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Joshi fires at UPA, hits Modi

New Delhi, March 13: When BJP veteran Murli Manohar Joshi today led his party’s attack on the Union budget, it was difficult to figure out which “M” was the real target — Manmohan Singh or Narendra Modi.

Equally hard was the riddle if Joshi was consciously denouncing Modi’s model of development or he was allowing his personal whims to override his party’s modern agenda.

But many heard in the speech echoes of the perceived unease in the top echelons of the BJP over the rise of Modi and his projection as candidate for Prime Minister.

Joshi, the BJP’s main speaker in the Lok Sabha budget debate that began today, hailed states like Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh for their economic models while making no mention of Gujarat in the entire speech.

On the contrary, he blasted the growth-oriented model based on certain development parameters that Modi is trying to sell and build his leadership on, contending that India would hurtle towards destruction if this economic approach was not reframed.

Although the BJP veteran did not name Modi or refer to Gujarat, he ripped apart the Manmohan Singh government’s policies, saying they benefited a few industrialists while doing little for the poor, oppressed and agriculture. Modi has often been accused of pursuing such a policy and the content of the Congress campaign in the recent Gujarat Assembly elections was almost similar to Joshi’s critique of the Manmohan government.

Asking the government to stop thinking of implementing the “Washington consensus” and introducing such “disastrous policies” like FDI in retail, Joshi asked finance minister P. Chidambaram to look at alternative economic models that are available in some states.

Joshi then referred to Madhya Pradesh, saying a lot had been done there for agriculture — even the wellbeing of cattle was ensured — and Chhattisgarh where foodgrain was available to the poor at affordable rates.

He told Chidambaram: “In your budget speech, you said some states have achieved high growth without protecting the interests of Scheduled Castes, backwards, minorities and women… that is your model. You have done this.”

Ironically, Chidambaram’s observation was widely perceived as a subtle attack on Modi. Joshi rejected the belief that high growth rate was an indicator of people’s wellbeing and predicted that foreigners would rule India if “Walmart culture” was imported and the country remained obsessed with growth, instead of providing food, education and healthcare to the poor.

Joshi’s forceful articulation also revealed the confusion in the BJP about its economic philosophy as the Vajpayee government pursued a liberal agenda and leaders like Arun Jaitley and Modi are supposed to be reformers.

But Joshi thundered: “Even if you have to suffer higher fiscal deficit for protecting the interests of the poor, do it. What is more important, statistical detail or the poor? I laugh at your figures… you have only done juggling like a chartered accountant.”

Even on exports, Joshi mentioned prospects in states like Bengal, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan. While talking of weavers, he cited the cases in Uttar Pradesh, Bengal, Bihar and Andhra Pradesh. Gujarat, projected as a model of governance outside Parliament, didn’t find a mention.

While Modi earned his spurs by harping on “packaging and marketing” in his speech at a Delhi college, Joshi drew attention to India’s rich heritage in the pre-British era when its “share of global economy was 24 per cent”.

When Modi is at pains to sell his dream of modernity to the urban youth, Joshi slammed the finance minister for putting ayurveda, unani and homeopathy on a pedestal below that of allopathy.