From July 2016 to July 2017, the Indian union government took some bold decisions. The rolling out of Goods and Services Tax (GST) on the midnight of June 30th, was probably the most significant, and may I say, a wise decision. I do not fully understand the GST yet. I can’t think of anyone who understands the Indian GST, except perhaps members of the GST council set up by the central government. At this stage, GST is one of those pills that many believe is good for the nation’s economic body, which may boost its circulatory system without any side effects.
I feel sorry that coveted constitutional posts remain highly politicised in India ever since Independence. However, within such constraints, India has seen some outstanding persons in those posts. Last month, Mr Ramanatha Kovind was elected the 14th President of India. From everything we have heard of him, he has all the credentials to be a good president and deserves the highest constitutional position in India. His past and current sympathies with some political pressure group (namely the RSS) should not be an issue since others in past who had strong connections with other political dynasties and loyalties had become Presidents of India. Him being a Dalit (a class of people oppressed in India, for centuries) became a talking point only because the opposition (UPA) reacted and fielded their own Dalit contestant in the race. There is no doubt that Mr Kovind’s election marks an important milestone in the current union government’s tenure. I must also say a few words about the outgoing president Mr Pranav Mukherjee, who is a Congress veteran (so why not Mr Kovind?). Mr Mukherjee took much needed decisions on many mercy petitions (by criminals on death row) languishing for decades with the President’s office. He occasionally warned the government by returning legislative amendments sent to him without parliamentary scrutiny. He also made his customary speeches on tolerance, calling for social harmony. The Indian President is the Commander in chief of Indian armed forces and s/he is the symbolic head of our union. Mr Mukherjee fulfilled these obligations adequately. Apart from that, he was busy visiting temples and he was in news only when he visited temples. In comparison, the Vice President (the Chairperson of the upper house) holds more operative power in our democracy. At least in theory, the upper house must raise above party politics, and be the non-partisan jury of the Indian legislature. The newly elected Vice President (who shall remain unnamed) does not inspire any confidence.
Some of the positive initiatives by the Union government in 2016-17 (in my view) are the following:
- National Apprenticeship Promotion Scheme: Planned expenditure of 10,000 crore over the next 3 years to create 50 lakh jobs by 2020.
- Introduction of full paid maternity leave for women working in the organized sector, in any company or organization employing 10 or more persons. This was a significant amendment to an old maternity benefit act (1961).
- Merger of rail budget with union budget: An important step towards improved efficiency and focus. Takes away useless sop-announcements from the Railway ministry.
- The Government will be investing thousands of crores in several new IITs, a few new AIIMS all across India. New institutes of potential are welcome. Please do not neglect what is already there. Governance structure in many of the existing central and state universities is opaque to say the least. The newly introduced national university ranking system may serve the purpose of internal disaster assessment and they must not be indicators of performance. There is nothing to write home about. Every state government I see, has its head buried in sand.
- National highways and the rural road construction projects were among the biggest achievements of NDA-1 (under Mr Atal B Vajapayee). NDA-2 continues to impress when it comes to investing in road infrastructure.
- Bilateral agreements on security, aviation, agriculture and in other sectors between India and other countries.
Point 6 has been the boon and the bane of the current government. The Prime Minister was on a foreign visit spree even in his third year in office. His visits to Israel, Germany, USA, Russia (I don’t know in which order) and how many more…were important events for sure. He is not tiring from his foreign trips but, I am tired of his foreign trips. A warm reception to our PM in any country is always welcome. However, Mr Modi’s arrival in all these countries has also enthused a handful of billionaires and people of Indian origin who are now permanently citizens of other countries for whatever reasons. I am not comfortable when the PM addresses select groups of PIOs or cheered by masses of NRIs who see him as a facilitator of FNRI (not generic FDI) in India. This extravagant flag waiving on foreign soils is not needed if they want to help their former mother land. Those with a heart (either genuinely good or even guilty) have always done their bit for India no matter who, where, or what.
