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Shuddhi Yagna of PM's Speech on Borders Yields Glittering Truth

FEBRUARY 17, 2023

By Naresh Minocha, Consulting Editor

PRIME Minister Narendra Modi has given a spiritual cloak to criticism. Replying on Motion of Thanks (MoT) to the President's annual Address to Parliament on 8th February 2023 in Lok Sabha, Mr Modi said: "India is the mother of democracy, constructive criticism is vital for a strong democracy and criticism is like a shuddhi yagya."

With this, he has created end-to-end chain on core value of the democracy - criticism - over his parliamentary career beginning mid-2014.

In his maiden reply in Lok Sabha on MoT to the President's Address on 11th June 2014, Mr. Modi stated: "In a democracy, criticism is for good and it must happen. Only accusations are bad, criticism is not. Criticism gives strength. It is the best medicine in a democracy. We are ever ready for criticism. I would want all the policies to be studied in detail and criticized so that the end result can be put to use for the good of country in coming time. We want to move ahead with this spirit."

In fact, Mr Modi victoriously rode to Delhi Throne in May 2014 on the Chariot of Criticism that he ran against UPA regime for several years. Recall the speech he delivered at Jodhpur during November 2013.

He stated at public rally: "the power of democracy lies in respecting and honouring the opposite views as well, democracy can't function without this! No matter how many voices have been raised against me, I take it head on, have been taking it for last 12 years, have I ever lost my tongue? This is the beauty of democracy, the strength of democracy. The more we will be criticized, the better we will perform!"

It is this wisdom that cast duty on independent analysts like me to start afresh Shuddhi Yagna. This blog is thus dedicated to Mr. Modi's sermons. Any rationalist would agree that more such researched write-ups should empower Mr. Modi to perform better in the remaining period of his 2nd term.

The best way to embark on constructive criticism is to audit Mr. Modi's speeches against hard facts, many of which are forgotten or buried in government archives.

The speeches should be scrutinized on the touchstone of continuity in government. Canons of good governance require ruling regime to at least reckon both good and bad work done by predecessor governments. The ruling regime should not get obsessed with flaunting its policies and projects by running down conduct of predecessors.

It is indeed sad that Congress, as the leading Opposition party, has failed to launch speech audit of PM's speeches. The Congress has thus let down democracy by not launching forensic audit of policies. It has not spoken on policy vacuum/ policy paralysis.

Let us now start yagna on the speech that Prime Minister delivered at a public rally at Dausa in Rajasthan on 12th February 2023. A national daily reported this speech with an alarming headline: "Congress ignored development in border areas fearing enemy could exploit new roads: PM Modi."

His website elaborates: PM targeted the Congress party for "depriving the development of border villages for decades." He affirmed, "The Congress governments did not develop the villages and towns along the border because they were afraid. I don't understand why Congress always underestimated the bravery of our soldiers. Our forces know very well how to stop the enemies on the border and give them a befitting reply. That's why now the BJP government is speeding up the development works in the border districts and also in the villages near the border."

Every citizen respects Mr Modi's solemn right, as BJP's star campaigner, to belittle and humiliate the Opposition parties. The aggressive exercise of the right should be viewed against the backdrop of forthcoming elections including that for Rajasthan State Assembly.

As PM, it is also Mr. Modi's duty to ponder during Yagna whether his frequent, blistering attacks on the Congress distorts the modern history. His frequent mocking of previous regimes for their performance deficit derails the concept of governance continuity, which bonds past and present regimes.

By regularly deriding earlier regimes, especially the Congress ones, Mr. Modi has demolished the layman's belief that growth is an accretion process. Under this, work of previous regimes serves as foundation for showcasing edifice of growth envisioned by incoming government.

His Dausa speech has unfortunately caused collateral damage to the honour of all those who have toiled hard right to develop border areas for decades right from the Nehru era.

A few thousand military and civilian workers died building roads in mountainous border areas before Modi Government came to power in 2014. Their sacrifices should be deemed as martyrdom. It deserves a digital museum and respect from all politicians.

It is here apt to cite an Independence day feature issued by Press Information Bureau (PIB) in 1965. It recalled certain incidents of bone-chilling deaths during the process of building roads in mountains. As put by the feature poetically: "the men, who flirt with danger and laugh at death, say: ‘How can a man die better Than facing fearful odds; For the ashes of his fathers And the temples of his Gods'."

Neither Mr. Modi nor his chief critic, Mr. Rahul Gandhi, perhaps know the fact that Border Roads Development Board (BRDB) was constituted in 1960 with Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru as its Chairman.

