A Quick Recapitulation
I remember his first speech from the historic Red Fort in Delhi on the eve of the Independence Day on 15 August 2014 where I was also present among the privileged audience. The speech was a marked departure from his predecessors in that rather than focusing on the announcement or achievement on the big ticket schemes, Prime Minister Narendra Modi preferred to connect with the Indian masses on basic issues like poverty and development, equal treatment of son and daughter by parents while raising, security and protection of girl child and woman, need for basic amenities including sanitation and toilets in cities, villages and schools, inculcating the habit of keeping surroundings clean, creation of model villages, indigenous manufacturing of all goods of common use, need for developing banking habit, and so on. Needless to mention, like many others I too was deeply impressed with his honesty and simplicity of the words used and an im promptu idea that came to my mind on the occasion was to personify him as "A Wizard of Small Things".
The last Parliamentary elections were held in April-May 2014 wherein the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) with the Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP) in lead had projected Mr Narendra Modi as the prime ministerial candidate. This was the time when what to talk of his political adversaries, the Janta Dal (U) had already severed ties, and some other allies and stalwarts in his own party were not comfortable with his leadership. Modi had fought this election with the tagline "Sab Ka Saath, Sab Ka Vikas" (To take everyone along, for everyone's development) and after winning the election with a record margin, he worked tirelessly true to his vision and mission. Later his pro-poor and pro-common man approach was vindicated in his five-year term of the governance, during which numerous schemes have been implemented; some of such more important ones are listed below:
Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojana; Swachh Bharat Abhiyan; Make in India; Digital India; Skill India Program; Pradhan Mantri MUDRA Yojana; Pradhan Mantri Jeevan Jyoti; Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana; Pradhan Mantri Bima Yojana; Atal pension Yojana; Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana; Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana; Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao Yojana; Pradhan Mantri Kaushal Vikas Yojana; Deen Dayal Upadhyaya Gram Jyoti Yojana; Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation; Startup India, Standup India; Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana-Gramin; Deen Dayal Upadhyaya Grameen Kaushal Yojana; Pradhan Mantri Yuva Yojana; Mission Bhagirathi; Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana; Pradhan Mantri Jan Aushadhi Yojana; Pradhan Mantri Suraksha Bima Yojana; Pradhan Mantri Sukanya Samriddhi Yojana; Pradhan Mantri Rojgar Protsahan Yojana; and Ayushman Bharat Yojana.
The above list is illustrative and not comprehensive. It's not that other governments in the past had not come out with the schemes for the poor and common people. In the past too, policy and allocation were liberally made but the implementation was relatively defective and poor; hence a major chunk of money landed up in the pockets of the corrupt officials and middlemen. The marked difference here has been that Mr Modi insisted monitoring of schemes right from outlays to outcomes; consequently, better results have been achieved with more satisfaction level, a considerable check on pilferage of money and other corrupt practices. Personally, I am against any kind of publicity and would have been happier if prefixes like "Pradhan Mantri" or the names of political leaders were avoided while naming the schemes; after all, its public money rather than any party or person's personal kitty but perhaps these are the compulsions of times. In the successive Congress governments, the majority of schemes were named after past and serving members of the Nehru-Gandhi clan; here at least they have avoided serving politicians' name.
The objective of the current piece of writing is neither evaluation nor glorification of these schemes but some data is quoted just to have a feel how some of the schemes have reached or impacted the lives of the common rural and urban folk for better in the country during the last five years. Under Jan Dhan Yojana, approximately 30 crore bank accounts have been opened; some may be dormant or defunct but the majority accounts are active and serve dual purpose of encouraging banking habit and facilitating direct transfer of the financial benefits from the government under various schemes. Under Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, more than 9 crore toilets have been built for poor urban and rural households, about 6 crore free LPG connections issued under the Ujjwala Yojana and about 1.50 crore houses built under Awas Yojana. The Jan Dhan Yojana and Swachh Bharat Abhiyan were constantly ridiculed by the politicians of other parties but the schemes have been tremendous success and benefitted Indian masses.
