Now, towards the bumpy path to 2019!

Now, towards the bumpy path to 2019!

Hari Jaisingh

Looking beyond the historic December 11 verdict, my main focus is on the much-awaited national poll of May 2019. I believe that the nation is bigger than an individual, howsoever big or low might be his performance. The yardstick of assessment of Prime Minister Narendra Modi in History would be: whether he has delivered his various promises on the ground. I am, therefore, not giving any personal judgment on Prime Minister Modi and his party BJP. I leave that to History. Still, as an independent observer of national affairs for decades, my job is to evaluate objectively four and a half years of his innings at the helm of our great nation.

The questions I propose to raise and look into as objectively as possible are: how has been his delivery on the ground for the poor, the have-nots, tribals and the deprived or denied sections of the population, including the minorities?

During his early months in power I was impressed by his “Change India” campaign. Still, I kept my fingers crossed just to observe the direction he takes for changing the face of India. I have no malice or prejudice against any political outfit that works within the parameters of the Constitution and does an honest job for a better future of the country and all sections of the people without any discrimination in all an all- inclusive development model with right priorities which PM Modi publicly talked about.

However, somewhere down the line, his focus went astray. So were his priorities.

I expect the person holding the country’s high office to rise above personal, party and partisan considerations on key people’s issues such as growth, education, health care and employment generation in the true spirit of sabha ka saath, sabha ke vikaas. Has PM Modi proved to be true to his own words? The Prime Minister’s problem is his rhetoric. He specializes in making promises without any time-frame at public rallies in the hope that the people would go on believing him as a great performer!

Subsequent events have, however, put him on the wrong side of his own agenda. I know that a large section of the Sangh Parivar would not accept my views on misplaced priorities in development. Another problem with the PM was his inability to take non-BJP leaders to take along his march forward in Federal India. Equally disquieting was the way he sidelined the party’s stalwarts like L K Advani, Dr Murli Manohar Joshhi, Yashwant Sinha, Shatrugan Sinha etc.

Narendra Modi ought to have followed Atal Behari Vajpayee. I have conveyed this in my writings. I believe had Modi followed the footsteps of Vajpayee and got a better grip of rural-urban ground realities, his popularity graph would not have gone down as we saw in the five state polls.

Narendra Modi could have also avoided being pro-rich in a poor developing country like India. What is more, he has mostly been foreign-bound, which kept him away from realities of rural India. For instance, in an agriculture-based rural economy, he did not bother to visit even once the farmers’ families whose main bread-earners had committed suicides in the face of their rising debt burden! This harsh fact has to be seen as part of the psychological factor at play which is, naturally, exploited by local and state politicians against the Central authority. We have seen this happening in the December 11 elections.

On principle, I do not advocate dilution of Central authority. It needs to be appreciated that a strong Centre can only be an off-shoot of evolutionary development, not as an imposition from above. Authoritarianism surely does not strengthen Central authority. Prime Minister Modi cannot ignore certain sensitivities of democratic functioning, including silent voices of dissent within his own party and beyond.

Equally disturbing is his playing with institutional autonomy as part of his characteristic to centralize all powers in his personal hands or through the PMO. This goes against the spirit of democracy and constitutional norms.

In the Indian situation, a strong Centre has to be based on mutual trust and confidence. And a strong Centre cannot be sustained if federal units are weak. This is a matter of evolving a system in which the people ought to have a stake in having a strong Centre as well as strong states. This cannot be a matter of political pulls and counter-pulls. What is relevant here is the working of the federal structure harmoniously in the face of changing problems. What is needed is a Cooperative Federalism, which the Prime Minister once talked about to my delight.

It also must be said that appointment of “political governors” does not help the process of evolution of healthy norms. We have seen this under varied Congress regimes as we observe today under the Modi leadership.

