Digital transformation is an unstoppable development with far-fetched ramifications across the several domains of technology, policies, economy, and society. India’s innate want to participate in it manifests in the Digital Dream, the intent of which is layered in the National Digital Communication Policy 2018. The dream is to “transform into a digitally connected society that enables seamless access to and use of information resources that help create a competitive, innovative and knowledge-based society”. Despite the veritable intent, there are challenges, the most crucial being defining a path to realize this dream by balancing the realities.
Beyond the requirements of the supporting ecosystem of power adequacy, interrupted internet with adequate speed, and device affordability, there exists the ability and willingness to use and adapt to the technology environment. Proceeding with digital transformation without ensuring the presence of these elements risks a digital divide and marginalization. It risks exclusion of group or groups of people from participating in the social, economic, political or cultural processes essential for social inclusion. This would be in direct contradiction to the spirit of the Indian Digital Dream shared above.
Despite overall improvements, issues about the inadequacy of the supporting ecosystem remain. According to the “Household Social Consumption: Education” survey by NSO (2017-18), only 4% of rural and 23% of urban households possessed computers. Just 24% of the households in the country had internet access, which drops to 15% for rural households. According to the 2019 TRAI report titled “Wireless Data Services in India,” less than 50% of the population has access to wireless data services. The current appreciation of digital literacy as shared under Pradhan Mantri Gramin Digital Shakshrata Mission appears limited to the operation of digital devices and the ability to browse the internet besides undertaking digital payments. However, under evolving realities, there is an urgent need to widen it to include awareness and inculcate an attitude to enhance the ability to understand and use information in multiple formats and from various sources. The requirement goes way beyond just the technical knowledge to operate devices properly. It highlights the need to elevate awareness and cognition that instill the ability and responsibility to interpret media and evaluate and apply new knowledge emanating from digital environments, necessitating the ability to communicate, participate and collaborate.
Limitations in digital literacy, especially in terms of the notion highlighted above, can result in several inconveniences, one of the most prominent ones being increased exposure to cybercrimes. According to the 2021 Internet Crime Report by the Federal Bureau of Investigations, India ranked fourth among top 20 international victim nations after US, UK and Canada, way ahead of the peer group nations like Brazil, China, and Argentina. Prevalence of such instances can inhibit technology adoption in the absence of clearly defined, easily understandable, implementable policies supported by the governance structure in the country.
Besides, policies must be vigilant in balancing the multifaceted relationship between technology and inequality. While it is true that technologies help accelerate economic growth, there is a need to ensure that the benefits get distributed equitably, which need not be an automatic outcome.
Technology adoption while sustaining competitiveness can significantly impact the composition and nature of jobs and relative wages and income. In reality, technology and automation are gradually replacing repetitive manual and routine tasks known as middle-skill jobs, i.e. occupations whose wages place them in the middle of the wage distribution like those for drivers, cashiers, secretaries etc. Simultaneously technology adoption can facilitate a rising share of high-skilled jobs as well. This can exacerbate wage, and income equality, wherein high-skilled workers, witness higher wages and income. In contrast, the low-skilled workers languish, competing with the displaced middle-skilled workers. Different estimates of the share of such jobs at risk due to technology and automation are especially high in developing countries, as shared in UN World Social Report 2020. For India, estimates of shares of jobs at risk of being lost to automation due to technology usage are more than 50 per cent. Hence it is necessary to promote cooperation across and within countries to exploit technology dividends. Internationally, United Nations Technology Mechanism and United Nations technology banks for LDCs are a step in the right direction. Besides any other form of inducements for bilateral and multilateral cooperation mechanisms, must enjoy some policy priority. Within the country, an active framework for reskilling displaced workers and support for transition to new jobs could enhance technology adoption besides those designed toward taming economic rents.
However, the principal amongst them is to develop a policy mindset geared toward promoting inclusive technologies and innovations that can disseminate technology dividends across the broader range of economic agents in society. More so as we step towards being the most populous nation in the world in 2023, according to the UN report on World Population and Prospects 2022. It is strictly up to us how we want to reap demographic dividends by ushering in more inclusive technologies and innovations.
