There was a front page advertisement in the newspaper yesterday. It had ‘Let’s fight corruption’ written in big bold letters alongside a picture of Narendra Modi, prime ministerial candidate of BJP for the General Elections 2014. It also had three other sentences which went like this,
Let’s minimise government and maximise governance.
Let’s use technology for greater public scrutiny.
Let’s be transparent and accountable.
Modi’s election campaign started last year with this headline phrase that was in the paper yesterday. Fighting corruption, boosting progress and reducing inflation were some of the apparent primary goals of BJP. The situation though, I must say, is a bit different now. We’ll get to it (and the three points up there) in a bit.
If you are living in India today and are reading this post, chances are that you know there is going to be an election soon, in fact this week. And it would be safe to say that you are either ecstatic(probably titillated even) or scared(bordering on despondent), largely, depending on your standing on the Modi-meter. But no matter where you find yourself, you know that Modi rising to the PM chair is still the highest possibility. The BJP and its over enthusiastic supporters are acting like they have won the elections already, and sadly not without reason. But am I the reason they are celebrating, are you the reason? Would you be helping to make it a reality for them? If the social media platforms are any indication, it is a literal flock of sheep out there. Would you be a sheep too, dazzled by the most spectacular PR jobs of all time in Indian elections or would you rather step aside for a moment and see how much you really should believe, of the things that you are made to. Let’s see what the NaMo dream is showing you, how it is showing it to you and what the reality is.
‘Saugand mujhe hai iss mitti ki, main desh nahi jhukne dunga, main desh nahi lutne dunga’. The man speaking these lines wouldn’t hesitate to call you a ‘deshdrohi’ if your blood did not become two shades more red after listening to these lines and your heart did not swell with pride for him. And dare you call this rhetoric. It must have taken some really passionate and smart speech writer to write this. And no doubt, it is attention grabbing. Why wouldn’t it be? It is spoken by someone who wins elections solely on his oratory prowess. And anyway, if there is something most resourceful and largely successful about brand Modi, it is marketing. It is what makes dream Modi, a highly orchestrated exercise which, like any good dream/show/performance, doesn’t let you get disinterested easily.
When Modi comes to power, it appears, there would be a literal revolution. The cost of everything would come down drastically. The Per capita GDP would shoot through the ozone. There would be tax reforms the likes of which the country has never seen. Corruption would be swept off of the face of this country. All the black money would return home. Scamsters and corrupt politicians would be brought to justice. Women safety would be a high priority and the perpetrators of sexual crimes would answer for their acts. Education standards would be in tone with world’s top most educational institutions. The underprivileged would get opportunities. Development would be paramount. Policies would be made for the people. Rebels would be dealt with strongly and terrorism would have it once and for all. China would be giving back India all of it’s occupied land and its soldiers would be retreating on their heads. Market and economy would rise and foreign investment would flow in pools. In short, prosperity, security, happiness and love for the nation would return in the glorious leadership of one and only Narendrabhai Modi.
And to ensure this glorious leadership, nobody is taking any chances. A few days after Varanasi, Modi filed a second nomination from Vadodara, a stronghold of BJP and one which would ensure that Modi has something to fall back to if all the bravado in Varanasi goes to waste by some chance. Not that he needs to win any of the two seats to become PM if BJP comes into majority in the coming elections, but it’d be a big shame for the PR guys running the show behind the curtains.
The reason why I keep referring to PR guys, is because elections, which until now were fought in countries like America, with hard working image projectors and speech writers, have seen a makeover this time in India as well and the PR machinery has proved itself as a phenomenal strength for Modi. It has worked overtime to continuously refine his image and clout relevant groups, organisations and media to hide his shortfalls and fiascoes and shroud it with a plastered successful image. The same in turn has happened to the state Modi has been ruling for the past 12 years. The projection of Gujarat as the most successful state in terms of economic, educational, infrastructural growth can be viewed for its truth, if looked closely.
