Mind the gap between slogans and action

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s speech from the ramparts of the Red Fort was, as always, not lacking in eloquence, but he must have known that this time he was facing a far more critical and evaluative audience.

There are identifiable reasons why this is so. Last year, when he made his first speech as Prime Minister at the Red Fort, he was addressing a nation in thrall of a man who had just swept the elections and given to the Bharatiya Janata Party an absolute majority in Parliament. They were willing to suspend judgement, to believe rather than question, to adulate rather then criticise.

But in the year that has elapsed there is a growing feeling that somewhere in the substantive interstices of his eloquence there are glaring gaps between promises and delivery. He is never short of promises, the apt slogan, or the ready citing of a goal. But, when it comes to delivery, he is more than a little economical with the truth.

This critique can be easily illustrated with examples. Like last year, this year too the Prime Minister dwelt at length on his commitment to ensure financial inclusion. His flagship scheme in this area is the Jan Dhan Yojana. It is true, perhaps, that by now some 16 crore accounts have been opened under this scheme.

Crores have been spent through the public exchequer in hailing this great achievement. But, no amount of money spent on advertisements can hide the reality of what has been really achieved.

On April 28, 2015, in a written reply to a question raised by me in the Rajya Sabha, the government said that 14.90 crore new accounts had been opened under the Jan Dhan Yojana. Of these 8.47 crore accounts had zero balance and zero transactions! I doubt very much that this situation has changed very much in the three months that have elapsed since then.

The real problem is that the Prime Minister has a flamboyant proclivity to announce grand schemes, but the meticulous implementation strategy that needs to accompany such announcements is lacking. The “Swachch Bharat” slogan is a positive step. The Prime Minister hailed the number of toilets that have been built by now. But is he not aware that many of them are unusable and unused because of inadequate construction and lack of waste management planning and water availability? The same is the case with the Adarsh Gram Yojana.

A great many MPs have, indeed, adopted a village, but almost all of them will tell you that in the absence of a specific allocation of funds for this purpose, the scheme is languishing. The “Make in India” slogan was announced by the Prime Minister last year, and touched upon this year too. But any entrepreneur will tell you that “Make in India” can go beyond a slogan only if a great deal of enabling work is done simultaneously on the ground and in interfacing sectors, including substantially enhancing the ease of doing business, most of which has not happened.

The slogan of “Digital India” is equally illustrative. The concept is welcome, but nobody has yet explained to people who suffer from “call drops” dozens of times in a day, where is the over Rs 70,000 crore coming for this project? Such promises, like the misplaced one of a bullet train, make a mockery of the real needs of ordinary people, most of whom travel by the existing train system which is virtually on the verge of collapse.

This year the Prime Minister coined another grand slogan — “Start-up India, Stand Up India”. The question people are asking is that will this too remain a slogan for lack of proper follow up. Certainly, “Make in India” has not taken off, and nor have the jobs promised with great elan to the youth of our country. The gap between promise and substance is most glaring in the field of agriculture. The Prime Minister announced the creation of a Krishi Kisan Mantralaya. But people are entitled to ask, what is the use of another new department, when, in the one year that his government has been in power, agricultural production has fallen to just over 1 per cent from the over 4 per cent it was a year ago?

Why were urea imports slashed, and urea subsidy drastically cut, especially when farmers were in such obvious distress? Why was the promise to raise the minimum support price to 50 per cent over costs not implemented? Why have agricultural exports dipped by over 29 per cent in the last year? And, finally, why was the Land Acquisition Bill so arbitrarily amended against the interests of the farmers?

The Prime Minister’s speech was most disappointing on the burning question of corruption. Instead of reassuring the nation, in accordance with his election promises, that he will not allow any corruption, whether in his own party or elsewhere, he simply said, ignoring the overwhelming evidence in the public realm on Vyapam and Lalitgate, that his government has done no wrong. Last year he had said that the nation must put a 10-year moratorium on communalism. What then were the “ghar wapsi” and “love jihad” campaigns about, along with the blatantly communal statements made repeatedly by his ministers and MPs and affiliated wings of the BJP, on which the Prime Minister largely kept a cynical silence?

It is true that the Prime Minster said that One Rank, One Pension (OROP) will see the light of day. But the question is, when? If there were so many problems in its implementation, certainly he could have made a more nuanced and cautious assurance when he categorically promised it if voted to power at his election rally in Rewari.

Surprisingly, there was not a word in his speech on foreign policy, especially when our soldiers and officers are dying daily due to the cross-border infiltrations from Pakistan. And, finally, the constant reference to “Team India” was certainly overdone. For a Prime Minister who has shown little team spirit in running his own Cabinet, has almost no rapport with the Opposition in Parliament, has displayed a definitive empathy for a handful of businessmen close to him, and in whose national vision the entire swathe of least developed states all across the east rarely figure, this is an irony, to say the least.

Author-diplomat Pavan K. Varma is a Rajya Sabha member

( Source : deccan chronicle )
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