THE OTHER SIDEAs the parliamentary elections approach closer, the developments, allegations and claims that earlier emerged from the political and governmental establishment after longer intervals have now become more frequent. The developments also became bigger in their potential for effect in recent months. Earlier, the appointment of Priyanka Gandhi Vadra to the post of Congress general secretary elicited the usual reactions from political supporters, rivals and observers. Many hailed the move as a master-stroke by the Congress. After the usual debate and sycophantic reactions, it was replaced by the Centre’s appeal in the Supreme Court regarding the undisputed land in the Ram temple case as the hotly debated topic. Here again there were some terming this move a master-stroke of the Modi government while others were questioning it. However, as if following an unwritten tradition maintained by politicians, the Congress president fuelled heated debate after apparently misrepresenting the conversation he had with ailing Goa chief minister Manohar Parrikar while meeting him supposedly to enquire about his health. But here again, another much bigger development- the interim budget-came along and has changed the focus of popular debate for now. Within an hour of the budget being presented there was no dearth those those referring to some of the announcements as game-changers or master-strokes while others started strongly criticising aspects of the budget as impractical or aimed at appeasement. This might go on for a few days until something else bigger or controversial comes up and elicits focus, praise and criticism. One doesn’t have to be an expert to expect that in the coming days, the frequency and intensity of such developments and revelations will increase considerably ahead of the parliamentary elections. The commentators will continue to describe some of these moves as game-changers or master-strokes while the opponents will question and criticise. If one goes by the choice of words- one wonders why knowledgeable observers term some of the recent moves as master-strokes. What is so clever in a move that was anticipated for long and probably one of the few alternatives left for a political party to boost its electoral prospects- as in the case of Priyanka being appointed Congress general secretary? At times stating or opting for the obviously favourable choice is projected as something ingenious. On the other hand, in various other cases that directly impact a larger number of people and places, not doing what is evidently needed is not stated to be the opposite of clever. Take the example of Uttarakhand- a state rich in various aspects though experiencing poor conditions in different spheres. The creation of three states including Uttarakhand in 2000 could have been described as a game-changer and rightly so. However, if one considers the aims at the time of State creation and all that has been achieved in the 18 years since, one would opine that while some of the targets may have been achieved, much more needs to be achieved and uncomfortable truths need to be addressed. For example, about a year ago, there was talk of bringing in a law against dubious religious conversions. However, if intelligence sources are to be believed, little has been done by the state establishment to actually tackle the spread and continued activities of ‘missionaries’ actively pursuing their own agenda in this state. Such agenda-driven actions can be more dangerous than they appear as they tend to change the very disposition, culture and belief system of the people- without which Uttarakhand will really not be the same. Plus, the actual intentions of the forces behind such actions are also known to be questionable. But, those with such agendas have a fertile ground to work on. Recently, at a consultation on the state’s first human development report, it was revealed that when it comes to human development index, the plain districts of Dehradun, Haridwar and Udham Singh Nagar are at the first three positions respectively. Obviously, the rest of the list comprises mountainous districts including Rudraprayag, Champawat and Tehri which were placed 11th, 12th and 13th respectively. It was stated that the main reason for good ranking of the three plain districts is the high per capita income. On the other hand it was also stated that the human development index was calculated on the basis of indicators of health, education and living standards. It is ironic that places in the plains — some of which were part of malarial swamp belt ages ago have ‘developed’ while the mountainous regions that were once thriving with activities in different spheres are now lagging behind in development. One could opine that the establishment and public too failed to capitalise optimally on an actual game changer- creation of the state. Like the current state government, successive state governments took steps aimed at achieving the development for which the state was created. These have had limited effect so far and at the current rate will continue to remain only partially effective. Just when issues start eliciting constructive debate in the public sphere, a controversy or ‘master-stroke’ is introduced which diverts the focus away from the needful and the accountability of both the government and civil society towards facilitating it. What remains to be seen is whether we will continue getting distracted from what really matters.
Saturday, 02 February 2019 | Paritosh Kimothi