Freedom of speech is inalienable
Wow! A pucca house with water connection, toilet facilities, 24x7 electricity supply and access to every family in our country is only around 3,000 days away. President of India Pranav Mukharjee has assured the nation on behalf of ‘his government’ during the address to the joint session of parliament that by the time our country completes 75 years of its Independence, that is on 15 August 2022, eight years from now, this promise will be fulfilled. I was thrilled to hear this and tried to find out how many families are currently living in kutcha houses and what would be the number of pucca houses that we would be needing to build in next eight years. I could not find the authentic data, but some studies say that urban areas of our country have a current shortage of around 2.75 crore houses. We can easily have an idea how many houses are needed in six lakh villages of India. That means even if our new Prime Minister Narendra Modi wants every urban family to have a pucca house before his deadline is over he will have to construct more than 9,000 houses every day for next 3,000 days. Sometimes travel is impossible, but daydreaming about travel is always easy.
The government stresses its commitment to providing ‘clean and transparent governance focused on delivery of services’. But it doesn’t make any mention of the steps it will take to combat corruption. The government provides no commitment towards the enactment of any anti-corruption legislation. Even Bills that are pending such as the Judicial Standards and Accountability Bill, The Right of Citizens for Time Bound Delivery of Goods and Services and Redressal of their Grievances Bill, Prevention of Corruption (Amendment) Bill, The Public Procurement Bill and The Prevention of Bribery of Foreign Public Officials and Officials of Public International Organisations Bill find no mention in the Presidential Address. The only solution the government offers is through Lokpal, a system which has already been put in place by the Congress government.
The government says that containing food inflation will be its topmost priority. It promises improvement in the supply side of various agro and agro-based products besides acting against hoarding and reforming the PDS. All these steps had already been taken by the Congress-led UPA government. Congress-led state governments even delisted fruits and vegetables from the Agricultural Produce Marketing Committee (APMC) act and invoked Essential Commodities Act to prevent hoarding and took steps to reform the Public Distribution System. The government has nothing to say on how it plans to contain the rise in fuel prices. It did not even touch upon the issue of fuel pricing during the Presidential Address. Are we to expect that fuel prices will be increasing in the days to come, as we saw in the recent hike in diesel prices?
Presidential Address says that a National Land Use Policy will be adopted to facilitate scientific identification of non-cultivable land and its strategic development. In Gujarat, Narendra Modi government gave away non-cultivable and even cultivable land to big industrial houses at dirt cheap rates. I should be allowed to have every reason to be apprehensive as Modi now is heading the central government.
Modi government claims that it will have a policy of zero tolerance for violence against women, and will strengthen the criminal justice system for its effective implementation. The performance of BJP governments in the states clearly indicates a tremendous laxity towards the safety of women. Madhya Pradesh is ranked highest in terms of crimes against women. The state’s home minister Babulal Gaur went to the extent of saying that rape ‘is sometimes right, sometimes wrong’. Women’s safety in Rajasthan has also deteriorated under the BJP as is evident from the rape of a Malaysian tourist in Jaipur and the recent rape in CM Vasundhara Raje’s district Jhalawar. Zero tolerance policy on such crimes was actually initiated by the Congress-led central government that amended the law and made provisions for strictly dealing with violence against women. The mindset of the new government expressed through the Presidential Address raises several questions in the minds of any well-meaning citizen. Massive programme of privatising the economy is anti-public sector. It could be disastrous if Modi government has no commitment to preserving and protecting the public sector in the face of virtually unlimited opening up to the private sector. Opening up defence production to private sector also raises many concerns. I don’t know if building India as a global defence producer is good for a pacifist nation or not? I also don’t know that what will be the impact on the poor of our country of opening up railways, agriculture and infrastructure to private sector.
New government has not told us what initiatives it wants to take to improve delivery capacity including civil services and administrative reforms. Dismantling of the regulatory system in the name of efficiency and improving the environment for doing business will also harm common people and reduce accountability. Central government will be drawing up state development plans. This is clear move of centralising power. It also has no commitment to devolution of power to Panchayat institutions. There is no mention of labour rights including collective balancing in face of massive privatisation of the economy or rights of workers in the unorganized and informal sector. RTI, RTE, MGNREGA find no mention in Presidential Address and Modi government does not tell the nation about its response to the key challenges tackled by flagship anti-poverty programmes such as nutrition, hunger, education and sanitation. There is no mention on protecting rights of slum dwellers in discussing urban development. There seems to be a plan to cut back pensions and social security as instead of strengthening pensions, what is promised is access to financial services and markets.
The shades of the intentions of Modi government reflected in the President’s address to parliament should be a matter of concern and will need serious monitoring in coming months. New government must not forget that India’s strength is derived above all from our strong democracy and from the other basic principles of our nationhood – social justice, secularism, socialism, equality, inclusiveness and the dignity of the individual.
Narendra Modi has surprised everybody by winning the election with such massive majority, but this should not be mistaken as a mandate for challenging and altering the basic principles of our nationhood. The basic character and fundamentals of the Republic must be protected and preserved. Modi has climbed to power on the ladder of free speech. I hope after attaining power he does not suppress all free speech except his own. Lets watch what happens in the days to come.
The author is editor and CEO of News Views India