Wednesday, November 11, 2015

‘Packages’ no magic

On the eve of that humiliating “standing count” in Bihar, the Prime Minister’s stature had been “shaken” by the tepid response to what had been projected as a major initiative in Jammu & Kashmir. A common reality being that the financial “packages” for both states did not exactly enthuse - though the jury is still out on whether the Rs 125 lakh core promised to Bihar ahead of the polls, and the Rs 80,000 crore for the other, have actually backfired. It is apparent that people are no longer fooled by New Delhi’s consistent (not just Modi-sarkar) clubbing together allocations that would even otherwise accrue to the states, then politically gift-wrapping them as goodwill gestures.

There is also increasing realisation that it is really the taxpayers’ money that is being re-channelled, no special effort made to raise additional resources. In short: a politicised version of the children’s party game “passing the parcel”, with the central government controlling the music to dispense largesse. It is true that the demand for packages originates with the states who never seem to have the funds to deal with flood, drought, famine etc, also true that New Delhi relishes the opportunity to play fairy-godmother, but there is little monitoring of how much of the package trickles down to the people who need help. And now Bihar has shown New Delhi, pardon the profanity, where to “stick” its money.

As far as J&K is concerned, Mr Modi’s package would have been appreciated had it been provided for immediate relief after the devastating flood - not after an ally was voted to power in Srinagar/Jammu. The BJP-PDP arrangement is under the strain that is inevitable when ideological incompatibles enter into a marriage of convenience, and it is doubtful if Rs 80,000 crore will prove a lengthy sweetener. As most Kashmir-watchers have observed, the people were looking to Mr Modi for a political initiative to ease their domestic difficulties, and a diplomatic one towards addressing the larger issue. Mr Modi must accept and understand that in Kashmiri thinking Pakistan is not the cesspool New Delhi deems it to be, nor the dumping ground to which the BJP’s motor-mouths seem overly anxious to banish their opponents.

Those specifics apart, the Prime Minister must recognise that there is an insulting, demeaning edge to his contending that financial packages are a cure-all. It may be weeks too early to be “Christmassy” (and Mr Modi might have religious/cultural objections) and point out that Santa Claus’ cheery face is as alluring as the goodies in his sack. Yet since Mr Modi is now UK-bound he might learn something from those long-haired lovers from Liverpool who charmed when singing ‘Money Can’t Buy Me Love.’

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