Indian Political Culture
On one hand, India has a distinction of being the largest democracy in the world; on the other hand, it also has a dubious record of a dynastic legacy of one family or its loyalist(s) for the majority period of governance since independence in 1947. It started with an undemocratic selection of the leader in the Presidential Election of Congress in 1946 rather than relying on the elected through the democratic process, and then the concept subsumed in the DNA of the Party for all time to come. This is important because mere inheritance doesn't guarantee a good leadership. A good leadership requires attributes like honesty and integrity, confidence, ability to inspire, communication, commitment and passion, decisiveness, accountability, delegation, creativity, innovation, empathy, and so on. These qualities do not come through inheritance by simply being born in a family; instead, one has to work hard and make sacrifices in life to imbibe these qualities and virtues to make him (or her) worthy of leading people and working for their progress and welfare.
Contrary to the aforesaid criteria, the Indian politics and the oldest political party has unique distinction of essentially keeping the leadership reserved for the members of one family rather than the merit of seniority and experience of other eligible members. Any leaders who had independent thinking or ever challenged the leadership of the family or deviated from the political ethos of the family were discredited within the party or shown doors. There is a long list of prominent leaders such as Morar Ji Desai, Charan Singh, Viswanath Pratap Singh, Chandra Shekhar, HD Devegowda and IK Gujaral who were either thrown out or himself parted their ways. Late Prime Minister Narsimha Rao was one who was discredited during the life and even after death for deviating from the Nehruvian social and economic model. This culture of political leadership at the national level appears to be so deep rooted in the psyche that even other national and regional parties are often found reluctant to accept any leader from any other party.
Modi versus Others
Narendra Modi is one political leader who has earned his name, fame and position with sheer hard work and commitment towards the nation over the years. In a country where the majority leaders indulge in blatant nepotism, lavish life styles beyond the normal means and accumulate assets and wealth disproportionate to their earnings in public life in a short span, Modi is one leader who despite his almost fifteen years as the Chief Minister of Gujarat and now about five years as the Prime Minister of India has neither ever indulged in nepotism nor is known for the personal wealth nor there is any genuine corruption charge against him or his government. So it is understandable when a majority of other like-minded parties and politicians join hands to dislodge and discredit him.
Currently, over twenty opposition parties including the grand old party of this country with over half-a-dozen aspirants of the prime ministerial position are engaged in a bitter election battle to defeat the BJP led by Modi employing all means. The most interesting feature of this alliance is that, except for seeing a common enemy (not adversary) in Modi, they neither have a commonality in election agenda or manifesto nor in their programmes, policies or ideologies. Thus in 2019 Parliamentary election, there is only one issue and that is Modi. The electorate is being persuaded or begged to either vote for him or against him. Couple of months ago, the way leaders of various opposition parties had shown up at common platforms in apparent bonhomie, it appeared that they might evolve some common agenda and strategy to fight elections unitedly. However, as the elections approached, most of these parties have rejected the idea of any sacrifice for a united fight; instead, some alliances of convenience simply based on the considerations of religion, creed, caste etc. have been forged to challenge Modi's might.
Some Vital Issues at Stake
But then the obvious question comes to any rational mind as how it's that Modi has become such an issue overshadowing numerous social and economic issues that the country has been facing for long. If we have a close look we will find that both the opposition and Modi's own party are responsible for this nemesis. Within the ruling BJP, the stature of Modi has grown to such a proportion and magnitude that all other contemporary leaders have either eclipsed or considerably lag behind him what to think of alternatives. In the contemporary politics, the entire BJP seeks mandate of the electorate in Modi's name, his ideology and vision, reform skills, economic management, diplomacy as also his ability to reach out to common man. In a way, Modi is the trump card for the BJP seeking a second term to rule India which has never happened in the past except for the Congress.
On the other hand, the entire opposition has no popular or credible face that could pose any serious challenge to his stature in the right perspectives. Consequently, the common agenda of the entire opposition is to defeat him in the election; and to achieve this objective, do whatever is required without any ethical or moral dilemma or shame attached. The entire opposition is only pitted against Modi. For instance, if they are to criticize the demonetization or Goods Services Tax (GST), they will hold Modi responsible for the inconveniences to people, if any, and not the Finance Minister of the Country. Similarly, when they decide to make "Rafale" an issue of corruption during the election, they would target Modi and not the Defence Minister of India.