The author is Professor Economics, Environment & Policy Area, IMT Ghaziabad.
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India’s progress in implementing its COP26 commitments
India’s efforts will need to be bolstered by the availability of climate finance from developed countries.
Climate change is a concern, but it’s exacerbated by the fact that it affects individuals who made little to no exertion to generate it. The first year of the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow will start in the days to follow. It will be interesting to watch how 120 international leaders, more than 40,000 registered attendees, including 22,274 party delegates, 14,124 observers, and 3.886 media representatives, progress their commitments to address the many facets of climate change. There are challenges like global greenhouse gas emission reductions, which are still far below the levels required to maintain a livable climate, and support for the most vulnerable nations afflicted by the consequences of climate change, which underscores the relevance of differentiated responsibilities.
Meanwhile, in terms of their obligations, nations like India are batting fantastically. India, which has been subject to its whims, has only contributed about 4% of the total global emissions during the pre-industrial era. India is faced with a number of difficulties, including the wealthy nations’ reluctance to take the initiative in addressing climate change and their failure to provide the developing nations with the promised climate financing support.
The Prime Minister highlighted the five main aspects (Panchamrit) of India’s climate action to the world at the COP26 conference in Glasgow. India’s expanded Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) under the Paris Agreement, which were submitted to the UNFCCC, correspond to the 2030 targets of the Panchamrit announcements. Thus, despite the difficulties India aspires to lead the way in developing and putting into practise solutions.
Global cumulative emissions must not exceed the associated global carbon budget in order to meet the Paris Agreement’s temperature goals. They must not emit more than their fair share of emissions over the course of the past, present, and future. In light of this, India, a global leader in climate action who walks the walk and talks with authority and responsibility, pushed industrialised nations to step up their efforts by announcing its intention to become “net zero by 2070” as part of the Panchamrit statement in Glasgow.
Due to their excessive use of the global carbon space, developed nations owe India $15 trillion. India has made it plain that, in its opinion, industrialised nations must take the initiative in “phasing out” all fossil fuels, not just coal, and that they must do so quickly. India has also assumed the lead both domestically and internationally in accelerating its efforts to promote renewable energy while making domestic progress toward cleaner coal technologies.
India has set a net-zero emissions target for 2070, which is backed up by immediate climate action. India evidently placed the project in the trial of the developed world by announcing 500 GW of non-fossil electricity capacity by 2030; 50% of energy requirements coming from renewables by 2030; one billion tonnes of emissions reductions by 2030; and a 45 percent reduction in emissions intensity of GDP by 2030. This is meaningful climate change action. India is now demanding USD 1 trillion in climate funding as quickly as feasible, and it will be monitoring not only climate action but also climate finance delivery.
After China, the United States, and the European Union, India is the world’s fourth largest producer of carbon dioxide, although its large population means that its emissions per capita are far lower than those of other major world economies. In 2019, India released 1.9 tonnes of CO2 per person, compared to 15.5 tonnes for the United States and 12.5 tonnes for Russia.
Quite significantly, India has pushed for a change in lifestyle once again. The prime minister has rolled out a warm welcome for global and domestic entrepreneurs who want to invest in green technology research, development, manufacture, and deployment in India by announcing a net-zero year. However, India’s efforts will need to be bolstered by the availability of climate finance from developed nations. This shift will be difficult if foreign money is not available on favourable terms. India co-chairs the Leadership Group for Industry Transition, which encourages voluntary low-carbon transition in challenging industries, with Sweden.
The most ambitious NDCs (Nationally Determined Contributions) have been made by India under the UNFCCC. India has already met 40% of its installed electric capacity from non-fossil fuel sources, some nine years ahead of its target date, exceeding its pledge made under the Paris Agreement. India is also on track to fulfil its increased NDC target of 45% below 2005 levels by 2030 with its GDP emissions intensity in 2016 being 24% below 2005 levels.
