Sneaky yet inept: A government's death knell?

Last Updated: Fri, Aug 11, 2017 12:23 hrs
Prime Minister Modi walks to speak with the media as he arrives at the parliament house to attend the first day of the budget session, in New Delhi

It has been more than three years since we were promised Achche Din.

Even as lynch mobs go wild and any dissent is greeted with trolling at best and a sedition charge more often than not, we are yet to see the good days we were promised.

There is, in fact, little change from the corruption that pushed the last government out of power after it had enjoyed two terms.

What is worse is that the current government has consistently preceded its inability to combat corruption – or its agenda to propagate corruption – with draconian, sweeping measures that involve huge sacrifices of time and energy from a population that is constantly exhorted to compare the comfort of its armchairs with the inhospitable nature of army outposts.

The Opposition’s allegation that the government has been printing notes in two different sizes – one for its friends, and one for the rest of us – is the latest in a series of corruption charges against a government which promised to bring back black money from Swiss banks and positioned itself as pro-poor.

It was treated with the same casual indifference the government has reserved for all objections and accusations – that it is “frivolous”.

The fracas that broke out in Parliament on the back of what the Opposition termed “the biggest scam of the century” has not ended with any clarification from the government.

As Finance Minister Arun Jaitley accused Kapil Sibal, who brandished the notes as evidence, of “irresponsible statements” and “misuse of Zero Hour”, photographs of different sized and marked Rs 500 and Rs 2,000 notes with detailed comments on the discrepancies began to circulate in the media.

The government is yet to respond to the allegations, and appears – yet again – to have no reply.

Its sudden announcement of demonetisation sparked off several months of extreme inconvenience for the citizens it claims to serve. Even as people were standing for hours in queues in the hope of exchanging enough notes to make their rent and buy their groceries, income tax raids found stacks of new notes in the houses of several businessmen, lawyers, and hawala operators across the country – not the best advertisement for anti-corruption.

This is symptomatic of the BJP government’s tendency to carry through drastic measures in a sneaky manner, putting the public to extreme trouble only to prove the inefficiency of the mechanisms that oversee these processes.

The push for the Aadhaar card is yet another example.

While the government maintained that acquiring the Aadhaar card was entirely voluntary, it also began to insist that PAN numbers must be linked with Aadhaar numbers in order to file one’s tax returns. It went on to introduce deadlines that ensured people could not wait for the Supreme Court’s verdict on the issue. And it did not ensure that it had the manpower in place to deal with the sudden inflow of people to Aadhaar centres. Queues began to form as early as 4:00 am for centres that would open six hours later.

It has begun to introduce the mandatory linking of bank accounts and mobile phone numbers with a “voluntary” card.

And, in what could be its cruellest stunt, the government has now said death certificates cannot be issued without an Aadhaar number from October 1.

And there is the irony – we cannot be tax-paying citizens of this country without possessing the Aadhaar card, and we cannot cease to be so without possessing the Aadhaar card. Yet, the acquisition of an Aadhaar card is “voluntary”.

In an even greater irony, this order comes from the Registrar General, who is overseen by the home ministry. It was this office that was in charge of the National Population Register, a pet project of L K Advani’s which was sanctioned Rs. 6600 crore, of which Rs. 4800 crore has already been spent. Since the NPR is essentially the Aadhaar without biometric data, these thousands of crores of taxpayer money have basically been wasted.

Before the BJP came to power, Narendra Modi as its prime ministerial candidate had spoken against the Aadhaar project by the Unique Identification Authority of India. Yet, only months into his term as Prime Minister, he began to push for its enforcement.

Data leaks have been occurring regularly and the government has not been able to fix this. And every measure that it has brought in with the purported intention of protecting us has done just the opposite.

How long can the government keep up this facade without being caught out?

Surely no one can believe that it is pro-poor any longer, headed as it is by a man who speaks of his penurious beginnings while sporting a designer suit? And surely no one can overlook the lies and betrayals involved in pushing its pet projects through?

As the next elections approach, we must remember that a government which has nothing to hide does not need to curb freedom of speech – and we have certainly not had such a government in the last thirteen years.

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Nandini is a journalist and humour writer based in Madras. She is the author of Hitched: The Modern Woman and Arranged Marriage. 

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