Nothing shocks or even surprises us these days. A surfeit of depressing developments, accompanied with equally depressing macroeconomic indicators, has made everybody so resigned in attitude that bad news is greeted with a yawn. So, when a day after Standard & Poor’s warning that India faces the risk of downgrade, the index of industrial production (IIP) was announced as flat in the first month of the current fiscal, the capital market did not panic at the news. The market bellwether actually rose 1.17 per cent, as bad IIP numbers kindled the hope of rate cut! Industrial slowdown has been factored in by the market. India Inc, too, has given up, fed up as it is with the incessant follies of and policy bungling by the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government, not to speak of humongous scams.
The IIP quick estimates, released by the Central Statistics Office of the Ministry of Statistics & Programme Implementation on Tuesday (June 12), showed 0.1 per cent for April as compared to 5.3 per cent in April 2011. The only consolation is that it was better than March 2012, when industry shrank 3.5 per cent.
The disaggregated numbers are more disheartening. Capital goods, used in manufacturing and projects for the purpose of capacity addition, recorded a negative growth of 16.3 per cent. Intermediate goods also declined, though the fall was not very steep; the rate was -1.4 per cent. The fact that small & medium enterprises (SMEs) preponderate these two segments has a major connotation for the country’s political economy. It is well-known that SMEs are the biggest employers in industry; so, bad performance by this sector means a very adverse impact on job creation.
The IIP data also show sluggish expansion, just 2.5 per cent, in textiles in April. In the last fiscal, there was a contraction of 1.4 per cent. Now textiles is the second largest employer in the country after agriculture. According to the Apparel Export Promotion Council, 7-10 per cent employees in this sector have been laid off because of the slowdown.
All this has happened because of the anti-business posturing and policies of the UPA regime, which claims to be the champion of the aam aadmi. Some gift for the aam aadmi!
It’s not just the man in the street who is frustrated and angry; big businessmen are also fuming with anger. Indian industrialists, who normally don’t vent their ire against the ruling government, are exasperated by the UPA government’s blind and unquestioning acceptance of the socialist agenda that sundry jholawallahs are trying to impose on the nation. Infosys mentor N.R. Narayana Murthy and Wipro founder Azim Premji have castigated the government.
“There was a lot of confidence that India would indeed do whatever was necessary because the person who was the face of economic reforms in 1991 is our current PM. Therefore, there was a lot of expectation from outside India,” Murthy recently said in a report. “Over the past three-four months, India’s image seems to have suffered. As an Indian, I feel very sad that we have come to this state.”
Premji was even more scathing, going to the extent of saying that “we are working without a leader as a country.”
And how does the government react? Well, the reaction, when not of denial, ranges from the trite to the petulant. So, when asked by reporters to comment on the IIP numbers, Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee said, “I am disappointed. Industry has not yet picked up. Negative sentiments are there... We have to take steps to give positive signals” to industry. Could a statement be more hackneyed or meaningless? What steps? And when would they be taken?
After every dismal macroeconomic date the Finance Minister promises some steps without spelling them out. Would these steps make life easier for business? If yes, how? Would the anti-business measures like the notorious ‘go-no-go’ classifications be done away with? That is surely not the case, as the criteria the Environment Ministry has prepared for the ‘inviolate forest areas’ are as prohibitive as the parameters of the go-no-go nonsense. Would the incidence of Inspector Raj be curbed? Would more transparency be introduced in policy matters? And how? The Finance Minister has no answers; nor has anybody else.
When honorable ministers are not mouthing clichés, they are shooting the messenger. So, Minister of State for Planning Ashwani Kumar slams Standard & Poor’s. Since India’s economic fundamentals are strong, S&P’s analysis “raises serious doubts on the objectivity” of S&P ratings, he said. Well, Mr. Kumar, skyrocketing fiscal and current deficits, inflationary pressures, a high interest rate regime, falling industrial production, and a slowing economic growth rate do not make ‘strong’ fundamentals―unless, of course, if you think that being better than Greece is a hallmark of economic strength.
“I personally think that an S&P rating is not being fair to India,” Kumar said. "I am appalled by the findings of Standard & Poor’s and am certainly disappointed that S&P has chosen to club India with some of the countries with which there can be no reasonable comparisons.” In short, the problem lies with S&P’s and not with the UPA government.
These days, even the government’s mendacity does not shock us. Prevarication, after all, has become the second nature of UPA functionaries.