If you simply look at some figures related to the development of Gujarat in recent years, you would find that there is no actual unique growth as is projected. The GDP of Gujarat is above national average but at par with other big states like Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu and sometimes even less. The Per Capita Net State Domestic Product (PCNSDP) standing of Gujarat has fallen from 4th rank to 7-8th from 1996-97 to recent years. The Vibrant Gujarat summits did not result in much real investment throughout the years and the figures have plummeted ever since it was started in 2003. Former The Hindu journalist Nina Vyas termed the investment figures shown by Gujarat government as ‘an utter web of lies’. ‘Vibrant Gujarat website claims that they had over 800 billion dollars of MOU totally. For the same period of 10 years the Reserve Bank says that Gujarat got only 7 billion dollars. So, where is 800 billion dollars and where is 7 billion dollars ? And the absurdity of the figure is you can see because the whole of China for the same period received a total of 600 billion dollars FDI.’, she said. Couple that with the fact that in the 2012-13, the total contribution of Gujarat in country’s FDI was just 2.38%. Maharashtra’s was nearly 17 times more.
The idea of growth that is shoved in our faces, celebrating infrastructure and development, has been achieved, if any, by selling all the major powers and say of the state to private holdings and companies. ‘The government has abdicated all decision making powers, as well as functional and financial control over such projects(ports, roads, rail and power). Nowhere else in the country has this abdication of responsibility been so total, nowhere else has the state given over the economy so entirely to the corporates and private investors.’, notes Shipra Nigam in her review of essays by Atul Sood. This obviously, is not without consequences. The focus of development is more concentrated as a result, on areas and segments that show profits for them rather than on those who need. What gets left after this, has a centralised power in the hands of Modi himself. A look back at the ‘minimise government, maximise governance’ point at the top would be interesting here. For Modi, it seems, governance is maximised by handing over all the decision making powers to corporate and wholesale privatisation.
A report published by Economic Times last month shows how vibrant Gujarat is, when it comes to people’s lives and factors that effect them. Health services are suffering in the state as there is minimal expenditure by the state(indicated in health budgets). There is acute shortage of specialist doctors(100%). Infant mortality rates in 2012 were upto 55 in some western Gujarat districts. Surveys suggest that 44.6% of the people suffer from malnutrition. Reasons for the same are extremely low wage rates, malfunctioning of nutrition schemes, lack of potable water supplies, and lack of sanitation which result in high level of resulting preventable diseases. 10th rank in the use of toilets for the state is also an indicator. This again contrasts with privatisation in Medical and Education fields in the state.
In education, while girls’ enrollment in class 1 has increased by 11%, the same for boys has dropped by 24%. Dropout rate in schools is 58%. For tribals it is 78%. Proportion of 18-23 year olds in higher education is 17.6, lower than national average of 20.4. In 2010-11, at least 9 states spent more on education than Gujrat, which spent an amount even lower than national average. Employment growth in manufacturing and services turned negative in the last 5 years. National schemes like NREGA saw shoddy implementation. The state has a depressing 41.5% people living in poverty, according to a study. Thousands of hectares of land has been given to private corporations at throwaway prices . Projects like these directly affected lives of farmers and environment, let alone the exchequer. Due to reckless decisions, the state went into a debt of Rs 1,38,978 crores by 2013. To give a better picture, each person in Gujarat carried a debt of Rs 23,163. Contrast this with allegations on BJP to have set the ‘below poverty line’ bar at Rs10.8 So taking Food and Civil Supplies department of Gujarat’s figure, a person who is earning Rs11 and who would NOT be called poor, would take more than 5 years and 10 months to pay the debt mounted by the government on him, without spending anything on himself. This would drive anyone to suicide. Taking of suicide, while Modi was in power, by 2011, 16000 people in Gujarat committed suicide due to economic distress . An unbelievably disturbing figure, which is independent of a proportional number of housewives who committed suicide in Modi’s pro women governance.
