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The difference between perception and reality in India now

Author: Ashali Varma
Publication: The Times of India
Date: July 13, 2015
URL: http://blogs.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/no-free-lunch/the-difference-between-perception-and-reality-in-india-now/

I fail to understand how the media and even Chetan Bhagat can be so wrong and create outlandish perceptions by using psycho-babble and strong-arm techniques. Bhagat thinks he can get away by saying that all the people who admire Prime Minster Modi are yearning to speak English and to belong to an English speaking society. Then he also says all of them are frustrated because they can’t get women. On women who like Modi he is silent, I suppose since they don’t matter. How bizarre is that! Actually, the fact is that I read all of Chetan Bhagat’s books, not because he was a literary giant but because I thought he had the pulse of India. When I first heard him speak at the Jaipur lit fest I was disappointed because he did not even speak English well! It was guttural and not grammatically correct.

The Congress party with the help of the mainstream media and other like-minded intellectuals are actually trying to waylay a Prime Minister and a party that many believe has the best interest of India at heart. I don’t say this lightly. The alternative is Rahul Gandhi.

For the argument that I am making I would like to briefly outline my reasons for what is being perceived and the reality.

Reality: The Prime Minster has only ever spoken about development, jobs, education and that we need to build more toilets instead of temples. He has never once brought up the Ram Temple issue. And as far as the riots in Gujarat were concerned — at least he tried to take action and hundreds of rioters are in jail. He is pilloried for it even though Gujarat has been riot free for 13 years. And it is curious that the media has never spoken about Haji Bilal, a Congress member of the Godra Nagarpalika who got together a large mob to pelt stones at the fire engines that were trying to reach a burning train full of Hindu pilgrims in Godra.

Then again it was a Congress government that let 3,000 Sikhs get massacred in Delhi in 1984? The capital unlike Gujarat has several layers of security but nothing was done to mitigate the massacre. Why was not the army called out immediately? A Prime Minister had been killed and everyone knew there may be a back-lash. And there was. But all Rajiv Gandhi said was that when a big tree falls the earth will tremble. At that time there was no Arnab Goswami on breaking news or Rajiv would have been taken to task. But memories are short.

Did the Congress bring one person to justice? Why has no one ever claimed the Congress party is known to divide and rule? After all they also created Bhindrawalla and the Khalistan issue that pit Sikhs against Sikhs and Hindus, to name just a few instances. Assam, Kashmir, the Tamil Tigers all come to mind as divisive Congress policies that resulted in simmering discord and frequent riots and civil wars.

The Congress party was also at the helm of affairs when India was partitioned. Have the media and Indian intellectuals forgotten this?In fact their policies have been more divisive than any other government since Indian independence.

Perception: Prime Minister Modi has not done enough in the case of major reforms as far as the economy is concerned.

Reality: Actually he has done more in one year in this very anarchic democracy than of ours than all of his predecessors. He inherited a largely moribund economy; a country riven by scams; inflation; and policy paralysis.

Since the BJP government has come we have seen lower inflation and we are told by the IMF that we will have at least 7.5 per cent growth in 2016.

In addition, thanks to pragmatic and far-sighted policies, millions of Indians can now open bank accounts and for Rs 12 a year get a 2 lakh insurance cover for accident. For Rs. 365 a year they can get life insurance of Rs. 2 lakhs. One third of India had no access to banking services and had to take loans at exorbitant rates from money lenders. On the launch date itself 15 million bank accounts were opened. Modi called it an end to ‘financial untouchability’. In the program account holders get a debit card and $1,600 as accident insurance. The program aims to reach 85 million families by 2018, each with two account holders.

He then launched a bank with a $3 billion corpus for 58 million small businesses, which can now get credit up to $17,000. “After ‘banking the un-banked’ with the Jan Dhan Yojana, it’s time to ‘fund the unfunded’,” the Prime Minister said at an event to launch what is called Micro Units Development and Refinance Agency – MUDRA.

In the case of Indians parking black money abroad, the Centre has enacted one of the most stringent laws with heavy penalties and a 10 year jail term for people caught on the wrong side of the law.

To provide jobs he has initiated the Make in India program and increased FDI in insurance, defense and railways to access foreign technology get more corporations to invest in India. For the first time the railway budget was applauded by all political parties for its clarity and vision. Today the Railway minister is inviting NRIs to adopt a station. This is really thinking out of the box.

Transparent coal and spectrum auctions have brought money into states and the center. Archaic laws have been struck down. Steps are being taken to create an atmosphere that will lead to ease of doing business. Of course, much more has to be done to set our economy right. For this the country needs labour reforms, the land acquisition bill and GST in the coming year, if the Congress and opposition parties allow it.

Perception: Infrastructure is still a mess. Surely no one thinks that overnight roads will be built, schools and hospitals come up and power generation triple. After all it has been neglected for decades. But the policies for this have been implemented.

Reality: Power output has gone up to 22,566MW against a targeted 17, 830 MW. In addition several private sector companies are investing in solar and wind power plants apart from thermal and hydro-electric. For starters Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Gujarat, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh have committed to a tie up with the Centre to execute ultra-mega solar power projects with more than 500-MW capacity each. This will activate 5,000-7,000 MW of solar power generation in the near future.

Road construction that had been reduced to just two kilometers a day under the Congress is now 10 kilometers a day. The 100 smart cities that will be built will be headed by CEOs and not local municipal bodies. This is also a first as local bodies are corrupt and incompetent.

Perception: PM Modi is traveling too much abroad and achieving little.

