Promises are but words, and words but wind

It is common knowledge that most politicians make very tall promises, particularly during their campaigning periods, that they have no intentions of keeping once elected. The public too discounts most of such political rhetoric since they know it is only for votes. However there are some exceptions to this from time to time. These exceptions come in to play particularly when the citizens are fed up with an existing government that does not seem to be going anywhere. The UPA 2 government fell in this category during their second term under Dr Manmohan Singh and the writing was on the wall for them. Mr Narendra Modi came on the scene and fitted the role of a possible saviour of the nation based on his past record in his home state and the passions that he could ignite in a common man with his version of the vision for India. Mr Modi sold a dream to every Indian on the street – a dream where he could aspire for ache din, a dream where he could feel proud to be an Indian, a dream where good governance would be the way forward, a dream where the nation’s youth could look forward to a bright future, a dream where anti-national elements would be dealt with swiftly and severely in the interests of the nation, a dream where the nation could be catapulted to its rightful place in the hierarchy of the nations across the world. He and his party were given an overwhelming mandate to rule the nation for next five years. In such a case the public does expect the politicians to fulfil some of the promises and aspirations that were sold as a part of the dream. There is no doubt that fulfilment of a dream is not an easy task. In fact one can stretch it further and say that a dream is not likely to be fulfilled ever in its real sense. Unlike a promise, a dream is more dynamic in nature and as some parts of the dream get realised, it invariably tends to expand its scope and therefore there are no fixed boundaries or a finishing line for a dream.

The question that is being debated across the nation today is has the new government made any creditable advances towards fulfilment of the dream that it sold? Does the common man in the street feel that the promised ‘achhe din’ are likely to be a reality soon? Is the nation better off as a whole today than it was a year ago? Answering the last question first, one can say yes the nation is better off today than it was a year or two ago. Some of the factors that support this are the impact of Prime Minister’s various diplomatic initiatives that have resulted in the improved credibility of India as a nation in the eyes of other countries. Some of the major economic indicators like inflation, foreign exchange reserves, current account deficit and so on are all in favour of this affirmative answer. Power situation is a shade better in the country as is coal production which has a major impact on the growth of power. Defence preparedness has certainly picked up some momentum and coming years should see the nation in a much better state of preparedness. Knowledgeable people do concede that some of ministries like power, roads and infrastructure etc are laying the spade work for an effective growth in the coming years. The results of this effort will take a couple of years to show since the gestation period for such work is invariably high. On the negative side the industrial growth is still stalled, infrastructure is yet to pick up speed; job creation is still not visible and fringe elements are still mongering around to cause unnecessary disturbances in the much needed communal harmony in the country. The situation in Jammu & Kashmir is worse off than before and it seems that BJP, the junior partner in the state government, is unable to put any effective checks on the Mufti led PDP government. The promised crackdown of graft and corruption is still not visible and the cases carried forward from the time of the last government too seem to be moving at a snail’s pace. The NDA government led by BJP has still not found a way to tackle the united opposition in terms of numbers to push various bills and agendas in the Rajya Sabha. One of the biggest let downs, as it appears, has been the finance ministry since it has failed to generate any enthusiasm on most fronts like industrial growth, capital markets, foreign investment and a sizeable growth in direct and indirect tax collections. The last budget was a damp squid to say the least with no innovative or radical features to boast of that could have spurred growth. As far as the overall state of the nation is concerned, the new government can be given a benefit of doubt in view of the fact that it has just finished one year and therefore it is too early to pass any judgement. Possibly there is some direction in place at the macro level and the next couple of years will tell the real story.Price Promise

