India is a country where hardly a day goes by without any political or religious discussion among its people. Being in India for more than two weeks now, I can’t be a silent spectator any more. I am in the heartland of India – Madhya Pradesh, which is also a stronghold of BJP party. The BJP party has been ruling the state for two terms and people have mixed feelings about the development work in the state. The road infrastructure has improved tremendously, as many multi-lane roads (tough toll roads) have been added. However, the people at the bottom do not see much improvement – they could barely manage to get any daily work to feed their families then and they are the same state now. Most of the poor households opened zero balance bank accounts under the “Jan Dhan” scheme and expected to get a share of the black money as promised by the PM, Mr. Modi. Three years later, they still have zero balance. Banks are having tough time maintaining these empty accounts and other small amount accounts for which government does not allow charging any fees.
The government of India is pushing Digital India and Cashless Payments for the entire country. However, there is a great digital divide between urban and rural OR the rich and poor communities. Many of these marginalized people don’t have access to mobile phones, or the network and Internet services are not available in many areas.
When it comes to peoples’ perception on the government performance, there are usually four groups – the urban elite (upper and middle class), urban poor, urban intellectuals and the rural people. The urban elites perceive the government to be highly effective as they can relate to infrastructure development in the big cities and its Hindutava agenda. The government policies also seem to favor big businesses such as Ambani, Adani, etc. The rural people (small farmers and labor) are highly upset as their standards of living has not improved at all. The Digital India scheme also seem to have no effect in the rural areas where it is needed the most. Even though the government has minimum daily wages fixed for each category of labor, there is no enforcement of the laws, especially in rural areas. The urban intellectuals do not like the BJP government due to its non-secular right wing policies and its support of extreme right-wing organizations, RSS and Shiv Sena. This is the first time in (Independent) India’s history that there is not a single Muslim candidate in ruling party’s Member of Parliament. The urban poor seem to be equally divided – some have realized the benefits of new urban development while others are still living day to day.
As I stated in my earlier blog, the election results in five states (Punjab, Goa, U.P., Uttarakhand, Manipur) on March 11th will provide an initial test report on whether the Modi magic is working or fading away into a myth. Punjab seem to be more favorable to AAP and Congress parties this time but it won’t affect the BJP at the center due to smaller number of seats (117) as compared to U.P. (403). In U.P., BJP seems to be tilting even more towards its right-wing policies as it did not field a single Muslim candidate in the 403 seats, despite more than 19% of state’s population being Muslims. This is a saddening trend in the country known for its diversity and secularism. The world history teaches us that cornering a particular community isolates them even further, giving rise to extremist powers. Having won the U.P. elections would also give BJP majority in the Rajya Sabha, and controlling both the houses and the PM’s office. On the other hand, there is a possibility of hung assembly in the U.P., which will cause disruption in any future development work and putting pressure on BJP to pursue popular agenda.