enthusiasm” is a wonderful sentiment as long as it is backed by numbers.

When manufacturing, industrial output, agricultural output, exports and investor confidence are down, when unemployment figures are at their highest, we know that the economy is infected and not by enthusiasm. But rather, by government policy, government ignorance and government incompetence.

From the economic investment point of view, a society in turmoil is a society to stay away from. But from India’s point of view, we now face a society which is breaking down on all sides. We have social unrest, we have anger, we have state violence exercised across Indians exercising their democratic rights, we have our very citizenship under suspicion.

We have various functionaries of the BJP and the Modi government, from Modi downwards and especially Union Home Minister Amit Shah constantly threatening us with dire consequences if we continue to open our mouths against them. The world sees this. Kashmir is still under a lockdown of sorts. Our closest neighbours, those who were friends, are now angry with us or wary of us. We have no jobs and we have no money. We have a pliable and unprofessional media feeding the BJP and the government’s need for constant praise especially when it is all lies.

As a sort of cherry on the cake, The Economist’s just-released annual Democracy Index for 2019 has India dropping 10 places from last year. We are now at 51. Primary cause: “erosion of civil liberties in the country”.

If India needs a detox, it is from the vile mindset that is currently in charge.

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