The Big Story: Burdening the people
Should public money and the government machinery be used to conduct a political rally?
That question hung in the air as Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Saturday addressed a massive public meeting in Jaipur in Rajasthan, which goes to polls later this year.
Media reports suggested that the vast sections of the state machinery were pressed into service to organise the meeting, at which the prime minister “interacted” with beneficiaries of state and central schemes. However, the meeting quickly took the form of a political rally, as Modi used the platform to attack the Congress. Deploying his characteristic fondness for wordplay, the prime minister used the Hindi word for “bullock cart” to allege that the main Opposition party had become a “bail gaadi” or a bail vehicle, suggesting that some of its leaders who have cases filed against them had received relief from the courts when they should actually be in jail. He accused the Congress of insulting the Army by raising questions about the 2016 surgical strikes in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir and said the Opposition party lacked a development agenda.
The extent to which the state machinery was involved in organising the Rajasthan meeting was staggering. More than Rs 7 crore was reported to have been spent just on transporting participants from across the state to Jaipur. The movement was so intense, the Rajasthan High Court even postponed district judge cadre exam due to the expected traffic congestion. Groups like the Rajasthan Teachers’ Union criticised the meeting, calling it a gross abuse of power.
Two important questions arise. First, should public funds be used to organise an event that is largely political in nature? Had this meeting been held when model code of conduct was in place, there was every chance that the Election Commission of India would have billed the Bharatiya Janata Party and its leaders for the expenses incurred.
Second, what is public purpose is served by holding such meetings? The Centre and state governments already spend thousands of crores of public money on promoting schemes and advertising their achievements. A public meeting to showcase beneficiaries creates no significant change in the lives of the people. The huge sum could have been used to make the schemes more efficient. Worse, media reports pointed to the administration tutoring beneficiaries on how to reply to the prime minister, suggesting that the exercise may have been stage managed.
Such meetings provide the party in power with unfair advantage. The ruling party has achieved a political end by burdening ordinary people with the bill. The prime minister never misses a chance to criticise the Opposition for corruption. But ahead of an Assembly election, such unethical use of public money does little to enhance the image of either Modi or his party.
- Former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s conviction in a corruption case confirms that a politician can’t be corrupt and anti-military at the same time in Pakistan, writes Hussain Haqqani in Indian Express.
- With slow growth and Brexit problems, the US and the UK have reason to regard India with some envy, argues Krishnan Srinivasan in The Hindu.
- The lack of state infrastructure as well as fiscal constraints mean that farmers remain mute spectators to the political games played in their name, says Siraj Hussain in Mint.
Is BJP plan to repeal Arunachal Pradesh’s anti-conversion law aimed at garnering Christian votes?
“That the decision to repeal the law came from a BJP leader has surprised many people. The party’s ideological parent, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, has long been working with many of the state’s indigenous faiths groups, funding their schools and cultural centres. ‘We were expecting that the law would be strengthened under the BJP, but they are talking about repealing it,’ said Dawe. ‘We are very surprised.’”