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Has 'Transforming India' lost its Inspirational Magic

AUGUST 02, 2017

By Naresh Minocha, Consulting Editor

HAS #TransformingIndia & its theme song, Mera Desh Badal Raha Hai, Aage Badh Raha Hai, lost its appeal after two year of its launch? How is its fate different from that of a typical bollywood Song? Who, for instance, now sings Choli Ke Peeche Kaya Hai that was once a rage even in Pakistan?

The reason for tossing the issue of projecting growth through propaganda is that this slogan and its theme song was hardly trumpeted during the recent ModiFest. It was organized to celebrate achievements of Modi Government on completion of three years.

Modi Fest instead focused on New India with theme song Saath Hai, Vishwaas Ha; Ho Raha Vikas Hai. It appears that Prime Minister Narendra Modi has learnt from history of voters' fatigue from empty political slogans.

Recall how the slogan 'India Shining' backfired on Atal Bihari Vajpayee Government in 2004 LokSabha polls. No wonder then that Mr Modi ever recalled 'An Agenda for A Proud, Prosperous India' that helped BJP win 1999 LokSabha polls to form NDA-I Government. Mrs. Indira Gandhi's slogan Garibi Hato nowadays invites derision from all.

With such perspective, no analyst has thus raised hackles at the black-out of 'Transforming India' from the assumption speech delivered by the new President Ram Nath Kovind.

Mr. Kovind, however,did focus on reforming India without using the Slogan. He stated: "We need to sculpt a robust, high growth economy, an educated, ethical and shared community, and an egalitarian society, as envisioned by Mahatma Gandhi and Deen Dayal Upadhyayji. These are integral to our sense of humanism. This is the India of our dreams, an India that will provide equality of opportunities. This will be the India of the 21st century".

'Transforming India' has not at all clicked with Members of Parliament. Search for this slogan elicited zero results from search engine of . The search engine of yielded one result- Q&A on Transforming Indian Railways.

Mr. Modi once stated: "We are transforming the wheels of government and integrating latest technology to make systems more transparent, effective and participative. Each and every citizen of India will benefit from this".

The irony is that there are countless concerns to show how and why citizens have not benefitted from Transforming Agenda. Missing from the agenda are initiatives that can change daily life of citizens from tycoons to manhole scavengers. There are no initiatives to trigger social reforms & expedite resolution of socio-economic disputes that are allowed to flare-up to massive riots. Missing from agenda are also measures that can help politicians reduce public distrust and derision for them in the society.

Before reeling out the concerns, an elaboration of Transforming Agenda will be in order. 'Transforming India' as a brand started emerging with the formation of National Institution for Transforming India (NITI Aayog). It replaced Planning Commission.

The brain behind this brand is perhaps NITI Aayog's Vice-Chairman Arvind Panagariya, who authored 54-page paper captioned Transforming India at Columbia University in 2006 when he served there as a Professor.

Referring to removal of various policy & procedural hurdles since the start of reforms in 1991, Dr. Panagariya wrote: " The removal of these restrictions has not proved sufficient to speed up the transition of workers into the modern, organized sector, however. This inevitably points to the presence of yet more barriers to the entry of large firms into the unskilled-labor-intensive sectors ."

He continued: "I have argued that various labor-market rigidities and infrastructure bottlenecks account for the continued muted response of unskilled-labor-intensive industries to the reforms undertaken to-date. Unless the government brings about some relief to the firms in these two areas, the transformation will be slow and poverty reduction likewise will be less than what is feasible".

This theme was articulated well by Singapore's Deputy Prime Minister, Tharman Shanmugaratnam during August 2016. Delivering a lecture on 'Transforming India' under NitiAayog's auspices, Mr Shanmugaratnam observed: "India's employment laws and land acquisition laws discourage firms from employing more people and becoming larger. What it amounts to at the end of the day is anti-employment legislation. You're protecting the 10 to 20 per cent of people in the formal economy at the expense of the 80 per cent without formal jobs ".

Diplomatic niceties perhaps restrained him from mentioning the fact that Government has created island of prosperity in Government. It has enriched this island through Pay Commissions (which are opposed by Finance Commission). The pay hikes at the Centre follow similar hikes at States & public sector enterprises, whereas outsourced workers and unorganized workers are left high & dry. This is nothing but institutionalized political corruption as it leads to lesser investment on development of masses.

Mr. Modi gave a big push to 'Transforming India' during December 2015 by meeting all the Secretaries to Government of India. He urged them to suggest radical ideas to take India forward. The deliberations resulted in eight themes. The Government constituted eight groups of secretaries to elaborate the themes. These are: (i) Accelerated Growth with Inclusion and Equity; (ii) Employment Generation Strategies; (iii) Health and Education: Universal Access and Quality; (iv) Good Governance – Challenges and Opportunities; (v) Farmer-centric Issues in Agriculture and Allied Sectors; (vi) Swachh Bharat and Ganga Rejuvenation; (vii) Energy Conservation and Efficiency and (viii) Innovative Budgeting and Effective Implementation.

