Herald View: In praise of the lord
Go ye, one and all, sing the praises of your lord. Just forget his government’s single biggest achievement in these 9 years—its success in bending all supposedly independent institutions to his will
Should the government abandon ‘governance’ just because polling is due in five states and general elections are seven months away, fumed BJP leaders in response to the outrage over the decision to deploy bureaucrats to ‘showcase and celebrate’ the government’s achievements over the past nine years.
Let’s get the facts straight, first: the dates announced for the BJP’s ‘Viksit Bharat Sankalp Yatra’ are 20 November 2023 to 25 January 2024. Assembly elections are due in five states—Mizoram (7 November), Chhattisgarh (7 and 17 November), Madhya Pradesh (17 November), Rajasthan (23 November) and Telangana (30 November).
So, even the election dates for Rajasthan and Telangana overlap with the Sankalp Yatra. To restate the obvious for those who might quibble, the Election Commission’s Model Code of Conduct has kicked in and promoting this government’s (read: the ruling party’s) achievements is not just not kosher, it’s banned under the existing law.
Another matter that the Election Commission of India has rather lamely said it will look into the allegation that the Yatra is violative of the model code. But this is not the only reason why the so-called Sankalp Yatra is a legal and ethical violation.
Once again, let’s set down the facts first. In a circular issued on 17 October, the Union government has asked all ministries to nominate officers of the rank of joint secretary, director and deputy secretary, in all 765 districts of India, right down to the gram panchayats, to be deployed as ‘district rath prabharis (literally, in-charge of the rath, but let’s, for ease of understanding, call them officers on special duty) between 20 November and 25 January.
These officers are to ‘showcase/ celebrate the achievements of the last nine years through the Viksit Bharat Sankalp Yatra. It should be plain to anyone with a sense of history and scale that nothing we’ve achieved since 1947 compares with all that we have achieved since 2014.
The last glittering milestone in this golden streak of nine years was the recently concluded G20 summit in New Delhi. You couldn’t have missed the ‘unanimous declaration’ even if you lived in a cave in Kedarnath—what a diplomatic coup that was!
But public memory is notoriously short, and it pays to re-inscribe these achievements into the deep crannies of public consciousness, it pays to repeat these ‘achievements’ ad nauseum till the last naysayer has been silenced.
So, what’s troubling these naysayers? Why can’t our bureaucrats too sing paeans to their lord and master? Because the so-called ‘steel frame’ of our bureaucracy is supposed to be non-partisan, and as E.A.S. Sarma, a former secretary to the government of India, points out in his outraged letter (dated 23 October) to the Election Commission, the Central Civil Services (Conduct) Rules specifically debar Services officers from canvassing support for a political party.
The current Union government has no dearth of resources to blow its own trumpet. It spends colossal sums of money on advertising its endless promises to transform India into this and that—and the lives of India’s teeming millions en route. Mr Modi’s government has made a fine start ‘in the past nine years’, transforming the lives and fortunes of a few; surely the rest can wait for it to ‘trickle down’.
It’s hard, we’ll freely admit, to keep track of the achievements and promises of the past nine years. The promises come fast and furious, so forgive us for forgetting that we are also supposed to reach someplace special by 2047, a neat 100 years after Independence. But we digress.
Why quibble about bureaucrats being pressganged into the ‘prabhari’ responsibility of spreading the good word, when so many have cheerfully abdicated their former non-partisan roles? Why point out that similar instructions have recently been issued to our defence forces personnel?
Why bother arguing that the government already has at its disposal not just State-owned media like Doordarshan, Sansad TV and All India Radio but practically all mainstream media, waiting eagerly to do its bidding?
Go ye, one and all, sing the praises of your lord. Just forget his government’s single biggest achievement in these nine years—its success in bending all supposedly independent institutions to his will. Just the list of all the fallen could fill this little box.