Old Wine In New Bottle

PM Modi’s Claims : On the Flipside

Bibekananda Ray

In May-June, this year, Prime Minister Narendra Modi added decibels to his recurrent claims of achievements of NDA-II government in the last four years since his assuming office on 21st May 2014. He is repeating them in every congregation and even meeting groups of beneficiaries of Central schemes. The BJP President, Amit Shah and senior cabinet ministers follow suit, like Tweedledee of Lewis Carroll ('Through the Looking Glass') and are adding claims for respective portfolios. Mr Modi is dynamic, aggressive and has a gift of the gab; no other Prime Minister of India has been so voluble. Nehru was orator par excellence but did not beat his drums so loud and as often. A medieval Bengali poet, Bharat Chandra Ray Gunakar (1712-1760) wrote : "He who speaks a lot, (ipso facto) tells a lot of lies". Does it apply to Prime Minister Modi and his party cohorts? They may not be telling lies but there could be a flipside to their claims.

As Gujarat Chief Minister for 13 years (2001-2014), he was not much known outside, except when he was charged with connivance in Gujarat riots after Godhra massacre; he was then not voluble. Being projected as BJP's nominee for next Prime Minister, he became so during his whirlwind election campaigns in April-May 2014; with a robust health (54" chest) and boundless energy, he addressed several public meetings in every State, harping mainly on the acts of commission and omission of the Congress party since Independence. Congress-bashing has since become his obsession and a bee in the bonnet. Earlier too, he did not miss any occasion to debunk India's oldest (133-year-old) political party with a more glorious history and heritage than his, led and served by national stalwarts like Mahatma Gandhi, J L Nehru, Subhas Chandra Bose, Sardar Ballavbhai Patel, Lal Bahadur Shastri and Indira Gandhi. He often calls it a 'mother-son party', accuses it of "perpetuating dynastic succession" and failing on all fronts. He often stoops so low in abusing it that former Prime Minister, Dr Man Mohan Singh told election campaigns in Karnataka that he had not seen any Indian PM to so meanly attack the Opposition. He pooh-poohs the Congress President, Rahul Gandhi as 'callow fledgling', taking him as his political rival, vowing to dislodge him in 2019.

Some of his flagship claims are not original but a rehash of Congress regime's schemes—old wine in new bottle, as it were—like Pradhan Mantri Sadak and Abaas Yojanas, 100 days' work under the MGNREGA. The PM Sadak Yojana was launched by Prime Minister A B Vajpayee of NDA-I but Dr Manmohan Singh's Congress regime (2004-2014) gave it more vigor and resources; during ten years (2004-2014), the Congress government had more surface roads built in rural India. His Aabas Yojana is just a continuation of Indira Aabas Yojana that Mrs Gandhi launched during the Emergency (1975-'77); he only recharged it with more allotment and flexibility. His repeated claims of other flagship schemes like Yoga Divas (on 21st June), Swatchha Bharat Divas (2nd October), Jana Dhan Yojana, Mudra Yojana, Beti BachaoBeti Padao, Ujala Yojana and so on are legitimate but have not yielded spectacular results. These days, he and Arun Jaitley do not claim success of demonetisation, announced on 8th November 2016, because it really did not yield any. The sudden unexpected move took a toll of over a hundred old and sick people who died of exhaustion being in long queues to change scrapped currencies, or draw money. Black money stays where they were and the IT net has not caught all evaders. His greatest damage to the country has been messing with the economy with this dubious measure that slowed the GDP growth and caused a price spiral. Dr Man Mohan Singh, a great global economist, said, 'with responsibility' that he weakened the economy that was robust before him. The World Bank recently criticised the GST, introduced with fanfare through a gala joint midnight session of Parliament (the second after Declaration of Independence on 15th August 1947) for multiple rates, varying from nil to a whopping 28%. Along with demonetisation, it ruined small trades and businesses and is still plagued with complications of assessment and payment. It has not made uniform the prices of commodities, as envisaged, because State taxes and duties were not merged. To this has been added the relentless hike in prices of petrol, diesel, LPG and kerosene for over a month; by a short-term subsidy, or waiving of central duties their prices could be reduced by as much as 25%, as P Chidambaram suggests, but Mr Modi did nothing. Before the Mudra Yojana, small traders and shop-keepers used to get (and get even now) loans from banks and cooperatives; the Yojana only made it simpler. LPG dealers used to give new gas ovens free with new connections; Mr Modi took advantage of this, added a cylinder and announced a flagship scheme of Ujala Yojana, to rescue women from smokes of burning coal and wood; subsequent cylinders and refills are sold at subsidised price which has now been increased too. The Beti Bachao–Beti Padao scheme for girl children is not as popular as Ms Bannerjee's Kannyashri (hailed globally). Yoga is demonstrated on 21st June only; it has not become a daily regimen of all, or bulk of the people. Dry garbage and solid wastes pile up beside highways and within city limits, which will rot and stink in the rains and breedviruses. Prasar Bharati, formed to free Akashvani and Doordarshan, muzzled during the Emergency, has returned to Square One and are shamelessly doing one-sided government propaganda.