After eight groups submitted their reports to PM and ministers, the ministries prepared action plan to implement ideas contained in the reports. A key message of the reports & follow-up is that India should grow annually at 10% to eliminate poverty by 2032. This implies that even under the best case scenario, a generation born poor would probably have to suffer hunger, malnutrition, no or poor education, poor hygiene and countless other problems.

The Government has as yet not made public long-term action plan for achieving this growth and many other suggestions listed in the action plan on eight themes.

Finance Minister Arun Jaitley has expounded transformational objectives through two last consecutive budget speeches.

Even assuming that Government is over-sincere in striving for inclusive growth, the growth alone cannot improve the quality of life of Indians.

The following questions would show why 'Transforming India' has not all transformed India. And nothing at the ground level will change till the Government takes a holistic view of all issues and resolve s them promptly& monitor s them with an eagle's eye.

Does the humble citizen feel secure in his/her home? Do women feel secure amidst daily horror tales of abductions, gang rapes, molestations, acid attacks and murders?Have there been no cases of patients dying due to non-availability of ambulance? Have drug shortages, menace of rodents, dogs, monkeys and violent attacks on medical staff stopped after announcement of National Health Policy?

How is Jungle Raj in Uttar Pradesh under Yogi Government different from that under previous regimes? Have Millennium City Gurgaon's third-rate roads, outages- prone, overhead power distribution changed under BJP Government in Haryana?

Have the incidents of suicide by farmers declined? Have cases of scavengers dying in manhole after inhaling toxic gases declined? Have they been given protective gear? Are all rag-pickers, slum dwellers and beggars sending their kids to school for compulsory primary education?

Have the States dutifully spent proceeds of construction workers' welfare cess on workers? Are the builders giving them facilities such as cooking fuel & crèche, mobile toilets etc specified by Ministry of Environment and Forests in September 2008?

Has justice become affordable and speedy (if not as fast as Modiji's bullet train) for the common man? Have incidences of road rage and police bashing declined?Have drunken driving & resulting horrible accidents stopped? Have people stopped driving head-on on the wrong side of the road – which is very common in the North?

Have cases of kids falling in open drain or boreholes stopped?Have killer potholes and over-sized speed-breakers disappeared? Have incidences of day-light robbery of shops & gold chain-snatching declined?

Has VIP culture ended with removal of red beacon from VIP cars? Has the Centre made any worthwhile effort to resolve water and border disputes between the States? Have incidences of terrorism declined? Has Pakistan given up cross-border firing, which it has been doing since 1947?

Have communal and caste passions declined? Has lynching by mobs stopped? Has corruption declined in daily life of street vendors& other retailers? Has political corruption at the Centre disappeared? Or is it the tight secrecy & non-existence of Lokpal that has created an illusion of corruption-free Union Cabinet?

Have poor people learnt the virtue of small family and embraced one/two child norm? Has Government done anything substantial to control population, which has grown from 36 crore in 1951 to 125 crore in 2017?

Have Parliament & State Assemblies transformed from Towers of Babel to chambers of serious discourse? Has legislative backlog been shortened? Has the average number of days when these institutions function increased? Has toppling of Governments in Opposition-ruled States through the Centre's machinations stopped?

One can list many more issues that don't figure in the action plan for Transforming India? The message that one gets from such issues is that nothing has changed at the ground/operational level from Nehru to Modi.

It is here apt to recall what late H.D. Rajah observed while participating in debate in RajyaSabha on Five Year Plan Resolution, which was moved by Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru on 16th December 1952.

Rajah stated: "This country has been in chronic want for the past so many years. It has been under foreign rule for so many years. Of course, if we ask this Government overnight-like Aladdin and the wonderful lamp-to transform the entire structure of society and make the land flow with milk and honey, that is quite impossible ".

This folklore is now next to impossible to realize due to unsustainable population load and scarce resources, whose usage has been constrained by social strife and eco-terrorism. We can safely rule out forever jobs/work opportunities for all. Unemployment and under-employment would thus remain an evergreen cause for tensions at home, on streets and in the society at large.

Keeping in view this unpleasant reality, Modi Government should launch five Initiatives to make 'Transforming India' click with the public. The suggestions are: 1) Provide safety to AamAadmi and restore his faith in illusive rule of the law. 2) Unlock value of non-productive assets including VIP bungalows & estates and invest the released money in healthcare, education & jobs creation activities. 3) Link all Aadhar-based and other subsidies and benefits to size of the family to rein in poverty, population, social strife and crimes. 4) Invest heavily in monitoring working of institutions and implementation of schemes right up to the village level to deter malpractices and inefficiency. 5) Embrace Open Governance in letter and spirit.