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Budget barometer for Modi loyalty

Modi in New Delhi on Tuesday. (PTI)

New Delhi, June 10: The first general budget the Narendra Modi government presents next month will show if it is “faithful” to the BJP’s manifesto or has been influenced by “all shades of lobbyists”, a former Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh pracharak-turned-ideologue said today.

Mahesh Sharma, an alumnus of IIT Delhi who became an RSS whole-timer, was speaking at a discussion, organised by the Deendayal Research Institute, on what “development model” India should adopt.

Rangan Dutta, a former bureaucrat who served as the chief secretary of Assam and director-general of the Council for Advancement of People’s Action and Rural Technology, rejected the existence of a “Gujarat Model” that the BJP had displayed as the centrepiece of its 2014 election campaign.

Dutta, who is associated with the institute that functions as one of the Sangh’s premier think tanks, said: “I primarily feel that Indian planning is so highly centralised that there is no scope for a state model. At best, Gujarat is an innovative performance model that is an example of sound implementation of the programmes and schemes earmarked under the state plan and the Five Year Plan. Unfortunately, the Indian system of planning gives little scope for states to take initiatives.”

While Sharma, a close associate of the late Sangh sarsanghchalak K.S. Sudarshan, said nothing beyond a pithy comment on his budget expectations, Dutta countered the advocacy of infrastructure building as a catalyst for development and growth, an idea propounded by Prime Minister Modi and the BJP.

“Infrastructure is not development and growth. If that is so, Nigeria would be the world’s most developed country,” Dutta said.

Dutta said last month’s issue of The Economist was a “reality check for India” because it described India as a “giant economic mediocrity” caused by having too many economists.

“Let’s get certain facts clear. Nearly 90 per cent of our employment is generated by agriculture and small trade and industries, only 10 per cent from the organised sector. Of that handicrafts contribute 15 per cent but that figure is declining. Seventy-five per cent live below the poverty line, earning, according to the World Bank, less than two dollars per day. Seventy per cent of people live in villages and own or work on land that is under-irrigated.

“Look at the GDP spending. Our defence forces say two per cent or more should go to defence. Three per cent of the GDP goes for education and not even 1.5 per cent on agriculture. One part is that roads under the Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana (initiated by the Vajpayee government) have helped rural trade and commerce. But we need more than that. Positive investment in agriculture is necessary,” Dutta said, suggesting obliquely that he had not been taken in by Modi’s concept of obliterating the rural-urban divide by evolving a “Rurban” model.

“The finance minister said in due course, 85 per cent of our population will live in cities. If this happens, our society will disintegrate because rural people are the custodians of our natural resources.”

Nor was he impressed with the proposal of creating 100 new smart cities because, in his view, a smart city was a contradiction in terms in India. “Not a single city in India can be called developed or world class because you cannot have a world class city where 90 per cent people work in the unorganised sector. You cannot have a world class city in a third world country,” Dutta said.

The research institute and outfits like the Swadeshi Jagran Manch, that existed on the periphery of the RSS when the BJP was out of power at the Centre or as “friendly” advisory bodies or fringe pressure groups in states where the BJP ruled, have acquired a life of their own whenever the party has been voted into power in Delhi.

Sources said their ability to leverage their position have depended on “signals” they received from the Sangh’s top bosses. For instance, when Sudarshan helmed the Sangh, the SJM acted as a parallel economic ministry to the Vajpayee government and ended up knocking down a couple of its pet projects.

Sources claimed that under Mohanrao Bhagwat, the present sarsanghchalak, the RSS-BJP equations had changed “vastly”. Bhagwat had staked everything in choosing Modi as the BJP’s candidate for Prime Minister, going against the counsel of his own colleagues and some BJP seniors.

“It is unlikely he will give much leeway to unwanted advice. But of course, he won’t gag contrarian voices if he thinks the BJP or the government is straying from the intended path,” a source said.