Modi’s Honeymoon – Part I

It’s a pity that Modi would have to lament about the lack of honeymoon period that we usually offer the new governments. What 100 days, 50 days, one year? Modi didn’t get much time before the guns came out blazing.

Well, it isn’t our fault really, is it? We were promised ‘acche din…’ and we expected good days. We expected the ‘Gujarat Model’ where the ancient golden age had been resurrected, and people have so much money that they are thinking of building a monument taller than Liberty Statue.

Anyway, even after the election results Modi sent the right signals to indicate that he was not the same man who campaigned for his party. Sabka Saath, Sabkaa Vikaas (With all, progress for all), invoking Gandhi for inclusive development, that rare show of emotion in the parliament hall, and, above all else, that grand gesture of SAARC brotherhood, all fell in place. So much so that a hard-core pseudo-secular like Vinod Mehta thought it fit to shower praises on Modi administration.

Then, slowly and almost subtly, the fangs came out. First it was Hindi. Modi’s grasp of history has always been suspicious; he even confused with the name one of the founders of the BJP. Therefore, apparently he didn’t know India had already had Anti-Hindi movements. He also didn’t know that, if you leave out the local variants such as Mythili and Bhojpuri, Hindi would not emerge as the language spoken by majority of the people in India. So, in the time and age when countries such as Canata, England and Australia are publishing their websites and printing their government forms in Indian languages, the Indian government released a circular that forced the central government agencies to keep all their online communications in Hindi. When the controversy erupted, one cabinet minister was even surprised as to why there is so much of protest against our ‘national language’. Someone forgot to tell him that India didn’t have national languages, but only ‘official languages’. Be that as it may, after a lot of heat and dust, then came the clarification that the circular is applicable only to the Hindi speaking states. Nobody asked whether there would be similar circulars sent to Andhra asking the officials to use Telugu in social media and one circular to Tamil Nadu to use Tamil.

Then the big blow, in the form of increase in the Railway fare to a whopping 14%. Yes, the successive populist governments have been keeping the fares as low as possible. And there are several reasons for that. I know of people who wouldn’t travel by reserved tickets, but opt only for General compartments, because they can save the 10-20 rupees difference between the two. I don’t know how many of you have travelled by General compartment, but once I had that misfortune. It hurts to think that there are people whose only option of transport is that lone General compartment whose stated capacity is 72 seats, but usually is occupied by thrice as many people. Why they can’t use bus transport, you might wonder. Well, they can’t afford it. They endure stench, suffocation and sleeplessness of the General compartment because they can save about 50-60 rupees. Today, there isn’t much difference between bus and train fare so they’ll often consider taking the bus. Now we’re making them spend more is one thing. It spells bad news on another level: One of the key goals of this government should be to reduce the Current Account Deficit (CAD), which is linked to oil imports. The more oil we import the more the deficit. But our Railways can help there.

Let’s see how. Say the government increases the train services by three-fold and reduces the General and Sleeper train fares further. Do the same with cargo trains. This will drastically reduce the number of buses and trucks on the road, leading to reduction in diesel consumption, leading to reduction in CAD, leading to more money in government kitty!

Today, by giving more business to the bus services, this government is actually increasing burden onto itself. It is, in effect, taking more money from the people in rupees, but paying more money to the Arabs in dollars. (I thought the BJP didn’t like the Arabs!)

If the rates needed to be increased, perhaps it would have made sense to increase the A/C fares by even 30%. Half the guys who travel by this category don’t even look at their ticket to find out how much it had cost.

In a nutshell, by increasing the train fares, this government has put untold misery on the lower strata of people whom the government should really be helping.

Same with the price of the cylinder. First off, it’s unfair that the financially well-off families should be getting the same subsidies that the people at the lower strata actually deserve. I don’t know how difficult it is to link one’s Permanent Account Number (PAN) to the cylinder connection. This way, the price of cylinder can be charged according to their tax slab. In another non-coercive option, the government could have tapped on the honesty of our citizens by asking them to convert their Indane accounts into honorary ones. By doing this those with ‘Honorary Card’ stamp will get lesser subsidy. Not everyone would come forward, but a sizeable population would do so.

There are so many options that the government could have considered. Of course, these options are difficult ones and require months, even years to yield results. But this is a government in a hurry. Hurry to do what, we don’t know. To go the UPA way perhaps.