According to an official release issued after first meeting of BRDB on 30th March 1960, "A plan of road construction for these areas has been prepared and it will be the duty of the Board to have this plan implemented expeditiously with due regard to priorities. The Board will arrange to utilize, and to add to, the existing construction agencies both at the Centre and in the States concerned."

BRDP's first objective as mentioned in an official document reads as: "It will be responsible for laying down the policy in respect of border communications in relation to development and other activities …"

BRDB led to formation of Border Roads Organisation (BRO) under the Defence Ministry in the same year.

Achievements of BRO in India and friendly countries are aplenty. No wonder Atal Bihari Vajpayee Government launched BRO archive during September 2001.

An put by official release on archives dated 30th September 1986, "The BRO during the 41 years of its existence has achieved marvels in the lofty hills and deserts. The achievements include the highest road in the world, highest airfield. exemplary construction of highways in mountainous terrain, plains in India and also in the neighbouring countries."

Yagna requires Mr Modi to realize that Rajiv Gandhi, carried forward Nehruvian tradition by chairing BRDB meeting on 22 nd May 1986. As PM, he presided over silver jubilee event during October 1985 at which a special stamp on BRO was released.

Official records show that it was Rajiv Gandhi Government that launched Border Areas Development Programme (BADP). It still exists but has been downgraded by Modi Government. More of this in later paragraphs.

Rajiv's predecessor, Mrs. Indira Gandhi left no stone unturned to inspire and laud BRO's achievements. Under her leadership, BRO launched a project Yatrik in 1971 to build a network of roads in Andaman & Nicobar Islands. It was she who opened the BRO-built 127-miles long road in Bhutan - an arterial road that serves as lifeline of transport. Deputy Prime Minister Morarji Desai had earlier opened Paro airfield in Bhutan. He later became PM of Janata Government.

Contrary to charge that Congress feared enemy and thus neglected border areas development, Mrs. Gandhi extended border with China by integrating royal kingdom, Sikkim, with India as its 22nd State during 1973-74.

She was forthright in empathizing with people living in border areas. At a dinner hosted by US President Johnson at Washington on 28th March 1966, she disclosed: "During a tour of some of these border areas a couple of months or so ago, I myself experienced the great hardship of doing without water and measuring the miles from well to well."

BADP is thus an ongoing national mission to minimize the hardship of persons living in remote, border areas.

Mr. V.P. Singh (who was instrumental in downfall of Rajiv Gandhi Government) did not deride Mr. Rajiv's border initiatives. He instead wrote twice to his cabinet colleagues in 1990 to visit border areas as outreach initiative for people living there.

In a letter to all ministers, Mr. Singh pointed out that "We attach special significance to the implementation of programmes of development in the border areas...It is necessary that we find time in the midst of our official work to visit border States to review the implementation of our policies and programmes in those areas. During such visits, we should also make it a point to meet the people of those areas and talk to them about our programmes...also bring about a greater sense of emotional integration of such remote areas with the national mainstream."

He added: "I would greatly appreciate if you could make such visits to districts of border areas as often as possible and also let me have a brief report of your impressions of the progress of development in those areas after your visit."

BADP has been scaled up over the years into a holistic socio-economic programme. It was started during the eighties under the seventh five-year plan. The programme is currently implemented in 396 Blocks of 111 border Districts in 16 States and 2 Union Territories.

All regimes prior to Modi Government sustained BADP as 100% centrally funded programme. It has downgraded BADP by shifting it from category of central schemes to group of core centrally sponsored scheme (CSS). The shift puts partial responsibility on the States to fund the scheme.

According to guidelines issued by Ministry of Home Affairs on 11th March 2020, Six States have to now bear 40 percent cost of respective budgetary allocation for BADP implementation in their border areas. The States are: Bihar, Gujarat, Punjab, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal.

The funding pattern for other border States and Union Territory of Jammu & Kashmir is 90:10 with former being Centre's share and the latter States. For Union Territory of Ladakh, Centre would bear 100% of expenditure on execution of BADP.

To conclude the Yagna on a booster dose of fearlessness in defending and developing border areas, we should recall an event that happened in remote villages near Tibetan border before China annexed Tibet.

According to an official release dated 16th August 1956, a team of officers were visiting Indo-Tibetan border beyond Garbyang village for the first time after the Independence.

On their way, they celebrated Independence Day at Gunji village, which was situated at confluence of the Kali and Kuti rivers. A large number of people came from neighbouring villages to take part in celebrations.

The recall of 1956 story should make us realize that all Governments fearlessly contributed to development and security of border areas. We have still a very long way to go to improve & secure our frontline regions.