New dawn a far cry

The celebrations commemorating two years of NDA II rule at the Centre have just got over. The main function was held at India Gate and christened as “Ek Nai Subah”, meaning a new dawn. 

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, BJP president Amit Shah, and the whole pantheon of the ruling party leadership has ferreted out statistics - with due apologies of director of magnum opus Three Idiots Rajkumar Hirani - claiming “All Is Well”.

Well, today’s Notebook doesn’t purport to dispute the government’s report on its performance in the past two years but the mandarins of North and South Block would agree that statistics alone, especially those pointing to economic functioning, seldom give a clear picture of social harmony. And for certain the new dawn is still a few years away.

The ongoing summer season has thrown up several issues which should concern both the government and the ruling party. There was the worst-ever forest fire in Uttarakhand, there was the mayhem created by the freak Babas in Mathura, and of course the case of ousted Maharashtra Revenue Minister Eknath Khadse. Your reporter has chosen three case studies representing environmental, social, and political turmoil in the country.

Uttarakhand Forest Fire

According to government estimates, this year till May 1, a total of 2269.29 hectare area of land was gutted by forest fire. Forest fires usually start erupting around the end of April but this year they started devouring the dry vegetation of the Himalayan foothills at least a week earlier. 

Through the 1980s, social engagements like Chipko Movement created a general awareness among people about the need to remain green. The opening up of the economy by PV Narasimha Rao in 1991 reversed the trend. Although there exists a general consciousness about the damage which climate changes could bring, in the past 25 years the lure of riches has proved difficult to be overcome.

Opening up of the economy led to rapid urbanisation and subsequent climate change but the governments in the past have failed to create a legislative and institutional counter to the environmental degradation.

 Over the last three decades, forests nearly two-thirds the size of Haryana have been lost to encroachments (15,000 sq km) and 23,716 industrial projects (14,000 sq km). Historian Ramchandra Guha in a recent article summed up the situation saying, “So India today is a veritable environmental basket-case; with alarmingly high rates of air and water pollution, the ongoing depletion of aquifers and decimation of forests, and pervasive contamination of the soil.”

Mathura Unrest

As the fire in Mathura gets doused and political mud-slinging starts, the unrest in the holy town once again underlined the undefined relation between politicians and men of mysticism. “Maila Aanchal”, the great novel scripted by Phaneswarnath Renu remains relevant. Politics, money, and religion continue to make a heady mix in our country. Renu, too, talked of the Matth (monastery), the Mahanth (the head monk), the money and the women, and the Matth’s intervention in local politics and society.

The flourishing business of Babas continues as millions become followers of these dubious characters. As it is being unravelled, Mathura mayhem, too, had its roots in the battle of succession of a prosperous local ashram. That this ashram enjoyed patronage of the politicians and that Shivpal Yadav, the powerful minister in Uttar Pradesh government, resisted any punitive action didn’t come as much of a surprise. In the Mathura case, the Samajwadi Party may be in the dock. In other cases, the BJP and the Congress could be blamed.

When we talk of religion dictating politics we begin and end with the Ramjanambhoomi Movement. It has indeed caused much disaffection in the country but the greater danger is posed by the prosperous Babas, whose lust for lucre is taking them beyond political realm now even into the corporate world.

Politics and Corruption

The fans of late Bollywood thespian Raj Kapoor might recall his last directional venture “Ram Teri Ganga Maili”. In one of the scenes, the protagonist presents a book to a powerful minister which was penned by the latter and titled “Rajniti Aur Bharatachar”. The hero reminds the Minister that he may have forgotten that he wrote the book a quarter of a century back and what remained in minister’s life was now more of corruption and less of politics.

The scene encapsulates the Eknath Khadse episode, which has caused a blemish on the leadership of Narendra Modi. The powerful Maharashtra Minister was made to resign, albeit belatedly, as he faced charges of corruption, for which the Modi-Amit Shah combine has expressed zero tolerance. There are no reasons to doubt their intention but has the message percolated down the line. Can the BJP leadership vouch that Khadse’s is a solitary case and that the party’s Central government and state governments have discouraged corruption in any form?

Look for real indices

The Modi government has three more years to go. The first two years have certainly not been a waste. It has laid a good foundation for powerful and purposeful governance. However, what is difficult to comprehend is the hurry to claim credit for the investments which are yet to give results. The national polls are three years away and thus, such blitzkrieg of publicity like the show at India Gate is uncalled for. The success of government’s policies has to be evaluated with people’s response rather than forcing them to believe that “ache din” (good days) were here.

(The author is President, Centre for Reforms, Development & Justice and Consulting Editor, Millennium Post. Views expressed are strictly personal.)
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