With the GGI-OSOWOG, India’s leadership of the International Solar Alliance benefited enormously. The International Solar Alliance (ISA) was created to pool demand and minimize the cost of solar financing for developing countries. The Infrastructure for Resilient Island States (IRIS) will be launched by India, along with the United Kingdom and Australia, for island nations and developing countries.
Recognizing the severity of climate risks, which can undo decades of development, particularly for most susceptible communities and countries, the Infrastructural facilities for Resilient Island States is a critical initiative.
India also backed the Africa Group’s demand for $1 trillion in climate action from affluent countries to be made available to underdeveloped countries.
India will also be a part of the Green Grids Initiative’s commencement. If successful, interconnecting grids across countries can dramatically increase energy interdependence and security and enable emerging economies to leapfrog to a sustainable energy future.
Conversely, despite being the world’s greatest carbon emitter today, accounting for 11% of all emissions, China has made no significant obligations. China has stated that it will achieve carbon neutrality by 2060, whereas the United States and the European Union aim to achieve net zero emissions by 2050. Such incidents put India’s commitment to the test, but they also make India’s announcement to become net-zero far more ambitious than China’s or the European Union’s.
India’s announcement will give Indian and global energy markets a clear path and expedite the transition to profound decarbonization and a 1.5°C future. The announcement also serves as a roadmap for India’s shift to a low-carbon economy. In order to satisfy the obligations, India will require an additional $1 trillion in financing over the next ten years. India is one of the few countries on track to meet its Paris Agreement targets, which were set during the 21st COP. India is being praised in this context, despite the fact that it ranks 131st on the Human Development Index and still has a long way to go in terms of eradicating widespread poverty.
Ashraf Nehal is a columnist and foreign policy analyst who focuses primarily on South Asia.
Has Putin already won against the West?
Instead of being smashed, the ruble has been one of the best performing currencies against the US dollar over this year. Also, the value of Russian energy exports has gone up by 50% compared to the same second quarter last year.
By listening to many western commentators, be it on the daily BBC to CNN news hour, Putin is losing the war in Ukraine. First, they spoke of his humiliating defeat as his armed forces could not take Kyiv. And according to many western analysts, Moscow thought it was going to be a cake walk to take all of Ukraine, producing a victory in days. How disappointing for it that it now only holds around 15% of the country, goes this logic. Then more recently north of Donbas, Russia has swiftly given up thousands of square kilometers it had previously taken. I will argue that in fact, Putin has already won the war in the broader sense. Why?
First, let us look at sanctions. This is the economic war dimension that cannot be separated from the overall war. The West that controls most of the financial system and investment capital believed they had so much leverage that they would make the Russian economy scream. That their central banks and others by essentially confiscating a major part of the Russian central bank’s foreign exchange reserves would reduce the ruble to rubble.
But what do we see from the massive economic ganging up on Russia by NATO members and their allies on the economic war front? Instead of a smashed ruble, it has been one of the best performing currencies against the US dollar over this year. Rather, it is Europe with its euro and Great Britain with its pound that have significantly gone down against the greenback—so this is victory number one for Moscow.
Furthermore, the value of Russian energy exports has gone up by 50% compared to the same second quarter last year. Why? Because the war in Ukraine in a significant part has destabilized the energy market causing dramatic rises in the price of gas and oil. This is especially so in Europe. All because so many measures in the West have led to its cutting off Russian energy. With pressing away with so many over-the-top sanctions, it caused Putin to shut down a majority of Russia’s western gas exports under the guise of maintenance.
The net effect of this energy picture is that there are worrisome signs of greater impoverishment of many western consumers and voters. And there is major economic fallout onto many in the middle class on their energy and food bills. Also, there is a greater uncertainty about the investment and future job picture, especially for Europe, leading to continued election losses of NATO governments. This is a double victory for Moscow, suffering much less than the West predicted with Putin retaining higher popularity with his people and major exports.