Surely, there must be a reason for what appears to be failures of the state and Modi. Surely, there must be some explanation. But that hardly looks like the picture. Someone must have asked questions. They did, only that the RTI activists suffer a lot in Gujarat. According to Gujarat RTI Activists Association, in 2013, 14000 application were stuck at different stages. A TOI report late last year found that with 5% population of India, 22% murders and 20% assaults on RTI activists were in Gujarat . In 2011, Modi fought all the way to the supreme court with all his might, allegedly spending Rs 45 crores, to prevent appointment of a Lokayukt(corruption watchdog) which the Governor had selected. It appears he had been happy earlier, since the post had been empty since 2003. Later, even after losing the case, the state government somehow managed to amend the Lokayukt act and brought all the power under the government it was supposed to monitor. Talk about ‘transparency and accountability’, another of the points in Modi’s advertisement yesterday.
So if ‘Modi sarkar’ is so tainted, why are you getting to read/hear most of these allegations just now. Well, because this is where the real accomplishment of the ‘chaiwala’ lies. With his talent of giving speeches, often inflammatory and filled with factual errors, he knows how to turn the pointing finger at you. When he would not find anything to blame you with, he’d call you ‘deshdrohi’ to have questioned his ways. Then there is the PR machinery which has worked day and night to refine his image, influencing opinions, using their clout in the media to make sure nothing bad is written about him, or even if it is written, it doesn’t reach a good number of audience. Big corporate institutions, which have vested interests promote him as the saviour of the economic status of this country. They use, again, media networks owned by them to spread the Modi dream.
Most of the television media religiously covers each rally and then analyses his speeches with hours of discussion. His fascist view and mannerisms are held fast and appreciated like the only medicine that could save the country. He even went ahead to cash in on this aspect lately, bypassing the party to project and showcase himself on every seat of the country. If you have been watching news, you might have noticed the different phases through which his campaign went. It started with slogans of growth and fight against corruption. Then it went on to garner attention for the man rather than the party. Self made man he was called (and no doubt he is), a guy with humble beginnings. The ‘chaiwala’ term was coined to rope in emotional support. This later changed to caste politics, wooing lower castes and the downtrodden. This, earlier this year, changed into nationalist rhetoric. Riding on the patriotic sentiment of the masses. Lately, statements like this were given by one of his party people, which obviously the party found non objectionable.
After all the layers of protection come the foot soldiers for Modi and the BJP. And I am not talking about vandals and thugs. These foot soldiers are often not connected to the party. The unruly horde is of social network trolls. You can’t say a word of criticism on any social network platform or basically anywhere on the internet without being pounced upon by these ever ready commentators. And this attitude is not just towards normal unknown people like me, senior journalist find themselves pressurised from inside and out of their media houses to not write or present a piece that criticizes Modi. “Journalists who believe the politician is their natural adversary and systematically question all politicians are seen as biased(these days), but those who attack only certain politicians and sing hosannas to another politician are seen as objective.”, told Sagarika Ghose to the website scroll.in in an interview. Ghose has received threats of sacking, murder and gang-rape for expressing her views on Modi. The sad part is that this intolerance is no longer limited to just the internet, you can find such people around you. And all this is when the man in question is not even in power. So lastly, I wonder what Narender Modi meant when his campaign advertisement carried the sentence, ‘use technology for better public scrutiny’.
The behaviour of politicians and their supporters, the campaign, the very air is filled with intimidation, both implied and subtle. What do you think those larger than life Modi banners and posters at every half a kilometer for? They intimidate and influence in a very subtle way. Narendra Modi uses the word secular in his rallies like it was some dirty practice and not one of the fundamental pillar of our constitution. His speeches play with emotions rather than addressing actual issues. I have never seen him come to a debate or appear in an interview where he might be asked uncomfortable questions. In those he does take part, he either walks out and avoids answering. He terms those who ask him questions ‘Pakistani Agents‘, and of course, never answers. The plethora of proof of Modi’s governance and politics point to alarming rates of corruption.
I am gonna do exactly what the advertisement yesterday asked me to. Fight against corruption. And for that, I will NOT vote for Modi. I am not replacing a bad government with worse one. You too have the option. Decide for yourself.