Thursday, December 7, 2023

‘Betis’ and Modi


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Politicians in India are known for their loose talk. There, often, is little substance in what they speak; and the level of public discourse has sunk over the years to rock bottom. The height of the loose talk was when Narendra Modi as the BJP nominee for the 2014 PM post led a campaign by promising the people he would plough back the money that “businessmen looted from banks and deposited at the safe tax havens abroad,” and put lakhs into each of the bank accounts of India’s poor. Appreciably, he took the initiative to encourage the poor to open bank accounts and the government put the MGNREGS wages in there, eliminating the play of middlemen in such welfare schemes. But, in the past nearly 10 years, he could do precious little to get at the sharks like Vijay Mallya or Nirav Modi to bring their parked funds back to India, leave alone reaching this money to the hands of the poor.
Narendra Modi as Prime Minister excelled in big talks as he held forth at public meetings. What matters more, for any politician or governmental functionary, is his performance. Take the case of the flagship Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao campaign that Modi started in the early part of his first term from 2014. Years later, a parliamentary committee on empowerment of women, in its report tabled in the Lok Sabha, revealed that the central government spent most of this fund for “media campaigns.” The government had released Rs 446.72crore between 2016 and 2019 for this purpose, of which about 80 per cent went into “media advocacy.” In simple terms, as much money was spent for insertion of government advertisements in both television channels and newspapers, extolling the theme. What should not go unnoticed is that the campaign’s natural focus was on families of illiterate parents. It can be safely assumed that others, the educated parents, send their children to school. Families of the poor might not have access even to TV sets, and certainly not to newspapers. But, the establishment that distributed the funds found this as an easy way to dispose of the funds and also buy support from the media to the Modi enterprise.
Instead, Modi’s exhortations from public platforms, beamed across the nation during his regular addresses of the nation, by themselves might have served this cause more. Had he earmarked substantial funds for the scheme and if the campaign was backed by ground-level initiatives, the purpose could have been better achieved. Yet, Modi was remorseless. On the 100-th episode of his Mann Ki Baat Radio programme, the PM claimed that the “gender ratio” has improved in Haryana as a result of the Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao campaign. This when all statistics have proven otherwise.


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