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17 July, 2018

Contours of BJP's poll plan

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

As Prime Minister Narendra Modi makes a bid for a second successive term, the Bharatiya Janata Party has coined a slogan “A New India is Rising”. It is reminiscent of the 2004 slogan “India Shining”, which failed to earn another term for Atal Behari Vajpayee, but it will be facile to imagine history will repeat itself.

The BJP is going into the battle with several favourable factors. For one, Modi is the darling of Big Business and the idol of the rising urban middle class which believes GDP figures and stock market indices are the best measures of economic health. In the committed cadres of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh the BJP has a large force in the field at its command. The opposition parties cannot match it, singly or collectively.

Last week the World Bank announced that India has overtaken France and become the world’s sixth largest economy. If the current growth rate is maintained, it may get past the United Kingdom too and be the fifth largest before the elections.

The Bombay and National stock exchanges established new records and surging share prices enabled the richest Indian, Mukesh Ambani of the Reliance group, to dethrone Jack Ma of China’s Alibaba group and become the richest Asian.

These growth signs have to be set against certain unpleasant ground realities. India still has one-fifth of its population below the poverty line. Suicide by farmers in distress continues. Crimes against women are on the rise across the country. Studies indicate that Modi has not delivered on his promise to create 10 million jobs a year.

BJP General Secretary Ram Madhav in a recent newspaper article, outlined the party’s strategy to overcome the hurdles such issues may pose. Essentially, it envisages a twin approach: highlighting the benefits that have accrued to the aggrieved sections from various schemes of the government and setting new goals to be achieved by 2022, the 75th year of Independence. 

After citing the cases of some women achievers as proof the rise of a New India, he claimed the government had relieved 41 million rural households from the hazards of coal and wood-based cooking by supplying gas cylinders and stoves.

Madhav went on to say a new, confident, well-trained India was rising out of 20 All India Institutes of Medical Science, 22 Indian Institutes of Technology and 20 Indian Institutes of Management that produce thousands of highly skilled people. He, of course, glossed over the fact that the AIIMSes, IITs and IIMs came up under schemes launched by Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, whom Modi constantly derides saying he did nothing. 

He noted that the government had provided soft loans to over 70 million Dalits and Adivasis under the Mudra Yojana scheme. Over the next three years, it proposed to build 50 million houses for poor families and that would wipe out homelessness completely.

In an attempt to address farm distress ahead of the elections, the Central government sanctioned steep increases in the prices at which paddy, pulses, cotton and other produce are procured. This will bring some cheer to the long-suffering farmers, but economists are worried about the fiscal and inflationary costs involved. They say it will push up the food subsidy bill from Rs 1.70 trillion, mentioned in the budget, to more than Rs 2 trillion.

Madhav’s list of the Modi government’s achievements of the last four years include doubling of the highways network to 120,000 km, building of Metros in 10 cities and laying of one million kilometres of fibre optic network to digitally connect 250,000 villages by next year.

The big projects now on hand include a space mission to the moon this year and one to the sun next year and the building of 101 smart cities.

Last month the Centre quietly drafted 800 Indian Administrative Service officers to visit nearly 65,000 villages, many of them with large Dalit and Adivasi populations, before August 15 to monitor the implementation of various Central schemes by the States.

Modi has described the exercise as part of a new model for implementation of schemes. It appears to be designed to ensure that the beneficiaries are aware that the schemes were initiated by the Centre and will, hopefully, demonstrate their gratitude when they vote. 

Governments certainly are entitled to credit for the good work they do. But welfare schemes cannot cover up acts of omission and commission such as failure to prevent crimes against Dalits, Adivasis and women and extension of political protection to the criminals involved. -- Gulf Today, Sharjah, July 17, 2018

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