It's important for media to focus on the reality of life in this country...
Deccan Chronicle.| Aakar Patel
India's media is largely an accomplice of the State here
NDTV journalist Ravish Kumar. (PTI)
The NDTV anchor Ravish Kumar rightly says that the Indian media does not focus on the important things. For this reason, it is vital that we keep emphasising these things and that we write and read about them. In a few months we will enter the ninth year of the National Democratic Front government. This is long enough period for there to be clarity on where we have been brought to as a nation. There are several aspects which need to be explored. For today, let us look at two.
First, on the economy. India’s economy is not describing the trajectory previously described by economically successful nations like China, Taiwan, Singapore and South Korea, or those succeeding today, like Vietnam and Bangladesh. A few facts bear repeating and being emphasised:
First, five crore more Indians had jobs in 2013 than do today, though 12 crore more people came into the workforce. These jobs vanished before the Covid-19 pandemic. The number of Indians over 15 either working or looking for work is lower as a percentage than in the United States, China, Bangladesh or Pakistan. Jobs in manufacturing have gone down and those in agriculture gone up since 2014. MNREGA spending reached four times its 2014 size in 2020 and the demand has remained there, so people want work but there are no jobs.
Second, Indians were spending less on food in 2018 than in 2012, going by a government survey. Consumption, the largest component of GDP, is also the weakest.
Third, the Reserve Bank of India conducts a bi-monthly survey asking thousands of homes across India whether they were better off in economic terms, employment terms and inflation than a year ago. For 60 months -- meaning five years -- only a minority of people have said that things have improved. Except for one period (March-April 2019), the majority of Indians say that they are worse off.
Fourth, growth in our Gross Domestic Product began a sequential decline beginning in January 2018. For 13 quarters before the pandemic, meaning two years and three months, it plummeted. It was around three per cent before Covid-19, and many feel that is an overestimate and that we were actually close to zero growth. The other indicators support this. Covid-19 and the lockdown exacerbated our economic crisis but was not the primary cause of it. Bangladesh, which was about 50 per cent behind India in per capita GDP in 2014, is today ahead because we slipped.
Fifth, our middle class has stopped growing. The number of cars sold in India has remained flat for 10 years, with 27 lakh units sold in 2013 and the same this year and last year and in 2019. The Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers analysed its data up to March 2020 (meaning before the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdown) and said it was in the middle of a "long term, structural and deep slowdown". Two-wheeler sales have been flat for a decade at 1.6 crore units. Residential sales have been flat at three lakh units in India’s eight major cities for the last 10 years.
Sixth, 80 crore Indians, meaning 60 per cent of the population, are dependent on 6 kg of free grain from the government.
Seventh, on 49 out of 53 global indices, India’s ranking has slipped since 2014. Those saying this include the World Bank, the World Economic Forum (Davos), and the United Nations. This then has been the performance of the government in this sphere.
Let us turn to the second aspect which has remained constantly in the news -- and that is the desire of the government to persecute its own Muslim citizens.
A series of laws and policies targeting Muslims have come after 2014. These include laws criminalising beef and cattle transport, criminalising inter-faith marriage and Muslim divorce, tightening of laws where they can rent and buy property in Gujarat, of course there is the constant harassment and brutalisation in Jammu and Kashmir (the only part of India not to have democratic government), the violence against them and their places of worship in Delhi, the stream of stories of harassment and violence against their vendors, their being forced out of prayer spaces specifically allotted to them by the state, their being wrongly blamed for spreading Covid-19. The list goes on and on and one. What is happening to Muslims in Karnataka’s colleges is a continuation of a persecution that either the majority of Hindus approve of or are comfortable with.
If we can conclude that the government has either not succeeded or failed on the side of managing the economy, we can also conclude that it has been successful in this part of its agenda. What is the goal of the harassment? There is no goal and the harassment is an end in itself. For this reason, it will continue and one day it will be the hijab, the next day beef, the third day namaz, the fourth day it will be renaming something. It will go on.
India’s media is largely an accomplice of the State here. As Ravish Kumar has said, it has shown little interest in what has been done to the economy. If it has shown interest in the second aspect, it has been only to goad society on to harass minority Indians.
For this reason it is important that what actually matters to this nation be written about and it be read.
Aakar Patel is a senior journalist and columnist