As the Narendra Modi government faces voices of religious extremism from within its supporters, a piece of advice came from Finance Minister Arun Jaitley on Friday. He cautioned his own government against any hijacking of its developmental agenda by non-economic factors.
“We have to be extremely careful that this road map (of development) we have set for ourselves, we should determinedly, doggedly, go on to this. We must not allow this agenda to be taken over by any of the other factors which have currently taken a back seat,” he said in a debate on India at the World Economic Forum meeting in Davos, Switzerland.
The comment assume importance since passage of the insurance Bill in the Rajya Sabha and others in the Lok Sabha could not be taken up due to such controversies.
He said India had started to accept the economic agenda as the centre-stage one with a great amount of difficulty. “Even before the elections, the debate had been essentially around those issues,” Jaitley said.
A large number of other issues — political, social, caste, dynasties, families and charisma — had taken a back seat, he added. “I hope they continue to take a back seat.”
When asked if these voices came from the government’s supporters, Jaitley reminded the questioner of a “strong line” taken by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on this issue. The questioner had asked him if the BJP did not have both right-wing economic forces and religious supporters.
He said the centre-stage agenda must not be allowed to be derailed or deflected under any circumstances. “Any of the other things happen and somehow we trip,” he cautioned.
He said the previous Congress-led government tripped when it came to corruption. Reminding his colleagues that the Rajiv Gandhi government came to power in 1984 with a great hope and did reasonably well for the first two years. “It tripped, too, and suddenly nothing seemed to be working,” he said.
Last week, trade economist Jagdish Bhagwati had also warned the prime minister that inability to rein in religious extremism would hit his developmental agenda.
“I think the PM must be saying more things to hold these people back from capturing the imagination and (instilling) possible fear among a large number of people. That can’t be good for his development agenda and that is where a little push would be helpful,” Bhagwati had said.
Earlier, Jaitley met chief executives of global companies across sectors and government leaders. He later said they were all very enthusiastic about India and wanted to expand their engagement with the country.
“Banks, insurance companies, manufacturing, technology — all of them are looking at India,” he said on his second day at Davos.
Hard-selling India to global investors at the WEF, he promised a stable tax regime, with no unreasonable demands and tax changes with retrospective effect.
He said India lost a decade in useless debates over 'pro-rich' versus 'pro-poor' policies.
He also hinted at complete privatisation of some loss-making public sector units at a later stage. He wouldn't specify which, saying media speculation was hurting the programme.