India is going to advance despite its government, not because of it. It is BJP today, some Congress coalition tomorrow, or a third front regime the next day, the dispensation in New Delhi of the moment will talk big, flaff on a bit, but accomplish little where it counts — on the ground.
This was Narendra Modi’s third address from the Red Fort. The first was uplifting, broke new ground, a PM who spoke feelingly about poverty, which he experienced at first hand which almost no predecessor in his office ever did, and surprised one and all with his earthy and candid raising of the issue of open defecation. Such a leader, it was hoped, would be relied upon to begin alleviating poverty, and ending rural and even urban India’s defecatory habits, using practical means. Modi is using his PM-ship as a bully pulpit alright but, two years later, no visible progress on these fronts is seen. Modi acknowledged as much, saying that the problem of delivery of public services, subsidies, and cash handouts to the deserving poor through the Nandan Nilekani-helmed Aadhar programme, the “last man” delivery problem, remains.
The Second Lal Qila speech was in the “holding” course . Today’s address however reeked of that old Soviet malady that Indian “socialist” leaders perfected (which Modi hinted at) — achievement measured in terms of enumeration of government statistics relating to how much of this and how much of that, and announcement of new government programmes. How much of what Modi claimed as delivered actually exists on the ground? Take the project taken up to build lakhs of latrines in villages. Assuming these are not all only on paper but can be found in brick and mortar form, how to ensure that villagers in fact use it for the purpose they are intended when news reports suggest that the country folk insist on enjoying squatting in the fields so they can commune with nature while the gentle morning breeze fans their bottoms? Or, the matter of cleaning the Ganga River — where there’s almost no improvement except a sweeping of the Varanasi ghats for the TV cameras every time the PM is in his constituency. And, while Modi spoke of the buying of train tickets and securing of passports by the common man being hassle-free, is that really the situation? In lieu of substantive results, he has, it seems, taken refuge behind information forwarded him by the various secretaries to the government and the army of babus who are past masters at obfuscation, siphoning off funds into their pockets, and otherwise potemkinising a ramshackle reality. In the face of negligible change in the attitude and functioning of even the centrally controlled administrative apparatus, the (yet another) new slogan he coined — “Reform, Perform, Transform” to describe extant mode of governance, at best, occasions jest.
Finally, a PM has woken up to treating J&K issue as a whole and speaking about the so-called “Northern Areas” in the Pakistan Army parlance — Gilgit and Baltistan, besides Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. I have been pleading for 30 years now that GOI make of Gilgit and Baltistan a ram to batter Pakistan’s Kashmir advocacy with. Hereon, hopefully, MEA and its far-flung stations will highlight Gilgit and Baltistan whenever Kashmir comes up. Except, as some former MEA-types have noted, the raising of the Baluchistan issue by the PM has the obvious downside of now providing Islamabad with evidence of the Indian hand in the ongoing strife and turmoil in Baluchistan. However, the television snippets of Brahmdagh Bugti, a grandson of the Baloch Tribal Sardar, Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti, attacked and killed by the Pakistan Army’s Special Services Group (Special Operations) on General Parvez Musharraf’s orders in March 2005, thanking India and Indians for supporting the cause of Baloch freedom, was perfectly fine as a psyop to unsettle Islamabad and GHQ, Rawalpindi. That’s the way to keep up the pressure.
But the section of his speech on foreign affairs was nevertheless a curious thing. He talked of interdependence just when the great powers and the international system is turning inward, stressing sovereign imperatives, as I predicted and have analyzed in all my books. If this is meant as a policy template to justify the BJP government’s decision to bull ahead imprudently and court some serious strategic dangers for the country (as explicated in my latest book and in many previous posts), and finally sign, what American officials call, the “foundational” accords, then Modi may be best remembered for irreversibly shrinking India’s stature and standing in the world and hurting the national interest. The first such accord is the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement, the draft of the standard Logistics Support Agreement (LSA) the Pentagon passed on to the MEA to amend only at the margins, is what defmin Manohar Parrikar is expected to sign when he visits Washington soon.
And, more predictably, while he waxed eloquent about Pakistan’s support for terrorism, he failed to mention even by indirection, China. If Modi continues to make so fundamental a mistake as misperceiving the primary military threat to the nation, and commits to the extraordinary misstep of allying formally with the US — no amount of parsing the truth will get around the fact that only formal US allies have LSAs/LEMOAs with America, and the lesser one of publicly disclosing Baluchis thanking him, what hope is there that Modi will do anything else right in the national security and external realms (that are directly managed by Modi and his PMO bypassing, in the process, the defence ministry and MEA)?