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Wednesday, November 25, 2020

India govt’s 5 wrong priorities that are affecting the nation

The pandemic has been going on for almost a year now. With 75 lakh total cases and experts fearing a second wave coming soon, it is obvious that Covid-19 will continue to rage for another six months or a year before we get a vaccine. Since January, with the rapid spread of the virus, India witnessed a massive change in all sectors, be it politics, economy, defense, law, and order or everyday life. It is said that a government’s true potential is identified when it passes through a crisis. No doubt the whole world is experiencing difficult times and the government of every country is trying to deal with the crisis with its best resources and capacity.

Now if we look at India, the Centre, led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, also took many quick, bold and important decisions in the past couple of months. These decisions affected several sectors of the country and have drawn enough criticisms from the Opposition and international quarters. However, Modi’s men, RSS, and Sanghis have placed their own logic to support those steps. But somehow giving emphasis on the wrong priorities didn’t remain hidden, it got exposed. In this article, we shall discuss those issues.

India govt’s 5 wrong priorities that are affecting the nation

1. People die of hunger but Centre bought Rafale

India’s hunger scenario is getting worse by day and hunger deaths are rising across the country like never before. It goes without saying that things have turned bleak as the pandemic began. India ranks 94 among 107 countries in Global Hunger Index 2020. According to the GHI report, with a score of 27.2, India has a level of hunger that is “serious”. According to the study, 14% of India’s population is undernourished. India features behind Nepal (73), Pakistan (88), Bangladesh (75), Indonesia (70) among others. Out of 107 countries, only 13 countries fare worse than India including countries like Rwanda (97), Nigeria (98), Afghanistan (99), Liberia (102), Mozambique (103), Chad (107) among others. Last year, India’s GHI rank was 102 out of 117 countries.

The reports also state that the country recorded a child stunting rate of 37.4 percent. Stunted children are those who have a “low height for their age, reflecting chronic undernutrition”. The Global Hunger Index is a peer-reviewed annual report, jointly published by Concern Worldwide and Welthungerhilfe, designed to comprehensively measure and track hunger at the global, regional, and country levels. But the Centre doesn’t pay attention to this issue and goes on to buy French Rafale fighter jets in a multi-billion dollar deal.

The first five of a batch of French Rafale fighter jets purchased by New Delhi in a controversial multibillion-dollar deal reached India this summer for rapid deployment amid rising tensions with China. The deal, estimated to be worth $9.4bn, has been shadowed by corruption allegations leveled by the opposition Congress party, though Modi has rejected the claims. But we saw how people in Modi’s own constituency ate grass after having no food or ration for days! In the prime minister’s Lok Sabha constituency, Varanasi, recently a group of children was seen sitting cross-legged and eating grass, called “akri” in the local language. The six kids, about five years old, from the Musahar community, live in the Musahar Basti in Koiripur village in the Badagaon block of Varanasi district. They have been identified as Rani, Pooja, Vishal, Neerhu, Soni, and Golu. Out of desperation and hunger, the children were eating the grass usually given to cattle as fodder from a wheat field in the village. In another video, a group of children can be seen eating phaliyan, a small bean-like shrub attached to the straw given to cattle to eat, from a plate. India needs strong defence but not at the cost of its own people’s hunger of course.

2. Ban on China apps but no tough act against China over border row

All India has done so far is that it has just banned the Chinese apps and the Centre has conveyed the message of boycotting almost all China products to alienate the Dragons in the world economy. But India has taken a bold step so far to give a strong reply to China over the violent border row in eastern Ladakh in which 20 army personnel were killed by the Chinese PLA. There is a growing chorus on the need to get tough on China. And India’s policy, too, appears to be shifting towards building more meaningful partnerships through platforms such as the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, or the Quad. The latest meeting in Tokyo is indicative of the rising concerns around China. This was overdue and should be welcomed. However, there are still questions to be asked.

India can change its foreign policy, but if its fundamental assumptions don’t change, we will keep committing the same mistakes. These assumptions include that dialogue can resolve all differences, and that war is too irrational for anyone to deploy. This is why the Indian decision-makers should ask themselves the following questions: Why has India’s China policy been such a failure? Why did the informal summits not resolve anything after the Doklam confrontation? Therefore, having fruitful talks with the neighbor and resolving the border crisis was much more important than banning Chinese apps.

