Two kinds of pundits were heard taunting Narendra Modi on the second anniversary of his government last week.
Two kinds of pundits were heard taunting Narendra Modi on the second anniversary of his government last week. In the first category were cynical politicians who have lent shameless support to the worst kind of casteist, corrupt and amoral leaders. In the second category were media pundits who mostly belong to the 10 Janpath tea party set. Together they taunted the Prime Minister about the absence of the ‘good days’ that he promised to bring. Together they failed to notice that the India he inherited was in such bad shape that a magician would need more than two years for ‘achche din’. What disappointed me was that they seemed not to notice that there is much they could have criticised Modi for had they been real pundits and not partisans.
To mark his second anniversary, the Prime Minister gave a rare interview to The Wall Street Journal in which he said, “When I came to the government, I used to ask them to define what is ‘big bang’ for them… nobody could tell me.” Well Prime Minister they must have been seriously stupid experts or they would have told you that ridding us of the retroactive tax would count as a big bang as would an attempt to identify government companies that have become bottomless pits into which taxpayers’ money continues to be poured. But, what worries me most about this comment is that the Prime Minister seems unaware that reforms are needed not just in the economy if real ‘parivartan’ is to ever happen in our ancient, decrepit land.
So I take the liberty to offer some ‘big bang’ ideas of my own. First India’s political culture must change if we are to move towards becoming a modern democracy in which democratic rights are not limited to voting every five years. A good start would be to stop the practice of housing our elected representatives in vast houses, paid for by people who spend whole lifetimes trying to build the tiniest roof over their own heads. In modern democracies, taxpayers do not pay to house their elected representatives. There are permanent residences only for leaders. Speaking of which, the Prime Minister should move into Teen Murti House or build a permanent Prime Minister’s residence on Rashtrapati Bhavan’s vast estate, instead of occupying a whole road in Lutyens Delhi. This kind of housing ‘parivartan’ is needed not just in Delhi but in every state in which there is a BJP government. It would be a huge step towards changing a political culture that has since 1947 been feudal, with colonial perks.
If the Prime Minister is serious about his promised improvement in governance, he will need to bring reforms in every government department, but most of all in those departments that have charge of public services. Education and healthcare are at the top of my ‘big bang’ list. Why do we see no dramatic improvement in schools and hospitals run by BJP governments? Why do we see no improvement in the hellholes that pretend to be shelters for women and children? Why do we see no improvement in the attitude of policemen in BJP states? Imagine the effect it would have on India’s future if these vital public services could rise at least to the standards of Southeast Asian countries?
There is no point in boasting about our ‘demographic dividend’ unless our children are healthy and reasonably well educated. Personally I would like to see education decolonised as well and made more Indian, but this task cannot be given to the RSS whose cadres exhibit the tunnel vision of frogs at the bottom of a very deep well.
The Prime Minister in his first speech from the Red Fort showed that he understood the importance of sanitation and public hygiene. Well it should have been possible then in two years to make at least Varanasi into a model of change. Why has this not begun to happen? Why is there only cosmetic change evident in Modi’s own constituency? Imagine the power that a transformed Varanasi would have had on the coming elections in Uttar Pradesh? All these things dear Prime Minister count as ‘big bang reforms’ and are as important as making big bang economic reforms.
A worrying change for me personally is the way the Prime Minister bangs on these days about ‘the poor’. We know that ridding India of her hideous poverty is vital, but there are two ways to do this. One is the Congress way, which is to throw crumbs off the high table to those living in poverty. The other is to give people the tools to lift themselves out of poverty. These tools need investment in schools, hospitals, roads and real jobs instead of dole. Modi must not forget that he won a full majority only because the Congress way failed.