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Rush to join hardsell of tough steps
Jaitley, others build case

Bhutanese King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck shakes hands with Narendra Modi in Thimphu on Sunday. (AFP)

New Delhi, June 15: If the BJP is worried that Narendra Modi’s warning about “harsh measures” to revive the economy might spoil the mood built up by the “achchhe din (good times)” poll slogan, party leaders betrayed no hint of it.

The Prime Minister had in Goa yesterday spoken of tough decisions to pull the economy out of “rock bottom” even if it meant a temporary “dent” in his popularity.

Finance minister Arun Jaitley, who had a fortnight ago blogged about “short-term disciplining”, today echoed Modi, cautioning against “fiscal indiscipline”.

Government sources said Modi was unlikely to be deterred by the thought of key Assembly elections coming up later in the year.

BJP television panelists Sidharth Nath Singh and Nalin Kohli today lauded Modi for his “forthright” comments.

“He is a great communicator and is priming the country for hard decisions,” Singh said, contrasting this with past NDA and Congress governments’ “failure” to communicate their stands effectively on issues and controversies.

Kohli said: “The vote was for governance. Certainly, we cannot shy away from taking decisions that bring in good governance.”

A Union minister too said that Modi’s statements had not been just about tightening the fiscal belt.

“They were a signal that India’s governance model would change for the better,” the minister said.

“We have inherited an economy that is in a shambles. He has flagged a larger issue that says the days of lobbying are over and there will be no opacity in decision-making. The country will see the government’s functioning and decision-making in its entirety.”

Addressing party workers in Panaji’s Taleigao, the Prime Minister had said that praising him or the BJP would not help the country.

“There is no guarantee that just singing the praises of Modi would improve the situation. We need to take harsh measures to improve the financial situation,” he said.

Dusting off the cliché about a mother giving her child unpalatable medicine, Modi said: “The bitter pill, however, will have to be administered taking everyone together — the states, the bureaucracy and whoever wishes well for India.”

But he couldn’t resist the politician’s time-tested tactic of blaming the predecessor for the “mess” he has to handle.

“I have taken over the reins of the country in circumstances when there is nothing left behind by the previous government. They left everything empty. The country’s financial health has hit rock bottom,” he said.

Modi added: “I’m well aware that my steps may dent the immense love that the country has given me. But when my countrymen realise that these steps will help (the nation) recoup its financial health, I shall regain their love.”

He stressed: “Whatever decisions we take will be solely guided by national interest.”

Government sources claimed that Modi was unlikely to be swayed by “populist” concerns while making economic decisions.

“He is unlikely to think that we must step back just because there are elections in Delhi, Haryana and Maharashtra,” a source said.

“He knows he has got a mandate to improve things. He said as much in his first speech in Parliament — four years for governance and one year for politics.”

Jaitley, on a two-day visit to Kashmir for security review meetings as defence minister, said much the same in Srinagar.

“At this time, you will need to take some decisions to make sure that the economy is put back on track,” PTI quoted Jaitley as saying in Srinagar.

The minister said an initial degree of fiscal discipline would later allow Indians to enjoy the fruits of a sounder economy. “But any kind of fiscal indiscipline at this stage will put us in further doldrums.”

Jaitley said the situation on the economic front was challenging. “We had two continuous years of less than 5 per cent growth. You had higher levels of inflation. Your tax buoyancy has come down.”

Asked to elaborate on the steps he intended to take, Jaitley replied: “You certainly don’t want me to make the budget announcement here.”

India’s economic growth was a subdued 4.7 per cent in 2013-14, mainly owing to a decline in manufacturing and mining output.

The GDP had expanded at 4.5 per cent in 2012-13, the slowest in the previous decade.