ANALYSIS-Indian politicians spar over dodgy economic data as election nears
(Repeats for Asian morning readership. No change to text.)
* Govt downgrades growth during opposition rule to 6.7 pct
* Congress leader calls new figures "a joke"
* Spat is "very troubling" for India - top economist
By Alasdair Pal
NEW DELHI, Nov 30 (Reuters) - It may be the world's sixth
largest, but most other things about India's economy are up for
The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is under fire for
the release of new historical GDP figures that significantly
downgraded growth during the years the opposition Congress party
was in power, replacing old government estimates and those
prepared by an independent committee.
The figures, released by the government's Central Statistics
Office (CSO), showed growth in the 10 years of Congress rule to
2014 averaged 6.7 percent, below an average of 7.4 percent under
the current government. A previous government estimate had
growth under Congress at 7.8 percent.
P. Chidambaram, a former Congress finance minister, called
the release "a joke". In response India's current finance
minister, the BJP's Arun Jaitley, said the CSO was a credible
The fallout comes at a critical time for Prime Minister
India's economy grew a weaker-than-expected 7.1 percent in
the July-September quarter, from a more than two-year high of
8.2 percent in the previous quarter, government data showed on
Modi faces a general election next year, when the
performance of the economy under his pro-business administration
compared with the Congress era is likely to dominate
The spat has also alarmed India's top statisticians, who
have long faced the difficult task of estimating growth and
unemployment in an economy with hundreds of millions of informal
workers, and dominated its financial press and political
cartoons in recent days.
"The entire episode threatens to bring disrepute to India's
statistical services," said an editorial in Mint, one of the
country's leading business newspapers, on Friday.
A joke widely circulated on WhatsApp said the government
would soon be reinterpreting the last cricket World Cup, in
which India crashed out in the semi-finals, to say the country
won based on a new methodology.
Unlike many major economies, India lacks an independent
An organisation called the National Statistics Commission
(NSC) was formed in 2005 with that intention, though it is yet
to be recognised as the official body for generating statistics.
Last year the NSC set up a committee, chaired by economist
Sudipto Mundle, to come up with a new set of historical GDP
Its report, published in July, showed growth averaged 8.1
percent in the decade before the BJP took power.
After the figures were cheered by the Congress, the
government issued a clarification saying the report "had not yet
been finalised and various alternative methods are being
explored". Shortly after, the report was pulled from the
"The whole thing has unfortunately become very political,"
said Mundle, on the battle between the two parties. "It is very
Attempts to formalise the NSC's role have been successively
stonewalled by both Congress and the BJP, said N R Bhanumurthy,
who sat on the committee chaired by Mundle.
"They have not shown much interest in making it independent
from our government," he said.
The debate over India's true level of growth is the latest
to frustrate economists looking to measure the performance of
the country of 1.3 billion people.
India has not published its official employment survey since
2015, while a smaller quarterly survey on companies employing
more than 10 workers has not been released since March while the
government comes up with new methodology.
India's large informal sector made calculating employment
"almost impossible", Bhanumurthy said, leading to a vacuum that
was filled with competing political interests.
(Reporting by Alasdair Pal; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani and Alex
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