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Sure, do criticize Modi govt, but do it with facts and truth

Sumeet Mehta
·6-min read

A faulty infographic published by a business magazine on India’s falling GDP has created a major storm on social media.

The graphic presented incorrect data, showing India in very poor light and giving ammunition to hostile forces to hit out at the government.

Exhibit 1: First incorrect infographic of GDP degrowth shared by the magazine

This incorrect infographic was shared by various anti-Modi anti-BJP handles (such as this one), creating an outrage on social media platforms. Anti-Modi propagandists merrily used this wrong data/infographic to criticise the government’s ‘failure’ to handle the economy amid the COVID-19 crisis.

This led to the business magazine reworking the infographic, but alas, that too was incorrect.

Exhibit 2: The second ‘corrected’ infographic of GDP degrowth

This article endeavours to highlight two basic flaws in these two infographics.

First is the fundamental issue of comparing apples with oranges, wherein the business magazine used QoQ numbers of the United States to compare them with YoY numbers of India and other countries.

Second is the bigger issue of sharing incorrect data even in the second or reworked infographic.

First and the fundamental issue pertains to showing some data on YoY growth/degrowth basis and some other data on QoQ basis. This is a fundamentally flawed way of comparing any data.

Ideally all GDP growth data is calculated on YoY basis with data of April 2020 to June 2020 compared with data of April 2019 to June 2019. Comparing growth on a QoQ basis, which is comparing April 2020 to June 2020 data, with January 2020 to March 2020 data is fundamentally flawed for various reasons. The major reason for this is that economic activity in many sectors and regions are cyclical and growth drivers in April to June quarter would be different from January to March quarter.

So when growth is compared, it is done on a year-on-year basis to capture growth or degrowth amid the same set of conditions driving growth.

This is where the business magazine was wrong by sharing the US QoQ degrowth data, instead of YoY data. This ‘showed’ that India was the worst performing economy in the world. When the business magazine used this chart, like the one shared in Exhibit 1 above, social media went into a tizzy and the ‘anti-Modi brigade’ suddenly got hold of ammunition to attack the government with.

The magazine, of course, corrected the said infographic shared after the flaw was highlighted. But some data shared in the new infographic (shared above as Exhibit 2) still remains incorrect.

This is the second issue we discuss in this article.

Even in the reworked infographic, certain data is wrong. Before commenting on wrong data, it is imperative to share the correct data compiled from a credible source. For the purpose of this verification of data, Trading Economics has been referred to. Trading Economics is amongst the four most popular and credible sites for checking economic data.

Trading Economics presents 20 million historical data sets and economic indicators from 196 countries and has more than 380 million visits from 200 countries. According to Trading Economics, it uses information from official sources and the data is regularly verified to detect inconsistencies.

Exhibit 3 to 9 below has charts copied from Trading Economics website, with links from the website shared in source.

Exhibit 3: India’s GDP Growth Chart

Exhibit 4: The US’ GDP Growth Chart

Exhibit 5: Japan’s GDP Growth Chart

Exhibit 6: China’s GDP Growth Chart

Exhibit 7: Germany’s GDP Growth Chart

Exhibit 8: Canada’s GDP Growth Chart

Exhibit 9: Italy’s GDP Growth Chart

On comparing the charts above with the second infographic published by the magazine, it is clear that GDP growth and degrowth data of the US, China, Italy, Canada, Germany, Japan and China are incorrect.

Exhibit 12: Comparison of GDP growth numbers published by Trading Economics and the magazine

It is important for the media to act responsibly and present the correct picture to citizens and promote a healthy and constructive debate on the state of the nation.

The magazine, meanwhile, has withdrawn the article and the incorrect infographics.

However, many publications have repeatedly resorted to spreading flawed information. This is the major reason why people’s trust in mainstream media is falling with every passing day.

In a democracy, every government deserves its fair share of criticism and opposition. That is the first sign of a vibrant democracy.

For the record, there is no disagreement on the fact that India has posted its worst GDP growth since 1996 and we have never witnessed such a steep fall of 23.9%. This requires an in-depth study that highlights mistakes of the Indian government and also spark off a debate on whether measures announced by the government were really helpful or counterproductive.

There is no shying from that fact that the Opposition, and even the supporters of the government, must come up with detailed analysis on the government’s mistakes and show a mirror to the ruling dispensation on what went wrong, how it went wrong, and why it went wrong.

This will help the government to course-correct and prevent it from making similar mistakes in the future. It is also imperative for the Opposition to debunk such misinformation published in the media, in order to ensure that citizens get true and correct information.

This is where we have problems with those that proudly call themselves ‘liberals’. In their insatiable quest to defeat Prime Minister Narendra Modi or to show him in poor light, they twist facts and spread lies. But soon lies are exposed, discrediting said liberals.

This has repeatedly happened since 2014. No wonder the Bharatiya Janata Party won the 2019 General Elections with a vote share of 37.4% compared to 31% in the 2014 polls, and the National Democratic Alliance's vote share jumped from 38.5% in 2014 to 45% in 2019.

Lies, misinformation, half truths, twisted information, et cetera spread by liberals cannot defeat Modi and cannot help the Opposition win the 2024 elections. Their lies get exposed again and again, discrediting and weakening them even more. It is advisable that the Opposition uses its time, energy and efforts in finding and highlighting real issues instead of spreading untruths.

It is advisable that it invests more time, effort and energy into providing constructive criticism to the government with solutions, instead of creating negativity. Constructive criticism of the government will help the Opposition earn respect and credibility, and will also contribute to the growth and development of the country.

By resorting to propaganda and spreading misinformation, the Opposition political parties and media are doing a big disservice to the nation.

Even though the incorrect infographics were withdrawn, the damage had already been done, especially by political activists who have used wrong data to further their propaganda.

I wonder whether any political activist will own up and withdraw their tweets and Facebook posts and issue a rejoinder with facts.

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Sumeet Mehta is a chartered accountant and a Corporate Finance Professional. He is also the author of ‘Diagnosing GST for Doctors’, published by CNBC Books 18. He tweets from @sumeetnmehta