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  Opinion   Columnists  13 Jun 2020  Shobhaa De | Plug and play, says PM: Enter political gaming!

Shobhaa De | Plug and play, says PM: Enter political gaming!

Irreverent, provocative, opinionated... Shobhaa De has been challenging status quo for four decades... and is at her best when she punctures inflated egoes. Readers can send feedback to www.shobhaade.blogspot.com
Published : Jun 13, 2020, 5:42 pm IST
Updated : Jun 13, 2020, 5:42 pm IST

The sort of administrative negligence one comes across is mind-numbing, to say the least

PM Narendra Modi (AFP)
 PM Narendra Modi (AFP)

One recent statement by the very outspoken and very voluble Rajiv Bajaj, managing director of Bajaj Auto, made me stop and think.

I am paraphrasing, and this isn’t his exact quote, but when I read, “I am not against governments…. I am against government policies”, I was baffled. Matlab kya?

 

This sounded interesting! Basically, I took it as a bit of a retreat from his earlier position, where he had attacked the present government and pretty much shredded a whole bunch of decisions taken by Narendra Modi and his team during the past few months, going back to the disastrous demonetisation, which derailed the Indian economy and led to several debates regarding its sagacity.

Rajiv was hailed for his bold stance (I had also written a column on his forthright opinions at the time), and the media went gaga over the 53-year-old industrialist calling out the clumsy handling of the nationwide lockdown that had adversely impacted India’s growth on multiple fronts.

 

While a report said that Mr Bajaj’s powerful India Inc contemporaries hailed his views in private, over WhatsApp groups, they chose to remain silent in public. Typical!

My short point is: How does one separate the government in power from its policies? Is that possible? Or is it merely a clever play on words? Can either function in isolation? Not just here in India, but anywhere in the world? Governments make policy.

The two are married. No divorce clause! If you criticise its policies, it is assumed that you are critical of the government that has framed those policies. So what? In a democracy, we are all watchdogs! Or should be.

The tendency is to club the “leanings” of businesspeople and industrialists based on their family’s closeness or otherwise to a certain ideology and the political party associated with it.

 

In the old India, every prominent business family was directly or indirectly associated with the Congress Party naturally! During the infamous “licence raj”, if you were not with the Congress, you were nothing. Families that resisted such an obvious quid pro quo were discriminated against in ways big and small.

They lost out plain and simple. It was a given that all business houses had a well-connected “liaison officer” (I prefer the word “tout”) stationed in New Delhi. That person’s sole responsibility was to cultivate bureaucrats and ministers on behalf of their bosses.

Lethargic files had to move! The only way for a file to move from one table to the next was if the “contact” man knew the tricks of the bribing game. Expertise in the chosen field was never the criterion.

 

Some of the biggest, most critical deals in India during that era were pushed through by anonymous, shadowy chaps  who hung around in the corridors of power, offering any and every kind of inducement to get that all-important signature on a juicy contract.

The large-scale and unstoppable corruption of India which began during the Congress raj soon became institutionalised. It was tacitly accepted across the board that unless you had an influential lobbyist working tirelessly in New Delhi, your ambitious project would remain indefinitely stalled.

Many millionaires and future billionaires were created during this period. Most of them are still around. But the BJP has created its own “rich list”, which is giving these old-timers a run for their money.

 

It is a tradition that happily continues. The only difference is that the players are different. The cast of characters has changed. That’s it. In between the fall of the Congress and the rise of the BJP came a significant pause during which wily politicians like Mulayam Singh Yadav and Mayawati et al tried to take full control of every major project in their part of the world.

There were quite a few grasping industrialists from Mumbai and Delhi who blindly jumped on to their bandwagon and hoped to make a killing. Some have fallen by the wayside today, stripped of their wealth, prestige and relevance.

They are in the political wilderness, where they deserve to be. But at the time, so many of them were riding so high… that nobody, but nobody, could have imagined the thud that followed the rapid fall of those very politicians. Let’s face it, every political party has its “quota” of favoured industrialists.

 

For all the grandiose proclamations about transparency and fair play, it is pretty obvious which companies have benefited the most from the Narendra Modi-led government. Let’s not feign surprise, horror, shock  this is how it works! Not just in India, but across the world.

God Knows what Narendra Modi means by his latest, alliterative play on words: “People, Planet, Profit…’’ Huh? And the equally puzzling line on the “plug and play”’ economy. This is so much mumbo jumbo, when all around us, one can only see financial ruin and collapse.

What we need to worry about is just one policy right now the health policy. If the government does not make it priority number one as India battles its biggest crisis in history and tries to win the war on Covid-19, no amount of flimsy economic “reform” will save us.

 

From the looks of things, we are sliding and falling into a pandemic chasm. Our systems are overwhelmed and worn out. The sort of administrative negligence one comes across is mind-numbing, to say the least.

Ironically, the air over Mumbai is cleaner than it has been in decades. But we who live here are unable to take deep breaths or enjoy the sea breeze, as Covid creeps up closer and closer. A change of government or President’s Rule in Maharashtra won’t fix a thing.

It will further harm what is already a disaster zone. We need to pull together and keep political one-upmanship aside. And that ought to be the single most important policy at stake right now  health before all else.

 

Tags: pm narendra modi, coronavirus (covid-19)