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World Environment Day: SHARP FOCUS ON ‘AIR POLLUTION’, By Dr. Oishee Mukherjee, 5 June 2019 Print E-mail

Events & Issues

New Delhi, 5 June 209

World Environment Day

SHARP FOCUS ON ‘AIR POLLUTION’

By Dr. Oishee Mukherjee

 

This year’s theme of the World Environment Day today is ‘Air Pollution’, which indeed is a subject of concern globally and specially in India. Over the past few years, very poor air quality in Indian cities has become a national issue. It began with international studies pointing out severe levels of air pollution were resulting in premature deaths of millions in India. But what really jolted the Indian authorities were the high levels of air pollution in nation’s capital, Delhi and adjoining regions, Kolkata and other metro cities over past few winters.  

 

India, with 18% of the world’s population, has a disproportionately high 26% of global premature deaths and disease burden due to air pollution. Moreover, one in eight deaths in India was attributable to air pollution in 2017, making it a leading risk factor for death. This is revealed as per the first comprehensive estimates of reduction in life expectancy associated with air pollution in each State, published by India State-Level Disease Burden Initiative, a venture of Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), Public Health Foundation of India (PHFI) and Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME), in collaboration with Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, along with experts and stakeholders associated with over 100 Indian institutions.

 

Given the seriousness, the Environment Ministry had released the National Clean Air Programme (NCAP) this January, plans to reduce air pollution in the 102 worst affected cities by 20-30 per cent by 2024 with action plans drawn up for Central, State and local bodies. The proposed reduction in inhalable particulate matter (PM) by 2024 from the 2017 levels would be a challenging target.

 

The Programme would initially focus on such cities as Ahmedabad, Bangalore, Kolkata, Delhi, Kanpur, Lucknow, Mumbai, etc. where the air quality has been persistently below permissible limits. The Plan outlines multiple actions and their timeframe for authorities seeking to curb vehicular, industrial and thermal power emissions and also reduce air pollution from the burning of crop residue and firewood, brick production, construction and other activities.

 

Though some initiatives are on-going, the plan calls on city authorities to immediately establish early alarm systems to identify traffic congestion zones and allow commuters to seek alternative routes, enforce bans on open burning of biomass and tyres and retrofit diesel vehicles with particulate filters. It calls on transport authorities to stringently enforce the Bharat VI emission norms for vehicles, which are to come into effect from April 2020.  However, such actions should have been outlined along with penalty clauses much earlier.

 

It is understood that air pollution network will be expanded from 703 to 1500 stations nationwide by 2024. City authorities have also been asked to introduce mechanised sweeping and plant vegetation filters along roads and highways, while agricultural department has been asked to expand actions to curb the burning crop residues.  

 

Undoubtedly, the NCAP is a good beginning – better late than never. Controlling air pollution would go a long way in curbing cardiovascular diseases, respiratory disorders and attendant health impacts that lead to hundreds of thousands premature deaths. A study released in December estimated that air pollution caused 1.24 million premature deaths in India during 2017 alone.  

 

Meanwhile, another recent annual report by the Centre for Science & Environment (CSE)  ‘State of India’s Environment 2019’, which classified 29 States based on their socio-economic index (SDI), found that nearly 40% of air pollution related deaths in 2017 were recorded from UP, Bengal, and Maharashtra. Of all States, Bengal’s rank has been fourth. According to the SDI classification, however, Bengal tops its category, while UP tops in the low category and Maharashtra in the high bracket. Thus, the contemplated reductions within five years may be somewhat unrealistic. Moreover, environmental scholars and activists have described the NCAP’s targets not quite judicious as it would take several more years to significantly improve air quality. 

 

Emission cuts for industries and farms haven’t yet been enforced and controlling the levels of particulate matter with diameter up to 2.5 microns (PM 2.5) is imperative due to dangerous impact on health. In 2016 it was estimated that China and India together contributed to at least 20 lakh deaths attributed to PM 2.5. If one lives in a city or in the suburbs, the air that is being breathed is a toxic soup of PM 2.5, sulphur dioxide (SO2) and nitrogen dioxide (NO2). And while precious little can be done about the air outdoors, the quality of air indoors can be purified.

