Anything that moves

Modi was elected to get India sprinting, but all he’s doing is screen the movie in fast motion

The government’s claims on full electrification of India’s villages follow a familiar script.

Following the trend described in my previous column, Narendra Modi continued to under-deliver in international affairs, returning from his heart-to-heart in Wuhan with Xi Jinping with little concrete to offer. The Indian government had contained expectations ahead of the meeting, framing it as a wide ranging philosophical discussion, but the absence of any real progress stood out at the summit’s conclusion. Expecting China to accept India as a permanent member of the UN Security Council would be too much, but Modi’s failure to gain entry even to the Nuclear Suppliers Group suggests he has not adequately used the leverage at his disposal, notably the massive market for Chinese-made products in India. Perhaps he will pull the NSG rabbit out of his hat just before next year’s general election for maximum political impact. Certainly, the impression created by his China trip was of a prime minister seeking to ward off bad news in an election year rather than one advancing the cause of his nation.

Taking all credit

If Modi’s NSG failure is instructive, so is the manner in which his party presents domestic success. The Bharatiya Janata Party proclaimed through front page advertisements in national dailies that April 28, 2018 was momentous, for it was the day India achieved full electrification of its villages. In cornering the glory, the party acted like a batsman who comes to the crease with three required for victory and takes full credit for the win after scoring those final runs. Around 97% of India’s villages fulfilled the definition of being electrified when Modi came to power; he scored just 3% of the runs.

Sharing credit for the process that led to the watershed moment would be anathema for Modi and Amit Shah. They prefer an us-versus-them, take-no-prisoners approach in which the decades of Congress rule are viewed as a long era of darkness and corruption bereft of redeeming qualities. They paint the Indian National Congress as a malevolent entity to be extirpated rather than what it is, a democratic opposition party with a nearly identical economic programme and a significantly different social policy. Modi and Shah claim to bring radical change while pursuing the same incremental reform that characterised the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance rule.

India’s record in most areas of economic development over the four Modi years is very similar to that of the previous 10. Take power generation, which is relevant to the discussion about rural electrification. The government’s figures indicate that the years of UPA II produced an average annual growth rate of 6.06%, and the figure has dropped slightly to 5.68% under the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance rule. The tiny difference between the two is less significant than the fact that India today can produce far more power than it can sell. Growth of demand has lagged the tremendous augmentation of installed capacity. Utilisation of capacity in both private and public sector thermal power plants has plummeted in the last decade, from around 80% to less than 60%. This has contributed substantially to the crisis of bad loans threatening India’s banks.

No easy solution

State Distribution Companies (Discoms), the intermediaries between producers and consumers, are plagued by losses, and don’t have the resources to buy power, leaving citizens, even those who can afford the bill, to cope with power cuts. Successive administrations have tried to solve the Discom problem. The NDA under Atal Behari Vajpayee introduced the Accelerated Power Development Programme in 2001, and modified it the following year. UPA I further altered that plan before coming up with a new one in 2012 called the Financial Restructuring Plan. The idea was to have state governments absorb half the liabilities of the Discoms, giving them breathing room to cut transmission losses, theft and under-recoveries. Under Modi, the Power Minister Piyush Goyal introduced the Ujjwal Discom Assurance Yojana or UDAY scheme, which had state governments take over 75% of the Discoms’ debt while banks restructured the rest.

The success of all these schemes, which were animated by similar ideas, depended on electricity providers being able to clean up their act in the face of populist pressure. The news with respect to UDAY’s success is mixed. Only seven of the 31 states and union territories that signed on to the plan reported meeting their 2017 targets to pare losses. Meanwhile, shifting the debt burden is merely kicking the can down the road, as states will be forced to cut investment to pay interest on debt they have inherited from the Discoms. It is a mess with no easy solution, as Arun Jaitley admitted in a rare moment of public introspection at a 2017 meeting of the BRICS Economic Forum.

None of this means India is going backwards. Each year, more people get access to power and more people can afford to pay for it. The slow pace of change is what can seem depressing. A village is considered electrified if at least 10% of the households within it have access to power. That’s a very low threshold, and crossing it can only be cause for muted celebration. What India really looks forward to is a time when every citizen will not only have access to power, but actually use it to light rooms, cool homes, play television, and charge mobile phones and computers. That is no pipe dream, but a privilege residents of dozens of countries enjoy today. We began 70 years ago by crawling towards that target, and 25 years ago began to walk. Narendra Modi was elected on the promise of getting India sprinting, but all he’s doing is screen the movie in fast motion.

Support our journalism by subscribing to Scroll+ here. We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

Swara Bhasker: Sharp objects has to be on the radar of every woman who is tired of being “nice”

The actress weighs in on what she loves about the show.

This article has been written by award-winning actor Swara Bhasker.

All women growing up in India, South Asia, or anywhere in the world frankly; will remember in some form or the other that gentle girlhood admonishing, “Nice girls don’t do that.” I kept recalling that gently reasoned reproach as I watched Sharp Objects (you can catch it on Hotstar Premium). Adapted from the author of Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn’s debut novel Sharp Objects has been directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, who has my heart since he gave us Big Little Lies. It stars the multiple-Oscar nominee Amy Adams, who delivers a searing performance as Camille Preaker; and Patricia Clarkson, who is magnetic as the dominating and dark Adora Crellin. As an actress myself, it felt great to watch a show driven by its female performers.