And what is happening on the diplomatic front, another part of the war? Countries representing half of the world’s population have refused to condemn Russia over the war. In fact, trade between Russia and China has gone up significantly and so has it with India. India and China are calling for peace, not the condemnation of the Kremlin. Rather than isolating Russia, NATO and its allies seem to have few allies in the South that squarely blame Russia for the mess in Ukraine. But does the South more and more see the West as a barrier to promoting a ceasefire? The other fallout for the West is that the South sees how weakened the West is geopolitically by not getting anywhere near the results by hammering Russia so economically. And the South’s lack of full solidarity with the US position on the war and sanctions reinforces Putin’s view along with the Chinese premier’s that a new multilateral world order is emerging that goes well beyond a convenient rules based one, dominated by the US’ and its allies’ preferences. Cannot this be called another Putin victory?
There is another win for Moscow. At least, it feels that after its security concerns being so ignored by its neighbours that it has shown it is willing to go to war and not bend over. There was a lot of hurrah in Washington when Victoria Nuland (highly promoted by US President Biden) was proud to say several years ago how billions of US dollars had essentially helped to bring about an anti-Russian government in Kyiv—a coup, as some describe it. Moscow has clearly put down a marker on this regarding Washington’s attempts at excess meddling in its neighbours to both major security and economic disadvantage to Russia?
Yes, the Russian economy has not benefitted from sanctions. Yes, the battlefield situation especially recently has not been favourable, leading Putin to a mobilization of many extra troops. And many Russian soldiers have lost their lives.
But as the New York Times, top best-selling author and leading psychologist, Jordan Peterson, has stated on the famed talk show hosted by Piers Morgan on Sky News: Putin could have had his troops leave Ukraine and declare victory to his people. Why? Because he basically took on the combined economic and weapon might of US-led NATO and really did not fall and is still standing. And he showed to the West that there is a major price to pay economically and otherwise for so thoroughly running roughshod over Moscow’s redline interests.
Putin has won in many ways, whatever the outcome of the war is on the ground. This gives him more reason to leave Ukraine, sooner than later and not to use the nuclear option to save face. Period.
Peter Dash is an educator in Southeast Asia and is a frequent contributor.
Tale of Two Presidents
Throughout the last fortnight, we have had triumphant Congress spokespersons beating their chests with pride and talking about how democratic the Congress is for it is the only political party that is holding elections to the post of the party chief. And then they would talk about how the BJP may have had several party presidents who came from different families, but these were all nominated and not elected candidates. In this, the Congress was right to take the higher moral ground, for however flawed the process may be (there have been allegations that the PCC Delegates who will elect the next party chief have mostly been nominated, not elected and therefore will tend to follow the high command’s line), it still had the optics of a democratic process.
Then came the Rajasthan crisis and the very man elected to be trouble shooter has now become the party’s main problem. Suddenly the narrative has changed from the election process to a conversation around the Gandhi family’s inability to pick the right team. At a time when Rahul Gandhi is busy with his Bharat Jodo yatra, the BJP is having a fine time taking potshots at him for not being able to keep his party together. As Union Cabinet Minister and BJP leader Bhupinder Yadav tweeted with a picture of Rahul flanked by both Sachin and Ashok Gehlot, that first Rahul should focus on uniting these two! Having said this, there is an attempt to mend fences between the Gandhis and the Gehlot camp with some leaders pointing out that the Rajasthan CM had never taken on the “family” or spoken against the Gandhis, but that that his “rebellion” was targeted against Sachin Pilot only. Whether the Gandhis buy this spin or not, it still makes them look bad, for the commentary now is that the leadership had no clue what was brewing at the state level. The first thumb rule of public life is never go public with a vote if you don’t know which way it’s going to turn out. How could the Gandhis not know that the bulk of the state MLAs would support Gehlot and not Pilot?