 

Another study, in nine European cities way back in 2013 revealed that for every increase of 10 microgram per cubic metre, lung cancer rate increased by 36%. PM 10, the other particulate matter that was the subject of a National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI) study is slightly less harmful but its incidence in Kolkata and Delhi is alarmingly high.

 

Yet another recent joint study by Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology and National Centre for Atmospheric Research, revealed that citizens were paying a price with more than “a couple of years” as it had led to a reduction of 6.1 years in Bengal’s average life expectancy. The reduced average life expectancy was only second at 6.4 to Delhi’s which stood at 6.4 years.

 

Diseases like Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disorder, asthma, bronchitis and respiratory allergies, were a direct fallout of high levels of PM 2.5 which could enter human lungs and bloodstream easily due to their small size. Reports of chronic bronchitis and emphysema or the lung turning inelastic have become quite common in both Kolkata and Delhi. These are the two most common forms of COPD and the number of patients has been increasing sharply. “The continual high levels of pollution which have stayed in the severe category almost every day this winter contributed directly to the dip in life expectancy that the above study of IITM revealed.” Obviously, a constant onslaught of carcinogenic gases is putting the tract under severe stress and most people are, in some way or the other, suffering from allergic cough, sneezing, wheezing and shortness of breath.

 

Importantly, health scientists opine that air pollution is now set to affect weather patterns, including monsoon, which provides the critical rainfall that has kept South Asian civilisation going for thousands of years. Pollution from India even reaches the Hindu Kush Himalayas, causing smog and environmental damage in the fragile region. The problem, of course, is not just India’s, but Bangladesh’s capital city, Dhaka, is also struggling to deal with the menace.

 

India’s dangerous toxic air has been linked to over 2 million premature deaths, accounting for 25 per cent of the global deaths due to air pollution. Of this, around 110,000 are children. Poor air quality is often regarded as an urban problem to be addressed by urban authorities. However, the physical and chemical features of PM 2.5 and ozone add an important spatial challenge to managing air quality as these can remain in the atmosphere for weeks and be transported over hundreds of kms.

 

The problem is perhaps more than serious and immediate and stringent action is called for by both Central and State governments – not just in policy formulation but in a strong implementation process as well -- to save the cities and the health of the population. With a new government in place and a capable Union Environment Minister, hope the adage ‘a stitch  in time will save nine’ is adhered to and the environment gets a makeover.---INFA

 

(Copyright, India News & Feature Alliance)

Modi’s ‘new normal’: YES I CAN AND WILL, By Poonam I Kaushish, 4 June 209 Print E-mail

Political Diary

New Delhi, 4 June 209

Modi’s ‘new normal’

YES I CAN AND WILL

By Poonam I Kaushish

 

The old order has yielded to the ‘new normal’. A power paradigm of baggage-free governance, growth and development.  With both Swaraj and Jaitley bowing out of Government on health grounds, lateral entry of career diplomat and ex Foreign Secretary Jaishankar and axing of 40% 2014 Ministers Modi has set the tone and tenor, style of functioning and sent a powerful statement of change and evolution. Of National ambition and rural aspirations, the new NARA.

Of course, there are greater expectations than 2014.To fulfil his vote of faith, NaMo will need to reach out and tap the best resources, enlarge his catchment area to defend the interests of the Indian State, advance goals of growth, development, national security and stability.

Clearly, the Prime Minister values specialised skill, knowledge and hard work has brought in fresh talent on his terms, rewarded performance and sought to achieve the right political balance without compromising on key target areas with representation from all States in his 58-strong Ministerial Council which is a combination of political gladiators who have recently proved their mettle in battle, expertise, experience and committed to his cause and will help BJP expand its base.

