Congress MP and Chairman of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on External Affairs, Shashi Tharoor, has claimed that German investors have written to him voicing concern over the wave of religious intolerance in the country.
He was speaking with BOOM’s Govindraj Ethiraj at the sidelines of The Growth Net, a conference of global investors and academics in Delhi last week.
Mr Tharoor was asked for a 10-month report on the BJP government’s performance so far. Tharoor said that the current government in power has made a lot of tall promises buy has failed to deliver upon them.
Ethiraj: Let me ask you for a report card for the past ten months since the BJP ministry took over?
The gap between promise and performance, rhetoric and results, between words and actual implementation is vast and so great that I really worry.
Tharoor: From a vantage point inside Parlaiment, as a Member of the opposition, obviously one has certain concerns.
Ethiraj: Let me ask you to split it, economically and socially.
Tharoor: Frankly, as an Indian I want India to succeed. If Mr. Modi delivers that, naturally one can only be happy because you want the country to prosper.
Ethiraj: How would you assess him, looking at the promises?
Tharoor: That’s exactly my problem. The gap between promise and performance, rhetoric and results, between words and actual implementation is vast and so great that I really worry.
The number of regulatory hurdles that need to be overcome before a foreign investment, or before starting a new enterprise, have not reduced at all.
Govind: Could you give me a couple of examples?
Tharoor: I can give you example after example. Here is the man who spent his election campaign mouthing statements that the government has no business to be in business.
And yet, the government continues to run airlines and hotels without showing the slightest inclination to show this is an area that we need not be in. It says things like we’ll offer red carpet rather than red tape. But the number of regulatory hurdles that need to be overcome before a foreign investment, or before starting a new enterprise, have not reduced at all.
Ethiraj: Could these hurdles have reduced, just on the red tape question?
Tharoor: Of course. Because these changes don’t require parliamentary opposition, and politics is irrelevant. Yo just basically get down to re-writing regulations, which are completely within the control of the executive.
So you have these wonderful schemes being propounded without a budget, without an implementable action plan, without a funding structure or scheme and without an executive authority to implement it.
Ethiraj: Can you give me an example?
Tharoor: Plenty of examples. I mentioned one on the conference today, it struck me as so funny, it stayed in my mind. Every business in India, every factory in India, is supposed to maintain something called as the ‘Lime Register’. This goes back to the mid 19th century, when you needed lime, I think for the disinfecting purposes, to white washing your walls, etc.
Obviously, 99% of factories don’t maintain the lime register, it is out-dated. But because this regulation exists, a corrupt inspector, for example, can come in and arm twist a factory owner or a manager for bribe on the grounds that he is not maintaining a lime register. This is a simple example of something that the government could have abolished a long time ago.
Ethiraj: So you are saying, promises made on red tape-ism have not been delivered?
Tharoor: We talk about the ease of doing business. Mr. Modi has said, early on his tenure that he wants to go from a 142nd in the World Bank’s ranking of the ease of doing business to a 50. Well, we haven’t moved. In fact, there was a briefly alarming indication that we might move to 143rd. So, the worry of all this is, when will his speeches be translated into administrative actions? So you have these wonderful schemes being propounded without a budget, without an implementable action plan, without a funding structure or scheme and without an executive authority to implement it. So, it remains at the level of sound bites and photo-ops. This is my big worry with Mr. Modi, the moment he changes it and does something beyond the photo-ops, something beyond the headlines on television, then I can be a little more optimistic.
Ethiraj: One got the sense that you were a little charitable in the beginning…
Tharoor: Well, I have always said that he has said the right things and I still stress that. I actually disagree with very little he has said. My problem is that there is nothing to show and nothing to agree on what he has done.
There is a growing climate of intolerance in our country, which sadly, has been given free rein by the mere factor that Mr. Modi and the BJP government are in power.
Ethiraj: Alright, since we started saying that this is a ten-month report card, you feel that the time has come to ask questions about delivery?
Tharoor: We have started asking questions a couple of months ago, because a number of things that he had failed to do, he could have done it a lot earlier. Including, by the way, his interim budget in July, which was a simple carry over. But they said oh no, we have had only three months since we came to power. I am sorry, but Mr. Manmohan Singh had 34 days between becoming the Finance Minister and revolutionising the Indian economy through liberalisation.
Ethiraj: But the conditions were somewhat different.
Tharoor: Even then, the fact is that, Mr. Modi has been campaigning for more than a year and a half, he should have had some concrete plans to execute and he hasn’t done that.
Ethiraj: Let’s talk about the social side.