I am of the view that the Prime Minister has to conduct himself as an all-India leader and make every Chief Minister an active participant in national affairs of governance. Once this basic trust is evolved, the federal working can become a painless exercise. This “ideal situation” cannot be applied in the current setting of rising bitterness and acrimony between the BJP and the Congress and other political parties across our geographical divide.

As it is, the Indian dilemma is the rise of small-time politicians who might be lacking national and rational perspectives on socio-economic and political matters.

Take the case of demonetization. I believe that this decision played havoc with certain critical areas of rural and urban economics, especially in the agriculture sector, small-scale industrial units as well as on the job front. It is a different matter that the Modi government has now brought Professor Krishnamurthy as new Chief Economic Adviser in place of Arvind Subramaniam. He had hailed the demonetization as a “revolutionary measure”. Going by ground realities, I won’t endorse this view.

Relevant facts are simple. Economic development so far has been tilted in favour of a small well-to-do group, sharpening the contrast between the poor and the rich in many areas. I believe that greater involvement of the people in development activities can be ensured only through decentralization of power and not by centralization of politico-administrative and other powers by the Supremo at the Centre.

Today, the Modi government’s major challenges on the economic front are fuel prices, falling rupee value, public sector banks, the RBI, current account deficit, fiscal deficit and big gaps in rural farm economy. No one can overlook the recent massive farmers’ rally in Delhi. More than 50,000 farmers representing nearly 200 farmer groups marched towards Parliament House.

Something has surely gone wrong with PM Modi administration’s promise of 50 per cent profit over the cost of production, without caring to revamp the marketing infrastructure and strategies to put the shaky rural economy in proper shape. As Darshan Pal, a rice and wheat farmer from Punjab put it, “The calculation of support price that the government fixes is erratic and erroneous. The government should include actual rent of land, interest on capital invested and skilled labour rates while calculating the cost of cultivation of various crops”. I agree with Darshan Pal. No wonder, millions of farmers are left at the mercy of middlemen who seem to be thriving most.

We also must not forget the harsh fact that nearly 800 million people of India’s 1.3 billion depend directly or indirectly on farming, with agriculture accounting for 10 per cent of the national economy.

It is also a fact that farmers fetched about Rs 360 billion less last crop season due to lower market prices of commodities, including rice, corn, cotton, soya bean and some pulses, than what they would have got by selling at officially specified minimum support prices. Herein lies PM Modi’s tragedy. Had he applied his mind fully on farmers’ problems, the state of the nation would not have been seen lopsided in development.

Looking back, Narendra Modi was elected in May 2014 after campaigning on the promise of reforming the economy and creating more jobs. But, the moot question is: what happened to those high promises? No significant reforms have materialized and demonetization and complex sales tax regime have only slowed down economic growth.

The point is: who would care for about 5 million youngsters who enter the work force every year? In 2017, only 1.43 million new jobs were added, according to an independent Think Tank.

As PM Modi is just a few months away from the 2019 polls, it is for him to decide about his last minute priorities: Ram Mandir or unfulfilled development agenda in tune with his promises to the people and the party’s manifesto? As a Hindu, Lord Ram is as dear to my heart as it is to the Sangh Parivar people. Equally dear to my heart is high idealism and principles of Lord Ram which seem to have got lost in petty politics of our leaders.

There is need for soul-searching in this regard by those who remember the construction of Ram Temple in Ayodhya on the eve of the general election. It is for the Sangh Parivar, PM Modi and his advisors to decide whether they wish to follow the parliamentary law route or the path of the highest court of the land in absence of mutually agreed consensus path for Ram Mandir!

If the Sangh Parivar and PM Modi learn to look at the country’s sensitive matters in a larger liberal perspective, then the Ayodhya Ram Mandir issue can be resolved amicably. In this context, they would do well to just look at the 1993 Narasimha Rao government’s plan through the consensus route. History rarely repeats itself among historically conscious people. As a liberal vibrant democracy, India cannot afford to repeat mistakes of the past.