PM makes a great start, with a regular radio address
Given how decades of both a welfare and an all-interfering state has sapped so much of the can-do spirit of people, reviving it is never easy. If one class of people have got used to the government subsidising the price of everything from wheat to cooking gas, another has learned to live with not being able to set up world-class businesses given the number of restrictions in terms of labour and land laws and all manner of licensing requirements and price restrictions; even farmers are subject to all manner of restrictions in terms of moving their commodities across states and in terms of where they can sell these. Which is why, even the most reformist of ministers within governments have come a cropper when it comes to cutting subsidies which, everyone knows, don’t even reach the targeted audience—note the difficulty the government is having in announcing that diesel prices will be linked to market prices even though the current administered price of diesel is R1.9 per litre higher than the current market price.
It is in this context that prime minister Narendra Modi’s decision to address the nation at least twice a month—the maiden address was made on the occasion of Dussehra—through All India Radio needs to be seen, an attempt to change the narrative through regular interaction using, if need be, all manner of parables combined with modern-day developments to revive the citizen’s pride in herself. Given how Modi adapted the runaway social media phenomenon, the ice-bucket challenge, to propagate his Swachh Bharat Andolan—he invited 9 people to carry on the good work and they, in turn, will invite another 9 and so on—it is not surprising that he understands the power of the radio to spread his message.
Who in the government, he asked citizens in his most avuncular tone, went to work on the Mars mission? No one, he answered, it was the scientists who achieved this at a fraction of what other countries have spent … if we have the capabilities, he asked, why are we so disheartened? While not spelling out the excruciating detail, Modi promised that the government would try and get out of the way of individuals going about their daily business, but after that, it was up to people themselves—this country, he said, didn’t belong to just the government, it belonged to everyone. Quoting Swami Vivekananda, Modi talked of a tiger cub which had been brought up by sheep and behaved like one until another tiger took him to a well and showed him, through his reflection, he was a tiger too. Of course there are many things only the government can do given its control over the economy—no private citizen can simply decide to build a road, for instance—but for the rest, it is really up to people to chart out their destiny. All of this, as Modi would recognise, is a two-way process—until the government stops giving people dole as their right, to stick with the food and petroleum subsidies theme, people are not going to stop thinking it is their due. This is why not hiking gas prices or not freeing up diesel prices is so disappointing.