Thanks to the unscrupulous family planning in a large section of the Indian society, India's population has increasingly become unmanageable and so has become the employment issue but the real issues are nobody's concern. Instead, the debate is whether or not Modi created adequate jobs during his stint as prime minister. One narrative that all opposition leaders tirelessly float against Modi is that he never fulfilled the promise of Rupees fifteen lakhs in the bank accounts of every Indian households. Despite best effort, this author could not locate such commitment in any vision document, agenda or schemes of the BJP or any in the text of his earlier public utterances but this twisted narrative is held endlessly against him by his detractors.
The previous UPA regime was marred with numerous high value scams and controversies even involving the top leadership in many cases. Consequently corruption became a major plank during the 2014 Parliamentary elections and some of these scams like the Coalgate scam, Spectrum scam, Commonwealth Games scam and many Defence deals still continue to haunt the Indian psyche. As against this, the NDA government under Modi has been free from any major scam or controversy during the last five years but the leaders of the grand old party in opposition have invented their own corruption plank in the inter-governmental agreement with France on Rafale fighter jets citing it as the biggest ever scam. The deal has been scrutinized and cleared by the Supreme Court and Comptroller & Auditor General (CAG) of India but this has not dampened the spirit of the opposition party, leaders of which have even threatened Modi to put in jail if voted in power.
The inflation and prices of commodities have a major impact on the populace. The current NDA government had inherited an inflation rate of about 9-10% from the previous government and it has remained below 5% during the last five years. Similarly, barring some exceptions of fuel and certain commodities, the prices of all essential services and commodities too have remained largely stable during the period. Notwithstanding this, the ongoing debate is not about these facts but on what Modi has done to bring down or escalate prices.
After seventy years of independence, a large section (nearly 70%) of the Indian population still depends on the agriculture for their livelihood. During the successive budgets, allocations have been increased with a focus on schemes for the empowerment of the farmers and farm labourers with a promise to double their income by a certain date. As against this, the opposition holds that Modi government is anti-farmer and they are offering soaps and freebies to the farmers with the assurance of complete waiver of loans and transfer of lump sum money to their accounts. It is the Modi government which took decision on the minimum assured prices for their produce and commodities but the opposition only blames Modi for the impoverishment and suicides of farmers in various parts of the country.
There have been several instances in the last five years when some misguided students or some mischievous elements have deliberately raised anti-India slogans or committed acts injurious to the secular fabric or the integrity of the nation. Some of the illustrations are Rohith Vemula Suicide in 2015, JNU Students' Sedition Case in 2016, Rohingya illegal immigrants and Urban Naxal's controversy in 2018. On all such occasions, the opposition led by the Congress stood for the offenders strongly defending their anti-national activities as "freedom of expression" and criticizing state action driven by "intolerance" towards students, minorities and scheduled castes. Of late, such action of the opposition invited larger attention and sharp reaction even from the common people when they questioned the action and intent of the Indian Armed Forces and Prime Minister Modi in dealing with the Pakistan sponsored terrorism across the border after the Pulwama terrorist attack.
Some recent incidents in Jammu and Kashmir and elsewhere in the country have generated fresh debate and narratives on the nationalism and patriotism in the country. The recent terrorist attack in Pulwama, Kashmir by a Jaish-e-Mohammad suicide bomber leading to the death of over 40 CRPF personnel and consequent punitive strike by the Indian Air Force at a terrorist training camp at Balakot, Pakistan has generated fresh controversies and debate on nationalism in the country at a time when canvassing for the Parliamentary elections are vigorously on. Apart from doubting government's intent and action, some opposition leaders have gone to the extent of making allegation that these incidents were fixed to provide electoral benefits to the ruling party. While BJP and allies talk of the nationalism and patriotism, the opposition Congress and allies ridicule it as hyper nationalism and jingoism.
