Modi govt can doctor numbers, but that is of no avail

K Raveendran

[dropcap]M[/dropcap]odi came to power promising to eradicate black money and corruption by putting end to a system where the ruling elites and their cronies pocketed all the wealth while people struggled for survival. With only months to go for his term, whether it was the first only posterity will tell, he has become very much part of the system he was promising to fight. Today he is steeped in all the vices that he had accused the dynastic Congress of monopolising.

In its desperation to win the perception battle, institutions under the Modi government have now released a new series of data for determining GDP growth. The new data series, which automatically downsizes the growth achieved under UPA to much lower levels than what was arrived at earlier. It is indeed curious that the new numbers have lowered the peak GDP growth rate under UPA from 10.3% in 2010-11 to 8.5%. Thus, the average growth for the UPA years after the back-series revision for 2005-06 to 2011-12 declines to 6.82 percent from 7.75 percent earlier.

The desperation is understandable because a committee set up by the National Statistical Commission earlier this year came out with a set of back series data, which was ‘accidentally’ released in July and had shown much higher GDP growth numbers under UPA government. As per the committee’s data, the GDP grew at 10.8 percent in 2010-11 against the previously known 10.3 percent. The data released by the committee had shown 30-50 basis point increase in GDP growth figures compared to previously known figures.

[box type=”shadow” align=”aligncenter” class=”” width=””]It’s statistics versus experience

Having failed on every conceivable front, the Modi government is engaged in creating a make-belief world, where it will produce certain numbers, but those numbers can in no way relate to people’s experience. Modi advisors would do well to tell their boss that there is a limit to how much statistics can reflect experiences. By doctoring the numbers, the Modi government may be able to create an impression of good performance, but those numbers will flounder on the bitter experience of the people caused by the whimsical and boorish policy decisions of Narendra Modi. [/box]

Nothing would have been more unpalatable to the Modi government that its own calculations showed the economy under UPA doing better. So it was only natural that a new data series would be released that would correct the ‘mistake’. And it has come just ahead of the elections, saving the Modi government a few blushes.

So, the Modi government is seeking to fight the perception battle by producing ‘friendly’ numbers or blocking attempts to reach the bottom of its performance. Only the other day, in a brazen attempt to suppress information, the Modi PMO tried to stonewall queries about the extent of black money unearthed by the government ever since it came to power in 2014 promising to do just that.

In response to an order passed by the Central Information Commission, asking for details of black money within 15 days, the PMO has refused to share the details citing a provision of the RTI Act that bars disclosure of information that may impede investigation and prosecution of offenders. This is the same excuse that the discredited UPA government used to provide for refusing to part with any information. It is a different matter that the record of the Modi government in fighting black money is so dismal that it has very little to show by way of achievements. The response to the query is that a Special Investigation Team has already been formed and its investigation is underway, the typical response of the UPA regime.

The PMO has given the most officious reason that any disclosure of the ‘efforts undertaken by the government at this juncture may impede the whole process of investigation or apprehension or prosecution of offenders. It even claimed exemption from the provisions of the Act to withhold the information. It is not the first time that the PMO has resisted such attempts. Exactly a year ago, in reply to an RTI enquiry, the PMO refused to entertain any question on the issue on the ground that it was not covered under a section of the transparency law that defines information.

So, it can be safely assumed that the cycle has turned its full course for Modi. The next inevitable turn, if one goes by the experience of discredited UPA, could be his ultimate rejection by the people. Modi can for the time being take cover under various rules and practices followed by the predecessor administrations, but these exclusions may not be of help when the matter comes to the people’s court, which is increasingly becoming intolerant to such failures. It has, however, been a fair deal. Modi wanted to be given a chance to prove himself and the Indian voters gave that to him in liberal measure. Now that he has failed, he has no reason to complain. In fact, Modi’s body language these days suggests as much.

(The author is a political commentator)