In the meantime, while the Congress was busy hogging all the headlines for all the wrong reasons (suddenly Rahul’s Bharat Jodo yatra has vanished from the media mentions), the BJP quietly gave a second term to its incumbent party president J.P. Nadda. There was no talk of election or nomination or competing candidates. A decision was taken and it was conveyed. End of debate. Since Nadda’s term does not finish till end this year, there was enough time to take a decision on his extension. It didn’t have to be announced in the middle of a Congress crisis. But it was, only to be buried amidst the Congress drama. Perhaps the BJP wanted it this way.
At the end, though the BJP went in for a nomination and the Congress is still struggling to go ahead with its election, it is the former that has come out looking good. Unfortunately for it, the Congress is looking even worse off than before the presidential process started. Talk about shooting itself in the foot.
Needed, a fair probe into Leicester violence
After a near-riot like situation in Leicester and Birmingham in the UK, where Hindu houses and temples were targeted by Islamist mobs, many of them Pakistanis, the subcontinental divide seems to have reached the UK. It started post a cricket match between India and Pakistan, where the manhandling of the Indian flag by a man mistaken to be a Pakistani, led to a scuffle. This incident was picked up by the Pakistanis—and there is no dearth of them in the UK—to propagate falsely that Hindus were attacking Muslims. This led to many Islamists attacking Hindu neighbourhoods. As the matter continued to simmer, a protest march by some Hindus—some of them were apparently carrying Indian flags and chanting a religious slogan—in a Pakistani neighbourhood, was again falsely portrayed as a call to violence against the residents there. From thereon, matters have escalated to levels where Hindus, many of them of Indian origin, are living in fear, while the Pakistanis take control of the streets.
The situation seems to have been aggravated by the agenda-driven coverage by mainstream British media, which tried to draw false equivalence between the victims and the aggressors, and resorted to victim blaming, including falsely seeing BJP-RSS hand in the violence. They toned down their coverage only after the local police stepped in to say all that the victims had been accused of was actually fake, but by then a lot of damage had been done. It’s extremely problematic that the British media fell for the Pakistani narrative. But then when did the British media ever see India or Indian origin people, without the benefit of coloured glasses? It has a long history of bias against what it calls a “former British colony”. And now, thanks to their hatred for anything remotely right of centre, the narrative-spinning against India has reached cacophonous levels, primarily because one such government is in power in India. India, according to the British media, is now a cauldron of communal violence and hatred, where the minority community is oppressed and discriminated against. This is the narrative that Pakistan and interests arrayed against India spin against India, worldwide, and in which many Indian and Indian-origin intellectuals add fuel. Britain’s mainstream media is willing to be duped by the Pakistanis because the latter feed their confirmation bias. The Indian government can afford to brush off this western media coverage as ill-informed and biased, because when it comes to India’s “comprehensive national power”, such attacks are pinpricks at best. India is too big and important to be affected by the carping of, for instance, a city reporter in a British newspaper. But the common man cannot afford to be the soft target in all such incidents, with the attackers justifying their actions on what the media has told them about India and Hindus. Hence, it’s extremely reckless on the part of the western media to promote this anti-India, anti-Hindu narrative, because they are making the common Hindu/Indian a vulnerable target of bigots and zealots.
Also the recent incidents have given rise to some voices in the UK that say that diaspora politics is different from India’s politics and that whatever may be happening in India, in the UK they are not like that. The obvious question: what is happening in India that these people have to be so ashamed of this country? India is a thriving democracy; a major power both economically and militarily; India’s soft power has global reach; India is among the top do-gooders of the world, be it as the first responder in disaster situations in its neighbourhood or when supplying vaccines to the world; India is an aspirational and upwardly mobile society, where if given the right opportunity even the poorest of the poor can thrive. Indians are living the Indian dream, and its government, in fact all its governments, must have had some contribution to make that dream possible. So why should a section of the diaspora feel ashamed about a government Indians have chosen, legitimately and democratically? And in the case of the current government, the incumbent Prime Minister is a world leader, with Mexico wanting him to sort out the Ukraine crisis along with the Pope, and the French President quoting his “this is not the era of war” statement during his own speech at the United Nations.
