Economics, Politics and Electoral Maths
The 131 Chartered Accountants, who have rejected the claims of the 108 economists, say the way the Congress and left-linked ‘economists’ have come together to defame the country’s top and established institutions causes deep suspicion about their intentions
Dr Ashwani Mahajan
Recently, 108 economists and social scientists issued a statement, questioning the credibility of the official statistics of India, saying there should be no political interference with the institutions like Central Statistical Office and National Sample Survey Organisation. The statement also said that all economists should work to restore the credibility of the official statistics, and protect the official data from the ruling political party. The statement underlined that the statistical system of India has been highly reliable. They accused the present government of compromising the quality of government data, saying that estimates so far, have been free from political interference.
In fact, this is a big allegation and its authenticity could have been greater had this allegation come from free thinkers, economists and social scientists. A cursory glance on the list of these 108 economists and social scientists makes one understand that this allegation of political interference in the statistics has, in fact, come from politically biased ‘intellectuals’.
Who are these 108 Intellectuals?
These intellectuals appear to be linked to specific locations and institutions. These institutions are Jawaharlal Nehru University, Ashoka University, Tata Institute of Social Sciences and some institutions from Kolkata. Some of them are foreign economists and foreign-based economists of Indian origin. Some of them even belong to the media. But a large number of these economists and social scientists, are the ones, who have been critical of the economic policies of the present government including demonetisation, Aadhar based Direct Benefit Transfer (DBT), GST, even beyond economic logic and economic reasoning. Most of these economists and social scientists had also been the beneficiaries in the previous UPA government and now have been out of the range of the present government.
The names in this list which are much under discussion, include a member of the SFI, the student wing of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), some connected with Congress and Left parties. Therefore, the relevance of the questions raised by this class is doubtful, because if the allegations of political interference in collection and dissemination of economic statistics come from people inflicted by politics, then its reliability itself would be doubtful.
The people who had criticised this government earlier for being intolerant and later started a campaign of ‘Award Wapsi’ are now making a hue and cry for statisticsOn the contrary, 131 leading chartered accountants of the country have also come out and rejected the claims of these 108 economists and social scientists and said that these claims are baseless and are motivated by politics. These 131 Chartered Accountants also say that the criticism of the official statistics is a routine matter all over the world, but the way in which these economists have come together to defame the country’s top and established institutions, this cause deep suspicion about the intentions of these ‘intellectuals’.
How Accurate are the Allegations?
It is unfortunate that in this country the intellectuals are also divided into political lines. As we know, there are many names in the list of economists who have constantly been criticising the economic and other policies of the current Bharatiya Janata Party-led NDA government. Among them are many faculty members of JNU, who were not only supportive of the controversial programmes and campaigns run by the students there but have also been their partners. Significantly, many of these students are facing serious charges of sedition.
131 Chartered Accountants have issued a press release terming claims of these 108 economists and social scientists to be bogus and sponsored. They have also alleged that this act is similar to one, in which some people had dramatised the 'Award Wapsi’ just before the elections in some important States.
These economists have never questioned the slow pace of development and poverty due to wrong economic policies between 1960 and 2014. These Chartered Accountants say that it is not uncommon that a section of economists would question the government data, but so many people are together raising questions about the credibility of the Central Statistical Organisation and National Sample Survey Organisation, cause suspicion. These 131CAs have also said that in the context of GDP, Poverty Alleviation, Ease of Doing Business etc, international agencies such as World Bank have also been publishing data periodically and have not raised any doubt on government data. Due to improvement in the economic variables, at the global level, our position and respect have improved substantially. International autonomous agencies have also published India’s official data, indicating at the confirmation of the same.
It has to be understood that these economists have questioned the changes in the base year and methodology in calculating GDP data, do not these economists know that after Independence, the base year and methodology have changed several times since Independence, as the same is a general practice in national income measurement and has been essential part of national income accounting.
These Chartered Accountants note that, between the year 2009 and 2014, the loans of banks quadrupled in just five years, and disbursal of loans to non-deserving firms, became the cause of spurt in Non Performing Assets (NPAs) of the banks. However, none of these economists ever raised this issue of concealment of NPAs, by the erstwhile UPA government. This shows the bias of these economists.
The allegation against the government is that it has changed the methodology for estimating GDP, which has raised the GDP for the period of the present government. But these economists conveniently forget that due to changed methodology, performance of previous UPA government has also shown to be better. This allegation is totally misplaced because earlier GDP was being measured with inadequate data. Currently, the GDP estimates have been improved using more data from the corporate sector and it is in line with the UN methodology. Lastly, is expected from economists, social scientists and other intellectuals that they would express and disseminate their knowledge, to educate the public through articles and research papers. For a healthy debate in a democracy, it is essential that all people express their views freely and help strengthening national debate on those issues. However, the attempt by intellectuals, following an ideology to malign government, just for the reason that they represent a different ideology is not appropriate for a healthy debate. It’s unfortunate that a set of people belonging to different ideologies had criticised this government earlier for being intolerant and later they started a campaign of ‘Award Wapsi’ and now making a hue and cry for statistics. This way, this at best can be called pure politics devoid of reasoning. If this continues, people will see intellectuals from the prism of politics and this may not be a good omen for a healthy democracy.
(The writer is an economist and teaches at PGDAV College, University of Delhi)