Power play at a time of crisis

Last Updated: Mon, Apr 30, 2018 12:38 hrs
BJP

It has been a hard few months for the BJP, and it has all come at an inconvenient time, with the country heading to elections next year.

Four years after they swept to power with the promise of “Achhe Din”, the ruling party is fighting so many battles on so many fronts that it can barely find an index of development on which to ride the poll wave. Babies a few months old are being raped; its politicians are being implicated in cases of child sexual abuse; scams worth thousands of crores are being uncovered; ATMs are running out of cash; the price of petrol is higher than it was when the cost of a barrel of crude oil was more than twice what it is now.

And so, on Sunday, they found a peg for 2019 – the last village which was yet to receive electricity, Leisang in Manipur, with a population of 65 people from 19 families, is now on the national grid.

The BJP, its ministers joyfully claimed, had done what the Congress had failed to do in seven decades – electrified all of India.

On Monday, the grinning Prime Minister and sundry acolytes look up at us from full page advertisements on all the national dailies.

As always, they left out not just the fine print, but most of the context. Data available with the government says all of India’s 597, 464 villages have now been electrified, at the cost of Rs. 75, 893 crore over the last four years. The data also says that in 2014, less than 20,000 villages, or about 3.5 percent of the country, were yet to be brought under the national grid.

To all appearance, it seems every member of every family in India can now say goodbye to candlelit dinners, and live under electric lights as bright as the prime minister’s grin.

But then, a village is considered “electrified” if ten percent of its households and all its public institutions can access electricity.

According to data provided by the Ministry of Power in response to a Lok Sabha question on April 5, only five states have 24-hour power supply – Tamil Nadu, Telangana, Gujarat, Punjab, Himachal Pradesh.

Jammu and Kashmir, Haryana, Mizoram, and Arunachal Pradesh, on average, can access under 15 hours of power supply a day.

What does the electrification of all villages mean in this context?

Like most schemes introduced by either government in India, it simply means this: there is potential, but chances are that it will not be met.

The BJP has become adept at rolling out statistics which seem to indicate progress.

Occasionally, its leaders offer statistics which speak to superhuman efficiency. Take, for instance, the Prime Minister’s claim that 8.5 lakh toilets were built in Bihar in a week. Given that there are 86, 400 seconds in a day, there are just over 6 lakh seconds in a week. This means that, every second, round the clock, more than one toilet was built in Bihar.

Perhaps such feats were possible back in the day of the Mahabharata, when high speed internet and satellite communication enabled a live telecast – likely with running commentary – of the Battle of Kurukshetra for the benefit of Dhritarashtra.

The gentleman who saw so deeply into the past that he could envision Indian technology which was somehow lost in the intervening years also suggested that educated youth should set up paan shops and dairy farms instead of hankering after government jobs. One could make Rs. 10 lakh in a decade through such ventures, he offered as justification for this perspective.

With BJP men like Biplab Deb shoving their feet into their mouths thrice a week on average, perhaps the party should be less partial to statistics.

Modi, in London, offered a statistic himself: for twenty years, he said, he has been eating two kilograms of criticism a day.

But when we offer them back statistics – on rape, on petrol prices, on the non-availability of cash – they have only one answer: do not politicise these things. This, from a party which termed Delhi “the rape capital of India” and blamed the Congress for it.

In London, Modi encouraged his voters to tell him if he made “mistakes”; he also asked us to compare four years of his government to five years of the last.

Well, not much has changed. Rapes continue to happen. Hurried legislation continues to be passed.

Scams running into thousands of crores continue to crop up. The public continues to be inconvenienced to weed out corruption, while the rich and corrupt put their legs up in foreign lands.

The difference is we didn’t see Congress ministers at protests against the arrest of rapists.


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