Roll Back: Emerging Style of Governance?

We shall roll back our own tough decisions only if and when you bend before us: this is the new style of governance

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Yeshwant Sinha as Finance Minister under Vajpayee had earned the dubious title 'Roll-back Sinha' for repeatedly announcing strict economic measures and then, after furore in parliament and media, granting concessions. In this he was almost alone in the cabinet as Vajpayee generally deferred decisions that would not go down well with the public; when pressed he shut his eyes to the camera and said, 'Hum is vishaya mein rashtriya sahamati banana chahate hain'. Sinha could not do so as finance is a down-to-earth port-folio and had to face the embarrassment.

How the times have changed! Sinha was in the minority of one then but since Narendra Modi took over in '14 roll-back has become the order of the day- from top to bottom! From GST, de-monetisation to last year's three infamous agriculture(sic farmer) related laws the centre talks tough and is more than willing to act soft or defer implementation. It talked of bringing Kashmir into the mainstream and did precious little for that; forced a total Lock Down as a bold strategy in the war on Covid-19 and relaxed the restrictions after the country's economy was (irreparably?) thrown into disarray. Only last week the counterpart of Sinha in the present cabinet had to put her foot in her mouth when she reversed the decision to cut interest rates on savings! Just in 24 hours! Do we take her to task for making a mistake or do we compliment her for quick correction? Or do we go back to Amit Shaha's lukewarm confession on the LockDown:  we might have made mistakes but our intentions were noble? Is this indecision, absence of perspective, ignorance of how to run the State or sheer foolhardiness of power which shall be in their hands for three more years?

If that is the story at the top the state of Maharashtra which generates significant revenue for both the state and the centre is doing no better! The shameless hotchpotch ruling the state is firm on just one programme-keep the BJP out and continue to dither on policy. The Shiv Sena and NCP  (sic CM and Deputy CM ) are at loggerheads over containing the second wave of Covid-19. The CM belongs to a party which is proud of its zero records on wisdom and takes to the argument of force as second nature. The NCP on the other hand has a fair experience in (mis?)handling the state economy, knows the evils of a shutdown but does not want the possible future blame for the surge in cases. The third party is the Cong-I which is enjoying the out-of-tune duet. Only last week the municipal commissioner of Kalyan followed the FM in enforcing and withdrawing LockDown in a matter of 24 hours! The FM need not feel lonely!

'Dusk to dawn curfew ' has been imposed on those parts of the state which are the backbone of the economy! The CM looked totally at sea when he addressed the people on TV. The Dy CM is not so TV-savvy but talks unabashedly arrogantly whenever he does to one and all! What the two should jointly do is stop taking the last steps at the beginning. They should sound to the citizens that the government cannot and shall not save them if they continue to court the worst by not observing restrictions. But then the BJP will take political advantage and might derail the Maha-Aghadi! Nobody is willing to talk sense to people!

Two questions need to be asked. April-May-June are generally the hottest months in the state. They also are the months when the wedding season is in full bloom and tourism is at its peak. Most of the shopping starts late in the afternoon and goes on till night. Is a shut down at six in the evening wise? If the shops are to down shutters at 6 pm there will be an abnormal rush in the scorching sun as one and all will scramble to purchase. ( Even as I revise this short note the CM has announced that the markets of living goods shall stay open till 8 pm. Now who is to define 'essential living goods'?)

The second question is simple and straightforward: does the government have enough manpower to enforce the curfew? The police such as we have are already overburdened and highly irritable! How would they deal with citizens 'politely and humbly'?

This is not to suggest that those in power are unaware of these common-sense issues. The point is that they are used to the vicarious pleasure of making things impractical for the people and then go on roll-back to announce concessions and relaxations! Or is it a desperate urge to show that they call the shots? When there is little to show by way of easing the various burdens on the people coercion is the only way to assert their (supposed) omniscience! We shall roll back our own tough decisions only if and when you bend before us: this is the new style of governance when in '14 they were shouting themselves hoarse: there shall be less government and more governance!

If this is being 'sensitive' it is certainly not 'sensible'! Sickeningly morbid, it certainly is!

The British poet Cecil Day-Lewis in his poem 'Consider These, for We have condemned Them' put it in straight words... some excerpts...

Consider these, for we have condemned them;
Leaders to no sure land, guide their bearings lost
Or in league with robbers have reversed the signposts,
Disrespectful to ancestors, irresponsible to heirs,
Born barren, a freak growth, root in rubble,
Fruitlessly blossoming, whose foliage suffocates,
Their sap is sluggish, they reject the sun.
Getters not begetters; gainers not beginners;
Whiners, no winners; no triers, betrayers;
Who steer by no star, whose moon means nothing.
Daily denying, unable to dig:
At bay in villas from blood relations,
Counters of spoons and content with cushions
They pray for peace, they hand down disaster.

(Cecil Day-Lewis [1904-1972] was born in Ballintogher, Ireland, and was educated at the University of Oxford. In Oxford, he became part of a circle of politically radical poets - W.H. Auden, Stephen Spender, and Louis MacNeice ­ that was dubbed "Macspaunday" by detractors on the political right. He worked on modernizing and redefining British poetry. Over time he mellowed, distanced himself from Auden, and became more lyrical. He also wrote detective novels under the pseudonym of Nicholas Blake. he was appointed Poet Laureate in 1968.)

- Vinay Hardikar

(The writer has been working in the public sphere of Maharashtra for the last five decades. His versatile personality has several dimensions, but the primary ones remain to be that of an established writer, journalist, editor, critic, activist, and teacher.)

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