So, what is happening in this country according to a section of the diaspora? Religious divide? Oppression of the minorities? It is as if religious divisions never existed in a country that was born out of religious partition. Also, screaming “minority oppression” does not help without proof, and till date there is no proof, notwithstanding the mudslinging by a particular section. The truth is, India is as united or as divided as it has always been; as communal or as secular as it always was. Hence, the rhetoric used against it to berate it, is just that—rhetoric.
A question now about the law and order machinery in the UK. If Indians and Pakistanis live in harmony in the Gulf, one of the reasons for that is the robust law and order machinery there. While in Britain, too
This is the century of development, not war
Recently, during bilateral talks with Russian President Putin at the SCO Summit, Prime Minister Narendra Modi shared his views. On the one hand, when the whole world grapples with the dire consequences of the Russia-Ukraine war, and wondering how to stop the war, Modiji categorically told Putin, “This century is not of war.” For the past six months, experts in international politics, various organizations and even the common man have been wondering, “Is this century of war?” Then why has this war between Russia and Ukraine not only broken out, but also went on for six months and still there is no sign of its end. While leaders like Biden are opening new fronts against Russia in the seventy-seventh session of the United Nations General Assembly, apart from discussing the issues related to energy and food crisis arising out of this war, Putin, on the other hand, is neither afraid of any criticism or sanctions, nor stepping back from the war.
Over the past six months, we have seen how Russia, along with few separatist forces, occupied the north-eastern regions of Ukraine and moved forward, so much so that there was an outcry in Ukraine. Then Zelenskyy appeared as a war hero with a gun, and deployed thousands of his civilians before the Russian army. Then a few days later, he was seen crying in front of the world for the violation of human rights in Ukraine by Russian troops. He was sometimes seen as a hero who was determined not to kneel against a superpower like Russia for the sovereignty of his small country, and sometimes he was seen as a puppet of US and NATO countries, who repeatedly took U-turns from their own statements. We saw Bucha massacre, the arms race intensifying, threat of nuclear accident posed by the Russian attack on the Zaporizhia nuclear plant, and more. We also felt the crises of energy, food, human rights, environment and economic systems. Putin attacked Ukraine with the insistence that Ukraine should not become a member of NATO. That is a thing of the past. In these six months, the Russian army registered victory sometimes, and also faced defeat from Ukrainian army. Recently, the Russian army seems to be losing various won posts in Ukraine. The fear of the unfavourable weather ahead is also haunting the Russian army. On the other hand, Ukraine is completely ruined. Zelenskyy is getting weapons and arms from US, but who will resettle Ukraine, is still an unanswered question. On the other hand, due to this war, new theatres of war are seen opening in the Indo-Pacific and Central Asian regions. In between, various international forums and countries like Turkey have also tried to stop the war, but all have failed before the war.
Why is the war not stopping? Looking at Russia, its intentions were clear from day one. Putin not only wants to return the glory of the old Soviet Union to today’s Russia; he is also angry with the rapid ‘NATO’fication of countries in his region. Russia never plans for a day or two or a week or so. Whatever the western media may say today, US also knows that not only is Russia capable of dragging this war for a long time, it is also capable of bringing the world, especially Europe on its feet because of its energy reserves. On the strength of this, Putin was not only able to cope with all the sanctions, he was also able to make unprecedented profits during the war by selling oil and gas at his arbitrary prices. Putin is fighting a war to achieve far-reaching objectives. And despite losing some of the territories occupied by Ukraine to Ukraine, at least presently, it cannot be said that Russia lost this war.
This war is actually happening between Russia and US. Looking at US, it has played a decisive role in motivating Ukraine to go to this war. In the early stages, Zelensky also said several times that he felt that he had been made a pawn of NATO countries. The US not only strengthened the Western camp’s military alliance, NATO with this one move, but also made a lot of profit by being the largest trader of the arms market in the world. Small countries around Ukraine not only ran to become members of NATO in fear, they also spent a large part of their budget in their military budget to buy weapons from US.
