he Prime Minister’s Independence Day speech delivered from the ramparts of the Red Fort has turned out to be an exercise in hyperbole rather than a blueprint for what his government proposes to do to tackle the grave problems on ground ravaging the country’s economy and wreaking havoc on the lives of citizens in the grip of the COVID-19 pandemic. The PM did what he is so good at, which is to weave verbal magic, churning out catch phrases and slogans and drawing up grandiose plans which are either poorly executed or remain only on paper. He has been doing this since he delivered his first such speech after assuming office in 2014. This year’s notable coinage of catch phrases is – ‘sabka prayas’- which is an addition to the already existing slogan of ‘sabka saath, sabka vikas, sabka viswas.’ The mantra is followed more in breach than in observance.
We need to understand what that Sabka Prayas phrase implies. There is something called the Ben Franklin effect. The Ben Franklin effect is a proposed psychological phenomenon: a person who has already performed a favor for another person is more likely to do another favor for the other than if they had received a favor from that person. Let us think back to the last few years.
Swachh Bharat or Clean India was a central government program. A tax in the form of a cess was imposed on the citizens to fund this program. The cleanliness drive was a complete failure. One of the best examples to check on was visible near the exit gates of the New Delhi Railway Station. Yet the PM asked every Indian to contribute 100 hours towards the cleanliness drive. Now, look! Most Indians have forgotten about the drive as also that they are still paying the Swachh Bharat cess.
Surrender LPG subsidy was another call for action by the PM. People went haywire and were comfortable to socially enquire from friends and relatives whether they had given up the subsidized cylinder. We all know now where all that sacrifice has landed and which corporate is immensely benefitting from it. The task however was left on the citizens to implement. Today, if anyone questions as to who benefitted from surrendering LPG subsidies, people in general feel as if their pro-nation activities are being questioned.
One is reminded about what the PM had said after surprising the nation with his Demonetization decision 8 November 2016. He had then asked citizens to shoulder the hardship for a short while in the interest of the nation and requested for 50 days of patience. People felt their sacrifice would eradicate black money, combat terrorism and currency counterfeiting and halt corruption. It was made out to be everyone’s battle against these evils. While a blossoming economy of the country died a sudden death, most people even today are unwilling to accept that this single executive decision has broken the back of the Indian economy.
When COVID struck the country, the PM asked for patience while implementing an almost overnight lockdown, leading to a migrant crisis of epic proportions. Then Indians were asked for various favors including banging pots and pans and lighting candles to ward off the virus. When COVID spread and deaths increased, it was projected as the failure of the people to abide by mask wearing, social distancing and other mandates. More patience and cooperation was asked of people. With COVID raging on even today, instead of blaming the vaccination shortages or the neglected healthcare infrastructure of the country, people lament on not having done more themselves.
Interestingly, with such tasks placed on the shoulders of citizens on a daily basis, when any of these programs fail, it is the failure of every citizen. The citizen therefore is defensive and angry if any one points out those failures.
The average Indian feels so invested in these processes that no one questions the absurdity of the planning, designing and execution of the programs. A dog chasing to bite its tail goes round tirelessly without achieving any results. This is the exact kind of motion that many Indians have been put into while the folks in power have cleverly maneuvered to not be held accountable for any of their acts.