A BJP press release dated January 31, 2016 listed a string of achievements of the Federal government, and stressed the importance of data, and of educating the public to the achievements of the government. The relevant clip:
It is necessary to show the statistics because in the Congress-led UPA-1 & UPA-2 regime, many of these indicators were moving in the opposite direction. Due to economic policies and reforms implemented by Modi government, not only have many indicators improved, but they have improved by large margins.
As statements go, this is unexceptional. It is necessary to monitor progress and to disseminate the results of governmental schemes — lack of transparency was one of the big issues with UPA-II. The problem begins, however, when the line between fact and propaganda is blurred.
For instance, take the initiative of electrifying villages. Power to the people is a laudable objective. It is also a basic infrastructural requirement. Prime Minister Narendra Modi recently took stock of progress, and “was told” that 6000 villages have access to power. Piyush Goyal’s power ministry created an app, and a corresponding web-based dashboard, to track progress — again, commendable for the same reasons of transparency and accountability.
The problem, however, is over-reach. Recording actual achievements is necessary, but why exaggerate? The Hindu, in a report today, points to several discrepancies between claims and ground realities: Ghost villages with no inhabitants declared electrified; villages declared electrified that receive no power; villages declared lit without actual inspection… Worse, in order to show progress, villages that were actually electrified as far back as 2001 are first shown as un-electrified, and then it is claimed that electricity was provided in 2015. (And all this is without the fuzzy definition of “electrification”, thanks to which a village certified as electrified does not necessarily mean that the homes therein are lit.)
A single such instance of fudged arithmetic could be explained away — lazy accounting practices, a bureaucracy over-eager to please its political masters, etc. You cannot expect Mr Goyal (or Mr Modi) to have physically checked each village he claims is electrified. But a few minutes spent on the Fact Checker site reveals a pattern of exaggeration. Thus:
#1. The Road Transport Ministry claims among other things that in its first year, more roads were built, and at a faster pace, than at any time in history. However, the government’s own data contradicts that claim.
#2. The Textiles Ministry claims to its credit new schemes which are actually continuations of existing ones. It also claims that under its watch, India recorded the largest ever procurement of cotton at MSP. It turns out however that the claimed record is eight times smaller than the actual record.
#3. The Telecom Ministry claims credit for an unprecedented growth of broadband subscribers — a growth that had everything to do with the private industry and nothing to do with the government. Further, the government claimed that BSNL and MTNL had increased its subscriber base — but TRAI’s own data indicates that the subscriber base actually declined.
#4. The Railways Ministry claims various “achievements” that prove to be flat out wrong. For instance, it claims that its reforms have led to a 12% rise in earnings — which in fact earnings declined year on year. Fact-Checker questions seven more such claims.
#5. The Food Ministry claims that 1286 projects have been sanctioned under the National Mission on Food Processing during the Modi government’s first year. In actual fact, only 208 projects were sanctioned. And there is more.
#6. The Rural Development Ministry claimed that it had launched a key new scheme — which turns out to be merely the renaming of an existing scheme. What is more, funds for existing schemes aimed at training rural youth for the job market have been drastically cut.
#7. Prime Minister Modi in his radio address repeatedly mentions that the sales of Khadi has doubled since he appealed to people to buy the indigenous fabric. This, he says, is the realisation of Jan Shakti. It turns out that the rise is just under 6% — and even that rise is part of a trend carried over from the previous year.
#8. PM Modi says all schools now have separate toilets for girls — and HRD Minister Smriti Irani, repeating the claim, profusely thanked the PMO for the leadership. Again, not true. (And then there is the question of the toilets that were actually built, and their quality and status).
#9. Most recently, the government was applauded for its LPG scheme having resulted in savings to the tune of Rs 14,672 crore. Turns out that is smoke and mirrors, too — a study indicates that the result is actually a loss of Rs 97 crore.
I found all of the above in course of half an hour spent on the Fact Checker site, following a train of thought prompted by the Hindu examination of electrification claims. And it makes me wonder — why fudge? What could possibly be gained, other than some momentary positive publicity which lasts only as long as it takes to check the facts? You are generally pushed to exaggerate only when, in reality, you have very little to talk about.
Arun Shourie got flak for his pithy dismissal of the NDA government as “Congress plus a cow”. That catchy definition caught the eye, and over-shadowed something else Shourie said that now begins to make sense:
“When all is said and done, more is said than done…. ” and “there is clearer belief (in the present dispensation) that managing economy means managing the headlines and this is not really going to work.”