3. Pandemic rages but sanitation budget cut

This pandemic has taught us the lesson of having improved personal and social hygiene. Even if we manage to combat the virus, there is no alternative to having good hygiene and clean locality. But the Centre is doing the opposite. Even though the Modi government gave birth to this huge promotional cleanliness drive Swachch Bharat Abhiyaan, it is drastically cutting the urban sanitation budget this financial year.

If the budget for a high priority sector is cut by more than a half in a year in which the most ambitious targets were to be achieved, then there has to be an explanation. There has been none in the case of urban sanitation for the Financial Year 2019-20. This is the year when the internationally discussed, widely publicized objective of ODF was to be achieved by October 2, 2019. But during the same financial year, the government records say, the budget for Swachh Bharat Abhiyan Urban, the flagship program of urban sanitation, was cut by more than a half. No explanations were given.

In 2019-20 Budget, there was originally an allocation (BE or Budget Estimate) of Rs 2650 crore for Swachh Bharat Abhiyan Urban. This was cut to Rs 1300 crore while preparing the Revised Estimate (RE) for this year. As the table below shows, this Revised Estimate was also much lower than the actual expenditure for each of the three previous years. The budget allocation for this program (BE) for this year 2020-21 is also lower than the original allocation made in the previous year, as also the actual expenditure of the two years preceding this.

4. Action against  thinkers, criminals scot-free

All those who offer their independent opinion, thoughts are being charged with sedition and even arrested. The Centre can’t allow voice of dissenters. We have seen what happened to JNU students like Umar Khalid, Aishi Ghosh, Kanhaiya Kumar and others for speaking against the Modi government. However, the government does not take any serious action against the notorious hate-mongers like Kapil Mishra, Mohan Singh Bisht, or Anurag Thakur even though they openly speak of killing people.

It is not enough that a diverse set of far-Left activists have been blamed for it, from Gautam Navlakha to Anand Teltumbde. Suddenly, an 83-year-old Adivasi rights activist, Stan Swamy, has been arrested from Jharkhand. A BBC News headline sums up the ludicrousness of the situation: “The oldest person to be accused of terrorism in India.” We are all terrorists now. And sedition is now a daily occurrence. Activists who have stood up against the Modi government, or many who haven’t even done that (such as lawyer-activist Sudha Bhardwaj), are being charged with terrorism to ensure they languish in jail for years without bail or conviction. The government was unaffected by the protests against the chronology laws that would — still could — put Muslim Indians through hard citizenship tests. If the government had been affected by those protests, it would have at least reached out to them for talks. In any case, the story got over with a good old riot (in Delhi) and the Covid pandemic. Why, then, is the Indian State spending so much time, energy, and taxpayer’s money writing 10,000 pages of fiction to put students in jail? Or, how does Umar Khalid threaten this government? How many votes can he cost them?

How is Devangana Kalita a threat to the most powerful government since Indira Gandhi’s? Why is a Vinod Dua having to fight a sedition case in the Supreme Court for some critical comments blaming the government for its poor handling of the Covid pandemic and being critical of the Prime Minister? Sedition?

5. Schools closed for Covid-19 but full-on festivals

Now we come to one of the biggest and most controversial issues of recent times. India’s schools, colleges, and all other educational institutes are closed for the 8 or 9 months in the fear of Covid-19 spread, but the state and central governments are going ahead with the festive season with no strict policy to ensure the virus’ spread for the second wave. We still don’t know when will schools open again, when will old work structure will be restored, and how those who lost their jobs will get back to their vocations. But on Tuesday, Modi didn’t speak about any the Centre’s strategy to deal with these, neither he mentioned how the government is planning to deal with the second wave of spread, what is its plan, etc. Rather the PM just asked people to follow safety norms as usual.

If cases start to rise again, can India handle another lockdown if it becomes imperative? We don’t know. What we know is things went from bad to worse after Onam in Kerala and things are looking pretty fearful in Bengal amid the Durga Puja celebrations. Cases of new infections and death rates both are rising simultaneously. We hope the Centre has its plan chalked out and its priorities set right.

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