The political discourse during the Parliamentary elections in 2014 was indeed bad if we consider the choice of words such as mass murderer, poisonous person, liar and fraud, Maut ka Saudager, biggest Gunda, Butcher of Gujarat, Jallad, and so on, to describe Modi by his political opponents. Then these adjectives were used for his role in the capacity of the Chief Minister during the Gujarat riots of 2002 following the Godhra train burning. In the Godhra incident, arsonists and marauders of one community had set a train on fire on 27 February 2002 leading to the death of 59 pilgrims, women and children of another community. This triggered communal riots in Gujarat (mainly in Ahmedabad) leading to casualties of both Hindus and Muslims but the number of casualties of the latter was much more. The special investigating team under the supervision of the Supreme Court had not found Modi guilty of any lapse or charges but the opponents kept on using aforesaid abusive words against him.
The current Parliamentary election is even more personalized and if the current discourse is of any indication, these elections are heading for even more acrimony and bitterness. The Congress President has already given a slogan "Chowkidar Chor Hai" (Guard is a thief) for Prime Minister Modi and publicly calling him "thief" without an iota of evidence or lead. While BJP and ardent followers are crediting him with everything that has been good during the last five years, the opposition is blaming him for everything that has gone wrong and even bad things which have not happened. This paradox, antagonism, divisive sentiments and ill-will have started finding reflection even in the vision documents and manifesto of the political parties.
Manifesto Should Not Set Bad Precedent
The Congress has released its manifesto on 2 April 2019 and here we shall look into some of the salient points committed through this policy document. The Congress is the oldest political party that has a rightful claim on the succession of the erstwhile Indian National Congress (INC) associated with the freedom struggle, and it also has the distinction of ruling this country for the maximum period post-independence. In my opinion, the authority is never without the responsibility and accountability and hence one would certainly expect this Party to have programmes and policies which are in the best interest of the people and nation. Some amenable media barons have already cited this as the manifesto pitching "wealth with welfare" to counter "pseudo-nationalism".
Some of the big promises made in the Congress manifesto are Nyuntam Aay Yojana (NYAY), replacement of current GST rates with a single moderate slab, right to healthcare, compulsory and free education in public schools, exempt MSMEs from laws and regulations, 33% reservation for women in government jobs, making defamation a civil rather than criminal offence, amendment of Constitution to create a new appellate court between the high courts and Supreme Court, law to punish hate crimes, amendment of Aadhar Act for subsidies, benefits and services only, separate Kisan budget, new Ministry of Industry, Services & Employment, new Ministry for Water, and so on. The Congress has promised to scrap the Citizenship amendment bill, Niti Aayog (to restore erstwhile Yojana Aayog) and the Sedition Law. In addition, the presence of army in Jammu & Kashmir shall be minimized and AFSPA shall be reviewed for its continued relevance.
As the entire document boasts of making tall promises and the complete analysis of same is beyond the scope of the present write up, I would only briefly analyze promised 1-2 financial schemes and provisions relating the security and safety of the nation.
The NYAY is a flagship scheme under which about 20% of the poor families have been assured transfer of a lump sum amount of Rs 72,000 per annum directly to their bank accounts. Though the methodology of computation has not been explained but the media has reported an estimated expenditure of Rs 3,60,000 crore per annum which, according to experts consulted, is feasible to accommodate within the resources. Another 6% of the GDP has been committed on the free education and 3% on the healthcare. For the benefit of a layman, the current total provisional Budget Estimates 2019-20 comprises of Rs 27,94,200 crore with major sectorial outlays on: Interest payments, 6,65,061 crore; Defence, Rs 3,05,296 crore; Rural development, agriculture and allied services, Rs 2,88,943 crore; Subsidies, Rs 2,96,684 crore; Transport, Rs 1,74,300; Pension, Rs 1,74,300; Education, Rs 93,848 crore; and Healthcare Rs 63,538 crore.