India has put forward a balanced side in all these six months. India did not appear to be taking sides in Ukraine and Russia. But it condemned the Bucha massacre. India is understanding very well that this is a war of two superpowers, and it is requesting to stop the war, but is not standing in any camp.
Putin understands India’s neutral role. His stand was clearly visible in the talks with Modiji. Not only did he respond positively to Modiji’s advice, he also spoke on global concerns related to energy and food. Here the western camp also appreciated India for advising Russia to stop the war without any delay. India knows very well what its own concerns are. As an emerging power of the world, India will not allow any country or lobby to use itself. At the same time, India seems committed to a permanent seat in the Security Council of the United Nations. Today’s world is a world of emerging powers and in order to avoid further wars like Ukraine-Russia, it is necessary that the balance of poles should be maintained in global politics. That is why it is necessary for all those countries like India, which have emerged as new poles of global politics, to achieve decisive positions in international bodies.
Along with Putin, Biden also needs to understand that this century is not of Europe or the superpowers, this century is not of war either. This century is the century of Latin US, Asia and Africa. This century is the century of development. Only by understanding this, the end of this war is possible.
The author is Professor, School of International Studies, JNU.
Dislodging BJP from Gujarat is impossible
The opposition has failed to understand the basis of the support the BJP enjoys. Gujaratis have been voting for stability and development politics that also facilitates business. The politics of freebies or making tall promises won’t work.
Those who imagine that they can woo voters of Gujarat by giving freebies or making tall promises are going to be greatly disillusioned. Gujarat is a different territory where people are known for their acute business sense and they work on real-time possibilities. An average Gujarati businessman (read voter) thinks about his long-term interest and does not get swayed by the momentary kick that rush of adrenalin may give him from these political promises.
Gujaratis have been voting for stability and development politics that also facilitates business. They know that if the situation is safe and predictable, they don’t need to worry about their next day’s meal. The soil values entrepreneurship and hard work. Realistic promises, therefore, cut more ice than such vain promises. One does not find the same level of backwardness that you may witness in other states of India. The Saurashtra region that used to lag behind has caught up fast on the development roadmap. So has the Kutch region after the devastating earthquake that forced rebuilding the regions using modern structures and techniques.
All these explain why the Congress has failed to dislodge the BJP for the last many years despite using all kinds of tricks and chicanery. During its uninterrupted reign since 1995, the BJP has witnessed dissensions, factionalism and split. But it has always managed to surprise critics by winning elections one after the other. The opposition has failed to understand the basis of the support the BJP enjoys.
The KHAM (Kshatriyas, Harijans, Adivasis and Muslims) strategy that gave the Congress astounding victory in 1985 failed to revive after the arrival of the Janata Dal- BJP in government in 1990 and then the government of the BJP on its own in 1995. The KHAM was basically a divisive political strategy by which these caste and religious groups were to be combined to come to power and rule over others. Ever since 1995, the Congress has been drumming up various charges against the BJP including corruption at high places. When it failed to checkmate Narendra Modi as Chief Minister of Gujarat due to his ways to win hearts of people, they drummed up various corruption charges, including favouritism to certain business houses. The Congress even gave a representation to the President of India in 2011 about the allegations that contained 17 items running into more than 1000 pages.
The response of the Modi government was to immediately set-up a judicial inquiry under retired Supreme Court Judge Justice M.B. Shah. The Shah Commission that submitted its report in 22 volumes running into more than 5,000 pages did not find any wrongdoing on the part of the state government and trashed the allegations as baseless. The report tabled in the assembly in 2017 gave a clean chit to Narendra Modi and his government. The tirade on corruption against Narendra Modi had fallen flat.
