Over the weekend, I met an old friend who is a government contractor. When I asked him how his business was doing, he said rather wryly, “Anywhere you go, you get only 60%. Forty per cent has to be divided between the ministers, government officials, even the clerks who just take printouts of — your documents that need to go into the file. Otherwise they stall everything.” Then anticipating the next question he said, “Congress or BJP, they are all the same. Unhone bhee bharpoor khaaya, yeh log abhi abhi naye naye bhooke aaye hain!”
It started with Gandhi, continued with the non-aligned movement and now the recent India-Africa summit. The affinity between India and Africa has a long history, so to think that the continent is alien to the people of India seems improbable.
India’s 29 state-owned banks have written off a total of Rs 1.14 lakh crore between 2012-13 and 2014-15. A newspaper report on Monday about these write-offs only underlines the gravity of India’s problem with bad loans and the consequent constriction of credit flow.
A few years ago, I was sitting next to Manohar Parrikar on a flight. The defence minister was then Goa chief minister and was travelling economy, dressed in trademark half-sleeve shirt, trousers and chappals. When we landed, he waited for his suitcase to come on the conveyor belt, and then pushed the trolley on his own. No retinue of personal attendants accompanying him, nothing that would remotely suggest a VIP culture. His parting shot as he exited the airport, “all of you think only Arvind Kejriwal is an aam aadmi chief minister. Some of us also lead simple lives, but Goa is too far away from Delhi for you to look at us!”
It was a most unsavoury backdrop to the meeting of business czars and political luminaries which was underway in Karnataka. As Make in India was talked about and the state projected as an attractive investment destination, a Tanzanian girl was reportedly stripped and paraded naked in retaliation for a Sudanese national having run over another woman. Such ugly racist incidents are not new to a city which is touted as the Silicon Valley of India, home to a vast IT industry. Earlier, it was northeasterners who bore the brunt of ugly racist rage from locals for no reason other than that they are ‘different’.
If the National Rural Employment Guarantee Programme was the UPA’s flagship scheme, the Smart City project is certainly the NDA’s dream project. Last week, the Centre announced the names of the first batch of 20 urban centres that have made the cut, out of the 100 earmarked for the ambitious project, which hopes to change the face of urban India. Of the 20 cities, nine are from the BJP-ruled states and four from the ones under the Congress. There are five cities from the poll-bound states — Chennai, Coimbatore, Guwahati, Kochi and Ludhiana — but interestingly, there is no city from the two significant ones: West Bengal and UP.
In 2008, then Uttar Pradesh chief minister Mayawati had alleged that Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi, then a general secretary in the party, “bathes in special soap” after visiting Dalit homes. That desperate political punch was as a result of Gandhi spending nights at Dalits’ houses and breaking bread with them.