Sunday, 13 April 2014

Finding a future from the past

There is a kind of e-mail that does its rounds of mailboxes frequently. It is a rather long one, extolling the virtues of ancient Indian science and technology, and talking about the glory of Aryabhata, Charaka and Sushruta.

From the tone and tenor of the e-mail it looks as if its author is a person who in the present is feeling slighted (for whatever reasons) and has to find strength by emphasizing the glorious past from which his/her people evolved. Perhaps he or she is a non-resident Indian in the US, for that is the community from which much cyber-nationalism emerges. 

The BJP claims that it will balance the needs of development and environment
if voted to power.

The author of the e-mail is unknown but the names of the authors for the 2014 election manifesto for the BJP(1) are known in the public domain. The preface of the manifesto starts thus: “India is the most ancient civilization of the world and has always been looked upon by the world as a land of wealth and wisdom. India has been credited to have developed, apart from philosophy and mathematics, science and technology of a very high order, which had attracted scholars from all over the world. … India was respected for its flourishing economy, trade, commerce and culture. It had an international outreach from Korea to Arabia, from Bamiyan to Borobudur and beyond.”

There are a few subtexts in the BJP manifesto. Its title – Ek Bharat shreshta Bharat: Sabka saath, sabka vikas – defines the party’s vision of grandeur. It pledges to build a “modern India” on the “best foundation” of “our own culture” using “our own hands” and the “best material” of “our own aspirations.”

“Our own aspirations” is the key phrase here. It taps the feeling of frustration of the middle class and the wannabe middle class of not being able to realise their aspirations due to poor governance of the Congress-led government. And the BJP will rectify that through an “open, transparent and systems-based government” that will provide “pro-active, pro-people good governance.”

Interestingly, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) the third political entity with national ambitions, took this very argument one step forward. For them the poor governance came from “corrupt politicians.” The dampener for the BJP is the AAP focusing on the corruption angle in its campaign.

The inability of successive national governments to deliver on people’s aspirations is well articulated in the manifesto: “Even after nearly seven decades of our independence, the country has not been able to discover its innate vitality, the sense of time and the will to act. … The present crisis is the result of this confusion and disconnect from the seekings and sensibilities of the people. This is worse confounded by the weak and spineless leadership of the UPA Government.”

The problem about painting the whole of post-Independence history with one brush is that it also covers one term plus 13 months and 13 days of BJP-led governance. So the manifesto builds in this caveat: “The beginning of the 21st century showed some light under the NDA rule. India started being reckoned as an economic superpower. The six-year rule of NDA had given the Nation many firsts, building an image in the international community. However, many of the hopes, potentials and projects have not been fully realized in the subsequent years. But after 2004, UPA came into power and the situation started worsening again. We missed a historic national opportunity once more.”

Prima facie this begs the question that if India was really shining between 1999 and 2004 then why did the voters interrupt the dream run? At a deeper level, the question is what does it mean for the environmental considerations of the country if the BJP were to come to power at the Centre? The manifesto takes a two-pronged approach towards environment – direct and indirect.

The promises are direct. It promises to take the idea of sustainability and climate change mitigation initiatives seriously and work with the global community. The government will encourage cleaner production; promote cleaner fuel; launch an integrated public transport project; promote pro-active carbon credit (sic); conduct ecological audit of projects and pollution indexing of urban centres; use wastelands for social forestry; produce guidelines for constructing green buildings; promote human capacity building in environmental technologies; establish fool proof mechanisms for the protection and preservation of wildlife; encourage and incentivise innovative garbage management practices; and clean rivers starting with the Ganga.

There is mention of a National Mission on the Himalayas and the creation of a Himalayan Sustainability Fund. The BJP government “will set in place national policies on critical natural resources like coal, minerals, spectrum, etc., spelling out in black and white how much should be utilised in what time and pace.” Cultural values and thorium reserves will be considered before deciding on the Sethu Samudram project in the Palk Strait. 

In terms of sheer number of environmental promises the BJP manifesto beats the document from the Congress (even if one were to debate whether spectrum is a natural resource). But this is because the BJP has one benefit over the Congress – its statements in the manifesto cannot be immediately verified against performance. Ten years is a long time to be out of power at the Centre, and extrapolating BJP governments’ performance in Gujarat, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh or Chhattisgarh against a national context is not exactly a valid comparison.

However, in real terms it is the indirect references to environmental concerns that are more important. Especially so since the BJP is keen to take India to its historical greatness.

“We should no longer remain a market for the global industry,” emphasises the manifesto. “Rather, we should become a global manufacturing hub.” There would a conducive and enabling environment for doing business which will cut down the red tape, simplify procedures and remove the bottlenecks. The government will ensure logistic infrastructure, including stable power.

“Our attempt will be to move towards a single-window system of clearances both at the Centre and the states through a hub-spoke model.” The Centre and the states will work in coordination for giving clearances to mega projects. “Decision making on environment clearances will be made transparent as well as time-bound.” The government will “frame the environment laws in a manner that provides no scope for confusion and will lead to speedy clearance of proposals without delay.”

The play of words is interesting. The single window of the BJP is similar to the National Enviornmental Appraisal and Monitoring Authority articulated in the Congress manifesto. At least the Congress believes in creating a body specifically for looking at environmental issues, whereas the single window envisaged by the BJP is for giving clearance for the project and not necessarily to look at the environmental issues. Further, even the environment laws can be rewritten to avoid confusion and lead to speedy clearance.

Both the BJP and Congress are in a hurry. But only the BJP knows where to reach – the glorious India of the past “whose prosperity held the world in thrall.”

1.            Ek Bharat Shreshtha Bharat: Election manifesto of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). 2014.

1 comment:

  1. Good analysis of the manifestos and the leaning towards the BJP having a clarity on what they wish to achieve......regards whether we would ever be able to become the superpower of what we were many hundreds of years ago is still a question mark.....what destroyed India's status was the incompetence in the last leg of the Mughal rule and the looting of our resources during the British colonial rule which spanned over at least 2 generations.....where many of the cultural values degenerated, religion based politics was given birth, and bureaucracy was rampant with the British power controlling all government spends. After the British rule, another generation has gone by carrying forward these practices.....Prior to the Mughal invasions the Indian governance was carried out through village units that collectively came under the kingdom....and agriculture was predominant.....manufacturing was there only in activities such as ship building, textiles and some necessary tools and equipment required for living.....and, cultural practices were preserved !!! Can we get back to our lost stardom.....well a difficult question unless the BJP or Congress or AAP questions the hierarchical machinery that exists, extols on the virtues of our past culture where thieving and robbery had no place.....and there was plenty to be self sufficient.....a tall order !!! Projects may be thought of but its execution still remains a question mark as we do not have enough strength or will to kill the practices and implement new ones !!! we continue to adapt to foreign practices and products leaving little room for indigenous ones....including in the field of education ??? Basically we are a confused lot, aching to own foriegn goods and love talking about our ageold virtues without even spending an iota of energy towards adopting whoever comes to the government I would probably see little progress unless they have the mettle to breakdown the system and have a clear path to rebuild the same.