Reality: This is really a senseless perception highlighted by the media. Modi has achieved more in one year of his travels than the previous government did in ten years. Even the Times of India on 26th May this year gave the PM 9 out of 10 for burnishing India’s image globally, using NRIs as a force multiplier! Apart from the NRI’s he got Obama to come for the Republic day parade — the first ever for India for a US president, in spite of the security concerns.

The Prime Minister has made deals on getting uranium form Canada; on inviting South Korean giants to set up shop in India; and diluted China’s influence by wooing countries that had given up on India. Modi is now trying to streamline procedures to make foreign companies come into India under an ease of doing business plan. This is tough as India was mired in red tape and this is not easy to cut through.

In fact, Times of India recently had an article on how Modi’s globe-trotting and bringing in E-visas have boosted tourism. More than 5.11 Lakh foreign tourists arrived in India till May 2015 compared to 4.68 lakhs in 2014. Even dollar earnings from foreign travelers went up four percent in just one year. This is just the beginning. Everywhere he goes our PM urges his Non Resident Indian fans to convince just five of their local friends to visit India.

Which Prime Minister has ever tried this?

He made our immediate neighbours like Nepal, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh feel they also mattered by visiting them. Something the Congress government thought was not important enough. In Nepal he said if allowed India would set up hydro-electric plants, which could sell power to India as Bhutan does now. In Bangladesh he ratified the four-decade old land boundary agreement. The bilateral trade agreement is a win-win for both countries. Example: Indian goods travel to Bangladesh through Singapore that takes three weeks now they will go directly to Bangladeshi ports in a week. With a 5,000 mile coastline Indians were traders many millenniums ago and commanded as much as 20 percent of world trade as compared to 2 percent today. The Prime Mister wants India to be what it was two hundred years ago in trade. Is this wrong?

In addition, Yoga and other soft power initiatives also help India to attract tourists and bring in valuable foreign exchange. China gets 55 million tourists a year while India gets around 5 million. No one has ever tried hard enough to change this equation before Modi.

Perception: The Swachh Bharat initiative is just sloganeering.

Reality: He was the first leader of the country to say openly we need to build more toilets not temples. Jairam Ramesh as Congress, minister of environment, said India could win a Nobel Prize for the filthiest cities in the world. Why has there been no Congress initiative to make our cities cleaner or our rivers unpolluted?

The plan to clean the Ganga failed when Rajiv Gandhi started it. After much money spent and time wasted the Ganga is dirtier than before. But Modi has brought in experts, NGOs, city and town administrations, along the Ganges to shut down or penalize industries that dump waste into the river and he has given a five- year-deadline. People in Varanasi are already saying the ghats are looking much cleaner because of stricter rules, more public participation and awareness. The government has cleared 20,000 crores to the cleaning of the river for the next five years.

India Inc. has given Rs.1000 crores for constructing toilets in villages and schools; promoting cleanliness; running workshops to bring in behavioral change; waste management and treatment; and water hygiene and sanitation. How come other political parties never thought of this? And why does the media not cover such issues? Actually this is the tip of the iceberg. Much more has to be done for Swachh Bharat and the media, especially television can do a lot in bringing about awareness and behavioral change.

No Prime Minister can single handedly clean up India it needs the help of a billion plus people who have forever been living in filth.

Perception: Prime Minister Modi has not done enough for national security.

Reality: Perhaps the single most important issue that Modi has taken up is to bring on board our neighbours and arrest China’s creep into the Indian Ocean and our other borders. This was neglected for so long and China has made such major strides to surround India with a String of Pearls (ports and bases around India) that it will take time but at least our neighbors have been placated and a start made.

Defense manufacturing will be stepped up with foreign technology in partnership with Indian companies. Modi went to France and bought 36 Rafale jets that were much needed by the Air Force, which the Congress had been negotiating for four years and getting nowhere.

Unhappy, with the performance of the Defense Research and Development Organisation, Modi has put it on notice, demanded deadlines and completely re-shuffled the organization. Artillery guns are being procured after thirty years. There is a lot more on the anvil and the media should explore the strides taken in this area after a decade of lost opportunities.

Perception: The Prime Minister is trying to cultivate a cult-like status.

Reality: Not a single initiative has been named after the Prime Minister. However if we look at the last 65 years many airports, hospitals, schools, universities, institutions and initiatives have the Nehru- Gandhi name on it. The list goes into thousands.
 On the contrary he does not want to grab all the power at the center. He has raised the outlay to the states from the centre from 32 to 42 percent on a much larger collection base due to transparency in critical resources auctions.

Perception: Modi is not speaking up about divisive statements and the Lallitgate scandal.

Reality: Frankly, no one in their right minds would speak to the Indian media. They distort, take statements out of context and convert into breaking news any sound bite that they can get from ministers.

If the Prime Minister was to speak up every time someone in India said or did something untoward, he would be talking all the time and nothing would get done. He has spokespeople for this as it should be. He works 18-hour-days to try and get India kick started and has to focus on how to uplift 400 million people, provide jobs, bring back growth, get rid of archaic laws, strengthen education and skill training, the list is endless. His vison is to make India prosperous like Korea or Japan. What is wrong with that? Why waste time in answering a belligerent media that only wants to get vapid ratings? How can Indians anchors have the arrogance to say, “The Nation wants to know?” Have they been democratically elected that they feel they can speak for us? How absurd is that!

It is not as if we don’t know Modi’s thought processes. Just tabulate his achievements or ask Tarek Fatah, the Pakistani born and raised Canadian citizen, who came for a four months visit to India and especially visited Gujarat. His vison of India and what it is today is what our brilliant TV anchors should be discussing. But then it would not be sensational enough or would it? I urge everyone in India to watch his interview on India on You Tube or read about it on the net. That is real news.
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