Political discourse is at its lowest point in the country, at least in my lifetime. The partisanship bias is unbelievable and people continue to support their side no matter what the evidence, there is no remorse even when they are proved to have been spreading fake news. This is something that everyone – the parties and the voters and supporters are to be blamed for.
The Bharatiya Janata Party has done a great job at spreading some specific messages with incredibly effective propaganda, and these messages are the primary reason that I can not support the party anymore. But before we get into any of that, I would like everyone to understand that no party is totally bad, and no party is totally good. All governments have done some good and messed up on some fronts. This government is no different.
- Road construction is faster than it was earlier. There has been a change in methodology of counting road length, but even factoring that in, it seems to be faster.
- Electricity connections increased . All villages are electrified and people getting electricity for more hours. (The Congress did electrify over five lakh villages and Modi government finished the job by connecting the last 18,000 – so, you can weigh the achievement as you like. Similarly the number of hours people get electricity has increased ever since independence, but it might be a larger increase during the BJP).
- Upper level corruption is reduced. No huge cases at the ministerial level as of now (but the same was true of UPA I ). Lower level seems to be about the same with increased amounts, no one seems to be able to control the thanedar, patwari et al.
- Swachh Bharat Mission is a definite success. More toilets built than before and Swachhta or cleanliness is something embedded in people’s minds now.
- The UJJWALA Yojana is a great initiative. Even thought it remains to be seen how many people buy the second cylinder. The first one and a stove was free, but now people need to pay for additional cylinders. The cost of cylinders has almost doubled since the government took over and now one costs more than Rs 800.
- Connectivity for the North East has undoubtedly increased. More trains, roads, flights and, most importantly , the region is now discussed in the mainstream news channels.
- Law and order is reportedly better than it was under regional parties.
Feel free to add other achievements you can think of in your responses. Also, achievements necessarily have caveats, while failures are absolute.
It takes decades and centuries to build systems and nations, the biggest failure I see in the BJP is that it has destroyed some great things on very flimsy grounds.
- Electoral Bonds. They basically legalise corruption and allow corporates and foreign powers to simply buy over our political parties. The bonds are anonymous so if a corporate promises to give an electoral bond of Rs 1,000 crore for passing a specific policy, there can be no prosecution. There just is no way to establish quid pro quo with an anonymous instrument. This also explains how corruption is reduced at the ministerial level – it is not per file or order, it is now like the USA – at the policy level.
- Planning Commission Reports . They used to be a major source for data. They audited government schemes and stated how things were going. With that gone, there just is no choice but to believe whatever data the government gives you (The Comptroller and Auditor General of India audits come out after a long time). The NITI Aayog doesn’t have this mandate and is basically a think tank and public relations agency. Plan/Non-Plan distinction could have been removed without removing the planning commission audit reports.
- Misuse of Central Bureau of Investigation and Enforcement Directorate. These are being used for political purposes as far as I can see. But even if they are not, the fear that these institutions will be unleashed if anyone speaks up against anything related to Narendra Modi or Amit Shah is real. This is enough to kill dissent, an integral component of democracy.
- Failure to investigate Kalikho Pul’s suicide note, Judge Loya’s death, Sohrabuddin murder and the defence of an MLA accused of rape whose relative is accused of killing the girl’s father and a first information report was not registered for over an year.
- Demonetisation. It failed, but worse is the BJP’s inability to accept that it failed. All propaganda of it cutting terror funding, reducing cash, eliminating corruption is just absurd. It also killed off businesses.
- Goods and services tax implementation. It was implemented in a hurry and harmed business. Complicated structure, multiple rates on different items, complex filing... Hopefully it will stabilise in time, but it did cause harm. Failure to acknowledge that from the BJP is extremely arrogant.
- The messed up foreign policy with pure grandstanding . China has a port in Sri Lanka and huge interests in Bangladesh and Pakistan – we are surrounded. The failure in Maldives (Indian workers not getting visas anymore because of India’s foreign policy debacle) while Modiji goes out to foreign countries and keeps saying Indians had no respect in the world before 2014 and now they’re supremely respected. (This is nonsense. Respect for Indians in foreign countries was a direct result of our growing economy and Information and Technology sector, it hasn’t improved an ounce because of Modiji. It might even have declined due to beef-based lynchings, threats to journalists et cetera)
- Failure of schemes and failure to acknowledge/course correct . Sansad Adarsh Gram Yojana, Make In India, Skill Development, Fasal Bima (look at reimbursements – the government is lining the pockets of insurance companies). Failure to acknowledge unemployment and farmers crisis – calling every real issue an opposition stunt.
- The high prices of Petrol and Diesel. Modiji and all the BJP ministers plus supporters criticised the Congress for it heavily and now all of them justify the high prices even though crude is cheaper than it was then. Just unacceptable.
- Failure to engage with the most important basic issues. Education and Healthcare. There is just nothing on education which is the nation’s biggest failure. Quality of government schools has deteriorated over the decades (ASER reports) and no action. They did nothing on Healthcare for four years, then Ayushman Bharat was announced – that scheme scares me more than nothing being done. Insurance schemes have a terrible track record and this is going the US route, which is a terrible destination for healthcare (watch Sicko by Michael Moore)
You can add some and subtract some based on personal understanding of the issue, but this is my assessment. The Electoral Bonds thing is huge and hopefully the Supreme Court will strike it down. Every government has some failures and some bad decisions though, the bigger issue I have is more on morals than anything else.
