The importance of the middle

The importance of the middle

These days, you are either a Modi ‘bhakt’ or a secular. It isn’t possible to be something in the middle. Newspapers and liberals, on more occasions than not, take stands that inhabit the extremes. In a world that is increasingly grey, there is a polarising push to choose between black and white. Should this be a source of concern?

In a cultural context, shaped overwhelmingly by sentiment and opinion, this is not beyond one’s imagination. What is worrying to me is the creeping entry of the same approach into the economy and other more tangible matters. As American politician and sociologist Daniel Patrick Moynihan said, “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own facts.” If true, why are we feeling pressured to decide whether every decision of the Modi government is good for the economy, or not, in its entirety.

The verdicts on growth, demonetisa­tion, and job creation are at opposite ends of the spectrum – each one of us, therefore, must declare our allegiance to complete success or utter failure on every front. Why, in a country as diverse and an economy as complex as India, is it not agreeable to say ‘mixed bag’, ‘part success’, ‘can’t say’ or some such thing?

Let us consider each of these.

On economic growth, supporters herald an unequivocal turnaround – from a 6.5 per cent growth rate and inflation at a worrying 6 per cent, to a much healthier 7.5 per cent growth with a consistently low inflation of 2.9 per cent. The critics challenge each of these claims and attribute any positive trends to good monsoons, low oil prices and a new measurement system. Can there be two different answers to growth?

Demonetisation debates can end up in fisticuffs even in genteel settings! From the logic of introducing demon­etisation to its impact – the ‘bhakts’ claim unprecedented victory, including an explosion in digital payments and the rooting out of the black money. The critics counter the underlying logic to begin with, allege malintent, challenge any impact on the black economy and highlight the massive pain suffered by the poor, informal sector workers, small businesses and similar others for nothing in return. In this new sce­nario, if you support demonetisation, you cannot be seen as sympathetic to India’s poor. Make a choice.

The newest argument is around job growth. The critics claim that the Government is pursuing ‘growth with rising unemploy­ment’ and taunt it for its failure to create jobs despite the push on ‘Make in India’. Those who support this Government point out that the current government has created close to 8 crore self-employment opportunities akin to ‘jobs’. Com­pared to 2014, are people better off today where ‘livelihoods’ are con­cerned or not? Can this be a matter of opinion?

How do we move discussions around the economy to being fact-based as opposed to opinion- or sentiment-based? The segment that witnesses the impact of growth and other economic factors and express­es itself with reasonable amounts of objectivity (at least behind closed doors!) is corporate India. It is time for corporate India to ques­tion the extremes and claim the ‘middle’. The risks of abandoning the ‘middle’ are high. Can we hold our ground without succumbing to the pressure of choosing between ‘black and white’? In my view, yes. But, what do you think?

Anuradha Das Mathur, Editor, CFO India