The five takeaways from Election 2019? One, we have entered the 'Fourth Party System' or Progressive Era (domination of the Republican Party from 1890-1920 in US which saw political reform, ended political corruption and widespread social activism ) in Indian electoral politics whereby the post-1989 era of political fragmentation has ended as 2019 reconfirms the trends we saw in 2014. The BJP has replaced the Congress as the central pillar around which politics revolves, a ruthless machine with an aggressive take-no-prisoners style of politicking in a permanent political campaign mode.

Two, a new dynamic has been set in motion with the induction of BJP President Amit Shah   from the backroom to political centrestage. The Home Ministry is raw power --- something Shah has been enjoying since he and Modi formed a formidable force in Gujarat since 2002. Questionably, what will be the power dynamics between him and the Prime Minister vis-a-vis centralisation and concentration of power? What will it do to the lines of accountability that run between Government and the people?

India badly needs administrative reform namely drastic makeover of bureaucracy, police and rule of law functions. As things stands, the Indian State lacks Iqbal resulting in a free-for-all and rule by law. Another vexatious issue is strife torn Kashmir where terror rules the roost despite many militants being eliminated. Elections will need to be held soon to restore normalcy. Alongside all eyes are on whether the BJP Government will fulfil its poll promise with regard to Articles 370 and 35(A).

Three, the Prime Minister will have wide latitude to reshape relations between his Party’s politics and Hindutva moorings as elucidated in its manifesto. Some analysts wonder whether NaMo’s India would inch towards a more “ethnic democracy”, which requires the mobilisation of the majority in order to preserve the ethnic nation. Towards that end will it replicate the contentious National Register of Citizens outside of Assam, pass the Citizenship Amendment Bill or implement its project of rewriting textbooks etc in the second term as desired by the larger Sangh Parivar, only Modi can answer.

Politically, there are several strands of nationalism operating in India at the moment. The first is Hindutva or a majoritarian stance on how Indian society should be governed in the future. The second is a more abstract nationalism that emphasises India's sovereign territory, patriotism, and loyalty above all. The third is a muscular, outwardly-focused nationalism which centers on India's role abroad.

Will Hindu nationalism become the default mode of Indian politics and society? India's rightward shift is clearly part of the Saffron Sangh’s wider trend where the nature of nationalism is being redefined and cultural identity is being given renewed emphasis.

However as Hindutva might not be palatable to all Indians given the country thrives on social, ethnic and linguistic diversity with democracy being the glue, Modi adroitly used muscular nationalism by asserting India comes first followed by being a nationalist or a Hindu. This nationalism was in full display post Pulwama and Balakot retribution and voters fell for it by voting him back.

Four, growth and development. Modi cannot afford to get off to a slow start and has hit the ground running. In his first Cabinet meeting he extended the Rs 6000 PM-KISAN scheme to all farmers across the country and enhanced scholarships for wards of police personnel martyred in terror or Maoist attacks under the National Defence Fund including PM's Scholarship Scheme.

His first challenge is a course correction of the economy. Be it job creation, inflation or farmers distress. So far NDA1 adopted a cautious approach as it did not enjoy a majority in the Rajya Sabha, with the status quo remaining the same one has to wait and watch how Modi proceeds. Undoubtedly he will continue his pro-business agenda, but the real question is whether it will be pro-business or pro-market?

Besides, the next five years need to be spent addressing very basic problems. Roti, paani,kapada, makaan, sadak aur naukri. In his first term Modi ably used Government resources to provide basic amenities, toilets, electricity connections, gas cylinders and direct money transfers. Today, he needs to give more impetus to see these projects through.

Recently a Harvard economist asked why, despite the complete absence of democracy, China  does well economically while India, with its all its democratic credentials, has done so poorly. He seemed to be echoing Nobel Laureate Gunnar Myrdal words who had called India a ‘soft’ State and attributed the difference to a strong Chinese State alongside a weak Indian State. The Dragon country has been a rising power since the seventies due to its disciple, hard work and no-nonsense approach, while our nation is no match in any of the above.

