A few days ago, I spent some time with NDTV founder Prannoy Roy, a wonderful man who is being harassed because of his dedication and professionalism. Among other things we were talking about, he referred to a particular politician from the Congress and we both agreed that the individual was unbearably arrogant.
Older journalists (who remember the Indira period) will know that the Congress elite was intolerably thuggish and uncouth. Their ministers behaved like rulers rather than politicians. That may have changed in some way in the last couple of decades but it hasn’t entirely disappeared even though the glory days are gone.
Today, much of that arrogance, unfortunately, can be observed in the BJP. This was on display during the recent attack by former finance minister Yashwant Sinha against Finance Minister Arun Jaitley.
Both sides were to be blamed, no matter what the content of the attack was.
The squabble began after Sinha wrote a column in which he sneeringly refered to Jaitley as a “superman” for having been given four ministries by Modi but failing as finance minister. Sinha listed the various problems with the economy, making the astonishing argument that the current rate of GDP growth could be 3.7 percent for the quarter, according to the old series of calculating GDP that the Modi government abandoned.
And he then ended the column with: “The prime minister claims that he has seen poverty from close quarters. His finance minister is working over-time to make sure that all Indians see it from equally close quarters.”
I have a problem with what Sinha said and I shall come to that later, but first let’s have a look at Jaitley’s reaction. He said that Sinha was a "job applicant” at the age of 80. Jaitley then said that Sinha’s own performance as finance minister was not particularly good and he listed all the things that he thought had gone wrong in that period (1998-2002).
He was then quoted as saying that he remembered LK Advani’s advice of attacking issues and not people, “because speaking on persons and then bypassing the issues is something which is very easily done.”
I find it astonishing that he said that because Jaitley has clearly learned nothing from Advani. Attacking the person, by referring to Sinha as old and job-seeking, was exactly what Jaitley did.
What he should have done, if he wanted to engage with the issue at all, was to address the things that Sinha was raising. Was it not true that under Jaitley’s watch the GDP growth fell for six successive quarters? Perhaps that had happened for a good reason, but if so, it was up to Jaitley to explain why. I don’t think Sinha was right in saying that according to the old series, growth would have been only 3.7 percent. This would have been a good issue for Jaitley to raise. Even Bank of America agrees that according to the old series our current GDP growth is still pegged at about 5 percent and not 3.7 percent.
But what the finance minister chose to do instead was to say those things about Sinha that were not called for.
So far as Sinha goes, I think it was in bad taste for him to present the problem in the way that he did. It is also apparent that his attack on Jaitley excluded the prime minister of responsibility for major policy decisions. Demonetisation was not something that Jaitley decided on, or was even informed about till the last moment. I am quite sure Sinha knows that as well. To write a criticism of the finance minister’s performance without having included the prime minister's role was deliberate. It is not difficult to see why Jaitley interpreted the scathing article as being Sinha’s way of sucking up to Modi because that is what it came across as being.
The larger point I am making is this. We have had a long period when ministers and politicians behaved like they did not owe any explanation for their performance, either to the public or even to their own party. We need to move away from that. Indians, like every other people around the world, can look at the facts and understand them. If there is a mild complexity about something, we can understand that also. It is insulting to us to be told that somebody’s criticism should be ignored because he or she is 80 years old. The only thing that should matter when one is responding to an issue in the public domain is the facts.
There is no need to display arrogance, personal animosity and hostility of the sort that both Sinha and Jaitley have shown.
Updated Date: Oct 01, 2017 09:55 AM