Corruption, Jairam Ramesh, Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, MGNREGA, NAC, National Advisory Council, Politics, Rural Development, Sonia Gandhi, UPA

The Real Underachiever

Ok, this is getting a tad bit repetitive. Character assassination of Manmohan Singh is the new in-thing. While the Time calls him an underachiever, Statesmen is ready with an equally offensive “poodle”. Hence it came as no surprise when the Washington Post decided to portray the Indian Prime Minister as a tragic figure. At home he does not fare very well either. He has been called everything from the “weakest Prime Minister India has ever seen” to “Shikhandi”. How did this happen? A man who was celebrated as “one of the world’s most revered leaders” and “the model of what a political leader should be” is now described as “a dithering, ineffectual bureaucrat presiding over a deeply corrupt government.”
            Let me take you back some 248 years ago to Buxar, an eastern district in Bihar. When British Major Hector Munro defeated the combined army of Mir Kasim, the Nawab of Bengal; Shuja-ud-daula, Nawab of Awadh; and Shah Alam II, the Mughal Emperor, the plum victim was not the authoritative Mir Kasim but the absolutely powerless Mughal monarch Shah Alam II. The British signed a treaty called “Treaty of Allahabad” with the Mughal king, there by asserting their supremacy over the prosperous eastern region of the Indian subcontinent.
The biggest disaster came in the form of dual system of government, implemented in Bengal by “the” Robert Clive, then famous as Clive of India, as a part of the administrative reforms. Accordingly the British East India Company acquired the real power in Bengal, the most prosperous place on earth at that time, and on the other hand the Nawab of Bengal (De-jure Ruler of Bengal) was made accountable for all the company’s decisions and their fallouts.
It does not escape a curious mind’s observation that Robert Clive could have easily abolished the post of Nawab of Bengal, and assumed power himself. But the advantages of not doing so were immense. By having this dual government system, the power centre was separated from responsibility. In effect, all the mismanagement (read cruel apathy) which originated at the hands of a mere trading company and its greedy masters, where attributed to the local ruler Nawabs of Bengal who were puppets in the hands of the English East India Company.
After nearly two and a half century nothing has changed. India is still ruled by a foreigner who is not accountable for all the power wielded and India (and now the International media too) hold a local native puppet ruler accountable for the mismanagement perpetrated by the greedy (or thick-skulled?) foreigner. When the Sonia Gandhi led UPA won a shocking victory in 2004, her inner soul spoke deafeningly loud that she renounced the post of Prime Minister to Dr. Manmohan Singh; then known for his stint as the Finance Minister of PM Narasimha Rao who was instrumental in ushering a wave of economic liberalisation reforms and also as the not-so-stellar Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha during the NDA rule. The wail of MPs like Renuka Chowdhary and others still echo in my ears, since they deeply scarred my mental image as a kid.* Cutting short to chase, Dr. Manmohan Singh was coroneted with pomp and fair. He was seen as a welcome change among the loud, uncouth, unprofessional, uneducated politicians we usually see. Everybody was quick to praise Sonia Gandhi for appointing someone else as the Prime Minister while she in the most bharathiya-nari-esque manner made a sacrifice. [Read – Her alleged act of renunciation in 2004 took sycophancy to new heights when her party men and women began comparing her to Sister Nivedita and Mother Teresa.] Ah, how touching!
Through this write up, I wish to impress the fact upon readers that merely blaming Dr. Manmohan Singh and abusing and ridiculing him is not the way. Identifying where the rot lies and surgically removing the cancer is the path to be followed. Even a cursory look at the multi-pronged approach through which Sonia Gandhi led the Republic of India into a state of deep chaos and total anarchy , will make the UPA and its chairperson repulsive in the eyes of the ordinary Indian, the famous yet pathetic “aam admi”.
·         National Advisory Council

That Sonia Gandhi is the super Prime Minister and that she is having a super cabinet called National Advisory Council (NAC) is not new. NAC was created in UPA 1.0 for implementing the Common Minimum Programme – the document based on which Left supported UPA “from outside”. After the office-of-profit fiasco and her resignation, when Congress won again in 2009, the National Advisory Council was renewed to act as an interface between the government and the public. It consists mostly of retired beurocrats, economists and of course social activists. It is to be noted that there is no provision in the constitution of India which supports the basis of such an unelected body.
One can ask that if the earlier NAC was created so that Left parties’ concerns were adequately met through the CMP, why it was renewed even though there is no such instability issue being confronted by UPA 2.0. Ill-advise from loyal workers or personal satisfaction of ego – whatever may be the case, the fact that a set of left-leaning activists and ex-beurocrats are churning out bills without any fore-thought or common sense (except the Right to Information Act, but sadly for Indians, brilliance is not a norm but exception among the NAC policy makers) is not a welcome move. It is a worryingly larger issue that Sonia Gandhi, who heads this kitchen-cabinet, does not even bother to talk to anyone in the meeting or even make a significant suggestion to any of these ridiculous ideas . Leave alone the tiny detail that she is not allowing the Prime Minister to function independently and has made him a symbol of subservience; it is a cruel injustice to the people of India if the “supreme ruler” herself is not making any contribution to the policies, which are later on given a label of being her brain-child.
Read“She listens carefully and doesn’t say much,” said a member who worked with her in the first NAC.”

