Even as the launching of Digital India promising a brave new world of electronic connectivity marks a step towards an economically vibrant country, which was Narendra Modi’s pledge during last year’s election campaign, there have also been a number of distress signals.
These range from the ratings agency Moody’s latest depressing forecast, which is a change from its more positive prognosis in April, to the findings of a socio-economic survey that between one-third and half of rural India suffer from various deprivations.
At the same time, 68.3 per cent of people in these areas have mobiles, 11.04 per cent have refrigerators and 20.6 per cent have vehicles which require registration, such as bikes, tempos, cars and motorized fishing boats. Evidently, it is not easy to come to a conclusion about the “real” economic scene.
The government, therefore, has to work out a balance between the drive towards a Digital India of smart cities and bullet trains and ensuring improved conditions in rural India, where more than 70 per cent live, so that there are more families with mobiles and refrigerators as well as toilets.
An emphasis on the socio-economic scene cannot yield results, however, if the government continues to be hamstrung by allegations of misdemeanours at its highest levels.
What is more, these imputations will not go away not only because they will be sustained by political rivals inside parliament and outside, and by an overactive media, but also because the government is showing a curious, self-defeating propensity to cling to the controversial individuals whether they are the external affairs minister or the Rajasthan chief minister or the chairman of the film and television institute.
It is as if the government fears that any action against them will show it up as weak and susceptible to pressure. Yet, the indulgence towards the malefactors cannot but hurt the BJP far more than any disciplinary action would have done.
The Congress, in this respect, was somewhat wiser. While some of those who gave it a bad name like Ashok Chavan and Shashi Tharoor were relieved of their positions as Maharashtra chief minister and minister of state for external affairs, others like Suresh Kalmadi were incarcerated.
So was former telecom minister Andimuthu Raja although the Congress did throw a protective arm around him – a la the BJP – till the Supreme Court intervened and sent him to jail.
The BJP’s leniency towards the reprobate elements in its ranks is odd considering that it hadn’t hesitated in the past to oust party presidents like Bangaru Laxman in 2001 and Nitin Gadkari in 2013 following a sting operation showing the former accepting wads of cash, and the levelling of charges of corruption against the latter.
One probable reason why the party is dragging its feet this time is that it has virtually been overwhelmed by the barrage of charges against both its ministers and the state governments run by it.
For instance, the Madhya Pradesh government, which had earlier been well thought of, has been swamped by the so-called Vyapam scam because of the inordinately large number of deaths of the accused and the witnesses associated with it.
Nothing on this scale has ever been witnessed before, suggesting that the deaths, which have been described as “natural” by the state’s home minister, do not answer to that description at all. Evidently, something sinister is afoot.
If the eerie Vyapam affair appears fit for a rivetting detective story, there is nothing out of the ordinary in the antics of two bigwigs – Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis and the Union minister of state for home, Kieran Rijiju.
These two worthies were merely living up to the public perception of politicians as arrogant and oafish by delaying an international flight in Mumbai because one of Fadnavis’s factotums forgot to bring the “right” passport, and deplaning bone fide passengers in Leh to accommodate Rijiju and Jammu and Kashmir’s deputy chief minister, Nirmal Singh.
For a government which has little to show as yet by way of economic achievements, the high-and-mighty acts of its ministers have begun to jar on the public sensibility if only because there was an expectation of the BJP providing a change from the attitude of feudal deference which characterized the behaviour Congressmen towards the party’s first family.
Apparently, the BJP is yet to realize that the opening up of the economy also leads to the opening up of the popular mindset in other fields.
As a result, the entry of private airlines and their greater efficiency and courtesy have made the ordinary passengers unwilling to accept the official treatment of Air India as a “private taxi”, as has been said.
Similarly, the academic community is no longer ready to accept the kind of intrusions which the government is proposing in the administration of the management institutes while the most conscientious of lawyers have bristled against diktats from the top to go easy in the cases against Hindu extremists.
Therefore, it isn’t only the fugitive Lalit Modi’s liaison with Sushma Swaraj and Vasundhara Raje on humanitarian and other grounds which is hurting the BJP, but also other matters like the government’s curious decision to decline responding to a Right to Information (RTI) query on the former Indian Premium League supremo’s passport.