Modi 'staggeringly incompetent', 'disastrous' if elected in 2024, says Dr. Parakala Prabhakar

Modi made 'development' a Trojan horse to smuggle in Hindutva, Dr. Prabhakar told Karan Thapar, discussing his book 'The Crooked Timber of New India'. The economist is spouse to Nirmala Sitharaman.

Dr Parakala Prabhakar’s new book ‘The Crooked Timber of New India: Essays on A Republic in Crisis’ (Photo courtesy: Speaking Tiger)
Dr Parakala Prabhakar’s new book ‘The Crooked Timber of New India: Essays on A Republic in Crisis’ (Photo courtesy: Speaking Tiger)

NH Political Bureau

The Modi regime is 'staggeringly incompetent' in its handling of the economy and most other things, though it is very competent in summoning baser, divisive feelings latent among the people, said economist and social commentator Dr. Parakala Prabhakar to Karan Thapar in an interview organised by The Wire on Friday.

Dr Prabhakar’s new book ‘The Crooked Timber of New India: Essays on A Republic in Crisis’ (published by Speaking Tiger) was formally launched on Sunday, May 14 in Bengaluru. The book comprises a series of essays on the Modi government’s handling of the economy, politics and other issues.

Dr. Prabhakar has a Ph.D. from the London School of Economics, and incidentally, is married to Nirmala Sitharaman, the finance minister in the Modi cabinet.

Speaking about the context of his book, Dr. Prabhakar that Hindutva was smuggled in on the sly by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which won the 2014 election on the plank of 'development'.

He also put forth the opinion that it would be a disaster for not only the economy but for the nation in general to have another Modi government in 2024.

The popularity of Prime Minister Modi and the BJP, Dr. Prabhakar argued, is because of his ability to mobilise people and appeal to their baser instincts, inspired by Hindutva.

But this is not what Modi said in the run-up to the 2014 election, he noted. In speech after speech then, Dr. Prabhakar said, he had emphasised that the fight was not between Hindus and Muslims; but rather it was a fight of both Hindus and Muslims together against poverty and unemployment.

In 2014, Dr. Prabhakar recalled, Narendra Modi and the BJP had asked for votes after promising good governance, a clean and corruption-free government and 'development'. The nation was not taken into confidence about their real intention to usher in a Hindu rashtra (Hindu nation) and unleash the forces of Hindutva, he said. Development thus was used like a Trojan horse to let Hindutva loose on an unsuspecting nation—and if this is what BJP and Modi stand for, they need to be resisted, he added.

Union finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman (left) with husband Dr. Parakala Prabhakar, economist, social commentator and author
Union finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman (left) with husband Dr. Parakala Prabhakar, economist, social commentator and author

In response to Karan Thapar's comment that the nation appears to have accepted PM Modi’s version of Hindutva, which is why the largest segment of voters supported him in the elections, Dr. Prabhakar demurred.

According to him, BJP and Modi win because of the first-past-the-post system of election and, in any case, the 38 per cent votes that they polled constituted the 'largest minority'.

The goal of leadership is to remove fissures and promote harmony, per Dr. Prabhakar; it is not the job of leaders to be divisive and pander to communal sentiments. If BJP and Modi wanted to usher in a Hindu rashtra, he said, that should have been the plank on which they should have contested the election in 2014.

Dr. Prabhakar pointed out that Hindu majoritarianism did not find acceptance in India when the ground was apparently most fertile for it— immediately after Partition. That was the time when millions of people from both communities were migrating en masse and bodies in thousands were arriving in each country; when feelings ran high, and fear and insecurity were more. But majoritarianism did not find acceptance in India at that time.

Yet it is finding acceptance seven decades later, among a generation of Indians who possibly have no recollection of the Partition and presumably did not suffer from it, highlighted Dr. Prabhakar.

India is being dragged back to the Dark Ages and the slide needs to be arrested, he added.

He reminded Karan Thapar that the BJP actually swore by secularism till even 10 years ago: "They would say BJP is genuinely secular while all other parties were pseudo secular," he said, but now the party has jettisoned secularism for unabashed Hindutva.

The republic is also facing a crisis, he emphasised, because of the Modi regime’s "staggering incompetence" in mishandling the economy.

The BJP, he reminded Thapar and his viewers, never had a cohesive economic philosophy. When the party was founded in 1980 and changed its name from the Bharatiya Jan Sangh in 1980, it had claimed to be wedded to Gandhian socialism. It opposed economic reforms in the 1990s, and now it seems to be advised by who he called 'voodoo economists'.

Asked by Thapar if he was referring to the chief economic advisors, or the late Arun Jaitley and Nirmala Sitharaman as finance ministers, Dr. Prabhakar said he would not speak about individuals. Asked why he had named Narendra Modi in that case, an unruffled Dr. Prabhakar replied that it was because it was the 'Modi regime' and it was the PM who called the shots.

Any economist with some basic training in economics, he argued, would not have recommended demonetisation on such a large scale and at such short notice. It was a colossal mistake, and the subsequent wrong policies compounded the mistake and aggravated the crisis, held Dr. Prabhakar.

Karan Thapar pointed out that the Modi regime in fact took pride in its performance and boasted of generating both growth and employment. Indeed, union ministers have been glowing in the wake of a report in Wall Street Journal which said on its front page that China had now a rival in India, which was manufacturing 19 per cent of all smart phones. "Wouldn’t you call it progress?" he asked.

An Apple showroom or Foxconn producing phones were insignificant and almost meaningless parts of the economy, Dr. Prabhakar countered. They were not indicators of any real progress. If Indians were to take pride in what the Wall Street Journal and Financial Times were reporting on India, he reflected, they should take the Oxfam Report on India equally seriously. 

The Oxfam Report earlier this year had pointed out growing inequality and increasing concentration of wealth in India. This process has accelerated under the Modi regime and a vast number of Indians have been reduced to paupers. Will the government take credit for it, he wondered.

India has been passing through an agonising phase, and he has often been asked why he is always so critical of the government, Dr. Prabhakar acknowledged. "Don't you see anything good that the government has done?' is a common refrain. His reply: While the government may have done some good, on balance it has done far more harm.

The usual response to this has people daring him to suggest an alternative. Preempting that argument, Dr. Prabhakar replied that alternatives are decided by the people and it was not for him to suggest one.

However, he insisted that the lack of alternatives or him not being keen to suggest one did not make a convincing reason for him to forfeit his right to criticise and call out what he sees as 'blatantly wrong'.

He is an unabashed critic, Dr. Prabhakar conceded.

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