The next obvious question is about the status of the micro picture since that is what affects the common man in more ways than one. It will be very naive of any government if it believes that a common man on the street, urban or rural, will feel satisfied by the macro level initiatives that the government may be taking for the nation as a whole. Most will neither have the understanding for such matters nor the inclination to do so since for them what matters is the hard grind of their day to day life. They are looking at measures and steps that can make some positive impact for the betterment of their daily life. This is where the significance of improving the micro level picture assumes very high importance. Ultimately the state of nation’s development and wellbeing will be reflected by the cumulative sum of the development and wellbeing of all its common citizens. It would be safe to assume that the man on the street is still where he was a year ago. He still cannot fathom why, despite the price of crude falling by over 40% from USD 115 to USD 65 per barrel, the retail prices of petrol, diesel or kerosene in the country are only marginally lower by about 10-12%. Why is it that the cost of essential services keeps on increasing faster than his earnings? Why is it that prices of essential items, required in daily life, seem to be moving in only one direction despite some obvious reductions in input costs? Why is it that a common man is forced to pay tolls on highways where the state of the road is so bad that a journey that should take about four hours, can actually take anything from seven to ten hours? Why is it that the super rich can default on payment of taxes running in billions of rupees and yet roam around freely unlike a common man who is harassed to no end even for a paltry sum of a few hundred rupees? The overall quality of services and facilities provided by the state continues to be as bad as ever. The common man has to still go through the same old bureaucratic and administrative hurdles that he did a year back. Does the government have any plausible answers for these and other similar questions? To most citizens it appears that they have no answers. Knowledgeable people, who have had an opportunity to travel abroad, will invariably ask the question as to why is it that food and other essential items continue to remain at nearly the same level in USA for years together while in India they may jump up by hundred percent or more in less than a year?

In Indian context, unfortunately, for most citizens there is only one government and that is the central government. Therefore all answers to these questions that trouble the common man are targeted at the central government – in this case Mr Modi and his team. Frankly the common man seems to be getting disillusioned by the day. He is disillusioned because there is neither any perceptible change nor any indication that we are moving towards realisation of the dream that was sold. He cannot see even a few baby steps in the promised direction that may give him hope and some faith in the new regime. Government’s handling of some issues at the national level that a common man can understand too seems to have been a letdown. Kashmir continues to be in the news for all the wrong reasons, minor functionaries in the extended BJP camp continue to make provocative statements that can only be counterproductive to the realisation of the promised dream. Promised black money retrieval has made no headway as is the case with tackling of corruption. Regional BJP governments seem to be more interested in focussing on irrelevant issues like what one should eat or wear, instead of focussing on the more urgent and important problems that their people are facing. The tug of war between the AAP government in Delhi and the BJP government at the centre is being played at the cost of hardships to the common man. Citizens want the government to work and if there are hurdles on the way, governments are expected to clear them. On the whole there is a lot of negativity in the air that the new government and its leadership seem to be ignoring to their own peril. May be they are hoping that they still have four more years to go at the centre and by then the nation will see a lot of improvement all around. This smug feeling may be the start of their undoing since public opinion can veer off very quickly but can take a very long time if you want to bring it back in your favour.

There is another very important factor that may weigh heavily on BJP in future. In last elections, Mr Modi achieved a very close connect with the common citizen across the country with his oratory, promise of ache din, vision of a strong India and promise of good governance. That connect seems to have diminished drastically in the last few months, Man ki Baat notwithstanding. The main reason for this is the lack of any positive steps taken at the micro level that a common man can see or feel and government’s tepid response to some issues, mentioned earlier, at national level. For a man on the street perceptions are important. Perceptions have to be built and that is where Mr Modi and his team seem to have either failed or possibly taken the common man for granted. The later is a very dangerous trend and could cost the BJP dear in the long run. It is time the new government takes stock and does some immediate course correction at the micro level to bridge the gap between promises made and the intended delivery. It fools no one if the government indulges in self assessment of its achievements in last twelve months and declares that it has come out trumps in all areas. That does not cut much ice with anyone. Instead it would serve the government well to use the same money, time and effort to find out what the man in the street feels after their first year in power. The results may jolt the government and help them to understand the harsh realities as they actually exist instead of revelling in the misplaced euphoria that seems to have engulfed many in the BJP hierarchy in the last few weeks.

As a leader, it may be worthwhile for Mr Modi to recall what Ray Davies, the famous English musician, had to say on Money, Politics and Corruption: Money and corruption are ruining the land, crooked politicians betray the working man, pocketing the profits and treating us like sheep, and we’re tired of hearing promises that we know they’ll never keep. This Mr Prime Minister is possibly true universally in varying degrees for different nations, but for India, every word of this quote rings true to its last alphabet. The question is can you and your team do anything to change it?

Saroj Chadha, an engineering professional, is a successful entrepreneur. Having retired from the Indian Army after having served for over 23 years, he has also been a consultant for leading Indian and Multinational electrical companies. He lives in New Delhi.

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