Another and a ludicrous public image of Mr Modi is of a compulsive globe-trotter on flimsy pretexts; like early Rajiv Gandhi, he has become a Non-Resident Prime Minister. On a rough count, according to official figures, he has been out of India for over five months in the last four years; his chartered flights, mostly by Air India, to foreign destinations since June 2014 cost the nation a whopping 440.4 crore rupees until May 1. Attending the UN sessions and multilateral summits are mandatory for every head of government but most of his bilateral State visits are pretexts for appeasing wanderlust. On being asked, India's foreign missions prepare agenda for Prime Minister's, the President's and Foreign Minister's visits; many of them could be carried out by Ambassadors and High Commissioners with political guidance and support. Instead of Primer Minister, the External Affairs minister or his deputy could go on State visits. With many countries, Mr Modi signed bilateral agreements for curbing terrorism, while at home, the Kashmir valley and Chhattisgarh are ravaged by terrorist attacks, every other day, taking huge tolls. India is not a permanent member of UN Security Council and is far from a super-power but Mr Modi nudges so close to President Trump and President Putin to give the impression that he is their equal and India ranks with the USA and Russia. To the Indian communities abroad, his addresses abound in clichés and platitudes (so does the President's too!). Mahatma Gandhi attended the second Round Table Conference in London from 7th September to 1st December 1931, wearing a half dhoti and a chaaddar, Mr Modi, hailing from his State, wore a specially-tailored suit, made of US fabric of $ 340 per metre, with his name embroidered in gold pinstripe, to welcome the then US President, Barrack Obama and sit beside him to watch Republic Day Parade on Rajpath on 26th January, 2015. No wonder, opposition parties cited it as an example of narcissism and extravagance. Foreign media calls him 'world's most fashionable Prime Minister' who wears pastel tunics, richly coloured scarves and lavish turbans. Even President Obama described him as a 'fashion icon'.Shameful for the country was his sudden stop-over in Lahore on 25th December 2015 to attend, uninvited, Pakistani Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif's birthday bash and his grand-daughter Mehrunnisa's wedding.

In election campaigns in West Bengal, Assam and Tripura in April-May 2014, he and other BJP leaders made some 600 promises, if the party was elected to power; on many of these not a word has been said by them, thereafter. Most grievous has been Mr Modi's retreat from his repeated promise to stop illegal influx from Bangladesh. In every poll meeting in early 2014, he had warned illegal migrants to be ready for deportation, if the BJP came to power. The influx has been so massive and relentless since 1947 that border districts are bursting at seams with them; instead of returning them, every government treats them with kid gloves, provide them ration cards and issues to adults of them the EPIC cards, enabling them to cast their votes in every poll. State and private hospitals in Kolkata and suburbs are brimming over with patients and kin from across the border, edging out the local. Like reservation for women in one-third government jobs, zero-tolerance of terrorism etc. this promise has also been shelved for fear of eroding his party's vote-bank, as every previous government did. How is BJP an exception, as Mr Modi claims?

The truth is, Mr Modi is a megalomaniac and propagandist who bashes the Congress and other parties on every occasion to stay and return to power; his cohorts in West Bengal and Odisha allege and exaggerate government's failures in impatient bids to capture power but in Karnataka election and subsequent bye-elections, the voters have seen them through. On his surprise selection by the BJP legislature party after the 2014 Lok Sabha poll to be the Prime Minister, bypassing L K Advani, Dr Amartya Sen remarked that an "uneducated and communally-tainted" former RSS Sangh Pracharak (Regional Organiser) would ascend to the chair; he was persecuted for saying this and even a non-entity like Dilip Ghosh chides him. Last four years have vindicated the Nobel laureate's perception. Let not Mr Modi go down in India's history as another Mohammad Bin Tughlak who actually demonetised a coin.

Vol. 50, No.51, June 24 - 30, 2018