Priyanka Chopra recently told in a conclave that although she became a celebrity over-night by winning the Miss World title, she was not ready for in-depth questions like the ones regarding economy of Uganda. We accept that. One cannot expect a person, especially if they are Miss World contestants, to know about the economy of Uganda, unless of course, she is from Uganda or any of the neighbouring countries. But Sonia Gandhi should realise that although the Indian television media is not tired of writing banal ballads about how she had risen from a humble background to become the 4th richest politician in the world, the lack of education and feigning selective ignorance is not an excuse for the bare minimum exposure to matters of governance.
Following is a short analysis on how Sonia Gandhi’s so called pet-projects have functioned.
1.       NREGA 
  • A policy with no long term vision

The Employment Guarantee act, one more of the rights-based approach that NAC has spearheaded, is the world’s largest entitlement programme. Yes, among the officially recognised 192 – nations NREGA, is the biggest such programme, as far the money spent is concerned, as far as the geographical area it spans , as far as the number of people it affects (both positively and negatively). Now, about the “Mega Bharat Nirman plan” as some people call it, where shall one start to point out how ill-conceived the entire scheme is? Does it matter to Sonia Gandhi that there is a drain in the labour force where they are actually needed? Does she care about actual skill upgradation of workers? Does she even know how her pet – project has contributed to food inflation? People would love to see her answer these questions, but alas, neither has she got the acumen for analysing the impact of her ill-fated projects not has she the ability to undo the disaster caused.

  • Logistical Issues
            Assuming that the standard, right-leaning, pro-free marker arguments against this scheme does not exist; assuming that NREGA is the best possible way that a government having 205 MPs can remove poverty of people below the poverty line, let us see how serious the government is in implementing this scheme. One lookat what the highest court of our country has told will prove that the implementation has been a big let – down. “There has been distribution of money. But in many cases, it is going to wrong persons and real beneficiaries do not receive the cash,” the Bench said. The Supreme Court also added “There should be some real development at the ground level”, showing that NREGA is not making any actual progress, which in turn was its original aim. Logistical blunders have been made by the ruling government by not upgrading the infrastructure facilities for rural banks, thereby forcing those unfortunate officers in rural areas into a state of misery and utter bewilderment.
  • Democratisation of corruption

Neelambari told famously in the Rajnikanth starrer Padayappa, “Vayasanaalumun azhagum stylum innum unna vitu pokave illa.” (Even when you are old your handsomeness and style hasn’t left you) to which he promptly replies, “Koodave poranthu pokave pokathu.” (These are things born with me and hence would never leave) One wonders if Congress feels the same way about corruption. As part of the democratisation of corruption, thereby giving a platform for not only the ministers and top level beurocrats in New Delhi, (note – I do not subscribe to the notion that all politicians and beurocrats puts one’s own greed above the nation’s welfare) but also to the Gram Panchayat Pradhans and members, through MGNREGA’s unchecked fund flow and poor accountability rules, Sonia Gandhi led Congress has allowed the plague of corruption to permeate to the ground level executive. To quote the Hon. Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh, “But there has been malfeasance: Wrong guys have got payment; full payment has not been given; money meant for asset creation has gone into the purchase of Boleros and Pajeros.”  One has to assume that this, no doubt, is well in tune with UPA Chairperson’s policy of strengthening grass level leaders. Kudos to you Ma’am!
Read– “Constant threat from the gram panchayats, zilla panchayats, contractors and state government’s lack of seriousness to control irregularities in plagued Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) scheme has made many shy away from the post of ombudsman.
Read– “Sometimes we do not know that who is working and who is getting the wages. Many beneficiaries were of the opinion that wage of Rs 120 per day was not provided to them. They hardly got Rs 40-50, generally 100 day’s man-days are not completed and there are very few cases of the completion of 100 days of work,
Read– “The modus operandi is simple — a contractor enrolls around 50 persons to take up the development of a lake or a road. He manages this easily as people like truck drivers, rickshaw drivers, petty shop owners, mentally challenged persons or tea-stall owners fall prey to his offer of getting money for doing no work.    
  •              Awareness
Another complaint NREGA has attracted is the low level of awareness government has managed to spread about the policies of NREGA, other than that of the 100 days work. For a scheme which is touted as the vote gainer and game changer and brain child and what not, the marketing done has to be exaggerated. For example- the scheme provides for a crèchenear the working area for women with young children. But nor is it present in many of the work places, neither are those poor women toiling in the work places demanding one. 
  •         Productivity

