Dr Mohammad Manzoor Alam
Two years are now solidly behind Narendra Modi as Prime Minister of India. It is a moment of reckoning, time to question what he has delivered over these two years, how his team has functioned as cabinet ministers and junior ministers.
To begin with, we will ignore the team as the praise and blame lies with the PM alone, who is nearly a solo player. Most of the team is kind of a decoration, the individuals in which do not have a mind of their own.
A generous appraisal of the government’s performance merely gets it pass marks as most things that could have been done were not, and the government has already spent half of its time in office. We count only four years’ window for a government to perform as the fifth is spent gearing up for elections.
Thus the government has already played its first innings without any distinction. These years went by swiftly in bombastic speeches, announcing grand schemes, missions and campaigns with very little to show for those tall promises and high-sounding words. To that we shall come later.
First let us talk about certain things that looked promising. The most visible is that no visible corruption is evident at the ministerial level. One reason is that ministers are watched closely by the supremo and all major steps have to be cleared by the PMO, which leaves little scope for ministerial corruption.
However, we must also keep in mind that the larger scams in the UPA’s ten years came in the last two years. Eight years before that were clean. Thus the final word on this cannot be pronounced after two years of Modi government.
There seems to be some real potential for enhancing transparency in a relatively limited area of financial cash transactions. Cash transactions of over Rs. 10,000 have been stopped and all such transactions have to go through the banks. That makes it easier for Income Tax and other government departments to keep a tab on money and its movements, increase transparency in business transactions, widen the tax net and curb black money.
But the other side of its is that the volume of “currency in circulation” has grown far larger than expected, which means that a lot of people have taken out a substantial amount of money from their bank accounts and are using them in cash transactions. This is going to be a problem and the government has to encourage people to put money back in their banks.
For increasing its revenue the government has put one per cent tax on gold, silver and jewellery sales in the last budget. This is one area where a huge part of untaxed wealth in India is stored. A tab is kept on the large income of jewelers through the nominal one per cent tax.
The purchaser of gold and silver jewellery has also been brought under the scanner. On any purchase of Rs. 2 lakh the PAN of the purchaser is recorded for the later use of Income Tax and other government departments. Thus both the buyer and seller are placed under scanner to prevent black money circulation.
However, these steps look smaller compared to what BJP had promised in its election campaign. It had told people that the black money stacked in banks abroad would be brought back to India as soon as NDA came to power. The party had promised Rs. 15 lakh would be deposited in every Indian’s bank account from the money thus recovered. Two years on we have not got even Rs. 15 so far.
Much of the undoing comes from the highfalutin, unrestrained speech of BJP leaders. They think that they can get away by making tall promises and befooling people. They do not seem to realise that people remember things they are promised and they get frustrated and angry if they think they have been cheated.
Most of the last two years of the PM were lost in international travel, announcement of even more grandiose (and unworkable) schemes, missions and projects. We have not seen any of the 100 smart cities projects taking off. Understandably, these have to be satellites of big cities already existing like today’s NOIDA, Greater NOIDA, Ghaziabad, Gurgaon and Faridabad around Delhi. None of these is a smart city promised in the 100 new smart cities by the Prime Minister.
A smart city is an energy-efficient city, safe city, smoothly functioning city. It does not waste water. Much of the toilet flushing, irragating of lawns and gardens, car-washing and a number of other non-potable water use requirements are met with rain water harvested through building drains all over the city buildings and stored in spacious underground tanks. Most of the street lighting and a substantial part of domestic use electricity is generated by mandatory solar panels on all buildings, thus saving the environment from emissions from coal-fired and gas-fired electricity-producing units.
In such cities, there are separate roads for millions of cyclists going to work on cycles, other safe roads for pedestrians and minimum number of motorised vehicles, many of them running on battery, hydrogen, CNG, electricity, even solar panels along with hybrid vehicles using all these, thus reducing fossil fuel use and cutting down on city pollution.
In such cities there are no real commuters. Most people go to office within a walking or cycling distance as most or all work places are located close to residential clusters.
Much of the life in such cities is digitised and automated right from kitchen to bedroom. People consult their doctors on internet and get tests and prescription via net. They just walk to the drug store a couple of blocks away. Even those stores have physicians to look after urgent needs. Being shifted to the most well-equipped specialty hospital is a matter of 10 to 15 minutes. There are no hassles of bribery to the tax man, to the traffic police, to the thanedar. People live a meaningful, healthy happy life. It needs technology, capital, a different work culture. None of it is visible so far.
All this will certainly not materialise till goonda attacks on Muslims in the name of beef is not stopped. It will not materialise as long as anti-Muslim, anti-Christian riots to mobilise Hindu voters are not stopped. It will not materialise till hate speech and hate crimes against religious minorities are not stopped. It will not materialise till foul-mouthed, abusive, ill-bred and ill-mannered people like Sadhvi Prachi, Sadhu Sakhshi Maharaj, Yogi Adityanath and their loutish bands are not brought to book for their brazen slander and hate-mongering. For the government to succeed the last thing it needs is the creation of social ill will by men and women, who are, as ill luck has it, MP and ministers.