Even as questions have been raised about the Election Commission’s delay in announcing polling dates, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has sped around the country inaugurating projects and making Cabinet decisions presumably aimed at drawing in popular support before the model code of conduct comes into place. In what was probably its last meeting before the code comes into effect, the Cabinet this week took as many as 30 decisions. They ranged from allocating Rs 31,000 crore to power-sector projects to sanctioning 50 new Kendriya Vidyalalayas.
Congress leader Ahmed Patel has claimed that the Election Commission is waiting for Modi to complete his travel schedule before the poll dates are announced. For the last national poll, the Election Commission announced the general elections on March 5, 2014.
Once the dates have been listed, the model code of conduct immediately comes into place. The code is a series of regulations meant to provide a level playing field to all parties in an election, with particular fetters on the ruling party so that it does not use its commanding position unfairly.
Though the Election Commission, through off-record sources, has sought to insist that it still has some time before hitting the deadline, most expect the actual date announcement to come out anytime now. Not that the government is bothered.
Modi has spent the last two weeks zipping around the country, inaugurating and in many cases re-inaugurating development projects, while his last few Cabinet meetings have seen several ordinances and as many as 30 decisions on Thursday alone.
Here are some of the schemes the Cabinet approved on Thursday:
- Announced more than Rs 31,000 crore for four power projects in Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Jammu & Kashmir and Sikkim.
- Allocated Rs 2,790 crore towards interest subvention for a Rs 12,900 crore loan from banks.
- Promised Rs 4,500 crore to help develop unused or under-utilised air strips.
- Allocated Rs 1,866 to build a new railway line between Odisha and West Bengal.
- As many as 50 new Kendriya Vidyalalyas.
- Approvals for metro lines in Mumbai and Delhi.
This flurry of activity is not unusual for a government at the end of its tenure, but it draws into even sharper contrast the gap between what Modi had initially promised versus what was actually achieved.
With a lacklustre record on the economic front, the prime minister seems quite set on the idea of launching projects as a way of appealing to the public.
Consider what the last week of Modi’s public engagements, from March 1 to March 7, have looked like:
- Launched development projects in Kanyakumari, Tamil Nadu which included inaugurating rail connectivity projects from Rameswaram and Dhanushkodi and other road projects
- Inaugurated projects in Amethi, Uttar Pradesh, which included the launch of a joint venture between India and Russia to manufacture rifles in Amethi.
- Launched development projects in Ahmedabad, including first phase of Ahmedabad metro, hospitals
- Flagged off Bandra-Jamnagar Express, and inaugurated a hospital in Jamnagar
- Launched Pradhan Mantri Shram Yogi Mandhan, a scheme for poor labourers, in Vastral, Gujarat
- Inaugurated Shikshan Bhavan and Vidyarthi Bhavan at Annapurna Dham Trust in Adalaj, Gujarat
- Launched development projects in Kalaburagi in Karnataka and Kanchipuram in Tamil Nadu, which include hospitals and national highway projects.
- Flagged off Nagpur metro via video conferencing.
- Inaugurated development projects which included command and control centres in five Smart Cities in Sikkim, Arunachal and Tripura through video conferencing.
At many of these events, Modi has used the government platform to make a political pitch, calling on voters to bring his party back to power and in many cases directly attacking his predecessor, the Congress. A similar blurring of lines between party and government seems to have taken place in the official slogans, with the government’s being “Namumkin ab mumkin hai” (the impossible is now possible) and “Modi hai to mumkin hai” (with Modi it is possible).
Perhaps what has been most egregious is the government’s use of ordinances.
These are executive orders that are supposed to be used only in the case of an emergency. Yet last week, Modi’s Cabinet amended the Aadhaar Act to allow for private companies to use the biometric identity for verification, even though the government had failed to get the exact same piece of legislation pass in Parliament just weeks earlier during the Budget Session. Despite this, the government went ahead and issued its ordinance, which can now wait until later in the year to face a Parliamentary test.
Similarly on Thursday, the government announced an ordinance that would change the way reservation works for government-run universities, moving from a 13-point program to a 200-point programme. The ordinance nullified a Supreme Court verdict that activists suggested would lead to a dramatic fall in the number of Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe teachers in university faculties.
These were only two out of six total ordinances that the government promulgated over the last two weeks. While the content of the ordinances, and indeed all the moves being made by the government might find both supporters and detractors, all the last-minute activity does indeed suggest that Modi and the Bharatiya Janata Party feel the need to do everything possible to reach out to voters.
Something similar happened ahead of the Gujarat elections in 2017, when the Opposition accused the Election Commission of deliberately delaying the polls to give the BJP time to make additional announcements and carry out inaugurations. In the event, the BJP eked out a small victory. With polling dates expected from the commission anytime now, the question for the BJP ahead of the general elections will be: has it done enough?