Indian politicians are notorious for observing promises in the breach; Prime Minister Narendra Modi is no exception. But even by the dismal standards of his government, the dithering over One Rank One Pension (OROP) is depressing. Here is a regime under a supposedly nationalist party which vociferously claims to be solicitous towards our armed forces. From Modi downwards, every Bharatiya Janata Party leader waxes eloquent about soldiers but when it gets down to brass tacks, all kinds of excuses are offered. Such are the wages of sanctimoniousness.
At the heart of the issue is money; estimates of cost to the exchequer vary from Rs 8,000 crore to Rs 20,000 crore. On the face of it, this is not a huge sum, for the outgo would be just about 1 per cent of the total government expenditure. However, in the paradigm the Modi regime has decided to operate—a blend of Machiavellian cunning and incremental change—the problem is insurmountable.
You make pledges, but when questioned about their redemption, you term them as jumlas—phrases, idioms, etc.—which can’t be taken literally. Equivocation has its uses in politics, but the overuse of anything, especially of deceitful phraseology, is self-defeating. It has happened in the cases of black money and corruption. People expected that the ill-gotten wealth, or a part of it, stashed in overseas banks would be brought back; they got lawyerly gibberish and a draconian law instead.
As for corruption, the less said the better. If the Narendra Modi government has made any efforts to tackle the problem by starting institutional reforms, it has surely not made them public. No venal politician of any standing has been thrown behind bars. In fact, there is evidence that the tainted are being shielded. Recently, the Enforcement Directorate (ED) has decided to close the preliminary inquiry against Congress president Sonia Gandhi and son Rahul in the National Herald case. The ED wrote to the Union Revenue Secretary that no case could be made out under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act.
It may be mentioned that even the case against the mother-son duo and others was filed by BJP leader Subramanian Swamy last year when the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance was in power. Needless to say, the Modi regime did not help Swamy in this case. To be fair to the government, following Swamy’s protest letter to the PM, Katoch was removed, but the fact remains that the authorities have not proactively furthered the National Herald case—or, for that matter, any other case related to scams.
Perhaps, the government hopes that, similar to its flip-flop on black money and corruption, the OROP issue will also fade out from the public memory. At any rate, there is no alternative; with Rahul as the prime opponent, Modi barely needs any friends. Despite the Vyapam and Lalit Gate revelations, the BJP registered impressive victories in the civic polls in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan. In Bihar, too, the saffron party may win, the so-called grand alliance of all ‘secular’ forces notwithstanding. So, why worry?
The BJP should worry for two reasons. First, Modi won last year because he was successful in selling the narrative of good governance and robust development, a narrative that is predicated upon fundamental changes in politics, administration, and economy. Unfortunately, no such thing has happened, or even has been attempted. So, the same old politics—of caste, community, emotive issues, quotas, un-kept promises, prevarication, et al—has started resurfacing. The rise of Hardik Patel in Gujarat is symptomatic of the resurrection of the rot of conventional politics.
Second, the OROP promise cannot be brushed aside or delayed because the BJP was very vociferous in its support and veterans are in no mood to back down. The saffron party has often benefited by raising emotive issues; but OROP is one emotive issue that would haunt and hurt it.
Actually, there are several promises that would haunt the ruling party—low inflation, greater ease of doing business, investment, jobs, prosperity. Achhe din, in short. The prerequisites are a smorgasbord of liberalizing measures including scrapping of retrospective taxation, APMC reforms, bold privatization (and not selling minority stakes to bridge the fiscal deficit), removal of procedural bottlenecks, and flexibility in labor law. A few thousand crores, that is needed for OROP, is a pittance if the economy is managed properly.
The alternative is disingenuousness. Unfortunately, the Modi government has chosen this path.