Last week, the Rajya Sabha convened a short duration discussion on the state of the Indian economy. Predictably, the debate was stormy with Opposition parties censuring the government alleging mismanagement and some even identifying the sharp deceleration in economic growth as the onset of a recession. Union finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman mounted a typically combative defence of the government’s record.

Given the mostly binary nature of the discourse, the nation, once again, missed out on getting an authentic and nuanced understanding of the economy—at the moment the expertise is provided by armchair analysts, several of whom peddle their own agendas.

So, here is an alt view of the reply finance minister Sitharaman may have delivered at the end of the debate if indeed the discourse had been genuinely parliamentary.

“Thank you Chairman Sir for giving me a chance to respond to the debate; and thank you to the 23 members who enjoined this conversation. At the outset, I am grateful to everyone for setting forth, some albeit a little too passionately, their concern about the state of the Indian economy. Be rest assured I am as, if not more, concerned.

Chairman Sir, the general election has long concluded, our government has been unequivocally returned to power and there are hence no political brownie points to score on either side. So let me use this opportunity to be candid and professorial with this August House. For this I request everyone to hear me patiently.

Sir, I admit that the sharp slowdown in the last six quarters is indeed worrying. Not only does the loss of the growth momentum adversely impact government revenues, but it also makes job creation that much more difficult. We are a young nation with about 9-10 million youth joining the workforce every year. A slowdown Chairman Sir, however, does not add up to a recession. I am sure honourable members know that a recession is one when the economy sees a contraction in growth in two consecutive quarters.

Undoubtedly Chairman Sir, we must acknowledge that we are facing economic headwinds. Let me assure this August House and the people of the country that our government is committed and determined to address this challenge. To all my critics, of which there are a fair many, please understand that the Indian economy today is fundamentally different from what we inherited in 2014. I will not dwell on the economy we inherited—plagued by double digit inflation and single digit growth. We passed on producing a white paper exposing our predecessors.

Instead, we took the high road and chose to launch the Indian economy in an entirely new direction. This idea of New India is to make every one of the 1.3 billion Indians stakeholders in this new blueprint for development—at present most of them are outside looking in. Surely Sir, our wish to spread the benefits—access to banking, healthcare, insurance—of a formal economy cannot be dismissed as a gimmick.

We were quick to recognize that decades of crony capitalism had created a parallel economy. As the economy expanded, this bubble had assumed dangerous proportions. The Lehman Brothers collapse, which almost triggered a global recession similar to 1929, showed us the dangers of a financial bubble ignored.

Chairman Sir, it required enormous political courage and self belief to actually prick this bubble built on black money. We knew that it would impact economic activity. Yet we went through as the existing model was not sustainable and a crisis was inevitable. Demonetization was our first attempt to signal regime change. The rollout of the Goods and Services Tax—making possible the idea of One Nation, One Market—only reiterated our commitment.

Honourable members, I admit that this disruption had an adverse impact on a large section of the people. To mitigate their hardship and correct for the past 70 years, we have pursued, on a war footing, the material empowerment—by providing banking, electricity, housing, cooking gas—to those at the bottom of the pyramid.

Chairman Sir, our task is only partially accomplished. To get to our destination, our government will need the support of all Indians, regardless of their political affiliation. To all Indians I say the proverbial cup is half full and not half empty.

Thank you."

Anil Padmanabhan is managing editor of Mint and writes every week on the intersection of politics and economics.

Comments are welcome at anil.p@livemint.com

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