The real negative of this government is how it has affected the national discourse with a well considered strategy. This isn’t a failure, it’s the plan.
- It has discredited the media, so now every criticism is brushed off as a journalist who didn’t get paid by the BJP or is on the payrolls of the Congress. I know several journalists for whom the allegation can’t be true, but more importantly no one ever addresses the accusation or complaint –they just attack the person raising the issue and ignore the issue itself.
- It has peddled a narrative that nothing happened in India in 70 years. This is patently false and the mentality is harmful to the nation. This government spent over Rs 4,000 crore of our taxpayer money on advertisements and now that will become the trend. Do small works and huge branding. He isn’t the first one to build roads – some of the best roads I have travelled on were pet projects of Mayawati and Akhilesh Yadav. India became an IT powerhouse from the 1990s. It is easy to measure past performance and berate past leaders based on the circumstances of today – take just one example of that: Why did the Congress not build toilets in 70 years? They couldn’t even do something so basic.
This argument sounds logical and I believed it too, until I started reading India’s history. When we gained independence in 1947 we were an extremely poor country, we did not have the resources for even basic infrastructure – and no capital. To counteract this, the then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru went down the socialist path and created public sector undertakings. We had no capacity to build steel, so with the help of Russians the Heavy Engineering Corporation at Ranchi was set up that made machines to make steel in India – without this we would have no steel, and consequently no infrastructure. That was the agenda – basic industries and infrastructure. We had frequent droughts (famines or aakaals as they used to be called) every two-three years and a large number of people starved to death. The priority was to feed the people, toilets were a luxury no one cared about. The Green Revolution happened and the food shortages disappeared by the 1990s – now we have a surplus problem. The toilet situation is exactly like people asking 25 years from now why Modi could not make all houses in India air conditioned. That seems like a luxury today, toilets were also a luxury at some point of time. Maybe things could have happened sooner, maybe 10–15 years ago, but that nothing happened in 70 years is a horrible lie to peddle.
- The spread of and reliance on Fake News. There is some anti-BJP fake news too, but the pro-BJP and anti-opposition fake news outstrips that by miles in number and in reach. Some of it is from supporters, but a lot of it comes from the party. It is often hateful and polarising, which makes it even worse. The online news portals backed by this government are damaging society more than we know.
- Hindu khatre mein hai . They have ingrained it into the minds of people that Hindus and Hinduism are in danger, and that Modi is the only option to save ourselves. In reality, the Hindus have been living the same lives much before this government and nothing has changed except people’s mindset. Were we Hindus in danger in 2007? At least I didn’t hear about it everyday and I see no improvement in the condition of Hindus, just more fear mongering and hatred.
- Speak against the government and you’re anti-National and, more recently, anti-Hindu. Legitimate criticism of the government is shut up with this labelling. Prove your nationalism, sing Vande Mataram everywhere (even though the BJP leaders don’t know the words themselves, they will force you to sing it). I’m a proud nationalist and my nationalism won’t allow me to let anyone force me to showcase it. I will sing the national anthem and national song with pride when the occasion calls for it, or when I feel like it, but I won’t let anyone force me to sing it based on their whims.
- Running news channels that are owned by the BJP leaders whose sole job is to debate Hindu-Muslim, National-Antinational, India-Pakistan and derail the public discourse from issues and logic into polarising emotions. You all know exactly which ones, and you all even know the debaters who are being rewarded for spewing the vilest propaganda.
- The polarisation . The message of development is gone. The BJP’s strategy for the next election is polarisation and inciting pseudo-nationalism. Modiji has basically said it himself in speeches – Jinnah; Nehru; Congress leaders didn’t meet Bhagat Singh in jail (fake news from the prime minister himself!); Congress leaders met leaders in Pakistan to defeat Modi in Gujarat; Yogiji’s speech on how Maharana Pratap was greater than Akbar; JNU students are anti-national they’ll #TukdeTukdeChurChur India – this is all propaganda constructed for a very specific purpose – polarise and win elections – it isn’t the stuff I want to be hearing from my leaders and I refuse to follow anyone who is willing to let the nation burn in riots for political gain.
These are just some of the instances of how the BJP is pushing the national discourse in a dark corner. This isn’t something I signed up for and it totally isn’t something I can support. That is why I am resigning from the BJP.
Post Script: I supported the BJP since 2013 because Narendra Modiji seemed like a ray of hope for India and I believed in his message of development . But that message and the hope are now both gone. The negatives of this Narendra Modi and Amit Shah government now outweigh the positives for me, but that is a decision that every voter needs to make individually. Just know that history and reality are complicated. Buying into simplistic propaganda and espousing cult-like unquestioning faith are the worst thing you can do – it is against the interests of democracy and of this nation.
You all have your own decisions to make as the elections approach. Best of luck with that. My only hope is that we can all live and work harmoniously together – and contribute towards making a better, stronger, poverty-free and developed India, no matter what party or ideology we support. Always remember that there are good people on both sides, the voter needs to support them and they need to support each other even when they are in different parties.
Shivam Shankar Singh was a senior research fellow at India Foundation and handled data analytics for the BJP’s poll campaigns in the Northeast. This piece first appeared on medium.com and has been very lightly edited for style.