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Saturday, Jan 24, 2004

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Is India really `shining'?

Ranabir Ray Choudhury

IT IS being said that the NDA has deliberately projected the "India Shining" image so as to get the maximum mileage for the coming elections, a point of view which makes good sense from the standpoint of realpolitik.

But is the "India Shining" image at all justified vis--vis the existing ground reality, a subject on which there are probably as many views as there are observers.

Even so, it is an interesting subject for discussion, specially if it is felt that the BJP-led NDA is banking on an ephemeral concept to do well in the polls, which is tantamount to hoodwinking the people.

The first aspect which should be investigated is the timing of the Lok Sabha elections which, as everyone knows, has been brought forward to March-April from later in the year. Now, why should a pre-determined election schedule be tampered with unless there is a definite reason to do so on the part of the powers that be?

Clearly, the elections have been brought forward because the BJP feels that by doing so it will help the party to return to power — perhaps with a larger majority, in conjunction with its allies in the NDA.

In other words, if the Lok Sabha polls were held in September-October (the original schedule), the feeling within the BJP is that it would do less well than if the elections were held earlier.

The clear inference is that the "India Shining" concept would lose its sheen if the elections were held later in the year.

What this essentially means is that while the BJP leadership is trumpeting the concept just now, it is uncertain about the future. In other words, the "shine" may turn into "rust" in no time whatever, and that would do no credit to the NDA outfit at the Centre.

The other, more fundamental, aspect relates to the ingredients of the "India Shining" concept, the central issue being whether the NDA is truly justified in projecting it on the scale it has so far.

Here there are bound to be a broad mix of views both for and against, but the fact remains that, purely on an objective basis, it is possible to arrive at some indication whether India is really "shining" or not.

There is no doubt whatever that the economy has been performing better over the past 12 months, as is reflected in production figures (say, of the core sector, comprising six infrastructure industries, which saw a growth of 5.9 per cent in December 2003 against 4.4 per cent in the same month in 2002).

Corporate tax collection has grown by more than 30 per cent from April to January compared with the same period a year earlier, indicating that companies are doing much better now than earlier.

The foreign exchange reserves have crossed the $100-billion mark which, for a country like India, is a big shot in the arm, especially in the eyes of the world at large.

Interest rates are down, which is a huge encouraging factor for investors to go about their business, not to speak of the impressive performance on the farm front.

But does all this — including the recent diplomatic attainments of the Prime Minister in Islamabad — add up to the "India Shining" concept, a label which is bound to influence a large section of the electorate during the polls?

Here, it becomes a matter of interpretation. Among other things, the point can be made that the economy is poised to grow beyond 7 per cent in the current year.

But it can also be argued with equal force that the Centre-States fiscal situation (which is at least as important as the GDP growth rate) is rather precarious, the emerging picture being that, while on the surface things appear to be looking up, the economy is still rotten within, despite all the potential that exists in abundance.

So, is India shining brightly (which every citizen genuinely would like to see happen), or is the nation being made to shine "selectively" for the purposes of notching up an election victory, which would be unfortunate because of the lack of objectivity involved?

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