Wednesday, 17 October 2018

Mere Mann Ki Baat, Narendra Modi ji

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As an Indian, the decade leading to 2014 had generated a lot of cynicism in me about where the country was headed. May 2014 saw a sea change when the UPA II Government was trounced by the Narendra Modi wave and the NDA's landslide win in the general elections.

The year that followed by and large reinforced this newfound optimism.

The first half of 2019 will see the nation facing a general election once again. Has Narendra Modi led NDA cemented its position or has it allowed the opposition to make fresh inroads?

Firstly, let's assess the positives.

Undoubtedly, under Modi's leadership, India's stature has gone up by several notches on the global platform. Leaders of major nations have lauded his vision and leadership. On the economic front, things finally turned around. Foreign investors also showed renewed interest in mega projects in India. 'Make in India' saw several manufacturers from the world set up base in India, some choosing India as their largest manufacturing hubs globally.

The first two years sort of raised hopes that this Government indeed meant business and the ambitious plans that were rolled out such as 'Smart Cities' and 'Swachh Bharat Mission' appeared to be putting India on the right track.

The ambitious GST (universal indirect taxation scheme across all of India) being implemented also could be said to a feather in the cap for the Govt although this was put into motion by previous governments. This important tax reform has the potential to be a game changer in the long run.

Recently,  'Ayushman Bharat'
the mega health insurance scheme has been launched. Touted to be the largest such scheme in the world. Well, it has its share of critics but at least a much neglected area, that is healthcare for the needy, has been addressed. Key lies in successful implementation across all states.

What went so horribly wrong then?

Nov 8, 2016 was a day that reversed the momentum abruptly and with great adverse impact. The PM appeared on television to announce Demonitisation of high value currency notes, effectively sucking out the life blood of what is primarily a cash based economy. What ever had been the intention of the move, it failed miserably in execution.The worst hit were those from the hinterlands of the country, farmers, daily wage labourers and small enterprises. In fact, many small scale enterprises collapsed under the burden of what became known as notebandi.

Whereas the Government shouted hoarse that this would wipe out the black money hoarders and spare the honest Indians, this was not borne out in anyway by the final outcome of this exercise which brought the booming economy to a grinding halt. The GDP numbers reflected the colossal damage to the economy.

Promises had been made by the PM that at every step progress would touch all sections and the minorities of society. However, the Government's silence and lack of visible intent to deal with zealous Gau Rakshaks (protectors of the cow) and the series of lynchings by mobs told a different story.

Initially, the PM's narrative was centered around progress and a dynamic vision for the nation. As the opposition parties tore into its various failures, the narrative has subtly but surely shifted onto the defensive.This is most clearly indicated by the controversial Rafale fighter aircraft deal between France and India~ while accusations of corruption and cronyism fly thick and fast the PM has maintained a studied silence in the whole matter.

To me, though, the biggest single disappointment has been the PM looking the other way when the Minister of State for External Affairs came under the spotlight because of claims of sexual harassment. This claim has not been made by one single woman but is now backed by twenty women. Propriety demands this minister's immediate stepping down from Public office immediately until he is cleared of the allegations.

The PM's studied silence in this sensitive matter makes me wonder whether Indian politics is headed the way of the US where a rape accused has been appointed judge of its Supreme Court?
I have been your admirer. Your talk show on Radio 'Mann Ki Baat' is probably heard by hundreds of thousands, Modi ji. Dear PM, will you please listen to Mere Man Ki Baat?

The buck stops with you. You have an opportunity to take a stand in this matter which in clear terms states that men who do not respect the dignity of women have no place in either your party or government. If the said minister does not have the decency to step down on his own, will you remain a silent spectator? Your predecessor was often criticised by you for being silent when the nation wanted him to speak up.

It is now your turn to speak up for what is right and just. And act.

If this obnoxious minister is not asked to step down immediately by you, I think it is time for a #WeToo campaign asking all Indian women to boycott you come 2019. Let's see what 'BetiBachaao' actually means to you.

Thankfully on the very evening of my publishing this post, M J Akbar resigned.

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