Fo­cus on grand poli­cies is ac­com­pa­nied by the back­lash of cit­i­zen’s cri­tique

Millennium Post - - FRONT PAGE - BHOPINDER SINGH Lt Gen­eral Bhopinder Singh (Retd) is For­mer Lt Gover­nor of An­daman & Ni­co­bar Islands and Puducherry. The views are strictly per­sonal.

Fol­low­ing the hor­rific stam­pede on the over-bridge link­ing the El­phin­stone Road and the Parel sub­ur­ban rail­way sta­tion, at Mum­bai, the pub­lic up­roar con­tex­tu­al­is­ing the mis­align­ment of pri­or­i­ties by posit­ing the Bul­let Train ver­sus the more press­ing need to upgrade the Rail­way in­fra­struc­ture ar­gu­ment, was ex­pected. The irate crowd at the site of the tragedy, with­out the po­lit­i­cal trap­pings and com­pul­sions of the news­room spokesper­sons, tore into the ob­vi­ous op­por­tu­nity to ques­tion such ‘sym­bols of de­vel­op­ment' when the ba­sic ed­i­fice was crum­bling and re­sult­ing in fre­quent rail­way mishaps and tragedies. Hard sta­tis­tics like the pro­hib­i­tive ticket-size of Rs 1.1 Tril­lion for the Bul­let-train (al­most the ex­act amount as was com­mit­ted in the 2014 Rail­way Bud­get for the five-year ex­pen­di­ture on net­work ex­pan­sion and safety im­prove­ments in the en­tire coun­try!), came tum­bling out. Shades akin to ear­lier, though less au­di­ble mur­murs of the mis­placed pri­or­i­ties of Bul­let­train vis-à-vis the ‘bul­lets' and ‘bul­let-proof jack­ets' (se­cu­rity in­fra­struc­ture), as made by Vet­er­ans, made a come­back.

That the fea­si­bil­ity study for six high-speed cor­ri­dors was in­tro­duced in the 200910 Rail­way Bud­get, was gen­er­ally ig­nored, as the rul­ing party had suc­cess­fully ap­pro­pri­ated the grandeur, imag­i­na­tion and bold­ness of the Bul­let Train as its sig­na­ture ini­tia­tive. The fick­le­ness of the wary and opin­ion­ated In­dian voter is get­ting in­creas­ingly in­sti­gated as the dust set­tles on the ini­tial-mag­nif­i­cence of the ‘Big-bang' ini­tia­tives that sought to trans­form the In­dian nar­ra­tive like the fis­cal gamechanger GST, the much-pub­li­cised mil­i­tary tac­tic of ‘Sur­gi­cal Strikes', the mul­ti­ple goal-post chang­ing ‘De­mon­eti­sa­tion', to the sym­bolic move of 21st cen­tury mod­erni­sa­tion via the Bul­let-train.

The im­me­di­ate con­trast with the pre­vi­ous UPA-2 regime was odi­ous, as it made the bold­ness of th­ese ‘Bigbang' ini­tia­tives, even more se­duc­tive to the senses. The oc­ca­sional doubt­ing-thomases were rel­e­gated to the ig­nominy of ‘anti-na­tion­als' or ‘pseu­dos' of var­i­ous hues. Com­fort­able elec­toral wins in the cru­cial heart­land of Ut­tar Pradesh, fur­ther laid to rest any po­ten­tial back­lash from the masses, ow­ing to any per­ceived neg­a­tiv­ity on ‘De­mon­eti­sa­tion' and the jug­ger­naut of the Big-bang ini­tia­tives rolle­don, im­pe­ri­ously. The con­trast of de­ci­sive­ness with the pre­vi­ous regime was care­fully re­it­er­ated to demon­strate the re­solve and the abil­ity to ‘pushthrough' the agenda. How­ever, the psy­che of the av­er­age In­dian voter is both sus­cep­ti­ble to its la­tent in­stincts, as it is, to the civil­i­sa­tional re­straint and mod­er­a­tion that soon tires of the ‘fan­tas­tic', as the so­cio-eco­nomic where­withal to sus­tain big-changes does not come nat­u­rally to a 5000-year-old civil­i­sa­tion, es­pe­cially if the out­come falls short of the promised re­for­ma­tory manna. In par­tic­i­pa­tive democ­ra­cies, pa­tience is peren­ni­ally in short sup­ply.

By them­selves, the ‘Bigbang' ini­tia­tives are nei­ther right nor wrong, as they could be borne out of ne­ces­sity (e.g. the eco­nomic cri­sis of 1991), or out of smart strate­gic choices that have the req­ui­site do­main logic as op­posed to po­lit­i­cal util­ity, bril­liance and tim­ing. While there is a cer­tain una­nim­ity in the idea of tax re­forms and sim­plic­ity amongst the pop­u­lace and the po­lit­i­cal classes (notwith­stand­ing the grand­stand­ing op­po­si­tion to the im­ple­men­ta­tion by all po­lit­i­cal par­ties, when in op­po­si­tion), the end-ver­dict on the ac­tual im­ple­men­ta­tion is still out there with the ex­pected teething is­sues and mur­murs of com­plex­ity by the busi­ness com­mu­nity. Although, the same can­not be said about the ‘Big-bang' of De­mon­eti­sa­tion, wherein, the larger set of eco­nomic pun­dits fore­warned about the fu­til­ity and dam­age to the econ­omy. The ju­di­cious pru­dence was given a rough-shod and the flex­i­bil­ity demon­strated in fre­quently chang­ing the goal-post to de­fend the ini­tia­tive started rais­ing eye­brows.

