The ‘new’ Modi operandi—or, whose Aadhaar is it anyway?

Is the BJP still hoping to win the 2024 Lok Sabha elections with the Name & Claim game, on the back of old Congress schemes?

Representative image of an Aadhaar biometric identity card, issued by the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI), from 28 January 2017, Mumbai (photo: Dhiraj Singh/Bloomberg via Getty Images)
Representative image of an Aadhaar biometric identity card, issued by the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI), from 28 January 2017, Mumbai (photo: Dhiraj Singh/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Aakar Patel

The Emperor’s new clothes—and monikers—are starting to smell stale. Quite foul, in fact.

Congress leader Shashi Tharoor once scoffed in a tweet that the BJP had merely changed the names of 23 Congress schemes and claimed them as their own.

When he said that Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s was a “name-changing” government and not a “game-changing one”, his claim was put to the test. It was found that he was right about 19 schemes.

It turns out that:

1.     the Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojana is the prior UPA government’s Basic Savings Bank Deposit Account;

2.     the Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao Yojana is the same as the National Girl Child Day programme;

3.     the Deen Dayal Upadhyay Gram Jyoti Yojana is the Rajiv Grameen Vidyutikaran Yojana;

4.     the Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation is the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission renamed;

5.     the BJP’s neem-coated urea is the same as the Indian National Congress’s neem-coated urea;

6.     the Soil Health Card scheme is the same old National Project on Management of Soil Health and Fertility;

7.     the Atal Pension Yojana is the Swavalamban Yojana;

8.     even Modi’s ‘flagship’ Make in India campaign is merely the National Manufacturing Policy (NMP) under a new name;

9.    likewise, Digital India is the same as the earlier National eGovernance Plan;

10.  Skill India is the same as the National Skill Development Programme;

11.  Mission Indradhanush is the old Universal Immunisation Programme;

12.  PAHAL is what earlier was called the Direct Benefits Transfer for LPG;

13.  BharatNet is the old National Optic Fibre Network approved on 25 October 2011, aiming to provide broadband connectivity to all panchayats.

14.  When the Rajiv Awaas Yojana was renamed the Sardar Patel National Urban Housing Mission, it came with a claim from the then-minister of housing and urban poverty alleviation, Venkaiah Naidu, that housing for all would come by 2022 (we’re still waiting, minister).

There were others, but the total number is not the point of this piece.

The pertinent point is: it was not mere taking over, refurbishing and renaming; the entire policy framework in many cases was a copy-paste job. Or, in other words, there is hardly any contribution beyond the name.

  • A comparison of a 2011 press note from the department for promotion of industry and internal trade’s with the Make in India website on national manufacturing proves this. The UPA’s NMP scheme spoke of ‘enhancing the share of manufacturing in GDP to 25 per cent within a decade and creating 100 million jobs’. Make in India seeks ‘an increase in the share of manufacturing in the country’s GDP to 25 per cent’ and to ‘create 100 million additional jobs by 2022 in manufacturing’.

  • The UPA’s NMP says it will ‘increase manufacturing sector growth to 12–14 per cent over the medium term’. Make in India says it will ‘increase in manufacturing sector growth to 12–14 per cent over the medium term’.

  • The NMP says the policy needs ‘creation of appropriate skill sets among the rural migrant and urban poor to make growth inclusive’. Make in India says it needs ‘creation of appropriate skill sets among rural migrants and the urban poor for inclusive growth’. 

  • The UPA NMP policy says it will ‘increase domestic value addition and technological depth in manufacturing’. Make in India says it will ‘increase domestic value addition and technological depth’.

In fact, the Make in India website not only reflected the old Congress schemes but a broken download link also unsuccessfully directed readers to a 2011 document of the older policy.

A parliamentary committee, headed by Biju Janata Dal member Pinaki Mishra, asked the government how merely changing the name could accelerate implementation. This went largely unreported. 

The reality is that the UPA’s schemes had anodyne, unmemorable names even though they may have had the same aims. Modi’s schemes have catchier names because he spends so much effort personally polishing his currency.

A friend has also observed that Modi’s schemes targeted at the wealthy had English names — Digital India, Skill India, Start-up India, Make in India — signalling aspiration. However, the schemes for the poor were in Hindi — Ujjwala Yojana, Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, Beti Padhao Beti Bachao, Jan Dhan, Garib Kalyan, PM Kisan Mudra Yojana — reflecting the targeting priorities. Great brand-building effort!

Not as much effort on implementation, though, to come back to our point: Make in India’s target was shifted from 2022 to 2025 as manufacturing collapsed in India, and instead of going from 16 per cent in 2014 to 25 per cent in 2022, it in fact dropped to 13 per cent and remains at 13 per cent in 2023. Make in India has a nice logo though. 

Tharoor’s good-natured acceptance that such things represented continuity (Manmohan Singh did not say a thing about the renaming either) sat in contrast to the BJP’s vociferous contempt for the very schemes they appropriated!

Particular hostility was reserved for the UPA’s Unique Identity scheme—Aadhaar. During the 2014 election campaigns, the Times of India ran a headline on 12 March 2014: ‘Aadhaar a “fraud”, will review it if voted to power: BJP’. The Bharatiya Janata Party alleged that Aadhaar was a criminal programme and that it would have the CBI investigate it.

“This is a dangerous programme to regularise the stay of illegal immigrants in the country. Is Bharat Mata so open to illegal immigrants? The Aadhaar is also in contravention of Supreme Court directives,” Meenakshi Lekhi said in Bangalore, while campaigning against the Congress candidate and Aadhaar architect, one Nandan Nilekani. “The entire biometric data of people enrolled has been stored outside the country,” she claimed. Nilekani’s actual opponent, Ananth Kumar, said: “Aadhaar is the biggest fraud on the country.” Ananth Kumar would eventually go on to win.

The very next month, Ananth Kumar said the BJP would scrap Aadhaar.

Modi himself weighed in against Aadhaar, saying that the money spent on it was wasted. He also held that the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) was meant to line the pockets of the Congress. He opined that the Right to Information Act (RTI) was useless.

As it turned out, eventually the BJP under Modi would not only embrace Aadhaar, it would also force it upon all Indians, willy-nilly, as the NDA expanded India’s social welfare schemes. The RTI, to give Modi his due for honest advance warning, it has successfully buried—at least in fact, if not in name.

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