First Citizens’ Report on the Bharatiya Janta Party

(BJP) led National Development Alliance (NDA) government in May 2015, India has witnessed an unprecedented
political change whose sheer continuity has surprised many. Simply put, this is about the impressive electoral
journey of the BJP which has, by now, expanded its footprint and formed governments in every region of the
country, Karnataka being the most recent. Ideally, this tectonic political shift should have resulted in a much better
synchronisation between the Centre and the states where NDA is in power. This exactly has also been the BJP’s
argument during the various state election campaigns. The ideological commonality of the Central and state
political leaderships — besides the fact that Prime Minister Modi is now seen as the undisputed, universal leader of
the ruling side — should have transformed the country’s development contours. The moot question, therefore, is:
Has this political change actually helped end poverty, social exclusion and discrimination in India? This
penultimate Citizen’s Report, being released as the NDA government enters its last year in office, is a humble and
dispassionate attempt to evaluate its working through the watchful eyes of civil society observers.
The current Citizen’s Report, takes a comprehensive look at the four years of the government, makes an objective
assessment of the direction that society and economy have taken and makes its statement. For instance, it is
evident that the flagship ‘UjjwalaYojana’ has helped reduce the distress of rural women in millions of poor
households. They have moved away from the traditional smoking chulha (oven) as the scheme has provided them
with free LPG connections. It has made life easy for women while also reducing their health hazards. But this is only
half the story as a good number of beneficiary families have actually reverted to the smoking and polluting oven
after their first free LPG cylinder got over. The reason for this was as basic as it could get: The families did not have
the money to buy the second cylinder! The history of independent India is replete with instances of too many wellmeaning
development schemes going bad due to similar pitfalls which result from careless planning. It is desirable
that a cautious government should anticipate possible loopholes in any particular scheme before launching it.
The report reviews various electoral promises for al-round development, employment generation, improved
health and education, strong economy, enabling environment and equal opportunities for marginalised
communities, social justice and social harmony, protection of human rights, land rights and environment et al. The
report reviews these very issues from the lens of the vulnerable populations and constitutional mandates. While
much has been promised and popularised, the report finds many gaps and much more needs to be done. There
are many disturbing trends of continued exploitation and marginalisation of these communities.
Besides the sector-wise assessment, this Citizen’s Report has unequivocally noted the marking of a very definite
and degenerate direction that the government has taken. This new push has turned out to be a debilitating cause
of concern for the country and its people. For ease of understanding, the sum total of this overpowering trend,
which has the potential of assuming disastrous proportions in today’s times of social media and instant
technology, can perhaps be called ‘Intrusive Mind Management’ by a government influenced by its ideological
mentor. From time immemorial, governments, ruling establishments, monarchs and even dictators across the
world have relied upon and resorted to high-decibel propaganda to win popular support. But democracies are
always expected to take any such self-serving attempt with a pinch of salt. The mass media is believed to be the first
line of interrogation against all such misadventures resorted to by the government of the day. In the Indian case,
the media has had an overall glorious record of living up to its duties. This Report, however, notes the disturbing
disappearance of Doubting Thomases from some of the most visible sections of mass media. This isn’t a good
signal at all for preserving the plurality that has always been the hallmark of Indian society and also the reason why
this civilisation has a never-ending sustainability. The co-option of the minds in the media, particularly in the
electronic variant of it, doesn’t augur well for a democratic India. The Report has made an attempt to discover the
factors that have led to this well-calibrated tendency, which has the danger of erasing all hues of existence and
converting the vibrant Indian society into a monochromatic inanity.
Another significant marker in the Report is the identification of a clear trend to undermine the citizens’ inalienable
rights to privacy, dignified living and free speech. While the government, for instance, has moved ahead with its
Citizens’ Report on four years of the NDA Government 2014-2018 1
continuous shift to an Aadhaar-based identity system, the basic concerns of privacy and data leak have not been
addressed with the same gusto. Quite a few instances of Aadhaar database being compromised have come to
light, but it has not set the alarm bells ringing. The vulnerability of similar database being misused through the
social media route is no secret now. Here too, the government is yet to take stringent corrective actions to protect
the privacy concerns of the citizens. On the free speech front too, the government seems to have fallen short of the
high degree of tolerance it is expected to display. Wishing away all its critics may prove to be a convenient recourse
for any government to take, for then only the good words would remain. In the long run though, this would prove
to be counter-productive for society at large and self-defeating for the government of the day. Unfortunately, the
BJP-led government has failed to generate enough confidence on this crucial count.
Yet another trend that became evident in the fourth year of the NDA government is the fast shrinking space within
which the voluntary sector is now expected to operate. Any wrongdoings, especially of the financial nature,
committed by the voluntary organisations and NGOs cannot be defended. Over the decades, these groups have
made remarkable contribution to India’s development story, and their work has been acknowledged by the
government and international organisations. The new branding of the entire sector, therefore, as unproductive
and, in some cases, as unpatriotic has come as a shocker to thousands of women and men involved in such work.
This could well be a part of the larger effort to silence the critics because voluntary groups — since a good number
of them work at the grassroot level — have a relatively fair idea of the situation on the ground beyond the
cacophony emanating from those at the helm of the government.
In a democracy, no one can take away the right of a political leadership to convert itself into an election-winning
machine. After all, the textbook objective of a political party is to come to power through the majority route and it
has every right to adopt all legitimate ‘means’ to do that. In this race, though, the sight of the ‘ends’ cannot be lost,
more so in a country which holds the largest possible diversity globally and a growing inequality. As the
government ends the current term in office and all political parties prepare for the next general elections, this
report is a call to keep the people’s concerns and aspirations at the heart of governance, in particular of the
excluded and vulnerable sections.

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