Five, the composition of the new Cabinet shows that Modi has not only ensured a regional balance, with a focus on states where BJP did well in the polls but also intends continuing the winning spree by inducting Ministers. In UP where the Party won 62 seats, the State  is represented by eight ministers apart from the Prime Minister while three States ---- Maharashtra, Haryana and Jharkhand which are scheduled to go to the polls later this year have got 11 Ministerial berths.

 

Pertinently, the six month honeymoon of Modi’s new term will be closely watched for how he tries to balance the confidence of his largely Hindu base, some of whom want to further nudge India into a more Hindu state, with the fears of India’s minority groups, even as he reached out to them by espousing sabka vishwas. And the want-instant-result Gen X which want jobs and a better quality of life.

Undeniably, Modi’s task is not enviable. The burden on him is enormous given our fickle and unforgiving voters. Much is expected of him. Will this ordinary-chaiwallah-turned extraordinary Prime Minister be able to rise from being a good leader to a statesman? Redefine politics and deliver? His track record shows that he can and will.

In sum by the term Modi’s term ends in 2024, a quarter of the 21st century will already have gone by. The electorate has presented him a historic opportunity. Will he make India a Ram Rajya? Come out smelling of roses? Time will tell. ----- INFA

(Copyright, India News & Feature Alliance)

Farmer, Trader Welfare:BIG BUDGET PATH NOT EASY , by Shivaji Sarkar, 3 June 2019 Print E-mail

Economic Highlights

New Delhi, 3 June 2019

Farmer, Trader Welfare

BIG BUDGET PATH NOT EASY 

By Shivaji Sarkar

 

The Narendra Modi government begins its second term by opening up its kitty for the newly- emerging rural farm sector supporters and traders even as the Economic Affairs Department has painted not so rosy a picture.

 

The now seamless PM Kisan Samman Nidhi (KSN) extends benefits to all farmers without ceiling of land holding. It would cause an additional burden of Rs 87,000 crore. Pension for all of them and traders is yet another socialistic benefit with a view to sustaining the people who contribute to the nation but do not get government support. The new scheme will cover 5 crore farmers and 1.5 crore traders and self-employed. If it is implemented efficiently then over 15 crore farmers would be benefited across the country.

 

The Rs 6,000 a year KSN has been a great electoral success and washed out the Congress’ campaign of Rs 72,000 a year. In States such as Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, where the Congress won the December 2018 Assembly polls, this time round it suffered a setback as it couldn’t fulfill the promise of waiving farm loans. Minister for Information and Environment Prakash Javadekar says the Congress’ failure turned the wave in favour of the Modi government.

 

A national livestock vaccination programme, for 30 crore cows, buffaloes and bulls; 20 crore sheep and goats and one crore pigs would now reduce expenses of the farmers for cattle health care. For this the Centre would need to bear expenses of Rs 13,343 crore. The Government is also unfolding schemes to create jobs in rural India, says Minister for Food Processing Harsimrat Kaur Badal.

 

The Modi government is working with a focus to consolidate itself among the masses with a socialistic integral humanism propounded by late thinker Deen Dayal Upadhyay. The cost is heavy, but the ruling BJP believes that the deprived farming and small business classes need official support to add to the overall growth. The concept – ‘kisan sukhi desh sukhi (happy farmer makes country happy) would in all probability change the contours of economy.

 

For making the targets sharper, a new Ministry of Animal Husbandry, Dairying and Fisheries to be headed by Giriraj Singh, has been created. Equal importance is being given to manage water shortage through Jal Shakti Ministry under Gajendra Singh Shekhavat. The purpose is to take care of criticalities and global warming.

