Congress’s data problems, and ours
Is the “incorrect feedback” its leadership got responsible for the Congress debacle? The party’s data analytics department chief Praveen Chakravarty is facing heated criticism over how the department got the public mood so wrong; for example that the feedback to Congress president Rahul Gandhi continued to be that there was no post-Balakot sentiment and that the Rafale corruption claims were striking a chord with the voters, in light of which Rahul aggressively continued the “chowkidar chor hai” campaign.
It may be that Chakravarty is being used as a scapegoat for the failures of the party leadership. Still, it is indisputable that the use of modern data tools is increasingly central to modern elections. This is true all over are the world. The party that has better data can make better use of it.
If bad data can derail a political party’s fortunes what mayhem could it wreak on a country? Former chief economic advisor Arvind Subramanian has caused a lot of disquiet with new research that “methodological changes led to GDP growth being overstated by about 2.5 percentage points per year between 2011-12 and 2016-17, a period that spans both UPA and NDA governments.” So, against the official estimates of average annual growth for this period at about 7% Subramanian suggests actual growth may have been about 4.5%.
Given that GDP estimates play a key role in shaping both national policies and international investor perception, dodgy estimates translate directly into defects in the business plans of both the public and private sectors, while painfully misdirecting government’s fiscal and other policies.
Some experts like Swaminathan Aiyar have questioned Subramanian’s methadology. Aiyar underlines that “the technique of deriving estimates from a few economic indicators yields an educated guesstimate of GDP, but no more …. No country in the world uses a small bundle of indicators to measure GDP: that would be gross, misleading oversimplification.”
Aiyar also argues that the 4.5% estimate passes the smell test no better than the 7% growth claim: “India has many problems but displays nothing like the economic disaster that 4.5% growth would imply.”
But what is inarguable is that the GDP series unveiled four and a half years ago, has been buffeted by controversies since inception. There is no necessity of ascribing political motives to either this weakness or the act of pointing it out. Instead of being in denial Modi government should focus on the task of investigating India’s vast data apparatus for systemic flaws, with skills, transparency, and the input of global experts. Congress would benefit from a similar exercise. Misinformation equals misdirection and it loses the plot.
DISCLAIMER : Views expressed above are the author’s own.