Copyright. All rights reserved. Ram Jethmalani. 2019.
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In olden days, wise kings across the globe would take some time off, travel incognito, and speak with ordinary people to know for themselves how their subjects were faring - their standard of living, their hardships, their levels of satisfaction or disaffection with the government, and their general state of well being. Such surprise visits also kept the official advisors and intelligence agencies on their toes, knowing that the ruler could go off on a midnight tour anytime without anyone knowing, and see the truth for himself.
My sincere and unsolicited advice to our Prime Minister is that he must restart this ancient tradition of incognito visits. Clearly, the affairs of state and of the global order, and now the dicey Gujarat election, are placing an excessively heavy burden on him, and he is not able to keep track of the real state of the land and the people who elected him to govern for Achhe Din. Needless to say, it is precisely in such situations that advisors and intelligence agencies play truant, and start feeding false information and misleading the ruler by reporting not the truth, but what the ruler wants to hear. Judging from what has been going on in the country, particularly during the last one year, it is highly recommended that the Prime Minister could stop placing sole dependence on his advisors for information, (who are misleading him so completely) and re-start the practice of incognito visits. And with his excellent theatrical skills, this should not be a problem. And this might also give him a unique position in the global pecking order, and may well improve our rankings in the Ease of doing Business Index or the Transparency Index.
Of course, he does not even need to go incognito to see that the air we breathe has changed to a toxic gas in many cities in India, one of the worst being New Delhi, our capital city. It is un-breathable, causing great suffering to children, the sick, the elderly. And who knows what the long term effects will be on the future generation and the work force - our demographic dividend, on whom we are depending so heavily for future economic growth. The people of India are not able to understand why the Prime Minister has not spoken or initiated any action to address this mega pollution emergency. He appears as if it is none of his business.
Has he been informed by his Ministers or advisors, that schools are being shut down, lung cancer is increasing, children and adults are developing bronchial problems, people are moving around with their mouths and noses masked, cricket matches are threatened with foreign players getting ill, and expatriates have started leaving Delhi? As an experienced administrator, does he not know that a problem as complex as this can only be solved through cooperation of several State Governments, several Ministries and Tribunals, scientific institutions, ecologists and experts? Does he not know that only he as Prime Minister can play the role of master coordinator of so many scattered agencies and State Governments? Does he not know that the situation requires a time bound set of actions to gradually reduce the poison in the choking air, with stringent self regulation and external regulation in several anarchic sectors, such as motor vehicles, carbon emissions, crop burning, construction activities, etc.? But he has chosen to remain silent, and a pathetic and disgraceful blame game between State Governments and agencies is going on in full public view. And there seem to be no signs of any concerted action plan by his Government to address the pollution emergency, nor a single new idea out of the box or the think tank.
The country is now well acquainted with the Modi model of governance - only what the Prime Minister articulates becomes political priority, whether it is sanitation, or skills or digitalization, and the entire implementation machinery focuses on only that or makes great motions to that effect. All these are very necessary and good, but the Government should not be allowed to relegate every other issue to the background. So Mr Prime Minister, it’s high time you coin another slogan and declare it aloud as a priority– Nirmal Vayu or anything else your communication agency suggests which catches your fancy. Set up a think tank with the best experts to draw up an action plan, set the targets, and your cloned administrative machinery will immediately get cracking, and hopefully produce results. London did it in the early 50s.
Coming back to doing an incognito reality check with the people of our land, the Prime Minister should see for himself the havoc that has been created in the lives of poor, honest daily wagers who earned their living through daily cash wages, through the whimsical demonetization, followed by a poorly conceptualized and hastily rolled out GST. Enough statistics have been reeled out about jobs lost, small businesses closing down, labourers returning home to their villages, unemployed. But the Prime Minister has not done any reality check, incognito or otherwise, and he and his Finance Minister continue to live in their fantasy world of denial, and have started doling out extended dreams of Achhe Din for the next decade. But the people of India have seen through the bluff; sadly, they are a disillusioned lot, and the great faith they had reposed in Modi has slowly but surely eroded.
Or look at the middle classes, struggling to connect their Aadhar Cards and PAN numbers to every activity of their lives, legitimate money transactions, mobile phones, bank accounts. Queuing up day after day, losing wages, wasting their productivity and incomes, all in the name of curbing black money. Only to be told that the computers are not working and the servers are down, and they must return the next day. Mr Prime Minister, do an incognito visit and you will see the people’s trauma.
A valid question being asked by many is that in their great enthusiasm to curb black money, how is it that the Government forgot to issue orders that all political donations must also be linked to Aadhar Cards? The world knows that Indian politics and elections are a carnival of black money. And this deliberate lacuna can only give rise to the most unsavoury speculation about the real intent of the Government.
The Government continues to distract the people with illusions of digitalization and cashless economy, knowing fully well that there is neither adequate digital infrastructure, nor the required connectivity, especially in the backward regions of our country, to support this bluff. Please do an incognito check, Mr Prime Minister, and you will find that what the poor need are jobs, food, health, education, and not the Brave New Digital World that you are peddling.
This, Mr Prime Minister is the last time I am addressing you as such. The people of this country expect me to inform them of the reality of you and your government, now with the media so completely gagged, and I cannot let them down.