While Narendra Modi loves his professional tours, the would-be opposition leader (Rahul Gandhi) loves his personal vacations abroad 6 months a year. I have nothing important to say about him (that should say a lot). In effect, both are on self-imposed exile at any given time, except when canvassing for elections. The government has not turned off election heat from the day it took charge in 2014. Goodness knows what it will be like when the next general election comes around in around 16 months. The PM’s radio soliloquies have garnered a few crores of much needed revenue to the ailing All India Radio. My reactions to the PM’s publicity seeking manners is summed up by my diary notes that I quote below. If the PM loves promoting his mediocre acronyms, I think copy pasting my own (slightly better than mediocre) flourish is acceptable once in a while 😉. Here is what I wrote in my diary on June 17th, 2017
“The Prime Minister of India inaugurated a metro train service in Kerala, a South Indian state (June 16th, 2017; yesterday). He travelled approximately 13 km in an empty metro train. He also inaugurated one of the longest river bridges in Arunachala Pradesha, a North East Indian state (May 26th, 2017; a few weeks ago). He was standing alone on a bridge too far. The PM also inaugurated a tunnel road in Jammu & Kashmira, a North Indian state (April 2nd, 2017; a few months ago). The photograph of the PM waiving his hand alone in front of a dark empty tunnel is still fresh in my mind. The PM posed for the cameras in a train in South Africa (July 10th, 2016; was it last year?). He was alone and the train was empty. He was safe and insecure. Can’t he see the emptiness of this all? Train travel is good but it is neither a necessary nor sufficient precondition to understand Mahatma Gandhi”.
I mentioned implementation of the GST as the most significant of all the decisions made by the central government in 2016-17. GST was rolled out after many years of deliberation. The PM also took another bold decision when he unleashed a demon in demonetisation on the fateful night of Nov 8th 2016. Demonetisation was meant to be a shark attack on black money hoarders, but it turned out to be a piranha attack on the skinny feet of innocent, vulnerable, ordinary people. I have written on demonetisation in detail in a post three months ago. In short, unleashing the demon was bold, and the government was clever enough to make a political capital out of that decision. History will judge the decision as one that was probably unwise and certainly irresponsible.
If we take ‘the demon’ away from the legislative year 2016-17, there is nothing left to talk about. A series of state assembly elections happened and NDA won most of them. The farmers’ agitation in Delhi caught some eyes. There was widespread concern against antisocial elements (still) beating and lynching in the name of saving cows. The unrest in Jammu and Kashmira is nothing new. The unrest at the borders with China and Pakistan are not new. We, the people of South India, are far removed from everything happening there. However, the unrest against Hindi imposition in Karnataka is worth a mention. The agitation against Hindi imposition in Namma Metro in Bengaluru city caused a huge uproar locally in Karnataka. The national (Delhi centric) media did not do justice to the broadcasting of the sentiments expressed by Kannada peoples.
The Indian identity is a complex mixture of many identities. Political parties with a near-pan Indian presence (BJP and INC) have always tried to undermine local aspirations for cultural and fiscal autonomy. They have tried to homogenize our public spaces. I hated the past when there was a single dominant political party in India. I hate to see a future where there is only one dominant political party in India. Some pro-government media houses are running a gunny bag race with the central government to an unknown finish line. There are many political leaders who are corrupt to their bones, and no torch is required to find them in day light. If only the central law-enforcing agencies (under UPA and NDA) acted where needed, with or without HMV records playing in the background. The rate at which regional (state-level) political parties are capitulating without a trace, and succumbing to central tactics of (a) lure (money), (b) seduction (power), and (c) threat (from ED and CBI) has continued to damage Indian democracy.
India faces an almost insurmountable challenge of severe drought and water crisis in the 21st century. State governments are sparring over river water that isn’t going to be there. Land grab scams are killing lakes in cities and forests in rural India. Nobody cares when in political office, and those not in political office (ordinary people) do not want to care because they are busy getting their next meal. I fear that a large majority of our politicians will sacrifice sustainable habitability of our lands for their own exploits and their party’s short-term selfish agendas. Such politicians are inspired by us, the ignorant citizens. Of course, business cronies, negligent bureaucrats, and a subservient police force do not help. I wish to believe that I am neither pessimistic nor anti-politics. In fact, I know that I am not (Can’t hee rava?).