Saturday, May 18, 2024
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A Decade of NDA Rule and the Battle for India

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By H H Mohrmen

In this general election, the campaign of the NDA, in general, and the BJP, in particular, is more defensive than aggressive. Just three months ago, the BJP and its allies targeted winning more than 400 seats, but today, one no longer sees the over-confident party led by its leader, Narendra Modi. The disclosure of the electoral bond scheme has perhaps caught the BJP on the wrong foot, hence the defensive campaign. The BJP’s campaign is somewhat low-key, and the opposition is not doing any better. The fact that the BJP is giving so much importance to its partners, avoiding confrontation even in states like Meghalaya and voluntarily giving away seats to its NDA partners, is an indication of careful calculation behind this arrangement. The situation in the current scenario is a contest between a bewildered NDA versus a weak Opposition, which is divided rather than united.
Swachh Bharat Mission
Looking back, the NDA government led by the BJP has initiated many schemes and projects, but whether the projects or schemes bear fruit or have the much-needed impact on the ground is another question. It may be reminded that before the end of 2018 and the beginning of 2019, at the entry of all villages in the country, or at least in Meghalaya, one would see Swachh Bharat signboards. The boards are visible signs that the village is under the Swachh Bharat Mission and has achieved an open defecation-free (ODF) status. The sanitation initiative, launched by the Prime Minister of India in 2014, was hailed as the world’s largest sanitation program, but the question is how sustainable is the initiative. The goal is to achieve an Open Defecation Free India by October 2, 2019, as a tribute to Mahatma Gandhi by constructing over 10 crore toilets. The goal may have been achieved, but are the toilets being used? The immediate complaint was the lack of water, especially during the lean season, which renders the toilets rather useless.
Swachh Bharat
Mission – 2
In February 2020, the Government of India approved Phase-II of the SBM-G with a total outlay of Rs. 1,40,881 crores to focus on the sustainability of the ODF status and to cover the villages with Solid and Liquid Waste Management (SLWM) that would transform villages from ODF to ODF Plus by 2024-25. To achieve the goal of ODF Plus villages, the aim is to engage in biodegradable waste management through composting and setting up of Biogas plants; collection, segregation, and storage facilities for plastic waste management; construction of soak pits, waste stabilization ponds for greywater management; and Faecal Sludge Management and a host of other activities. While a village that sustains its ODF status and has arrangements for Solid Waste Management or Liquid Waste Management is considered an ODF Plus Aspiring village; a village that sustains its ODF status and has arrangements for both Solid Waste Management or Liquid Waste Management is an ODF Plus Rising village.
It was stated in October 2023, that over 78 per cent of the villages have declared themselves ODF Plus, by implementing various innovative campaigns to accelerate momentum, which would lead to a cleaner, greener, and healthier nation. It was planned that community participation should be integral to the success of the campaign. It was reported that in the Swachhata Hi Seva 2023, more than 109 crore individuals and 71 Ministries and Departments of GOI participated in the nationwide campaign over an 18-day period, averaging around 6 crore people’s participation per day across the country. Sadly, we have completed a quarter of 2024, but there is no sign of any of the activities on the ground. One would expect that villages in the country will be clean, but unfortunately, in most of the villages, there is no waste management system in place, and waste can be seen everywhere.
The NDA Government Initiatives
Much of the government initiative left much to be desired hence a very important question that one needs to ask is, will history forgive the Prime Minister for the blunders he made with demonetization? Did the masterstroke achieve the much-anticipated goal, and how much black money has been recovered? The Ujjala Scheme was praised by many, and the victory of the NDA in the last election was also credited to the Ujjala scheme, but with the benefit of hindsight, the scheme is not as rosy as it was made out to be. The high cost of an LPG cylinder compelled most of the women in the village to go back to the use of firewood. Perhaps demonetization, Ujjwala, or even the mismanagement of the COVID-19 pandemic are old issues that will not have any impact on the election now, but the new schemes have not had any impact despite the end of the five-year term.
The smart city project is another project that did not achieve its goal, as cities like Shillong, which have been part of the project, have not seen much change. Of the many recent schemes that the central government has initiated, the Jal Jeevan Mission is expected to bring much relief to the citizens of the country, particularly the women who engage in the collection of water. But it remains to be seen how successfully the project is being implemented. In the state of Meghalaya, the government claimed that the implementation of the mission was successful, but how many villages have received potable water in their households? The reality that this project is not going to be a success will be out in the open if a proper audit is done in the state. The action of the NDA government, which makes non-Hindi speakers feel neglected and left out, is the naming of all the schemes and projects. The schemes do not even have an English translation of the name, which would have at least helped non-Hindi speakers understand the name.
The Electoral Bond
The electoral bond, which has exposed the disparity in the amount of money donated to different political parties in the country and the unfair advantage that the ruling dispensation has over the Opposition, is a huge blow to the BJP. The question remains whether this will have any impact on the way people vote. The Opposition alleges that it is the biggest scam in the country, and the SBI’s attempt to not disclose the information has made common people suspicious. But can the opposition capitalize on the electoral bond scam? Another issue that might become an election issue is the alleged misuse of government machinery against the Opposition. This has not only given people a bad impression of the way the Government targeted the Opposition, but it has also invited criticism from foreign governments.
The Farmers, the Constitution, and Democracy Factor
The NDA Government under the leadership of Modi has never really had a good relationship with the farmers, and their long-drawn-out protest was not taken seriously by the Government. When they tried to organize a protest again, the NDA government scuttled their plans, and they were not able to protest. The big deciding factor in this election is if the farmers in the northern states decide to vote en bloc, and if that happens, it will be a big challenge for the NDA. The Opposition is also campaigning that another term for the BJP will only help it fulfill its agenda of “one nation, one language, and one culture” (Hindutva) agenda. This is a big threat to the Constitution and Democracy hence, the call to vote the NDA out is also seen as the only way to save both.
Opposition Disunity and the Challenge to Modi
The Opposition is not doing the nation or their respective parties a favour either. At one point, it looked like they were able to cobble together a unity of the Opposition parties in the country under the umbrella INDIA alliance, but just before the election, some parties decided to go their own way. The reason is every leader of the Opposition party is seeing himself or herself as the principal opposition to Modi; everybody is eyeing for the seat at the head of the table. Is it going to be Rahul Gandhi, Arvind Kejriwal, or Mamata Banerjee? The Opposition has too many contenders for the prime ministerial position.
The big question is, can a divided Opposition pose a challenge to Modi? In the last election, despite the controversy over the Rafael deal, the BJP and its allies still soared through and won the election with a thumping majority. This time they have Ram temple to their advantage, so can the BJP and its allies pull off the same trick this time around? Or can the Opposition put a stop to the BJP’s march to the historic three consecutive wins in the battle for India?

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