Within months of winning a huge mandate, Indira Gandhi was hard put to distance herself from the election-winning promise of garibi hatao. A few weeks after demolishing the Syndicate in the 1971 poll, she ticked off agitating people in Ghaziabad, saying she did not possess a “magic wand” to remove poverty. Well over four decades later, garibi is still with us. That says something about the enormous task of removing endemic poverty and hunger—and the insurmountable hazards successive politicians face in meeting peoples’ expectations. There has always been a huge gap between electoral promise and actual delivery everywhere in the democratic world.
From Jawaharlal Nehru disappointing two generations of Indians who were led to believe that Swaraj would transform their bleak and dreary lives, to his daughter, every Prime Minister has dashed peoples’ expectations. Yes, there were some who evoked no hope since they were mere care-takers or time-pass. Men like Charan Singh and Chandra Shekhar. But others, like Rajiv Gandhi—marketed as the new hope of the nation by PR managers—too let down the country.
Therefore, if Nitin Gadkari, the well-regarded Minister for Road Transport and Highways, is candid enough to admit that the promise of acchhe din has become a millstone around the government’s neck, it ought to be welcome. Like every politician on the stump, Modi and Co too oversold the dream. Acchhe din was an irredeemable slogan. Though, for the record, it was Manmohan Singh who had first talked of acchhe din, but being Manmohan Singh, they never took notice of what he said or did.
But it would be a mistake to believe that Modi would not have won without that promise. The popular mood was such that any credible leader with a strong organisational support would have decimated the UPA, widely perceived to be corrupt and non-functional. The promise of achhe din only bolstered further the NDA cause, but did in no way alter the voting preference of Indians who were already determined to throw out the UPA.
Yet, despite Gadkari’s lament the discerning cannot fail to observe the all-round incremental improvement in governance. In fact, Modi has single-handedly engaged himself in fixing what can be called the plumbing of the “system”. To begin with, he has ensured that no one in the political executive is on the take—something that could not be said of any Cabinet in free India, including Nehru’s.
Gadkari himself is doing an excellent job of speeding up the construction of highways, reviving abandoned projects, commissioning new ones and generally creating an impression of a doer rather than a talker, though his colloquial speech peppered with street-level Mumbaia phrases such as “is ko to maaroo ga” or “khali pili bum marta hai” might appear less than ministerial.
To return to the election-time over-promise, well, there is not one party anywhere in the democratic world which is not guilty of the charge. New Deal; Yes, We can; Change You Can Believe In, etc., are some of the winning taglines of famous presidential campaigns in the recent US history. Well, Obama, the self-proclaimed harbinger of Change with a capital C, is set to go down as one of the bigger disappointments.
And witness how that unreconstructed demagogue Donald Trump is demolishing conventional politics, appealing to the lowest common denominator and threatening to make the most open society in the world inward looking and insular, economically, politically and socially.
Nearer home, we have Arvind Kejriwal. The man now duly certified to be in possession of an extra long tongue for a rather small face, and using it only for abusing all and sundry. He is now engaged fulltime in making a hash of things in the national capital. His government goes missing when needed the most, like at present when Delhi is in the throes of an epidemic of chikungunya and dengue. And when it does surface it only spews venom against constitutional authorities. Did the man with the long tongue not promise the moon to the voters? He did.
Meanwhile, playing the devil’s advocate let us argue that no government can fully meet the voters’ aspirations, especially in a country like India where poverty, hunger, ignorance, illiteracy, etc., are deep-rooted. Modi or any other well-meaning politician can only try, but unless the permanent bureaucracy, the police and everyone else on the public payroll sheds the corrupt and slothful ways change will be hard to come. In short, the fault lies with our national character. You can change a leader, but can you change the entire people? Ultimately, we all are to blame for the poor state we are in. it is because in some way we are all corrupt.
A FAUX SOCIALIST
Congress general secretary Digvijaya Singh had devised an easy way to convert economy class airline tickets into first class: He would send them across to a Delhi-based wheeler-dealer Deepak Talwar. Recent ED raids on Talwar’s establishments, who had first emerged as the capital’s go-to fixer due to his proximity to the late A.N. Verma, Principal Secretary to Prime Minister Narasimha Rao, revealed the secular, socialist neta’s fondness for luxurious travel—but at other peoples’ expense. Singh got so many cattle-class tickets converted into first class that the difference in cost works out to be over Rs 1 crore, chicken-feed for him who could make many times over in return by swinging just one deal courtesy Singh.
A first class ticket usually costs eight to ten times the price of an economy class ticket. Singh’s excuse that he believed that Talwar got them “upgraded” through his contacts is hard to swallow. Again, even if he and his family members had to make multiple trips to the US due to the illness of his wife, who has since expired, why couldn’t the self-proclaimed socialist fly economy like the rest of the public?
Or is it that secular-socialists are more likely to fall for creature comforts than the hard-working rightists who know the value of every penny because it is earned with the sweat of one’s brow and is not a handout from some crony capitalist friend. Besides, whatever happened to the hundreds of crores of rupees, which, as the late Arjun Singh used to allege, Singh had allegedly made during his ten-year stint as Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister.
LONG AND DIRTY
The news that the chronic cough of Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal was due to an unusually long tongue for a small mouth, which had since been snipped adequately in a Bengaluru hospital, has caused much comment, particularly in the Delhi units of the BJP and the Congress. In fact, a Delhi BJP leader felt vindicated: “I had always maintained that Kejriwal’s tongue was not only lambi (long) but gandi (dirty) as well.” His Congress counterpart was less harsh though, hoping that following the surgical procedure on his tongue he would exercise due restraint in speech. Some hope that!