Thursday, May 21, 2020

Uneven Covidentiary Steps

Fear and uncertainty – these are the two biggest tools for politicians to keep a vast population under control. “Don’t cross that Lakshman Rekha”… “Don’t allow anyone in” … “Get the Arogya App”. And add to it the trick of scheduling a speech at 8pm or if it’s late, then schedule it for 9am the next morning. All this does is to increase anticipation, anxiety and endless discussions on what will Modi say, what is this about, is there more lockdowns or is there some relief or is there an attack on PoK? All these questions start getting thrown around, some even in fun and entertainment. To fuel the uncertainties and fears, many “experts” form all sorts of mindless theories to project the calamity that awaits us and that the sky will indeed fall on our heads and therefore we must wear a skullcap:
At the time of writing there are some 1.07 lakh total Covid cases in India and 3000+ deaths. The beauty of being wrong in our wild projections is that there is no punishment for it. You can project any number in anything with any kind of reasoning behind it and can peddle it. There is no legal liability to it, unless you force someone to base purchases on it. There is no legal liability for fake poll promises or changing prepoll alliances either. For instance, fake TRP numbers can be punishable because the advertising industry and media uses TRP numbers to quote ad rates. Unscientific TRP numbers can invite legal action. Most of our decisions are not based on analysis but on gut feeling, past experience and instant experience. We understand what “past experience” is. What is “instant experience”? We all go through instant experience of something almost every day as PM Narendra Modi discovered.

In December 2019, Modi was in Kanpur to take stock of the progress in the Namami Gange project. It is a major project to clean up the Ganga and is well intentioned. The Atal Ghat project in Kanpur was executed by the govt=owned Engineers India Limited. This is an age-old company with vast experience in public projects and they are the ones who constructed the Atal Ghat that Modi visited. But while climbing back up the steps from the ghat, Modi slipped and fell. Nothing unusual, we have all slipped and fallen a dozen times at dozens of places and on many a staircase. But a PM slipping and falling at the steps thrilled his detractors and they were happy at the silly incident. That incident was over and we all forgot about it. But no one ever looked back and investigated why the PM slipped and fell. Was it just an accident, was it just a mis-step or was there something else? We will find out that this is how “instant experience” deceives us when it takes an unscheduled change or turn and causes problems.

The Corona epidemic is one such unscheduled turn that had everyone deceived. Health workers and security providers are struggling to save people and keep order in society. After almost two months of lockdowns, the GOI is now looking to reopen businesses and restore normalcy of life and economic activity. After a couple rounds of “financial relief” measures by RBI and GOI another big round of packages was released by GOI. This is worth 20 lakh crores. However, some part of this package may work and most of it may not work. To start with, the GOI doesn’t know what the nature or size of the problem is. Almost all of its package, excluding the cash doles to some poor sections, is based on estimations and opinions of a few. During the lockdown, there has been a huge fall in supply and demand of most goods and services as they were simply absent. This image below is a snapshot of the package 5lakh crores for the MSME sector that the govt hopes to re-energise:
This is akin to the belief that if the body is badly damaged and inflicted with illness, throwing all the money you can will repair it. It doesn’t really work that way. I have mentioned in my previous posts and I do so again, PM Modi has zero clue on the Covid thing or how to handle the extended lockdowns. The first one was fine – because of fear and uncertainty. After that, Modi was the one spreading fear and panic. And it wasn’t Indian economy or re-energising it that matters so much to him but getting accolades from foreign govts and diplomats that matters more to him. It’s not just me, even his ardent fans like Minhaz Merchant have acknowledged this poor craving for recognition by Modi that drives his decisions rather than sound logic.

Taking the MSME example, most of the loans are meant for those who already have loans or outstanding loans. Within an industry, most players are likely to face problems of the same nature. In the case of goods, the biggest problem right now is “demand”. In such a situation, the govt has redefined the MSME and its financial upper limits. The new upper limits would serve new businesses but not the existing ones. There is an uneven handling of operators within the same industry. The MSME package is targeted at 45 lakh operators whereas the total number of MSMEs are around 6-7 crores. One has to wonder what happens to the rest. Will they perish or have to survive on their own? Given that the highest employment in India is in the unorganized sector, the death of crores of MSME units not within the targeted 45 lakhs will cause more unemployment:
Most people backed Modi in his lockdown announcements. In the fourth lockdown situation it has been left totally to the states to decide which areas need a lockdown. This should have been down from the second lockdown itself. But Modi wanted to play the “Superman” and single-hero role and didn’t delegate to the states. Consequently, states had all kinds of problems with floating labour, rioters and “Thookiyas” running helter-skelter. The 20-lakh crore package is huge but it has still not created the kind of excitement it should have created. This is mainly because many are still understanding the nitty gritty of the offering. Some feel more should have been offered. But in reality, the lockdown has been like an earthquake. Some damage is visible but most damage is not instantly visible. The “instant experience” of an earthquake doesn’t show all the damage it causes overall:
Each time PM Modi talks about some grand economic plan there is a lot of hollow ring to it. At the start of this second term he blabbered about a 5 trillion economy. While the ambition is welcome, he had zero clue on how and what will get us there other than pipe dreams. He also claims India has demographic dividend. This is a falsehood he lives in that will cost India heavily. A big chunk of this demography is absolutely useless, unproductive lot. Tall talk of Vishwa Guru, Vasudeva Kutumbam are all nonsensical bhashans uncalled for in a pure economic plan. So-called “structure” if Indian economy is sound, they always claim. But the structure does need a review frequently as do the steps of Atal Ghat that Modi fell on.

Instant experience when you climb the stairs of any building. Your feet quickly adjust to the height and interval of the stairs. And after initial slow climbing, many people can blindly climb up fast without looking at the stairs because their feet have adjusted to the experience. Now, look at the steps of Atal Ghat. They are absolutely idiotic construction to say the least. The steps are of different heights at different levels as I have marked and shown. God is in the details. It is natural anyone who climbs them at the same speed could fall as the height and intervals are not the same. The Covid Lockdown too gives us all an uneven experience with lots of uncertainties. ModiSarkar would have been prudent if they had looked back at the construction of Atal Ghat just as they should completely review the structure of Indian economy.

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