The series is woven around a troubled, alcohol-dependent, self-harming, female journalist Camille (single and in her thirties incidentally) who returns to the small town of her birth and childhood, Wind Gap, Missouri, to report on two similarly gruesome murders of teenage girls. While the series is a murder mystery, it equally delves into the psychology, not just of the principal characters, but also of the town, and thus a culture as a whole.

There is a lot that impresses in Sharp Objects — the manner in which the storytelling gently unwraps a plot that is dark, disturbing and shocking, the stellar and crafty control that Jean-Marc Vallée exercises on his narrative, the cinematography that is fluid and still manages to suggest that something sinister lurks within Wind Gap, the editing which keeps this narrative languid yet sharp and consistently evokes a haunting sensation.

Sharp Objects is also liberating (apart from its positive performance on Bechdel parameters) as content — for female actors and for audiences in giving us female centric and female driven shows that do not bear the burden of providing either role-models or even uplifting messages. 

Instead, it presents a world where women are dangerous and dysfunctional but very real — a world where women are neither pure victims, nor pure aggressors. A world where they occupy the grey areas, complex and contradictory as agents in a power play, in which they control some reigns too.

But to me personally, and perhaps to many young women viewers across the world, what makes Sharp Objects particularly impactful, perhaps almost poignant, is the manner in which it unravels the whole idea, the culture, the entire psychology of that childhood admonishment “Nice girls don’t do that.” Sharp Objects explores the sinister and dark possibilities of what the corollary of that thinking could be.

“Nice girls don’t do that.”

“Who does?”

“Bad girls.”

“So I’m a bad girl.”

“You shouldn’t be a bad girl.”

“Why not?”

“Bad girls get in trouble.”

“What trouble? What happens to bad girls?”

“Bad things.”

“What bad things?”

“Very bad things.”

“How bad?”

“Terrible!!!”

“Like what?”

“Like….”

A point the show makes early on is that both the victims of the introductory brutal murders were not your typically nice girly-girls. Camille, the traumatised protagonist carrying a burden from her past was herself not a nice girl. Amma, her deceptive half-sister manipulates the nice girl act to defy her controlling mother. But perhaps the most incisive critique on the whole ‘Be a nice girl’ culture, in fact the whole ‘nice’ culture — nice folks, nice manners, nice homes, nice towns — comes in the form of Adora’s character and the manner in which beneath the whole veneer of nice, a whole town is complicit in damning secrets and not-so-nice acts. At one point early on in the show, Adora tells her firstborn Camille, with whom she has a strained relationship (to put it mildly), “I just want things to be nice with us but maybe I don’t know how..” Interestingly it is this very notion of ‘nice’ that becomes the most oppressive and deceptive experience of young Camille, and later Amma’s growing years.

This ‘Culture of Nice’ is in fact the pervasive ‘Culture of Silence’ that women all over the world, particularly in India, are all too familiar with. 

It takes different forms, but always towards the same goal — to silence the not-so-nice details of what the experiences; sometimes intimate experiences of women might be. This Culture of Silence is propagated from the child’s earliest experience of being parented by society in general. Amongst the values that girls receive in our early years — apart from those of being obedient, dutiful, respectful, homely — we also receive the twin headed Chimera in the form of shame and guilt.

“Have some shame!”

“Oh for shame!”

“Shameless!”

“Shameful!”

“Ashamed.”

“Do not bring shame upon…”

Different phrases in different languages, but always with the same implication. Shameful things happen to girls who are not nice and that brings ‘shame’ on the family or everyone associated with the girl. And nice folks do not talk about these things. Nice folks go on as if nothing has happened.

It is this culture of silence that women across the world today, are calling out in many different ways. Whether it is the #MeToo movement or a show like Sharp Objects; or on a lighter and happier note, even a film like Veere Di Wedding punctures this culture of silence, quite simply by refusing to be silenced and saying the not-nice things, or depicting the so called ‘unspeakable’ things that could happen to girls. By talking about the unspeakable, you rob it of the power to shame you; you disallow the ‘Culture of Nice’ to erase your experience. You stand up for yourself and you build your own identity.

And this to me is the most liberating aspect of being an actor, and even just a girl at a time when shows like Sharp Objects and Big Little Lies (another great show on Hotstar Premium), and films like Veere Di Wedding and Anaarkali Of Aarah are being made.

The next time I hear someone say, “Nice girls don’t do that!”, I know what I’m going to say — I don’t give a shit about nice. I’m just a girl! And that’s okay!

Swara is a an award winning actor of the Hindi film industry. Her last few films, including Veere Di Wedding, Anaarkali of Aaraah and Nil Battey Sannata have earned her both critical and commercial success. Swara is an occasional writer of articles and opinion pieces. The occasions are frequent :).

Watch the trailer of Sharp Objects here:

Play

This article was published by the Scroll marketing team with Swara Bhasker on behalf of Hotstar Premium and not by the Scroll editorial team.