Tharoor: That’s what worries me also! There is a growing climate of intolerance in our country, which sadly, has been given free rein by the mere factor that Mr. Modi and the BJP government are in power. Because there is no question that the Sangh Parivar or the Hindhutva movement has, for a long time harboured certain regressive views towards minorities, towards the tradition of pluralism in Indian culture and so on. But because they were seen as fringe, ultimately they did not matter because it represented a small minority of extreme views. Once Mr. Modi, who was once very much believed to harbour similar views himself, came to power, these fellows had free rein and they really started running amok.
The most outrageous things have been said by people who are either close to power or in power. We have had ministers dividing the population into “ramzaade” and “haramzaade”, the believers in Ram and bastards. That is the sort of division that somebody serving the minister and Mr. Modi’s government is allowed to get away with. We have had a prominent member of the ruling party in Parliament speaking in favour of constructing statues of Mr. Godse, the assassin of Mahatma Gandhi, rather than of Mahatma Gandhi.
Before, all of these things could have been clamped down upon immediately by the government, but Mr. Modi chose the longest time to stay silent. It was only when churches started getting vandalised and India started attracting deeply negative international press that he finally spoke. That too, only after President Obama had embarrassed us all by reminding our government and Prime Minister of the provisions of our constituency.
What, for some people, might seem like a trivial incident of a church in an outer suburb of Delhi being vandalized, makes it to the Frankfurter Allgemeine, the main newspaper in Germany. One of the German investors wrote to me saying “Is this the kind of India in which you want us to invest?”
Ethiraj: Is this having an impact on India’s image externally after Obama embarrassed us?
Tharoor: The problem in today’s inter-connected world is there is no such thing as a comment that stays within the audience that it is intended for. You can make an inflammatory speech and it becomes breaking news in New Delhi. Similarly, you can make a speech in New Delhi and be heard in Europe, the Arab world, Washington and so on. So the result is, what for some people might seem like a trivial incident of a church in an outer suburb of Delhi being vandalized, makes it to the Frankfurter Allgemeine, the main newspaper in Germany. One of the German investors wrote to me saying “Is this the kind of India in which you want us to invest?”
Mr. Modi has to understand that his liberal objectives, his economic plans, his desire for Foreign Direct Investment in the country, also depend on retaining the image of the country as a peaceful, pluralistic land; one where everybody is welcome. We have a proud record, civilizationally. But that has been betrayed by the intolerance and bigotry that is sadly rampant under Mr. Modi.
Now that Mr. Modi has come to power, the BJP’s unspoken mantra is “where you stand, depends on where you sit.” So when you were sitting in the opposition you oppose everything that the UPA government is doing whether you agreed with it or not. and when you come to power, you realise the wisdom of the UPA and you start implementing the same policies.
Ethiraj: If we were to assume that things could be controlled clamped down upon, what are the other areas that you would focus on? The unfinished agenda?
Tharoor: The unfinished agenda, in many cases, was not finished because of the opposition of the very people who are now in power. A very good example is the Goods and Services Tax (GST), which would be an absolutely indispensable reform for our economy. But the fact is that the BJP states, and notably Mr. Modi’s own state, were major obstacles in getting this thing adopted, and as a result, the UPA government was unable to do so.
Now that Mr. Modi has come to power, the BJP’s unspoken mantra is “where you stand, depends on where you sit.” So when you were sitting in the opposition you oppose everything that the UPA government is doing whether you agreed with it or not. and when you come to power, you realise the wisdom of the UPA and you start implementing the same policies and now you sit in power. Anyway, that being the case, GST has been adopted by Mr Modi as has 49% FDI and life insurance; and a number of things that we had attempted unsuccessfully to push when we were in power. Mr Modi has a larger majority so in any case he can get in through. Besides, we are unlikely to oppose things that we came up with.
Ethiraj: What are the issues that really concern you that the government in power must address?
Tharoor: One thing is foreign policy. I find the government is far too driven by domestic pre-occupations. For example, my committee cleared the Constitutional amendment for the Bangladesh Land Boundary Agreement, which would regularise a long-running sore of six decades in what is today, Bangladesh. this government has to everyone’s surprise, has not brought it to Parliament for ratification, because apparently of the opposition of the Assam BJP. This kind of pettiness is disastrous in foreign policy. Similarly, the unnecessary confusion in Pakistan policy, which alternates between hot and cold, between belligerence one day, and conciliation the next, and then belligerence the next day again. These things are not in India’s interest. We need tranquil and content neighbours we can get along with if we want our country to move ahead.
Ethiraj: Despite the fact that Prime Minister is travelling perhaps far more than what was the case?
Tharoor: He’s travelling farther afield. He hasn’t gone to the neighbourhood very much, except Nepal and now the Indian Ocean Region. On foreign policy, we tend not to let our differences cross the water’s edge. We tend to be united on foreign policy. But still, on these couple of issues we have concerns. By and large, we have tended not to believe that there is such a thing like congress’ foreign policy or India’s foreign policy. There is only India’s foreign policy. We’d like to see India’s national interests prevail.