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Part of Partho-Arnab WhatsApp chats deal with economy

A message attributed to Dasgupta said: 'NM/AS should first rejig finance ministry in the second term — the economy is screwed — no matter what we tell outside'
Arnab Goswami
Arnab Goswami
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Our Special Correspondent   |   New Delhi   |   Published 18.01.21, 01:32 AM

Arvind Subramanian did flag grave concerns on the economy. So did Kaushik Basu and several others.

The dire remarks fell on deaf ears in the Narendra Modi government. Understandably, because Subramanian, Basu and the others are economists — a source of mistrust for a regime sceptical of domain expertise.

Now, possible evidence has emerged that a non-economist whose credentials and intentions the Modi government trusts was privy to a blunt insight, shorn of tiresome jargon, on the economy as far back as April 2019.

The purported WhatsApp chats — attached to a supplementary chargesheet filed by Mumbai police — between Republic TV managing director Arnab Goswami and Partho Dasgupta, the then CEO of rating agency BARC, have a segment that deals with the economy, so to speak.

On April 10, 2019, at 12.07pm, a message attributed to Dasgupta and sent to Goswami said: “NM/AS should first rejig finance ministry in the second term — the economy is screwed — no matter what we tell outside.”

The message does not expand “NM” and “AS” but there aren’t too many duopolies with the telling abbreviations in the country that can “rejig” the finance ministry at the drop of a hat.
The concluding part of the purported message from Dasgupta — “no matter what we tell outside” — is certain to ring a bell among several corporate chieftains and industrialists, post-demonetisation.

Although the economy has been in the doldrums since then, almost every industrialist, barring a handful, has sung hosannas to the Modi government in public while some criticised it in private.

The message credited to Dasgupta also confirms another point: after the Pulwama terror attack and the Balakot strike, there was little doubt that Modi was on the verge of a second term.
On that summer day two years ago and a day before the first day of polling in the general election of 2019, there was no reply from Goswami over WhatsApp to Dasgupta for over half an hour.

In spite of the lack of response, another message attributed to Dasgupta added: “Jaitley is their biggest failure.”

This time, a purported reply from Goswami arrived fast. At 12.45pm itself, the reply said: “That I agree totally.”

Many would consider it an unfair assessment as it was well-known that Arun Jaitley, the then finance minister, had not been given a free hand on the economy.

It’s not clear whether the purported agreement on the part of Goswami was confined to the sweeping judgement on Jaitley or whether it covered the preceding message on the sorry state of the economy, too.

Traditional wisdom (silence is concurrence) suggests that there was consensus on both counts. If Goswami had a different perception about the economy — and no evidence is needed on his skills to get across his views — he could be counted on to challenge the purported opinion of Dasgupta, rectify the crude categorisation of the economy and restore the reputation of the Modi regime.

Especially since the Modi government is not known for taking kindly to uncharitable descriptions of the economy on its watch.

If Goswami had the kind of access he boasts, and given his well-cultivated image as a fearless and ruthless inquisitor in selfless service of the nation, he could be expected to have done the right thing after not disagreeing with Dasgupta’s assessment of the economy.

Which is to convey to Modi how bad the economic situation was in the last leg of his first term as Prime Minister.

It is not known whether Goswami briefed “NM” or “AS” on the dire economic straits. A new finance minister was indeed found in the second term but that was because an ailing Jaitley had by then sought retirement from public office.

If Goswami did warn the government, it did not appear to have had the desired result. In the financial year that followed (2019-20), economic growth in India plunged to an 11-year low at 4.2 per cent. And Covid cannot be blamed entirely because the lockdown kicked in only in the last week of the financial year.

Some of the messages attributed to Goswami do stand out for their insensitivity, especially on Jaitley and just five days before the former finance minister breathed his last.
A message from this newspaper to Goswami seeking his comment on the purported messages did not elicit any response till the time of going to press.

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