 

While the Government is aiming at making the State more muscular for national security under new Home Minister Amit Shah, it also has plans to create synergies between Home and External Affairs with former MEA secretary S Jaishankar as the country’s Foreign Minister. Security would now be a coordinated affair, particularly in the wake of the recent serial blasts in Sri Lanka. Other than enhancing sub-continental security this will give a boost to safety at home.

 

However, each of the new activities would require additional funds. Preparing the budget in the limited resources would not be an easy task. Plus, the nation now has global aspirations, with Prime Minister Modi creating a niche in the international comity. He is, as is being seen, keen on a key role in the UN Security Council.

 

The ambition of a blue water navy, partly achieved through critical rescue missions in West Asia and other parts of the world, is yet another move to influence the neighbourhood and beyond. In all, the tasks set out are not easy to achieve. These require maneuvering, diplomacy, soft and hard skills. Having a vision is not difficult, but implementing it requires international networking, backroom channel support and the most important, critical financial backing.

 

In the long run, the country is aiming at creating an international market for its agro products as well as to improve manufacturing and industrial activities. And, while the new Government is confident of taking the nation forward, the leadership must realize that it would have to face and overcome difficulties.

 

Even as the Government was taking oath, economic indicators have reasons to cause anxiety. The country’s GDP grew at 5.8 per cent in January-March 2019 quarter. It drags down the full year growth to five-year low of 6.8 per cent. Joblessness rose to 45-year high of 6.1 per cent in 2017-18, as per data of the National Statistical Office (NSO).

 

Contraction of farm output causes the slowdown. So the stress on the farming classes is a corrective step. Infrastructure sectors -- coal, crude oil, natural gas, refinery products, fertilizers, steel, cement and electricity -- also slowed down to 2.6 per cent in April. Even ONGC’s production fell by 32 per cent.

 

The slowdown, as per Finance Secretary SC Garg, is due to temporary factors such as stress in the Non Banking Financial Company sector (NBFC), affecting consumption of finance. The NBFCs are facing cash crunch after the collapse of IL&FS making banks reluctant to lend them. The Serious Fraud Investigation Office (SFIO) files charge-sheet against IL&FS as it found the company had overvalued Tata Teleservices shares.

 

These affected the Mumbai stock sensex too which saw wild swings and closed with losses of 700 points. The NSE’s Nifty also lost 200 points. The rupee is also on a roll. And apparently, the market is on a cautious mode.

 

There are clear reasons as well. In a few days, the preparation for the Union Budget has to begin. There will be a need for several rope tricks as the overall revenue is under stress. Chopping off a sizeable section of up to Rs 5-lakh earning population in the Interim budget would see sizeable revenue loss, though the Government would also have savings.

 

Another aspect is that overall debt of the Government has also risen to Rs 83.4 lakh crore up from Rs 82.03 lakh crore. Increase of sovereign debt has ramifications. More so owing to GST and possible further adjustment in income tax, the scope for direct revenue generation is reduced.

Literally it would be a tough task to tailor the Budget. Chances are that the Government may have to increase taxes and levies. This causes rumblings as has the recent increase in gas, petrol prices and highway tolls done.

 

The Government faces the problem of whether it should raise taxes or service costs. Both become inflationary. This also increases governance cost. Food prices are also slowly increasing and may cross the RBI tolerance limit. In such a scenario, if it reduces bank rates, it may have deleterious effect. Worse, the international scenario is also not benign.

 

Realistically speaking, people should be prepared for some small sops but a tough budgetary approach. The Government is cautious not to turn the sweet mood to a sour one, but the path is certainly not going to be easy.---INFA

 

(Copyright, India News & Feature Alliance)

Modi’s NDA-II: WILL IT HEED TO SULKING PARTNERS? By Insaf, 1 June 2019 Print E-mail

Round The States

New  Delhi, 1 June 2019

Modi’s NDA-II

WILL IT HEED TO SULKING PARTNERS?

