Private sector will continue to be bailed out by public funds while businessmen go for more loans

Both Paytm and Reliance Jio used PM Modi’s photograph in their advertisements. But as the Govt sells PSUs and sets up a ‘ Bad Bank’ to bail out big and bad business, ordinary people will pay the cost

Private sector will continue to be bailed out by public funds while businessmen go for more loans

Samir Nazareth

‘What did the Congress create in 70 years’ can be answered by pointing at PSUs. Congress governments post-Independence created public sector undertaking in key areas because the private sector was weak. Post the 2021 budget, however, someone on Twitter asked ‘what does the BJP government plan to sell off today?’ referring to the PSUs the Government is busy selling to the private sector.

BJP’s disdain for the sector that built India - PSUs is well known and PM Modi’s support for the private sector on the floor of the Parliament should not have come as a surprise. Industry leaders have been quick to claim that his support has increased the morale in the private sector. However, what is the relation between acknowledging the role of private enterprise and selling of national assets?

Since liberalisation, all governments have supported private enterprise. In fact, often this support has been at the cost of the public sector – private airlines grew at the cost of Air India. BSNL and MTNL had to be sacrificed to ensure the success of the entry of private players in the mobile telephony space. Though the relevance of these PSU’s decreased, there has always been opportunity to revive them. However, to do so takes away the opportunity to monetise their many assets.

But there is a consistency to the Modi-support of the private sector which comes at a cost to the average citizen. Demonetisation that Modi announced severely impacted the lower economic classes and housewives who would diligently keep some money aside to purchase things for the house or for the children. However, this overnight decision was a windfall for Paytm whose founder and CEO - Vijay Shekar Sinha - exulted by saying ‘humne phod diya ‘ at a company party. Paytm issued a fullpage advertisement thanking the PM for taking the bold decision of demonetisation. The advertisement prominently displayed the PM’s smiling visage.

Though Paytm and Reliance Jio have publicly acknowledged Modi’s efforts to build their business, one cannot ignore close and longstanding association between Adani and Modi, and Modi and Ambani. Rahul Gandhi recently obliquely labelled this exclusive association as Hum Do Hamare Do. One cannot not be inspired by our dear respected PMs predilection for acronyms and shorten this label to HD2. Unsurprisingly, the nomenclature for those in this most exclusive of associations would necessarily be HD2jeevi. After becoming the face of one company and the alleged patron of these two businessmen, our respected PM now desires to self-replicate and secularise and broaden this privilege to the entire private sector. There is a reason for this, in 2018-19 the Bharatiya Janata Party received the most donations from industry - Rs 698.082 crore from 1,573 corporates.  How can those in this industrial level association not be called sahajivi?

But what is the impact of this symbiosis on the rest of the country?

Sure, respected Modiji harped on the private sector's role in creating wealth, employment and now the covid vaccine. But let us not forget the incentives in the form of sops that this sector is provided with. Everything from tax breaks to provision of land, provision of electricity and water at subsidised rates, easy access to loans are just a few items in a long list. However, there is a cost.

For example, the country pays a heavy price for this easy access to loans. According to the All India Bank Employees Association (AIBEA), there are 2426 large wilful defaulters who owe banks Rs 1.47 lakh crores. The PM had once said that he would bring back all the black money hoarded abroad. Maybe, it is time he set his sights on a less ambitious target like reducing the NPAs. The proposal in the 2021 Budget to set up a ‘bad bank’ to recapitalise toxic assets that PSU banks are stuck with will be a boon for the private sector. The Indian public will continue to bear the brunt of bad business practices while businessmen will live to take another loan.

Though the government has yet to produce accounts, it is reported that in the first 2 months of its establishment, the PMCARES Fund received USD 1.4 billion (₹10,600 crore). Almost half of this amount was from donations from private industry. This very sector is now on a cost cutting spree. They are laying-off employees and cutting salaries as a way to deal with the economic downturn caused by covid. Instead of donating into this blackhole of unaccountability, companies should have used this money to keep their staff in employment. One is not going to go into the brazen attempts of the government in trying to force its employees to donate a portion of their salary to the fund. Worse still, many industries now choose to donate to PMCARES instead of conducting CSR activities.

How can one ignore the consequences of such sahajivis on the other Indians? There is something very wrong when during the period when the entire nation was facing a socio-economic collapse there were a few who increased their wealth manifold. It stands to reason that for the rest of the country this collective are parajivis.

What is worse is that now while Indian citizens are tightening their belts because of pay-cuts etc, the PM and his government are planning to splurge Rs 20,000 crore (US$2.8 billion) of the tax-payers money on a rightwing vanity project.

Everything being equal, one needs to admire the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) and their supporter’s entrepreneurial and industrious proclivity for name calling. Thanks to them, the country’s vocabulary increased with their coining of the words presstitutes, libtards, sickular; labels for those with an opinion different from the rightwing government. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has also finally added to the lexicon. He chose the hallowed halls of the Parliament to do so and christened his critics Andolanjeevi.

One cannot ignore the fact that PM Narendra Modi has given Indian citizens many opportunities to protest and criticise him. His decisions on GST, demonetisation, abrogating Article 370, CAA, lockdown that left migrant labourers high and dry, Farmer Bills brought the country together against him and his government.

His claim that there is now a population of Andolanjeevi’s is self-congratulatory as it is an open acknowledgement of his own important role in creating this new species.

However, one must not forget that the current PM and his lot were once upon a time Anodolanjeevi’s too. On Aug 2014 Modi had tweeted “As a common man, I join the protest against crackdown on freedom of speech! Have changed my DP. 'Sabko Sanmati De Bhagwan.'” Earlier, on May 3 2014 he had tweeted “We have witnessed the horrors of Emergency when freedom of press & freedom of expression were suppressed. It is a blot on our democracy.” Members of his party, ranging from Smriti Irani to Ravi Shankar Prasad, have led protests against price rise during the UPA years. But funnily enough they never used a synonym for this recently coined sobriquet for themselves, nor did the then government label them with such terms.

Someone on Twitter wondered whether Shri Modi’s penchant for photo shoots makes him a ‘Camerajeevi’?

Views expressed are personal

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