Ranjona Banerji: Lies, damned lies & some statistics

01 Feb,2019

By Ranjona Banerji

I write this too early for the budget and I am, honestly, bored of pre-budget hoopla. The only question really is: with this be a full-on budget from temporary finance minister Piyush Goyal or a vote-on-account as it should be, given that we are going into election mode any time now. You’ll find that out any time now anyway.

Instead, far more fun and games was had on Twitter on Thursday. First off, a big salute to Business Standard’s Somesh Jha for scooping the National Survey Sample Office’s periodic labour force survey. According to the NSSO survey, which has not been released by the government for reasons now clear, India’s unemployment rates are at 6.1 per cent for 2017-18. This is the highest in 45 years.

By any account, this is explosive stuff. The Modi government rode into power partly on the promise of jobs, if anyone cares to remember. Anyone with half a brain and a heart knows that Narendra Modi’s grand demonetisation scheme was an unmitigated disaster. It destroyed lives, livelihoods, industries and the economies. Together with rural distress, disastrously implemented GST and other ill-considered schemes, the Indian economy is in a mess. This is regardless of purely fabricated GDP figures put out by the Government.

And let’s not forget that people have resigned from the National Statistics Commission because the government would not release the NSSO employment figures, among other reasons?


Having rewatched only recently a number of episodes of that political and government classic Yes Minister, it seems that someone has been copying from Sir Humphrey’s playbook. That is, change the base year for any evaluation so that you can fiddle with the outcome and get the figures you want. And there you have it: India’s rising GDP and growth figures minus any evidence whatsoever.

But I digress. No sooner did Jha break this story than the Government’s Stalwart Defenders were into action. Top of the list and very sadly roasted for his tweet was my former colleague R Jagannathan (now with Swarajya.com). He tweeted:

“Need to read this number with nuance. A higher unemployment rate indicates that more people are actively looking for work. This is half positive indicating that millions now believe jobs will be available even if not of the satisfactory kind.”

In hindsight, am sure this tweet is being seen as hasty and not thought through. Sadly, Jaggi got taken apart on social media for this impossible defence of some very damning information. The rate of unemployment amongst the young has gone up three times. You have to be really blinded by love to see this as good news.

The Twitter screenshots with this column are an example of what that one tweet had to suffer.

This also means that we go into this election season all guns blazing. The BJP, perhaps having realised, that social media defence was not working, sent out the Niti Aayog to defend the government. This had little effect since Jha and Business Standard hit back with more facts. In any case, no one knows that the Niti Aayog actually does, perhaps not even the Niti Aayog itself.

The prime minister as we know, regardless of the crises around us, has been lecturing students about how to pass exams. Hopefully, not about economics or statistics. Since the Economic Survey released today has more fantasy stuff on India’s high growth rate.


Figures that have been constantly revised, that is. Fiddle, fiddle, till you get the numbers you want. Damned lies, is that how someone put it?


Ranjona Banerji is a senior journalist and commentator. She is also Consulting Edior, MxMIndia. The views here are personal

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