This column appears on the last day of 2017 and this limits my choice of subject. It has to unavoidably be a synopsis of the year that ends today. But, I am going to spice up my overview of 2017 by paying more attention to the things that have not happened and must happen, at least in BJP states, if Narendra Modi is to once more make parivartan and vikas his leitmotif in the general election in 2019.
First, a quick glance at what defined 2017. On the electoral front things began well for the Prime Minister with that spectacular victory in Uttar Pradesh, despite the prophecies of doom from us political pundits. But, if the year began auspiciously with that major electoral triumph, it ended with near defeat in Gujarat. This has made Modi’s most ardent fans admit that he needs to be worried about what could happen in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh in 2018.
In the year just gone, Modi showed that on a personal level he is a conservative of the Hindutva genre when it comes to social issues. By appointing Yogi Adityanath Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, he indicated this very clearly. So it was no surprise that in states governed by BJP chief ministers, we saw a horrific rise in the lynching of Muslims by cow vigilantes directly connected to the RSS and its sister organisations. Rahul Gandhi was right when he said in his first speech as Congress president that India has become a country where you can be killed because of what you eat, how you dress, who you love and where you pray.
The Prime Minister has never once used his Mann ki Baat to condemn the lynching of Muslims or the ludicrous love jihad movement. He has shown disapproval of vigilante violence only twice. In both cases the victims were Dalits. Not once has he indicated that hacking Muslims to death or burning them alive and posting videos of this on the Internet is something that revolts him. So the growing alienation of Muslim communities from Kashmir to Kanyakumari is one of the things that defined 2017.
If Modi had also shown that he was a conservative when it came to economic policies it is possible that we would by now have seen the sort of boom we saw in the Indian economy after the licence raj was ended in the Nineties. A booming economy is the only way that new jobs will be created. As this columnist has pointed out more than once, new jobs will have to come from the private sector and would have already if India had really become business-friendly. The hysterical joy with which Modi and his ministers greeted India moving up 30 notches on the World Bank ease of doing business index confirmed that all is far from well.
It is not that 2017 was totally without successes. The Swachh Bharat mission has been a remarkable success. Rural sanitation has gone up from 38.70 per cent when Swachh Bharat began to more than 75 per cent. This is no small achievement and the Prime Minister would do well to hand the Ganga cleaning mission to the men who achieved this, because nothing much has happened on that front so far. He would also do well to ask BJP chief ministers why they have failed to bring visible parivartan in their abysmal schools and hospitals.
Speaking of chief ministers, it is time that the Prime Minister noticed that they are causing serious damage to his campaign to win a second term. It is horrible that a child should die of starvation in Jharkhand and that the chief minister should instruct his officials to pretend this did not happen. This is the kind of thing Congress chief ministers notoriously did, and it is disturbing that BJP chief ministers should be emulating them instead of making sure to provide a new, more compassionate kind of governance. If the Prime Minister needs proof that our poorest, most vulnerable citizens remain as badly off as ever, let him visit facilities for the welfare of homeless women and children in the states in which the BJP now rules.
After winning Gujarat, Modi said proudly that the BJP now controls more states even than the Congress did at the height of Indira Gandhi’s glory days. This is good news for the party, but now it is time for these BJP state governments to show ordinary Indians that they are there to serve them and not just to rule. The Prime Minister needs to remind them that just as he thinks of himself as the Pradhan Sevak of the people, let them think of themselves this way too. This is important because it is this kind of parivartan that ordinary Indians need to see before the 2019 general election. Meanwhile, a very Happy New Year.