By Insaf

 

Notwithstanding the grand oath-taking ceremony in the forecourt of Rashtrapati Bhavan, the NDA may already have teething problems in round two, where none were expected. With the BJP having got a majority on its own, there was fear that the regional allies importance would wane further. Remember, murmurings of not being consulted even at the time of NDA-1. For starters the JD(U) in Bihar has already thrown a googly as it is sulking with the offer of only one Cabinet berth for it. Chief Nitish Kumar chose not to mince his words and refused categorically to join the Modi-led Ministry. He said: “we don’t want a token participation.” With 16 MPs the JD(U) is the third largest party in the NDA in this Lok Sabha. And so was eyeing at least two Cabinet and one Minister of State berths. So as of now it’s a no-go between the partners. Besides, Apna dal, from Uttar Pradesh has been kept out this time from the government but so far it is not heard complaining, as the State has got 9 berths.  How Modi and Amit overcome the Bihari problem is anybody’s guess. However, they can well argue that 20 of the 29 States are represented and that even its Shiv Sena partner from Maharashtra, which is in second number in the tally of seats in the lower House has got just one Cabinet berth. Importantly, Modi has not given a single berth to the three southern States of Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Andhra. And why would he, as the BJP got a harsh beating there.

The NDA-II is being described as “a blend of energy and experience”, let us keep our fingers crossed that the two are not wasted on squabbling within.  

*                                               *                                                           *                                   *

 

3 CMs Take Oath

The leadership of three States—Odisha, Andhra Pradesh and Arunachal Pradesh took its oath too to work for and fulfil aspirations of their people. While for 72-year-old Naveen Patnaik it is the 5th consecutive term overcoming a Modi wave with a decisive victory, 46-year-old Jagan Mohan Reddy will start a new innings after a long wait of 10 years, and for Pema Khandu it is a more comfortable start since the BJP will install the government on its own having won 41 of 60 Assembly seats. He was CM since July 2016, but as is normal in the North-east there were twists and turns.

 

Importantly, this time round all the three Chief Ministers shunned the Raj Bhavan’s for their oath taking ceremony and instead did so at convention centres/stadium among the aam janata, which is a growing ‘populist’ trend. And, while they had counterparts from other States in attendance at the solemn occasion, where the team of Cabinet and MoS were also inducted, what stood out Chandrababu’s absence, as he turned down Jagan’s invite! It goes without saying while it will be easy for Khandu with BJP at the Centre the same cannot be said for Naveen and Jagan. Both require special attention of the Centre’s given the recent Fani cyclone in Odisha and long pending demand for Special Status in Andhra. The latter it is learnt is non-negotiable. Jagan is said to have turned down 2 Cabinet berths offered by Modi on his visit to Delhi. Developments are worth a close watch.   

*                                               *                                                           *                                   *

 

Karnataka, WB On Edge

Karnataka and West Bengal are on tenterhooks. The Lok Sabha results have stumped Chief Ministers Kumaraswamy and Mamata Banerjee respectively, forcing them to rejig their respective Cabinets. And while the former did it on Saturday last by dropping two ministers and bringing on 8 others from coalition partner Congress, the latter made a major reshuffle on Tuesday last. The situation in Vidhan Souda is more worrisome after the Lok Sabha verdict for the JDS-Congress combine as the BJP has been waiting in the wings to topple the six-month-old government at the earliest opportunity available. Such is the fear that Kumaraswamy dropped a minister, who did not attend the Cabinet meeting and replaced him with his brother! The ruling combine is making all efforts to keep its flock together as the nagging fear that some of its MLAs may cross over is not just a hallucination.  

