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Sachidananda Murthy
Sachidananda Murthy


Modi’s millstones

Analyses of the Gujarat assembly results showed that, for the BJP, there was more rural alienation than urban. There has been talk within the government of taking dramatic decisions to end the agrarian distress and win back farmers, agricultural labourers and artisans, who had a miserable 2017 because of depressed farm prices. The big bang announcements are expected in the last full budget of Arun Jaitley and also in separate announcements to the nation by the prime minister. But the ministries dealing with rural population seem to have not fully woken up to the crisis, even though the agriculture minister is part of the cabinet committee on economic affairs.

A recent report of the Comptroller and Auditor General says there is imbalance in urban development too. The CAG has found that a bulk of the money allotted for the much-hailed Smart City programme has not been spent. There has been poor motivation in many cities, and the Centre has not prodded them enough. One area of urban development which has seen a big thrust though is metro rail projects. Prime Minister Modi has been personally monitoring the progress of metro projects in all cities through video conference with state government officials and has inaugurated them in three cities and launched another metro link between Delhi and Uttar Pradesh in 2017. However, the Smart City project has not taken off fully because of bottlenecks at local levels.

14-week-Modis-millstones Illustration: Bhaskaran

Even in cities that are not fully under this project, there have been delays in ramping up housing, sanitation and water supply. Delhi has seen an ugly fight between the lieutenant governors and the Arvind Kejriwal government, which has stalled purchase of a fleet of buses to meet the growing demands of the city. The three municipal corporations, which are run by the BJP, are in a mess as they accuse Kejriwal of not giving enough funds.

The plan to clean the Ganga and Yamuna rivers has been affected for three years because of lack of inter-ministerial coordination and differences between Central and state governments. Now, Nitin Gadkari has been given charge of the Ganga rejuvenation plan and wants everything from barges to seaplanes to move on the river. Barring Delhi and Bengal, all states through which the Ganga and Yamuna flow are with the BJP and its allies. Some ministers point out that wherever the Central government fully controls a flagship project, like in petroleum and banking sectors, the progress is quicker. But wherever state governments and local bodies are involved, even when they are controlled by the BJP, things are slower. This is a challenge for the prime minister even as he tries to make his concept of cooperative federalism target oriented in 2018.

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