Across the LOC, the neighbouring coun­try ush­ered its own Big-bang ini­tia­tive of the CPEC (China Pak­istan Eco­nomic Cor­ri­dor) – how­ever, seen from a Pak­istani per­spec­tive of sheer eco­nomic, geopo­lit­i­cal and diplo­matic desperation, the al­most $50 bil­lion ini­tia­tive can­not be faulted for its overt and covert logic.

Fun­da­men­tally, the pol­i­tics of In­dia and the other democ­ra­cies have changed and they seek de­fin­i­tive, fun­da­men­tal and scale course-cor­rec­tions that show­case cer­tain gamechang­ing speed and im­pact, even at the cost of con­sti­tu­tional pro­pri­ety, so­bri­ety and in­clu­siv­ity. The nee­dle of the prin­ci­ple of In­dian pol­i­tics has swerved from the con­trolled ‘left-of-cen­tre' in its ini­tial decades, to a de­lib­er­ately cor­rected ‘cen­trist' moor­ing af­ter the eco­nomic rev­o­lu­tion of the 90's, to the now more de­cid­edly ‘right-of-cen­tre' in­stincts – a log­i­cal out­come from ‘the party with a dif­fer­ence'. Like cer­tain un­de­ni­able gov­er­nance and paral­y­sis is­sues pre­ced­ing the 2014 In­dian Gen­eral Elec­tions, the ‘cen­trist' par­ties across the globe were suf­fer­ing in their emo­tive ap­peal to be seen as pro­gres­sive or em­bold­en­ing philoso­phies. Whereas, the ‘right­ist' par­ties ap­pealed to the la­tent ba­sic-in­stincts of the masses from Delhi, Wash­ing­ton DC, to nearly-so in Paris, and more re­cently, Ber­lin.

The ‘right­ist' par­ties suc­ces­sively ap­pro­pri­ated the ‘na­tion­al­is­tic' cre­den­tials with em­bed­ded strains of ma­jori­tar­i­an­ism to storm the var­i­ous na­tional as­sem­blies and catch the imag­i­na­tion of the main­stream with bold, ex­clu­sivist and re­vi­sion­ist re­frains like ‘Make Amer­ica Great Again' (with prom­ises of the ‘wall') or like Afd's (Al­ter­na­tive for Ger­many) Alexan­der Gauland's warn­ing of the “in­va­sion of for­eign­ers”. The nat­u­ral propen­sity to pro­pound the Big-bang the­o­ries of change, usu­ally re­side with th­ese ‘right­ist' dis­pen­sa­tions, as the ‘cen­trist' ap­proach is to take the en­tire gamut along in an in­cre­men­tal­ist ap­proach that can be con­strued as pas­sive and lack­ing re­solve. In re­cent times, the os­ten­si­bly pusil­lan­i­mous ‘cen­trist' op­tions have been read­ily de­bunked, for sup­pos­edly, res­o­lute ‘right­ist' dis­pen­sa­tions. But now, a few years into th­ese regimes, hard ques­tions about the fun­da­men­tal changes on the ground, abound.

Hav­ing banked the elec­toral good­ies of the Big-bang ini­tia­tives, the govern­ment should be equally pre­pared to face cer­tain log­i­cal and il­log­i­cal ques­tions, ev­ery time ter­ror strikes, a train de­rails or the eco­nomic data re­flects un­com­fort­able sta­tis­tics. Iron­i­cally, more than the op­po­si­tion par­ties, it is the cold facts and fig­ures at the fin­ger­tips of the com­mon man that will keep the demo­cratic tra­di­tions and im­pulses throb­bing. BigBang the­o­ries re­main in the realm of the­o­ries, un­less they de­liver. The soul of In­dia need not be reinvented or rewrit­ten – there is enough and more to blame on the past, but the blame-game also comes with a shelf-life that soon wanes in case the promised change does not take place. That the change comes through the mus­cu­lar­ity and grand­ness of Big-bang the­o­ries or through the more sober and cal­i­brated means is not ger­mane, what re­ally mat­ters, is the end-re­sult.

Iron­i­cally, more than the op­po­si­tion par­ties, it is the cold facts and fig­ures on the fin­ger­tips of the com­mon man that will keep the demo­cratic tra­di­tions and im­pulses throb­bing. Bigbang the­o­ries re­main in the realm of the­o­ries un­less they de­liver

(Rep­re­sen­ta­tional Im­age)

The re­cent stam­pede at El­phin­stone foot­bridge in Mum­bai made many ques­tion the ef­fi­cacy of In­dia’s rail in­fra­struc­ture

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