Time to deliver

Every government that has come to power in these 67 years of independent India has promised to deliver on the basic needs.

President Pranab Mukherjee’s address to the joint Houses of Parliament reiterating Modi government’s supposed plan was interesting.

Ironically, it was BJP’s plan voiced by a person who, at more than one point in time, had come close to being nominated as the Congress party’s candidate for the post of prime minister.

More important than the irony, what was worth noting was that it was full of platitudes and appeared like a condensed version of BJP’s election rhetoric. Mukherjee promised ‘pucca’ houses and 24X7 electricity by 2022 for all among other things.

One does wish well for the President’s statements. One would be very happy to see that the rural UP or the rural Karnataka or Maharashtra is all electrified and lighted up. One hopes the capital city Delhi’s and Bangalore city’s woes would also be over within the next eight years.

Every government that has come to power in these 67 years of independent India has promised to deliver on the basic needs. Pandit Nehru, Indira Gandhi, Morarji Desai, Rajiv Gandhi, A B Vajpayee, Manmohan Singh, even V P Singh and Deve Gowda had mentioned the same, although in different circumstances.

Various slogans might have been voiced at different times, but the basic issues remained the same and remained unsolved to a great extent. Lal Bahadur Shastri’s ‘Jai Jawan Jai kisan,’ Indira Gandhi’s ‘Garibi Hatao,’ and now Narendra Modi’s ‘Sab ka Saath, Sab ka Vikas’ are not too different statements; they describe the very same issues of large scale deprivation, of the need to provide food, shelter and the most basic facilities for living for the 1.25 billion population.

There is a distinct difference between the election promises and their actual fulfillment. The slogans of the earlier governments have mostly stayed unfulfilled, or else Modi government would not have felt the need to restate the same.

Elections are many a time won on emotions, ideas and hopes. When emotions are high, people do not ask the obvious questions. They are not in a mood to verify.

When Indira Gandhi’s government was first elected on the plank of social equality, there were very few who questioned her brand of nationalising banks and industries, about how would that bring about equality to the poorest of the poor in the country.

When that – the so-called ‘equality’ - did not happen even after several years later, people showed their frustration under the leadership of Jayaprakash Narayan. Indira imposed ‘emergency’. We know the rest.

Vajpayee and his NDA promised a ‘shining’ India where all the sunshine and warmth of growth would trickle down from the industrial sector at the top to the lowliest marginal farmer in a backward area.

Unfortunately, that did not happen. The next UPA government which promised to bring in the economic wizardry of the Oxford-educated erudite PM, could only survive on the economic momentum of the day – in India and around the world.

Let aside the promised wizardry, there was misgovernance, rampant corruption scandals within the ranks and administrative paralysis. People did not care to check whether the ushering of the ‘economic liberalisation’ in 1991 was mainly due to a strong policy push by the then PM P V Narasimha Rao and the peculiar economic catastrophe that the country was about to experience. 

Love of symbols

People cling to symbols and to a leader as a symbol. Much of Modi’s ‘branding’ derives inspiration from such people behaviour – based on emotional cues. While Modi has done some good work on the economic front as the chief minister of Gujarat, his claim of “Gujarat model of growth” has never been seriously questioned or critically examined by people. And that includes academicians, scholars, and electronic media anchors – people who would normally tear every assertion apart in order to check the veracity. 

Now Modi is making the right sound bites by proxy through the President’s address which promised several outcomes in 2022 i.e. eight years from now – a distant enough target date that can arouse no questions or little verification in the immediate future. Or, so the new government at the centre seems to think.

The President’s address promised encouraging FDI in sectors that help create jobs and assets; he promised to clean up river Ganga and save Himalayan ecology, promised setting up of health assurance programme, spoke of setting up IITs and IIMs in each state, and about the plan to enhance the education level and employable skills of the rural population. 

However, the election time is over now. A year later or even earlier, the reality will start manifesting. The test of the pudding is in eating it. We do hope that the pudding will be sweet and tasty. Brand management may boost the sales initially.

But, soon the product and its quality will have to back up all the initial imagery. If a product does not live up to its expectations generated during the creation of the brand, the fall in sales from the disappointed customers is generally quite steep.

Previous governments at the centre have not succeeded much in keeping their promises; that includes the NDA government under the leadership of Atalji. 

Looking at the number of pledges made by the current government at the centre, one tends to have restricted optimism about the realisation of all those promised grandiose targets. Brand management and operationalising are two different sets of skills.

It is time that the minimum government does maximum governance producing desirable outcomes in preset timeframes. What to get is relatively easy to mention. It is less easy to chalk out a map to reach and reach in time.

That requires a plan for the process. Surely, it is still a long way to go. One believes that a master strategist that Modi is, perhaps he may deliver on all this.

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