 

Likewise, not just the drubbing in the Lok Sabha polls, but that her flock is deserting her (3 MLAs and 50 councillors so far who have crossed over to the BJP), Mamata is worried for the future – the 2021 Assembly elections. However, it chooses to dismiss the developments and put up a brave face. Its leaders proclaim that one or two MLAs joining the BJP will not impact it. “State elections will prove whether the people are with us or not,” and insist that “people are with Didi and they will continue to remain irrespective of the fact that some leaders are switching sides.” This only time will tell, as the BJP has made major inroads into her bastion and she would need a miracle to retain her hold. At the same time, Didi showed signs of her annoyance by doing a flip-flop for Modi’s swearing-in. First she accepted the invite and later, just hours after the BJP invited the families of 54 party workers allegedly killed in political violence across the State, Mamata said she won’t go. Instead she decided to visit North 24 Parganas to protest against attacks on TMC cadres by the BJP after the polls! She went a step further and in a message go Modi said the swearing-in ceremony was an “august occasion to celebrate democracy” and not one that should be “devalued” by any political party which uses it as an opportunity to score political points.”  Indeed, let’s be prepared to see a lot more of it.

*                                               *                                                           *                                   *

 

Mizo Goes ‘Dry’

Is controlled sale of liquor better than a complete ban? Mizoram perhaps has an answer as it opts for the latter. On Tuesday last, the Mizo National Front government decided it was time to act to turn the State ‘dry’, after four years of controlled sale of liquor. The Assembly had in fact passed the Mizoram Liquor (Prohibition) Bill 2019 on March 20, but it couldn’t be implemented as the model code of conduct was already in place for General elections. Also,  the High Court had granted time to liquor sellers till May 27 to dispose of existing stock. Apparently, the government is not only fulfilling its poll promise made last year but hopes that alcohol-related deaths would not continue to rise since 2015, when prohibition was lifted. As per the State Excise and Narcotics dept 9 such deaths happened in 2015, with the number going up to 22 in 2016 and to 59 in 2017. Figures are unavailable for 2018. Former Chief Minister, Lal Thanhawla, who was instrumental in introducing regulated sale of liquor in 2015 has his doubts whether the ban will help “as prohibition has never been successful anywhere in the world.” Will he be proved wrong eventually? ---INFA

 

(Copyright, India News & Feature Alliance)

 

Huge Mandate, Responsibility: TASKS BEFORE NEW GOVT, By Dr S. Saraswathi, 31 May 2019 Print E-mail

Open Forum

New Delhi, 31 May 2019

Huge Mandate, Responsibility

TASKS BEFORE NEW GOVT

By Dr S. Saraswathi

(Former Director, ICSSR, New Delhi)

 

After winning a huge mandate on the plank of “sab ka sath, sab ka vikas” (along with all, development of all), PM Modi is now emphasising the need to promote “sab ka vishwas” (trust of all). He said: “those who vote for us are ours and even our most trenchant opponents are ours”.

 

One of the first tasks mentioned is to win the trust of all sections of the population. He said that minorities had long been made to live in fear by those who believed in vote-bank politics and that this deception must end. The priority was thus set on promoting faith and harmony among majority and minorities.

 

Elections are over, but no actors on the stage not excluding the Election Commission can afford to take rest. The post-election period is the time for stock-taking -- identifying factors behind success and failure for parties and candidates. The party coming to power has the responsibility of fulfilling its promises. The bigger the mandate, the greater the responsibility as not only the entire nation, but the entire world will be watching closely the performance of the new government that will enjoy near two-thirds majority in Lok Sabha.

 

The country witnessed the most bitter electoral contest and intense and extensive campaigns in this election. Noticeable is the fact that electioneering by speeches and contacts was dominated by a few leaders in various parties though assisted by thousands of party workers at various levels, which makes fixing responsibility for gain or loss easier.

 

Professional campaign managers were said to have been employed, which is believable, because of certain persistent propaganda,    pattern of communication and contacts, virulent attacks, and tireless persecution that were carried on  unmindful of insulting opponents or hurting sentiments and  indifferent to people’s reaction. The less said about the language and tone used in campaigning, the better. The first task of the winners and losers is to get over their election tension and settle down to peaceful governance.

