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Economy home truth for Nirmala Sitharaman

Minister’s husband asks Modi government to follow Rao and Manmohan

By Our Special Correspondent in New Delhi

  • Published 15.10.19, 7:15 AM
  • Updated 15.10.19, 7:26 AM
Nirmala and Parakala Prabhakar in a picture he tweeted on April 29, 2014, with the caption: “We all voted. Amma, Nirmala & I.”
Nirmala and Parakala Prabhakar in a picture he tweeted on April 29, 2014, with the caption: “We all voted. Amma, Nirmala & I.” (Picture: @parakala)

Finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman’s husband on Monday said the Narendra Modi government lacked an economic road map and advised it to adopt the 1991 model evolved by then Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao and his finance minister Manmohan Singh to address the current economic slowdown.

Parakala Prabhakar’s article in The Hindu generated social media curiosity, primarily because he was the finance minister’s husband, although the newspaper introduced him as a former adviser to the Andhra Pradesh government and managing director of RightFOLIO, a knowledge enterprise based in Hyderabad.

Prabhakar’s Twitter profile describes him as a “PhD from LSE (London School of Economics), political economist, policy consultant, chess player and music lover”.

“Home front is always difficult to manage!” said one tweet, reacting to the article.

Another said: “Finance Minister @nsitharaman’s husband and political economist Parakala Prabhakar hits out at Modi Govt over slowdown, asks for embracing Rao-Manmohan Singh model. What will they call him? Tukde Tukde gang? Where will they send Him? Pakistan?”

Prabhakar’s article was polite in tone but scathing in content. He cited grim economic figures and said the government was in “denial” and was showing no signs that “it has come to grips with what ails the economy”.

“While the government is still in denial mode, data flowing uninterruptedly into the public domain show that sector after sector is staring at a seriously challenging situation,” he wrote.

“The party’s economic ideology and its articulation were limited to mainly critiquing the Nehruvian model from the fringes of the political spectrum. In economic policy, the party mainly adopted ‘neti neti (not this, not this)’, without articulating what was its own ‘niti (policy)’.”

Asked about her husband's article, Sitharaman politely countered it claiming that the government had under Modi’s leadership undertaken “fundamental reforms” between 2014 and now.

“If you talk of deep reforms, this government has taken many such steps,” she said, citing the goods and services tax, amendments to the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code and the Aadhaar-linking of welfare schemes.

Prabhakar, however, highlighted that the BJP never fought elections on the plank of an “economic road map” and that the “economic direction the country needs to take” never figured as a “serious debate” in the party.

He said the Sangh-BJP’s avowed ideology of “integral humanism… cannot be rendered into practical policy initiatives in the modern market-driven, globalised world”.

Prabhakar advised the government to “wholly” embrace the Rao-Singh economic policy of 1991. “The BJP could, therefore, have released itself from that limiting agenda by wholly embracing and even owning the Rao-Singh economic architecture,” he wrote.

While acknowledging the BJP’s potential difficulties in adopting a model associated with the Congress, he suggested the party do with Rao what it had done with Vallabhbhai Patel — co-opt him as a victim of the Nehru-Gandhi family.

“Sardar Patel, the Congressman the Gandhi dynasty marginalised, could become an icon in the BJP’s political project. Similarly Rao, another Congressman detested and humiliated by the dynasty, could become a robust underpinning for its economic architecture,” he wrote.

Asked about Sitharaman’s husband criticising the government’s handling of the economy, home minister and BJP president Amit Shah upheld people’s right to voice their “personal opinion”.

“Do we want a country where the husband and the wife need to hold the same views?” Shah told India Today TV.

He said the Opposition’s use of Prabhakar’s article to attack the government was a “cheap trick”, adding that the economy was healthy and was facing a few setbacks because of global factors.

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