‘Why do people have to eat only arhar dal’?

Print edition : April 01, 2016

G.V.L. Narasimha Rao. Photo: THE HINDU ARCHIVES

Interview with G.V.L. Narasimha Rao, BJP’s chief spokesperson.

WHILE admitting that the Union Budget has given rise to concerns in a section of people, the Bharatiya Janata Party’s chief spokesman, G.V.L. Narasimha Rao, says the government has basically tried to ensure all-round, inclusive growth. “But it is simply not possible to keep everyone happy at the same time. There will always be issues here and there. True, price rise has been a matter of concern, but the government has tried to control it,” he told Frontline in an interview. Excerpts:

People had high expectations from this Budget because they have been hoping for “achhe din”. Prime Minister Narendra Modi promised that prices would come down the day the UPA government went out of power. But that has not happened. In fact, the Budget has ended up antagonising the urban middle class, the BJP’s core constituency. Is that something the party is worried about?

The Union Budget is not meant to cater to any one particular constituency only. The government’s effort in this Budget has been to ensure distributive growth. In the last 21 months, we have grown impressively and the outlook for the economy has been positive, and the Budget seeks to maintain a similar outlook despite adverse global headwinds. The main concern in this Budget was that there had not been much growth in the agricultural sector, and we wanted that to be corrected.

The Budget has four predominant areas of focus: Ensure overall growth, not just of one sector against another; ensure overall growth with justice—which means that whether it is industry or agriculture or the services sector, whether it is urban areas or rural areas, each should get equal attention; ensure employment generation; and lay emphasis on skill generation.

When you look at the Budget in its entirety, all these areas have been addressed. Our Budget has been completely in line with our election manifesto; it conforms to the promises we made in the election manifesto. Some sections might have felt left out or ignored, but that is normal because you cannot please everybody at the same time.

But your core constituency, the middle classes especially in urban areas, have been the most vocal critics of your Budget. This is your third Budget, but the promises of jobs and reduction in prices are nowhere near being fulfilled. Are you not worried that your core constituency may dump you?

This is a perception which has been created by a section of the media, fuelled by the propaganda of the Congress party. It is only a misconception that prices have not come down. During UPA days, the rate of inflation hovered at around 8 per cent, but we have managed to keep it down to around 5 per cent, and this is despite adverse global headwinds.

Whatever efforts are needed to keep prices under control have been taken. But it is not possible to always keep controlling all prices. After all, we are not Communist China that we can control all prices for all times.

You say efforts have been taken to keep inflation down. But why is it that prices of essential commodities, like pulses—with arhar dal selling at Rs.100 a kilo—and sugar, have not come down? Is it not something that worries the party?

We are aware of this particular problem. Anything that hurts the common man worries us. For the high prices of pulses, for example, there are reasons. Domestic production has been low, and there has been short supply globally. But it is wrong to focus on just some commodities while discussing prices on the whole. After all, why do people have to eat only arhar dal when other pulses are available at cheaper rates? Why only talk of tomatoes or sugar or some such specific commodity?

This is because the price of just one commodity, onions, for example, is known to have brought down governments in the past. Another criticism is that the Budget has not given an impetus to employment creation. There were high hopes in this regard as this is your third Budget.

Employment generation has always been a top priority for us. I agree, there has not been enough job creation in the formal sector. And that is why we have increased public spending so that job opportunities can be created in this sector. In the informal sector, though, loans worth Rs.1 lakh crore have been distributed. What actually is a big worry for us is that private sector investment is not happening, and hence jobs are not being created in the private sector. For this, our announcement to make Provident Fund contribution for employees for three years will go a long way. For reasons beyond our control, investors’ confidence in the system has been shaken. The UPA government destroyed investor confidence. Added to this is the problem that interest rates remain high. This has prevented private sector investment from taking off. We have inherited the UPA’s legacy of accumulated distress, which has now taken the shape of a crisis.

Despite there being a crisis, allocations to various programmes such as the MGNREGA have not seen much increase. The Congress has accused you of cutting down allocation for the MGNREGA despite the fact that rural distress has reached alarming proportions.

We don’t give much credence to what the Congress says. They are masters in deceit. Numbers given by P. Chidambaram were fake. He used to give inflated figures for allocation for various programmes but the actual expenditure on those programmes used to be low in his time. There used to be huge gaps in his budgetary allocation and revised estimates. The Congress is a master at hoodwinking people.

On the contrary, we give realistic figures and try and spend the Budget on actually funding those programmes. Our Revised Estimates are always higher than budgetary estimates. We believe in keeping our public expenditure high. Doing this, while keeping the fiscal deficit under control, in fact, is a masterly task.

What explains the confusion over the EPF [Employees’ Provident Fund] controversy? Why fiddle with it when EPF has been something which no government has tampered with in the past?

I would not like to comment on this. But I would definitely like to say that the idea was to bring parity among various pension plans and shift people to annuity plans which would give them a regular flow of income in retirement. This logic has certain merits.

Since the Budget has caused such disappointment in a vast section of the people, when do you think real “achhe din” will come for the common man?

We have been elected for five years. We have taken steps to first clean the system, then bring about systemic changes. So people should wait for achhe din. It could take maybe two years for achhe din to come. What is important is to understand that the government is trying its best, is open to suggestions, and is open to learning and making corrections. People should have faith in us.

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