The one major argument provided by the government regarding MGNREGS is that “this scheme has the potential to transform the lives of millions of rural poor by guaranteeing wage employment through the creation of productive assets.[1]It aims to create rural amenities like roads and wells which are assets to the rural society and a definitive improvement to the rural infrastructure. But it has been noted by many studies, including Rural Development Ministry’s own review,  that “The quality of assets created under MGNREGA and their relevance to the livelihoods of the poor is inadequate[1][2][3][4]

A sample –“They point out that the quality of the assets was poor. Farm bunding has been initiated without any proper technical planning because which the quality of work was shoddy. In Tikamgarh, plants have already died because no arrangement was made for water. So, the poor quality of assets makes a hindrance in achieving sustainable development.
Do we know what Sonia Gandhi feels about making the rural population of India create such sub-standard products which is not going to benefit them in the long run? This is cruelty. Knowing that one’s hard work and toil is not going to be of any use and yet asking him/her to work, how much ever the salary may be,  is a crime to human potential and nothing worse than forced labour and it is time that she understands this. But then, when questions themselves are raised as to how much her involvement is in this scheme, other than the repulsive political posturing in her rallies, one cannot expect her to answer these questions.
  •     Lack of political will

MGNREGA has become a tool for creating rural vote banks and spending the state’s money through irresponsible ways of implementation and faking non-existent empathy by the UPA Chairperson and her battalion of dim-witted Congress members. The lack of political will shows in the way politicians comment about the short comings. Either they completely deny the existence of any wrong doing (the convenient Zero Loss Theory) or they try to justify it as a inevitable evil. But the most bizarre justification comes from Mr. Jairam Ramesh himself. In an interviewto Mint he said,
 “I did an exercise recently in which I said: suppose all states operate NREGA with the same degree of efficiency and reliability as Andhra (Pradesh), what will be the total expenditure involved? Thank god for Indian inefficiency. Had we had the entire country follow the Andhra model, we would require an allocation of hundred thousand crores, which is two-and-a-half times of what we are spending. So in a way, in a very perverse way, one can argue that look, we have been saved by Indian inefficiency.” – I have nothing more to add.
For a party, in which members, apparently, do not even dare breathe without the permission of the Congress President, when a minister himself espouses such weird opinions, one can’t but wonder, if she supports such views or if she does not even have a modicum of intelligence to respond and understand the blunders of her ministers.
The above mentioned shortcomings of NREGA are only the tip of an iceberg. To know the larger implications read
  1. UPA-2: Stooping to survive
  2. NREGA – Good politics Bad business
  3.  Did NREGA kill as many jobs as it created?
  4. NREGA and the law of unintended consequences
  5. Mess-up: High food inflation when granaries are bursting

I assume, the argument put forward will be that people cannot expect Sonia Gandhi to micro manage each and every scheme of hers. If so then on what basis is she being bestowed upon, the so-called success MGNREGA has achieved? Is it not sheer hypocrisy in its most blatant display? This dirt is only about MGNREGA. If we dig further regarding the Food Security Bill, the Loan Waiver Scheme, National Food Security Bill (NFSB), Prevention of Communal and Targeted Violence (Access to Justice and Reparations) Bill one would come to know that all these bills are biased, with narrow scopes satisfying personal agendas of the Congress and leftist bigots.

Note – This is the 1st of the 3 part series on UPA Chairperson and Congress President Sonia Gandhi. 

1 thought on “The Real Underachiever”

  1. I agree that Sonia Gandhi is also responsible, but I wouldn't call her the real underachiever. Manmohan Singh is the prime minister, and ultimate responsibility rests with him. However, as the leader of the ruling party, SG bears some responsibility too. That the leader of the majority party is not the PM, this has never happened in India before and takes us into uncharted territory regarding delegation of responsibilities and power. Even if she is not a member of the Cabinet, she is still an MP and, as I said before, leader of the largest party in Parliament. Thus, I agree with this post that MMS is not solely responsible, but disagree that SG is solely responsible too.

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