The latest edition of political Mahabharata is in the making. Half a dozen national outfits and 50-odd regional parties have their weapon of mass instruction ready—the Manifesto Missile, loaded with slogans like New India, Inclusive India, Tolerant India, Prosperous India, Strong India and a United India. But does each Manual for Mandate stick to its word? Or will the purple prose roll off filthy, abusive, derogatory, casteist and crass verbal assaults? Going by the past few elections, the underlying tone of campaigning suggests so. Elections have been won more on negative narratives rather than positive promises—my word vs. their word.
The coffers of revenue-starved media houses have been filled in the last ad blitz that boasts of hits and successes. Soon, new manifestos and vision documents will be released at glittering ceremonies. As former deputy prime minister Devi Lal succinctly put it, “Only the cover of the manifesto finds a new picture. The rest remains almost the same because nothing is ever fulfilled.” Don’t judge a manifesto by its cover is the message. The rural satrap, who kept an ear to the ground, wasn’t kidding. Decades after his epiphany, India is the sixth largest economy in the world and also the fastest growing. Its per capita income has risen by over 300 per cent during the last three decades. Its international standing has more weight than ever before. It has world-class airports and healthcare facilities. Indians can flaunt credit cards abroad as the domestic civil aviation industry grows at a double digit rate. The number of billionaires in India is up by 500 per cent over the past decade. Of the top 200 richest individuals on the globe, over a dozen are Indians. But Garibi Hatao still remains a political slogan.
Irony defines our social and political landscape. India remains an undeveloped country, though it is still labelled an emerging economy. India was known as a rich nation inhabited by the poor, but is a rich country held hostage by a few mega-wealthy individuals. It is dotted with symbols of affluence and growth, but has the maximum number of people living below the poverty line. The nightmare isn’t over. Even 73 years after Independence, desi politicians speak about writing off farm loans. If the UPA government wrote off Rs 60,000 crore in 2014, the NDA is doling out Rs 2 lakh crore annually to agriculturists. Four decades ago, famers contributed 50 per cent of the GDP and fed 60 per cent of the rural population. Now they contribute just 17 per cent of the GDP, but feed 50 per cent of the rural folk. Every election manifesto has conned them with the promise of a better deal, but the number of farmer suicides keeps going up with no sign of closure.
The perversion of reservation is largely responsible for India‘s woes. Caste-based reservation for ten years was a tool to bring socially discriminated citizens into the Indian mainstream. However, more and more castes are seeking reservation. Political parties never lose an opportunity to expound on poverty alleviation initiatives. Yet, after seven decades, every fourth Indian lives below the poverty line. Leaders promise millions of jobs in manifestos. Yet one eligible youth in ten is without gainful employment. Netas swear every five years to provide affordable housing to the poor. But one-fifth of Indian households are without a pucca roof over their heads. Vote beggars assure all of potable water on a daily basis. But over 70 per cent of Indians lack access to clean potable water throughout the day. Currently, India’s share of the global fresh water stock, to provide for 16 per cent of the world’s population, is a mere 4 per cent.
Swachh Bharat and Swasth Bharat are phenomenal phrases. No other leader in the past has taken the lead in pushing fundamental change in the Indian mindset like Narendra Modi has done. But after initial successes, the celebrity ambassadors have lost interest in sustaining his dream. Most of our cities remain feculent while small towns and villages are worse off, being the wombs of epidemics. Why were the local civic authorities responsible for cleanliness not pushed to deliver? By reviving decaying cities through the Smart City scheme, Modi aimed to turn major metros into symbols of world-class hygiene to attract investors and tourists. But most of the administrators reduced the project into a farce by adding Wi-Fi connections and toilets in strategic markets, ignoring the rest of the place. The massive project of adding toilets in schools, rural households and urban slums was meant to erase the ‘Filthy India’ label. But civic planners did not make provisions for the constant supply of water and hiring supporting staff. As a result, over 60 per cent of the newly built toilets lie unused in many parts of the country.
Our politicians boast about creating elite institutions of learning like IITs, IIMs and AIMs that cost over Rs 500 crore each and admit less than 2,000 students. But our schools in small towns and villages do not have properly trained teachers and facilities even after 70 years. A large number of girls keep dropping out of school. Many less privileged citizens chase leaders and civil servants to get their children admitted in a good school. If India has established excellent institutions, why do our business tycoons, babus and celebs send their offspring to USA, UK and Singapore to study at considerable expense?
Private healthcare and insurance companies are flourishing and minting money although over 80 per cent of rural and small-town citizens are forced to endure long queues to get basic medicines and the doctor’s attention. Over 75 per cent of basic healthcare centres lack full-time medical staff. Terminally ill patients from small towns rush to metropolitan cities, seeking admission in expensive hospitals or a state-owned AIIMS seven after finagling favourable recommendations from VIPs.
Manifestos will surely miss the wood for the trees. Political parties must dial down rhetorical competitiveness and adopt the patriotism of purpose. The reformist push of the early 1990s was meant to create wealth. And it did. Only, 90 per cent of the moolah went to just 4 per cent of India’s loaded. Our politics must shave off its elitist gloss. To make all our countrymen, and not just a few billionaires, healthy and wealthy, the netas must offer a manifesto for Bharat, not India. Remember, every second Indian lives in villages and small towns. Let the war cry be Swachh Shiksha, Swachh Chikitsa, Swachh Shashan and Swachh Soch (clean education, clean health care and clean thinking) to fashion a healthy, wealthy, clean and inclusive Bharat. A mantra for raising a few islands of luxurious life in an ocean of poverty is an anathema against the idea of Mera Bharat Mahaan.
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