The Congress tried to woo voters with lucrative offers that included waiver or slashing of power tariff by half and promised to allocate Rs 32,000 crore for 2.5 million unemployed youths under which every such person was to be given Rs 4000 per month as unemployment allowance. It promised free housing for single women and announced reservation to Patel community in education and jobs. The Congress manifesto also promised to abolish the contract system in government employment and replace it with permanent employment.
One would have expected that after these dream announcements the Congress would have won. The party won the highest number of seats since 1985 but fell short of numbers to dislodge the BJP. This was the best the Congress could do and also it was the first election, after many years, where Narendra Modi was not the chief ministerial candidate. The BJP has been in power in the state since 1995.
AAP coordinator Arvind Kejriwal is trying similar tricks, although his party does not have the same base as that of the Congress. He knows that the turf is weak and if has to get an outside chance, he must offer freebies. And he is actually on a freebies spree. Some of the electoral promises include an allowance of Rs 1,000 per month to all women above the age of 18, free electricity up to 300 units for all households, waiver of all electricity bills till 31 December 2021 and unemployment allowance of Rs 3,000 per month to all unemployed youths.
These promises may have electrified the election mood in anti-Modi media, this is unlikely to unnerve the BJP which knows the turf of Gujarat quite well. The BJP has the benefit of a well-oiled election machinery in the entire state up to the panna level. Every BJP worker knows that Gujarat cannot be allowed to slip away. If local elections are any indication, since it reflects the hold of the party in the electorate, the BJP is sitting tall. The party swept all the six municipal corporations in 2021 and its performance was the best in the last two decades. It won 483 of the 576 seats. The AAP stunned everyone by winning 27 of the 120 seats in Surat in its debut performance. Of these 25 seats were held by the Congress.
The AAP challenge, if at all, is to replace the Congress as the main opposition. It has failed to impress BJP voters. It would be extremely difficult for Congress voters to ditch the party and support the AAP since the Congress is a formidable opposition. The Gujarat turf will surely help Kejriwal project himself as a poor challenger and would be interesting from a media viewpoint.
Whether the Congress would be able to retain its hold is difficult to predict looking at its poor record at the municipal polls. Also, its leaders have crossed over to the BJP after realising that the Congress was a bad choice for their politics. Its poster boy, Hardik Patel, who the Congress had lapped up after his stir in the name of reservation for the Patels and made him working president of the state party, has already joined the BJP. Former Gujarat minister Naresh Raval and former Rajya Sabha member Raju Parmar recently left the Congress and joined the BJP.
It is natural for the AAP to become ambitious after the party’s spectacular victory in Punjab where it won 92 of the 117 seats. Many tall leaders such as Captain Navjot Singh Sidhu, Prakash Singh Badal, Sukhbir Singh Badal, Navjot Singh Sidhu and then chief minister Charanjit Singh Channi lost the poll. They were all defeated by lesser minions. There was complete disillusionment in Punjab because of factionalism in the Congress, weakness in the Shiromani Akali Dal and the failure of the BJP to mark its strong electoral presence on its own. Freebies and rising unemployment and soft pedalling the Khalistan issue worked for the AAP.
There is no such issue in Gujarat that dominated the Punjab political campaign. The electoral fight has been primarily between the BJP and the Congress. Some leaders have tried to form political parties and try their luck but failed miserably. The state is a land of opportunities. It is said that if you are ready to work you will never be unemployed.
There is a sizeable presence of BJP’s cadre all across the state. Besides being ideologically strong, most of these BJP workers are personally loyal to Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Most belong to the human stock Modi built when he was in the State organisation in the early 1990s and later as chief minister. He had identified them when they were young and aspiring to play an active role in politics. Both Modi and Union Home Minister Amit Shah, who worked as a team in Gujarat, are in touch with them and take them into confidence while formulating the strategy for the state.
There are some people who want to impress with their Sergius-like romantic approach. It may work one time or maybe twice, but it won’t work all the time because they may meet their match in Bluntschli’s approach based on a cool calibrated strategy. It may be a case of too much sound and fury producing nothing.
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