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It’s Greece, Stupid
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As you know, through many missives, interviews and press conferences, I had commanded India to achieve at least 8.5 per cent GDP growth for 2011-12 and over 9 per cent in 2012-13 and henceforth. I ordered thus for many reasons.
First, I needed to please the High Command who has never believed that I am loyal enough, unlike her mother-in-law, God bless her soul. Second, I wanted to create a glorious path for the young prince, because high growth is now a winning formula in national elections. Third, I wanted the carping English-speaking intelligentsia of India to realise that a short, funny-accented Bengali bhadralok could be as good a finance minister as that arrogant Harvard-spouting cabinet colleague of mine who tells all that the three years of 9 per cent plus growth happened under his watch. And, fourth, I wanted to cock a snook at my non-performing primus inter pares who, a quarter century ago, was a mere bureaucrat at my beck and call. Enough reasons for commanding India to grow at 9 per cent, wouldn't you agree?
Then came the rotten Greeks who ruined everything! They have had a long-standing desire to destroy India. Remember Alexander of Macedonia? At 30, he had everything: good looks, a kingdom from Greece to Persia, thousands of soldiers, wine, women, horses, pretty boys. For no rhyme or reason, he decided to attack the good King Porus in 326 BC. Caused havoc but got nowhere, because his soldiers were homesick. All he created were fair-skinned baby boys with grey and blue eyes, who are called Sikandar and believe that they are emperors in waiting.
This time, too, the Greeks. After getting to 9.2 per cent GDP growth in Q4, 2010-11, I was sure Q1, 2011-12 would post least 9 per cent. After all, can't a finance minister twice-over and the chairman of the largest number of committees of Group of Ministers and Empowered Group of Ministers (GoMs and EGoMs) expect two successive quarters of over 9 per cent growth? It didn't happen.
Because the Greeks misbehaved as usual, having anti-everything strikes in Athens and throwing rocks at the cops. We got 8 per cent.
I didn't worry. I said we'll get well past 8 per cent. After all, I had spent your money like there is no tomorrow over three years to create our own ‘let's spend our way out of the mess' growth. How could I be wrong?
The Greeks appeared again, spooking the world more than Achilles, Alexander and Zeus could dream of. Their Prime Minister tried to act tough with the German lady and got a mouthful. That caused ripples. And India's growth in Q2 fell to 6.7 per cent. It was the Battle of Hydaspes yet again.
So, I commanded India to grow at 7.5 per cent. I also entreated, cajoled and stroked egos to get growth up again. But never underestimate the Greeks. Their Prime Minister crossed the barriers of brinkmanship and resigned. That they had a good technocrat as a caretaker Prime Minister till the elections did little to prevent fear. So, India's GDP in Q3 fell to 6.1 per cent. What could I do?
I still prayed for 7 per cent in Q4. That damn trouble-maker Alexis Tsipras of a nationalist anti-austerity, anti-euro-imperialism, anti-IMF, anti-Germany party called Syriza spoilt everything forcing a second national election on 17 June. What would you expect? GDP growth in Q4 dropped to 5.3 per cent, the worst in nine years! Mr Harvard in my party is nastily giggling away saying, "I told you so." Doesn't he understand, it's not me who should be blamed. It's the Greeks.
I once had a teacher whose favourite foreign poet was Virgil, pronounced as Bharjil. As I see Greece everywhere, I remember a phrase of his: ‘Timeo Danaos et dona ferentes', or "Beware of Greeks bearing gifts". The story is about the Trojan Horse. We have them everywhere: Mamataus Banerjeus; S.P. Jaiswalus; Jairamus Rameshus; Kapilus Sibaleus; Prometheus (sic!) Chidambaramus; and our ‘not do-not say' Primus. All Greeks bearing gifts — to destroy my 9 per cent dream.
The Greeks are doing us in. Minus them, we would have crossed 9 per cent without even breaking into sweat. I am fed up of them and their evil machinations. I'm tired and want to rest in a large house on the top of the hill. So, do tell that Goswami of yours to stop spoiling my chances by saying that the nation needs a finance minister like me. India needs a Greek; for it needs a Greek to catch a Greek.
Yours, Pranab Mukherjee
The author is chairman of CERG Advisory.
(This story was published in Businessworld Issue Dated 18-06-2012)