As per the published Economic Survey 2017-18, the estimated GDP of India is Rs 1,66,27,585 crore; therefore, even at 2017-18 level, the 6% expenditure on education works out to Rs 9,97,655 crore (against current allocation of Rs 93,848 Cr) and 3% on healthcare to Rs 4,98,827 crore (against current allocation of Rs 63538 Cr). Just these three schemes together may need annual resources of Rs 18,56,482 crore in 2019-20 alone if the Congress is voted in power and they indeed proceed with commitment. The commitment as such is quite cryptic as it simultaneously talks about doubling the government expenditure under education and healthcare by aforesaid percentages of GDP by 2023-24 and then also talks about transferring school education to the state list. They have also promised to create a new Kisan budget to empower them with freebies and loan waiver. The only well-known sources of revenue are taxation, market borrowing and foreign loans and these elements too have their own limitations, more particularly when the party has simultaneously promised to further simplify and moderate the existing tax structure (GST) and keep the fiscal deficit at the minimum level.
While the spirit and zeal of the grand old party for the wealth and welfare of the common man is appreciable but one wonders if the party has also taken little pain to work out the simple arithmetic of the budgetary resources and constraints as also the parameters and dynamics on which it works, after all some of the great experts and economists like Montek Singh Ahluwalia, former RBI Governer Raghuram Rajan and a host of other experts are said to have assisted ex-Finance Minister P. Chidambaram in preparation of the manifesto for the party. Here nearly 66% of the resources will be tied up with only aforesaid three schemes viz. NYAY, education and healthcare at the current level. There are other ambitious schemes including substantial increase in spending on defence. The party has not revealed the plan or strategy how resources would be augmented to meet demands of many other competing and compulsory sectors. I recall in the context of the subsidies and freebies, the ex-Prime Minister Manmohan Singh of the same party had once told the nation in the context of unmanageable subsidy on the petroleum products "...Paise perh par nahin ugte" (Money is not grown on trees). In such scenario, one only prays that these schemes are once again not like their "Garibi Hatao" slogan of the early 1970s; earn mandate by making fanciful and false promises to the electorate and conveniently forget it later.
However, as a conscious and well-meaning patriotic citizen, I am more worried about the geographical integrity, security and safety of the nation. It's no use in going again into how the issue of the accession of Jammu & Kashmir was mishandled in the past and who all are responsible for the mess created in the state over the decades. However, the fact remains that it is mainly due to the valour and sustained sacrifices by the Indian Army that the part of the state is still intact as an integral part of India. The separatists and the leaders of the two so-called mainstream regional parties of the state with divided loyalties have always opposed deployment of security forces in the state where a handful of willing and sponsored trouble-mongers and terrorists are bent upon to disrupt peace and harmony. The Congress party has now promised to reduce the presence of the Army and review AFSPA that empowers the Army to effectively handle the terrorists and subversive elements. In the recent time, the Army has systematically done a great job to eliminate terrorism and restore normalcy in the state. The proposed action of the Congress will only weaken and demoralize the armed forces.
The existing law on sedition empowers the state to curb the anti-national activities of the enemies of the nation including people with doubtful integrity and potential of disrupting peace and harmony. There have been several instances in the recent past when suspect organizations and individuals organized public events to glorify convicted terrorists, raised anti-national slogans or openly supported the enemy nation, activities clearly prejudicial and counterproductive to the interests of the nation. Unfortunately, driven by the feeling of bias and hate against Modi, leaders of some opposition parties including Congress have been found supporting the cause of such anti-national elements. Now the party has promised in the manifesto to abolish the sedition law to justify its image of a more secular and tolerant party. It is indeed unfortunate that the oldest national party now supports and finds the anti-national activities justified in the garb of the freedom of expression and tolerance.
An important regional power in Uttar Pradesh, the Samajwadi Party too has committed several freebies and creation of a separate "Ahir Regiment" in Army if they are voted in power. The leader of a regional party in Jammu & Kashmir has given a call for a separate prime minister for the state while leader of yet another party in the state has threatened to sever ties with the Indian Union on imaginary fears. These are dangerous trends and cannot be justified by any logic. What is even more intriguing is that many leaders of the opposition parties are constantly raising questions on the motive of the government and doubts on the achievement of the Indian Air Force during the recent strike against a terrorist camp at Balakot based on motivated reports in Pakistan and Western media. While there is no doubt about the patriotic credentials of such parties or leaders but they certainly need to realize that in their zeal to oppose Modi, they should not do things that go against the interests of the nation itself. All that one could say is such parties and their leaders are wishfully engaged in serving blues to the nation on a platter at the election time.
