Contributed By: Nihar Akunuri
IIM Bangalore played host to a scintillating talk on the topic,’ Is economy an issue in the election year and why?’ by Mr. Harish Damodaran, National Editor of the New Indian Express this week. The event saw participation from students of the Post Graduate Programme (PGP) and the Post Graduate Programme in Public Policy Management (PGPPM) courses.
About the Speaker:
With 27 years of experience in the field of journalism, Mr. Harish Damodaran specializes in reporting on agriculture and rural affairs. He writes extensively about the effects of policy on the agricultural sector. He is also the author of Indian’s New Capitalists: Caste, Business, and Industry in a Modern Nation.
Indian Express & Idea behind Express Talks:
The event was preceded by a short introduction to the concept of ‘Express Talks’ and the ideology that goes behind the Indian Express – “Truth over trivia, clarity over hope.” Mr. Reynold Robert, Chief Manager, Brand – Indian Express, spoke about how Indian Express differs from other newspapers in terms of coverage of topics. Mr. Robert informed the audience about the purpose of ‘Express Talks’ which were meant to educate students across the country about issues that concern New India.
Mr. Harish Damodaran’s Speech:
The seasoned journalist started his speech with a humble self-introduction about himself and his area of work. As the students listened in rapt attention, he gave an overview of the conditions currently prevailing in the Indian economy and the rural-scenario that might impact the results of the General Election 2019. The audience reacted enthusiastically to the comparison of performance of NDA (National Democratic Alliance) vs. the UPA (United Progressive Alliance) while in government. His objective analysis revealed that while the NDA performed well on the economic parameters that are proxies for macroeconomic stability such as CPI Inflation, Fiscal Deficit, and Current Account Deficit, it was the UPA governments which had actually performed better on Gross Value Addition (GVA) to the economy and Gross Fixed Capital Formation (GFCF) which quantify economic growth and investment.
Mr. Damodaran then listed and explained about the five big reforms brought out by the Modi Government as well as its four big mistakes during its current tenure. The five big reforms according to him were – CPI targeting as a policy focus for the first time, deregulation of petroleum product prices, the Goods and Services Tax (GST), The Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code (IBC) and the new system of targeted subsidies. He spent a considerable amount of time explaining the importance of GST and IBC for the business and banking sectors of the economy.
The speaker also reflected on the four big mistakes of the Modi government, i.e., the unplanned and sudden Demonetisation, the announcement of big-ticket schemes without proper planning, waking up late to the agrarian distress and Kicking the Twin-Balance Sheet problem down the road. He spoke in detail about the Twin-Balance sheet problem as that of having huge Non-Performing Assets (NPAs) sitting as assets on the balance sheets of banks while on the other hand, corporate entities had huge debts on their balance sheets. He further explained how the RBI and government had ignored this problem till the year 2017 when NPAs reached alarming levels.
Proving his credentials as an objective editor of a well-respected national daily, Mr. Damodaran ended his speech with a description of both the strengths and headwinds with which the Modi Government was going into an election year. The main headwinds he spoke about were that of a flailing GDP growth rate, rising petroleum prices, rural distress and low gross fixed capital formation, while the strengths he described were the unique welfare measures such as Swatch Bharat taken up by the government and PM Narendra Modi’s own charisma and oratory skills that could clinch the election again for him.
The rest of the session was taken up by questions by the audience ranging from topics such as post-demonetisation effects on agrarian sector and GST to the political possibilities of the election. The well-known editor received huge applause for his answers to various questions and for the practical economic vision for India he enunciated as a conclusion to the session – ‘Target exports of about $100 billion more in the next two years focussing on agricultural products in which India has an absolute and relative advantage’.
Nihar Akunuri is a PGP 2018-2020 student of IIM Bangalore