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  Opinion   Columnists  10 Mar 2024  Parsa Venkateshwar Rao | Modi ‘guarantees’: Flurry of projects on eve of polls

Parsa Venkateshwar Rao | Modi ‘guarantees’: Flurry of projects on eve of polls

The author is a Delhi-based commentator and analyst
Published : Mar 11, 2024, 12:00 am IST
Updated : Mar 11, 2024, 12:00 am IST

Prime Minister's flurry of announcements raises questions about timing, electoral strategy, and governance model

Prime Minister Narendra Modi. (Image: PTI)
 Prime Minister Narendra Modi. (Image: PTI)

The Press Information Bureau’s releases for Prime Minister Narendra Modi have turned into a constant refrain about “multiple development projects”. In the first week of March, Mr Modi was in West Bengal, in Bihar, in Telangana, in Odisha and in Assam. That he travels the length and breadth of the country in a span of a few days is not surprising. Here is an energetic leader who is forever on the movie, speaking tirelessly of his goal of a “Viksit Bharat”, or Developed India, of 2047. He is careful

nowadays not to mention 2047 too much because it is a distant date despite the fact that time flies, and has already been Prime Minister for 10 years. He knows that at election time it is not right to harp on 2047.

So, the buzzword is “Viksit Bharat”. But he does not just harp on the word. He announces and inaugurates projects in the name of “Viksit Bharat”. And the projects run into thousands of crores of rupees.

On March 1, he announced “multiple development projects” worth Rs 7,200 crores. On March 2, in Aurangabad in Bihar, he announced projects worth Rs 21,400 crores; and in Begusarai, the same day, he announced oil and gas projects worth Rs 1.48 lakh crores, development projects worth Rs 13,400 crores, and railway projects worth Rs 3,917 crores. On March 4, he announced “multiple development projects” worth Rs 56,000 crores in Adilabad, Telangana, which cover the rail, road and power sectors. On March 5, at Chandkhole in Odisha, he announced development projects worth Rs 19,600 crores. On March 6, he announced “connectivity projects” worth Rs 15,400 crores in Kolkata.

The frenetic pace of these announcements is reflective of the Prime Minister’s desire to launch the maximum number of projects before the Election Commission announces the dates for the Lok Sabha elections in the second week of this month. Also, it betrays a sense of anxiety on the part of the Prime Minister to cover his flanks on all sides, as it were. He is not entirely sure whether the Ram Mandir he had inaugurated at Ayodhya in Uttar Pradesh would get him votes across the country,

though he and his admirers in the party and outside have been shouting hoarse about the “civilisational moment” in history. He can hope to win votes in the Hindi heartland on the basis of the construction of Ram temple after the 1992 demolition of the Babri Masjid, which the courts held to be an act of vandalism. Mr Modi is not confident that Hindutva will ensure a third term for him.

So, the announcements about “multiple development projects”. Not many in the media would question the rationale of Mr Modi’s announcement of projects worth thousands of crores which are necessary for the development of India in a short span of a week, and in the run-up to the elections. No one wants to state the plain truth that the emperor has no clothes. There will be many who see this flurry of announcement of development projects as a positive sign that Mr Modi, the BJP and the Sangh Parivar, including the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, cannot hope to win a national election based on majoritarian sectarianism, and that the poor do not have much sympathy for ideology. And the Prime Minister’s desperate attempt to announce development projects is a recognition of this harsh reality, that development trumps Hindutva.

There is, however, the more basic fact that must be taken into account in the case of Prime Minister Modi’s announcements. He is misusing his position in the government to make announcements that only someone in the government can do. India is not likely to adopt the sensible practice developed in neighbouring Bangladesh and Pakistan, where a caretaker government takes over for a short span before an election. So, the Election Commission should impose a rule that the ruling party must refrain from making announcements in the run-up to the elections and which could possibly impact the electoral outcome. Quite clearly, the announcements made by Prime Minister Modi from March 1 to 6 were part of the election season strategy.

The fact that Mr Modi finds it necessary make announcements of development projects at the end of his term in office also reveals a flaw in his governance model. First, his invocation of a developed India by 2047 is a cunning way to sidestep the issues of the day. It is a ploy used by political dictators to distract people from the problems facing them in the present. The Indian economy, despite its headline growth figures, is plagued with many issues like employment, education, health, challenges to agriculture, manufacturing and upgrading technology. Mr Modi offers the opiate of “developed India in 2047” as an answer to all these issues. The semiconductor industry, which is the base for the growth of AI systems, is naturally entangled in teething problems which are natural. To pretend that the country is in control of the challenges it faces in this sector is escapism.

The Prime Minister’s vision of a future India is escapism into the future. The idea that Indians will somehow make it big in the next five, 10 or 25 years is nothing but a lotus-eater’s dream. The majority of Indian youth, who form the work population segment, are not educated enough and the government has not done anything to build the educational infrastructure. Increasing the number of IITs, IIMs and not caring about the quality of education is a way of undermining the future. The private professional colleges of medicine and engineering have always been a scandal in this country, and the private universities are getting to be part of the scandal now. That Indian institutes are struggling to get into the list of world rankings tells a cruel tale of its own. To make things worse, the ruling party, its ideological affiliates and the slightly unhinged Hindu right-wing intelligentsia are riding high on the glories of ancient India even as the country faces a tough situation on the global stage -- economically and politically. To take refuge in the cultural glory of a dead past is escapism, plain and simple. So, we have two escapisms, that of Mr Modi’s escapism into the future, and that of the Hindu right-wingers’ escapism into the past. This is not a good sign for a country that wants to be a big economy and a major power in the real world of the present.

Tags: narendra modi, development projects, election strategy