Why There is So Much Opposition to Modi?
One wonders why the leaders of the grand old party and others are so acrimonious and bitter about Modi that they treat him like an enemy rather than a political adversary. Some of them are so obsessed in opposing his every action that, at times, they look like pitted against the nation itself. The reaction and response of several opposition leaders after the recent Indian Air Force strike on the terrorist camp at Balakot, Pakistan is a case in point when their statements strengthened the position of Pakistan internationally than helping own country. It has been more than seventy-one years since India achieved independence from the British colonial rule. During this period, the Congress led by Nehru-Gandhi family has directly ruled the country for nearly fifty-five years with another about six years by the leaders of the left-centric parties, mostly ex-Congress men, with or without the support of the Congress. The BJP and its allies have ruled for about eleven years including the current spell of five years under Modi. The only other BJP prime minister was Mr Atal Bihari Bajpai who himself was moderate leader taking everyone along while heading a minority government with only 182 BJP MPs.
As against Bajpai, Modi led BJP attained absolute majority of its own with 282 MPs in 2014 Parliamentary elections and the Congress was marginalized countrywide merely with 44 MPs. With their past history of long and continuous rule, the leaders of the grand old party have constantly enjoyed power, privilege, glory and prosperity for generations whether they were in or out of power. It is simply beyond imagination and unacceptable for many of them to stay away from the power, that used to be, for a long period. With Modi's famous jibe "Na khaunga na khane dunga" (Neither I will flourish nor allow others to flourish on public money), many politicians have been deprived of privileges. Besides, with the advent of the BJP under Modi, the grand old party is also weary of an existential threat. Honest to the core in his deeds and actions, Modi is also ruthless and uncompromising on principles that make the situation worse for his adversaries and more so to the lackluster leadership of the main rival party. These factors appear to be the main reasons why opposition leaders hate him so much so that they are not averse to even making false and totally clueless corruption charges against him to gain some ground.
At a time when the majority leaders predominantly use caste, communal, regional and linguistic narratives, he focuses on the development. Major reforms like demonetization and GST were bitterly opposed by politicians because many of them or their cronies were hit unaware sitting on the hoarded black money. Then a plethora of reforms, ability to take risk, ability to stand up to global powers, diplomatic initiatives and aggressive strategy towards regional enemies and adversaries has rendered his political opponent clueless and beyond match on many occasions. Then he is one who also keeps ego aside if decision is to be taken in the interest of the nation. For instance, the Aadhar scheme of the Congress was opposed by him at one time but once he realized its application and utility, he went full throttle to implement and make use of it for various applications. The direct transfer of benefits to the beneficiaries' accounts has hit very hard the middlemen and their political bosses. These are some of his abilities and virtues inspiring awe, jealousy and rivalry among the political opponents. Unable to match or cop up with these factors, it is not surprising that most of this heterogeneous assembly has ganged up together to demolish and dislodge Modi by any means.
In a country beset with the socio-religious complexities of caste, creed, religion and region as also vast economic disparities, nobody can predict with certainty the mood and swing of the huge electorate. The entire scenario gives the impression of a bagger's paradise where the political traders and baggers are out to offer favours of the attractive gifts in terms of freebies in cash and kind in return of public mandate. This reminds me a short story from "Panchtantra" as to how a couple of thugs planned to rob the pious Brahmin of his goat using deception as tool, and indeed they succeeded and merrily feasted on it. Very few people understand the dynamics of the economics and are easily swayed by sentiments. Only the outcome of elections will tell what really prevailed in this struggle.
One wonders whether the electorate would indeed understand the objective and intent of the visionary leader who is committed to work for the eradication of social and economic injustice and evils prevailing in the country for long by making long term investments and empowerment of the common man or they will simply fall for the opportunistic alliances committing and encouraging freebies, loan waivers, subsidies, and so on at the cost of the honest tax-payers money. I recall from my own experience way back in a large government office how an employees' association with only a small membership count had turned tables on the rival association with a bigger strength simply by clandestinely offering free wall clocks to the latter's members. Intention is not to cast any aspersion on any party or person but the past experiences indeed suggest that many in the public fall prey to petty tactics for meager gains.