Amit Shah defending Pakodanomics in his maiden Rajya Sabha speech is worrying

While he scoffed at Rahul Gandhi calling GST ‘Gabbar Singh Tax’, the high-voltage rhetoric couldn’t hide the wounds of India’s socioeconomic realities.

 |  5-minute read |   05-02-2018
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BJP national president who was elected Rajya Sabha MP from Gujarat in August 2017, Amit Shah, delivered his maiden speech in the upper house of Parliament today. Expectedly, the verdict is split wide open on whether or not Shah packed a punch, training guns at Rahul Gandhi and defending Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s big economic decisions. While he waxed eloquent about Jan Dhan Yojana and various schemes launched during Modi regime that’s nearing the end of its term, what stood out was his quip that “selling pakodas was better than being unemployed”.

With his speech lasting well over one hour, Shah said there’s “no shame in selling pakodas”, and went on to question Congress president Rahul Gandhi’s phrase “Gabbar Singh Tax” to describe Goods and Services Tax. Replete with jibes and catchy lines, Shah’s maiden speech, however, was a classic case of rhetoric trumping substance, the tried and tested strategy of Modi government’s economically underwhelming but socio-politically febrile stint at the centre.

Just like the Modi had cashed in on the “chai-wala” jibe – attributed to Mani Shankar Aiyar, despite his repeated contradiction of that attribution – Shah sought to make the most of the“Pakodanomics”, reiterating the PM’s stance that selling pakoda outside offices in Noida, Gurgaon, Mumbai, Pune, and other services hub, should count as employment. This is exactly what economists like former Union finance minister P Chidambaram has ridiculed, saying that by Modi/Shah logic, even begging should be considered as a “job”.

In fact, the “jobless growth” and “stagflation” – slow economy paired with inflation – have been the bane of the economy ever since PM Modi’s demonetisation disaster was announced on November 8, 2016, which too was, naturally, hailed by Shah as momentous and unprecedented. In addition, even in Union Budget 2018, the finance minister Arun Jaitley hasn’t really made any provision to create more jobs, leaving it to shaky private investment and medium and small entrepreneurs to hire more. The left parties have called the budget “contractionary”, one which reduces government spending to spur growth and relies on private and insurance companies to plug the gaping holes.

While Shah took exception to Chidambaram equating selling pakodas to begging, the rationale in the former finance minister’s argument was wither lost on Shah, or dodging it with rhetoric and moralisation was the only way out. No wonder then, Shah blamed “55 years of Congress rule” and UPA’s “policy paralysis” for the economy’s bad shape. “We have been in power for only seven to eight years. This problem (unemployment) would not have become so humongous if effective steps were taken during those 55 years,” Shah said, equating UPA’s contribution to a “crater”, even though Modi-led NDA couldn’t even match the average of the decade-long growth rate under Manmohan Singh-led UPA.

However, these are the very arguments that Modi-led BJP sold four years ago to sweep to power in May 2014. If PM Modi and his lieutenants in Shah and others need to still harp on these excuses to cover for their grossly underperforming economic report card, then that’s a comment on the governance and vision (or the lack thereof) of the regime itself.

Of course, “dynasty” played a starring role in Shah’s maiden speech when he said “for 70 years this country was run just by one family. At one point people started believing that this is how things will be. They had lost hope. Today, there is a new hope, optimism across the country.” Once again, this hackneyed argument is flawed because of the 70 years, the Nehru-Gandhi family members “ruled” – as Prime Ministers – India for 37 years, that too in the pre-coalition era.

shahpakoda_020518094854.jpgPhoto: DailyO

Since the 1990s until the BJP got a full majority in Lok Sabha with 282 seats in 2014, coalition dharma saw many tall leaders steer India through turbulent times. Shah’s jibe not only erases their contributions, but also turns Indian politics into a false binary of Nehru-gandhis versus the rest, which it was certainly not.

 As Shah moved to more recent developments such as the “surgical strikes” of September 29, 2016 as well as triple talaq judgement, the obviousness of the flaws in his speech became too big to ignore. Shah said “even those guarding the borders of this country could not show their valour due to government’s indecisiveness,” perhaps hinting at the UPA government not paying Pakistan back in the same coin after 2008 Mumbai terror attacks. He added: “After the surgical strikes, India showed to the world that after the United States and Israel, India is the only country that can go to any extent to protect its armed forces and its people.”

Yet, as several reports have shown, the casualties at the border and in Jammu and Kashmir have only increased under Modi regime, with more soldiers lost at the Line of Control. In fact, the latest ceasefire violation by Pakistan has killed four Indian jawans, adding to the body count. While Shah called the situation in Kashmir “calm”, the reality is anything but. As defence spending stagnates and military personnel ignored, the soldier becomes an empty signifier for Shah and his ilk in the BJP and Sangh Parivar, useful as a vote-catching hook and a nationalism peg only.

What Shah actually does is make the fallacy of equating selling pakodas to employment, tossing logic to the wind that for it to be considered employment, someone has to actually employ you. Shah's maiden speech shows what is in the offing in coming days.

With Rajya Sabha debating several crucial Bills this Budget session, the Shah variety of argument would be diminishing the dignity of Parliament, unfortunately enough.   

Also read: Sanjay Leela Bhansali's Padmaavat is actually about 'good Hindus' and 'bad Muslims'


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