It seems like the Twitter-selfie craze compels the PM to put on a mega show every few months
Indians love big events. From over-the-top weddings to mega festival celebrations or even concocted days like the recently-adopted International Yoga Day, we truly believe in making it large. So, can you really blame the Prime Minister for simply following the Indian ‘dharma’. But what did the pomp and circumstance of June 21 really achieve?
Yes, India set two world records - one for the largest number of participants (35,985) doing yoga and the most number of participating nationalities (84). Ostensibly, it was important for India to make this a mega event because the day was announced on Modi’s initiative. So was the whole charade merely for the benefit of international audiences?
An Indian Express report pegs the Guinness Book record cost the public exchequer a little over Rs 100 crore (Rs 1 billion), mainly for publicity (the AYUSH ministry says it was Rs 30 crore). That first amount, incidentally, is the initial corpus given to the Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao campaign which, considering India’s female foeticide rates, is a far more pressing concern that could do with more funding and execution.
Another report says that the ministry is drawing up a Rs 500 crore plan for creating infrastructure to support yoga, provide training facilities and facilitate research.
I have nothing against yoga, having practised it in the past, but how much are we willing to spend for our prime minister's vanity projects?
Remember the Swacch Bharat Abhiyan. The Prime Minister came out on the streets with a broom, urging people to clean up their neighbourhoods. Remember the nominations and the selfies? How much of that do you see now? How many of the big names nominated to spread the message are cleaning the streets? Forget the big names, what is being done by the government to keep streets clean? Because let’s face, trash collection is a taxpayer-funded responsibility of the municipality.
Ironically, despite the PM’s cleanliness drive, the government’s new sanitation policy has actually reduced budgetary allocations for rural sanitation. The new sanitation policy has also capped the allocation to information, education and communication, the expenditure head for behaviour change campaign activities, at 8% of total allocation to rural sanitation - down by almost a half.
The Jan Dhan Yojana is another scheme that has been high on decibels but low on value. Another record was created there – for opening 18 million new bank accounts in a week – but according to official data released in January, only 28 per cent of the accounts opened under the scheme are active.
The prime minister seems to be beholden to the Twitter-selfie craze that has overtaken us. And since public memory in the online world is extremely short, he probably needs to put on a new spectacle for us every few months. Only as it turns out, it is easier taking a selfie but really difficult to bring about change, as his good friend ‘Barack’ has also discovered. This might be a good time for Modi –who, like Obama, won on a theme of change – to ask his buddy for his notes.