New Year resolutions Prime Minister Modi is unlikely to make or keep
By Derek O’Brien
Own up to the demonetisation disaster. Ensure zero deaths from manual scavenging.
Do you think Prime Minister Narendra Modi makes New Year resolutions? I have no idea. Maybe he does, maybe he doesn’t. Either way, here is a list of New Year resolutions which he will not make (or keep) in 2023.
First New Year resolution: Hold a press conference. When was the last time PM Modi formally addressed the media? The master of the monologue deserves an entry in the 2023 edition of The Guinness Book of World Records. He hasn’t held a press conference since assuming office in 2014. The practice of holding structured press conferences in the conference hall of Vigyan Bhawan (later held in the New Media Centre, Delhi) dates back to Jawaharlal Nehru in the mid 1950s. Subsequently, this established mode of communication was adopted by many prime ministers. Our current PM prefers one-way communication like his radio address, puffy tweets and, of course, playing teleprompter tag. For the record, Modi was a part of a press conference held at the BJP headquarters in Delhi in 2019. It is another matter that all the questions at that presser were answered by Amit Shah. (The method of using a teleprompter has been quickly adopted by a fellow traveler from Gujarat, who recently created a flutter by even using the T device while being interviewed by a television channel).
Second New Year resolution: Mention the term Smart City. Smart City is a good brand name. But beyond that? Launched by the Prime Minister in June 2015, the initial deadline of 2020 has been pushed back to June 2023. Work orders have been issued for 7,738 projects out of which only about two-thirds have been completed. 63 per cent of the amount allocated by the Union government has been utilised till now. How will the remaining 36 per cent of the projects be completed in the next few months? Little wonder, the PM, his ministers, bureaucrats and government-friendly media platforms rarely mention the term Smart City.
Third New Year resolution: Improve his abysmal record in Parliament. The archival links on the Prime Minister of India’s website provide records for the “PM in Parliament” for former Prime Ministers. For Manmohan Singh, the page shows 71 speeches made in Parliament while this number is six for Atal Bihari Vajpayee. Shockingly, the records for “PM in Parliament” are missing altogether on the much flashier looking website dedicated to the current PM. What could be the reason for this? During the Gujarat elections in 2022, PM Modi addressed 31 public rallies and three roadshows, but participated in zero discussions on Bills, and answered zero questions in Parliament for the whole of 2022.
Fourth New Year resolution: Stop squeezing non-BJP states for funds. Deprivation of states by the Modi government continues, just as his hollow calls for cooperative federalism. The divisible pool of central taxes as set by the 15th Finance Commission is 41 per cent. However, in 2022-23, the states’ share in central taxes is estimated to be just 30 per cent. The revenue collected from GST, as a percentage of GDP continues to be lower than revenue collected through taxes subsumed in GST. Revenue collected from GST was 5.88 per cent of GDP in 2021-22, while the revenues from taxes subsumed under GST was 6.68 per cent of GDP in 2016-17. States have suffered as the revenue growth rate of many of them, including Bengal, was higher in the pre-GST regime.
Fifth New Year resolution: Double farmers’ income. In 2016, PM Modi promised that the income of farmers would be doubled by 2022. In a reply to a question in the Rajya Sabha, the agriculture minister stated that much progress has been made on the promise while citing a book that compiles “success stories of 75,000 farmers [….] who have increased their income more than two times”. Here are more reliable figures — the committee that recommended strategies for doubling farmers’ income estimated monthly income of farmers in 2015-16 to be Rs 8,059. As per the Situation Assessment Survey of Agricultural Households, monthly income of households was Rs 10,218 in 2018-19, an increase of around 27 per cent. After accounting for inflation, and the increased cost of cultivation, this increase is insignificant.
Sixth New Year resolution: Own up to the demonetisation disaster. Demonetisation was announced in November 2016 with the aim of curbing black money and eliminating terror financing. “Give me 50 days,” Modi dramatically said, “and punish me if the problem persists”. It’s been a while. Over 99.3 per cent of the notes that were invalidated were returned to the banks. The value of fake currency notes seized in 2017 was 76.5 per cent higher than 2016. More than half of the total value of the seized fake currency was in new Rs 2,000 notes. So, after all, let’s hope that in 2023 he will at least acknowledge that demonetisation was a failed stunt.
Seventh New Year resolution: Ensure zero deaths from manual scavenging. In an answer given in the Rajya Sabha, the Minister for Social Justice and Empowerment said in August 2022 that there have been no deaths in India due to manual scavenging. However, it was stated in the same answer that 352 persons have died due to accidents while undertaking hazardous cleaning of sewers and septic tanks during the last five years. Will the PM tell us when this number will become zero?
This column was written in mid-January 2023. In December 2023, I would request the publication to post this piece again. Another year. Another set of broken New Year resolutions.
(The writer is Member of Parliament and Leader All India Trinamool Congress Parliamentary Party, Rajya Sabha. Article published by arrangement with The Indian Express).
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