 

Both parties – the winner BJP and the main loser the Congress – today shoulder a heavy responsibility. The former has to fulfil its promises and the latter, free of any obligations to honour any poll promise, has to rebuild the shattered party. Massive defeat also carries a massive responsibility of rescuing the sinking ship particularly in the case of the Congress party which is more than 100 years old.

 

Indian voters, on the whole, have exhibited no permanent addiction to any party. They shift their support for even small reason. Pro-incumbency and anti-incumbency are not independent forces, but come into operation depending on the performance sheets of the main actors.

   

The defeat of the Mahagathbandhan conclusively proves that electoral result is not pure arithmetic, but a matter of people-party/candidate relationship. Leaders of two or more parties may join hands, but cannot assume that their followers and supporters will follow them. In some cases, alliance itself may be the cause of defeat. Hence, the victor and the vanquished have to bestow their attention more towards winning the support of the electorate than concentrating on arithmetical calculations and personalised attacks.

 

“NARA – National Ambition, Regional Aspiration” – a slogan raised by the PM post-election conveys the quintessence of the party politics displayed in this election, when regional players appeared in their full strength and displayed their power, capabilities, and ambitions. He says that a balance between the two will be the key to the nation’s progress, and it cannot be achieved without the support of regional parties. The new government must work in national interest at the same time protecting State/regional interests.

  

Despite massive mandate, the leader of the winning party admitted that the politics of alliances is a reality and important to fulfil regional aspirations. In a way, the hectic parleys, 24-hour discussions, several visits of some regional leaders from State to State to bring them together for an agreed purpose have served to bring to light the importance of accommodating regional ideas and aspirations in national politics. It cannot be erased whatever be the size of victory of the winner. The mandate for the BJP comes with the proviso that regional requirements and aspirations – political, social, economic, and cultural -   have to be national priorities also.

  

The same is true of sectional interests in this plural society and the new government has to promote education and health for all. NDA in its second term must eradicate any impression - genuine or false - of partisan interests, and continue its journey without any discrimination on the basis of caste or religion. Equality and equity must not only underlie schemes and programmes, but must be visible and felt by all. It is the spirit of inclusiveness and service that should be the driving force of the mandate winner. The illusion of fear gripping the minds of minorities sown and fanned in election campaigns by parties indulging in divisive and vote-bank politics needs to be shattered.

 

Big win does not put a party or its top leaders above our Constitution. Nor big loss gives licence to suspect, discredit, and blame the functioning of any office or authority. The first loyalty of the victor and the vanquished is to the Constitution and the values enshrined in it. Both the winner and the loser have to share the responsibility of cleansing the political environment, whoever spearheaded the movement for degeneration of party politics and practised it vigorously. Heat of election campaigning cannot be legally accepted as a defence for fake news and false propaganda extensively used to confuse the voters.

 

The PM believes that “people voted for democracy” and a huge responsibility rests on him. To him, coming years would be about people’s participation in governance (“jan bhagidari”) and people’s awareness (“jan chetna”). These relate to social welfare programmes of the government. The big mandate is to be used for solving common citizens’ issues who form bulk of the electorate. This will mean addressing problems of farmers and others in the unorganised sector, increasing avenues for employment and self-employment, and providing social security for all.

 

By winning this election, BJP has reason to believe that its economic policy has popular endorsement. Despite its weakness in convincing people of the economic reforms, the support obtained is incredible. Still, it is not possible to retain people’s support without building their trust in the government by building a clean image and engaging in purposive action.

 

The mandate of 2019 is for both domestic and foreign policies. The security of the nation should continue to be our priority. The image of India globally, which has always been high, is expected to grow higher in the coming years. India has to take lead in fighting terrorism, which is necessary for national and regional peace and development. Massive electoral mandate enhances the status of India in international relations, and cannot be ignored in the Asian region. The status has to be maintained by adhering to its own independent foreign policy.

 

No mandate is permanent. The winner must keep improving his performance to retain people’s confidence which is so fickle and will take no time to shift.---INFA

 

(Copyright, India News & Feature Alliance)

 

     

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