Musical Chairs Is Fine, Lets Get Some Work Done Also

Updated: Feb 2 2003, 05:30am hrs
Delhi is the eternal battleground. More wars have been fought in and around Delhi than any other Indian city.

Last week, several wars continued to be waged, and several new wars were started, in Delhi. The first is the battle for supremacy between Prime Minister AB Vajpayee and Deputy Prime Minister LK Advani. Vajpayee has yielded more space to Advani. The latter has added the ministry of personnel, public grievances and pensions to his empire, albeit without the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI). He is now the formal boss of the entire civil services. Advani is only a short step away from the office of Prime Minister. It is quite possible that Vajpayee is preparing for the succession. Vajpayee will complete five years in office on March 18, 2003, and what more can he ask for in these turbulent times

Turf Wars
The other gripping battle for turf is among the second-line leaders of the BJP. I am happy to see two of my friends Arun Jaitley and Arun Shourie ascend a few steps in the ladder of power. So has Sushma Swaraj. It is presumed that they belong to the Advani camp. The two Aruns, between themselves, hold five crucial economic portfolios. If the economy does well, the two are bound to rise further. If not, they will fall with the government in 2004. The loser in this war for ministerial power, according to the pundits, is Pramod Mahajan. I do not share that view. In an election year (eight states will go to the polls in 2003) and in the run-up to the parliamentary elections, there is an advantage in being general secretary of the party.

A small bush fire may have been lit in the BJPs national headquarters. Venkaiah Naidu, the party president, and Mahajan could be locked in a battle for primacy. Since both are shrewd politicians and survivors, they could also work out a truce. Their fortunes are linked to the electoral fortunes of the BJP and, hence, they may agree on the terms of peaceful co-existence. Both, of course, would be keen to return to government in 2004.

There was a brief mention of another battle between the finance minister, Jaswant Singh, and Arun Jaitley. The department of company affairs had been wrested by Singh after Jaitleys departure from the government seven months ago. Apparently, Jaitley wanted it back, but Singh would not yield. Jaitley was not content with law alone, and he was eventually given industry and commerce. When everyone who counts today has gained, how could Singh be left out So, Singh got the Foreign Investment Promotion Board (FIPB). These games of musical chairs make for good amusement. Whether they would also lead to good governance is another matter.

Amidst these tales of war and bloodshed, a crucial battle has gone unnoticed. In my view, this will be the most defining battle of 2003 and its outcome will leave a deep imprint on this decade. While approving the draft five-year plan for 2002-07, the Prime Minister announced with great flourish that his governments aim was a growth rate of 8 per cent a year. The first year of the five-year plan period is drawing to a close, and the best estimate of growth for 2002-03 is 5 per cent. It is, therefore, of critical importance that the growth rate is boosted to 8 per cent in the second year. That, according to the Planning Commission, will require a larger plan and a higher gross budgetary support (GBS) of Rs 1,34,000 crore. Singh says he cannot spare that kind of money, and the best that he can manage will be Rs 1,00,000 crore. The Planning Commission believes that a lower GBS will automatically result in a lower rate of growth. Singh agrees, but is prepared to settle for a growth rate of 6 per cent. Between those two figures, 8 per cent and 6 per cent, lies the fate of millions of Indians and their aspirations for education, healthcare, jobs and incomes.

The Track Record
Let me remind you of the track record of the BJP-led government so far:

* In its five years in office, the BJP government has not been able to deliver a growth rate of more than 7 per cent in any year. Its best achievement was 6.5 per cent in 1998-99, and much lower rates subsequently. In contrast, the Congress government delivered a growth rate of more than 7 per cent in two out of five years (1994-95 and 1995-96) and the United Front government in one out of two years (1996-97).

* The average fiscal deficit during the five years of the Congress government was 5 per cent. During the two years of the United Front government, it improved to 4.5 per cent. Under the BJP government, there has been a sharp deterioration to 5.5 per cent.

* The record of the BJP government in expenditure control has been the poorest of all three governments since 1991. There has been a steady increase in total expenditure as a percentage of GDP (from 14.8 per cent to over 16 per cent).

* The rate of growth of total employment, which was about 1 per cent during 1993-94 to 1997-98, has fallen since 1998. In the organised sector, it was only 0.46 per cent in 1998 (calendar year) and the indications are it turned negative after 1999.

Six per cent and eight per cent are not mere numbers. A growth rate of 6 per cent means that millions will continue to be denied basic education, health care and employment. In the more backward states, it will mean that millions of children will be condemned to live their entire lives as illiterates and steeped in poverty. A growth rate of 8 per cent will mean that many millions can be rescued from the grip of poverty, given a basic education and can live more productive and longer lives.

How will the Prime Minister resolve the battle between KC Pant and Jaswant Singh Let me just say this to the Prime Minister: This is not the usual battle for turf. It is a battle for Indias children and Indias future.

(The author is a former Union finance minister)