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Govt tables white paper on economy, opposition counters with ‘black’ paper

Ahead of polls, government and opposition highlight mismanagement in respective tenures

Govt tables white paper on economy, opposition counters with ‘black’ paper
[Source photo: Chetan Jha/Press Insider]

The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led government and the opposition Congress party this week released ‘white’ and ‘black’ papers, respectively, seeking to highlight mismanagement of the economy under each other’s tenures.

While the  government released its white paper, which drew a contrast between the economy it took over from the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) in 2014 and the state of the economy after the BJP’s two terms in power, the Congress released its own black paper to counter the ruling party’s claims.

The government’s 59-page document said that when Prime Minister Narendra Modi took office in 2014, “public finances were in bad shape; there was economic mismanagement and financial indiscipline, and there was widespread corruption.”

It was a crisis situation, the white paper said. 

Finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman had announced in her budget speech on 1 February that the government would table a ‘white paper’ in both Houses of Parliament “to look at where we were till 2014 and where we are now.” 

The Congress’s black paper, in turn, highlighted unemployment, price rise, and farmers’ distress, while targeting the government over its alleged failure to provide justice to different sections of society.

The 54-page document, titled “10 saal anyay kaal” (10 years, period of injustice), lists “economic injustice,” “social injustice,” and “political injustice” by the Modi government. 

White Paper: 2014 vs 2024

“The UPA government inherited a healthy economy ready for more reforms, but made it non-performing in its 10 years,” the white paper said.

The UPA, in its quest to maintain high economic growth by any means after the global financial crisis of 2008, severely undermined the macroeconomic foundations, it said, adding that price stability was one such foundation. 

“As a result of its fiscal mismanagement, the UPA government’s fiscal deficit ended up being far higher than it had expected, and it subsequently ended up borrowing 27% more from the market than what it had budgeted for in 2011-12,” it said. 

“In the pretext of responding to the impact of the global financial and economic crisis (while arguing, at the same time, that India was not affected by the crisis), the UPA government expanded its borrowing and did not relent at all,” the white paper tabled by Sitharaman said. 

The Indian economy was on a “road to nowhere” in 2014 because of the multiple ‘wrong turns’ in economic policy by the UPA government, it said. 

The paper listed 15 scams during the UPA regime, including coal block allocation, 2G spectrum auction, CWG, and Saradha Chit Fund. 

“There was pervasive corruption in various government activities, including in procurement, allocation of natural resources, and regulatory approvals. procurements vital for the nation’s security were also not free from corruption. The scams and corruption cases had shaken the confidence of the people,” it said. 

The paper alleged that the steps taken by the UPA to deal with the decline in foreign exchange reserves in 2013 was a “costly solution” and “reeked of a re-run of 1991 balance of payment crisis”.

Under the UPA, foreign exchange reserves had declined from around $294 billion in July 2011 to around $256 billion in August 2013, the paper said.

By end-September 2013, forex reserves were just enough to finance little over 6 months of imports, down from 17 months in end-March 2004, it said. 

“The famous Foreign Currency Non-Resident (FCNR(B)) deposit window for NRIs was actually a call for help when there was a large depletion of the foreign exchange reserves,” the paper added. 

“Ultimately, what the UPA bequeathed in 2014 was an unenviable legacy of a structurally weaker economy and a pervasive atmosphere of despondency,” it further said. 

“The UPA government failed miserably to facilitate economic activities. Instead, the UPA government created hurdles that held back the economy,” the paper said, adding that in 2014 the NDA government inherited a “deeply damaged” economy.

Armed with political and policy stability, the Modi government recognized the need to make tough decisions for the greater economic good, the paper said.

“Our government, unlike its predecessor, invested in the foundations of the economy along with building a sturdy superstructure.

“Looking back at the last 10 years, we can say with humility and satisfaction that we have successfully overcome the challenges left behind by the previous government,” it added.

In the past 10 years, the paper claimed, the government has revitalized the stagnant financial sector and overhauled the credit ecosystem within the economy, bringing about significant improvements.

The reform measures undertaken by the Modi government have significantly elevated the medium-term investment prospects of the economy, it said. 

“In sum, the progress achieved in the 10 years of our government has overcome the malaise and paralysis of the previous ten years of the UPA government. In 2024, confidence and purpose have replaced the diffidence and drift of 2014,” the white paper said.

Black Paper: 2014 vs 2024

The release of the black paper by Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge came just ahead of the government’s tabling of the ‘white paper’ in Parliament on Thursday.

“Today we are bringing out a black paper against the government. Whenever PM Modi presents his views in Parliament, he hides his failures. At the same time, when we speak about the failures of the government, it is not given importance. Therefore, we want to bring out a black paper and tell the public about the failures of the government,” Kharge said, while releasing the document. 

The paper said the “anyay kaal” of the past 10 years has seen the highest unemployment rate in 45 years. 

“Total unemployment was 1 crore (10 million) in 2012 but rose to about 4 crore (40 million) in 2022. One million sanctioned central government posts remain unfilled. The unemployment rate for graduates and postgraduates is about 33% – one in three are looking unsuccessfully for a job. This is why engineers are becoming coolies and PhDs are applying for railway peon jobs. And this is also why two unemployed persons die by suicide every hour,” it said. 

On inflation, the Congress document said that despite the price of crude oil on the world market falling by 21% between May 2014 and February 2024, fuel prices in the country remain close to Rs100 per liter, increasing the cost of all essential commodities.

It also highlighted “blunders” such as demonetization and a poorly designed GST, which “completely derailed the economy and destroyed job-generating small businesses.”

The paper also criticized the government on labor issues. The covid lockdown introduced with 4 hours of notice triggered a humanitarian crisis and disrupted the livelihood of 40 million migrant workers, it said. 

The party also slammed the government for its alleged ties with the Adani group. 

“Sebi, Enforcement Directorate (ED), and the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) have been asleep as repeated exposes establish a clear link between money flowing out from the pockets of Indian coal utilities and electricity consumers via over-invoiced coal imports and the funds flowing into Adani Group companies, inflating stock prices in complete violation of Sebi rules relating to minimum ownership,” it said. 

On the issue of “social injustices,” the black paper listed data showing an increased number of crimes against SCs, STs, OBCs, and women. It also accused BJP leaders of spreading hate and violence on caste and religious lines for political gains. 

The paper also criticized the government for “political injustices,” including “subversion” of institutions and central agencies. The paper highlighted that 95% of the cases being investigated by ED and CBI are against opposition leaders. 

Alleging “compromise” on national security, the paper highlighted the tension on the China border, alleging that Indian troops are being denied access to several strategic areas in eastern Ladakh.

“The Modi government’s 10 years in power have devastated the country’s economy, aggravated unemployment, destroyed the country’s agricultural sector, abetted crimes against women, and committed grave injustices against minorities in the country,” the black paper said in a “charge-sheet” of the BJP’s “injustices during its decade in power.”

Both the white and black papers come ahead of the general election that is likely to be held in the next three months.

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