Nirmala Sitharamn looked hassled. Manohar Parrikar appeared bored. Venkaiah Naidu was solemn, Suresh Prabhu quiet and Arun Jaitley, who came in late, spoke to the party’s Organising Secretary Ram Lal next to him. BJP national president Amit Shah munched delicately on something as he frequently listened to whatever Shrikant Sharma, said to be close to him, was whispering into his ears.
The banquet hall on the third floor of the hotel had more BJP spokesmen than editors although it was meant to be an interaction with editors. M J Akbar was there and so where GVL Narasimha Rao and Sambit Patra. But it was left to Sitharaman to give a running commentary on slides highlighting the achievements of the Modi Government’s two years in office.
There were 150 slides, she warned and declared that for paucity of time she would skip most of them and concentrate on around 40 of them under six broad areas. The printed handbook, she informed, would be distributed to everyone present at the end of the ‘event’. Why was she then taking the pain to read out the figures on the slides, I wondered as the captive audience dozed through the presentation or looked intently at their smart phones.
Not used to covering such high-level political ‘events’, I wondered if there was a hidden message somewhere. Why is Nirmala Sitharaman doing this, I asked the gentleman next to me in a whisper. He gave me a pitying look before replying, “Because she can speak in English, I guess”. The reply was not to my satisfaction. Even Sambit Patra or Rao or anyone else could have done the honours, why her, I kept thinking , partly to occupy myself. Would she have volunteered? Or was this meant to be a slight? Could it be recognition of her abilities? I gave up soon enough because none of this seemed to make much sense.
Sitharaman’s and the captive audience’s ordeal came to an end after forty odd minutes. She dutifully invited Amit Shah to “say a few words” . The BJP national president grimaced and waved dismissively. No, he did not want to say anything. As if on cue, all central ministers stood up and descended from the height. A large number of ‘scribes’ rushed forward to greet them in search of some ‘wisdom’ from the wise men. Sitharaman seemed to have melted away.
“I would not have come if I knew this is what they had planned,” complained a silver haired gentleman on the next table. “They said it was meant for editors but there are so many reporters covering the BJP beat here,” he exclaimed in evident disgust as he purposefully strode towards the snacks counter. Someone sympathized with him. “Imagine, they are going to repeat all this at a press conference the day after…they just don’t know how to do things,” he said to the first one’s retreating back.
I looked around to find the gathering thinning. Some of the central ministers had sat down with a group of the faithful. It seemed to be a cosy group of the converted. Beating a retreat did appear the better option but I could not escape before being handed over a heavy and elegant bag, the kind you get at conferences. I despaired, thinking that it contained printed volumes on the achievements of the Government.
But on opening the bag, I found six slim brochures on the achievements and a big box of ‘laddoos’ from Haldiram. The brochures and the jacket carried 13 photographs of the Prime Minister but not even one of any other minister barring one photograph in which Kalraj Mishra can be seen peering out.
Contrary to BJP’s fabled competence, however, the brochures turned out to be repetitive and no less than three of them highlighted the scheme to provide free LPG to people below poverty level, a truly commendable initiative unless people sell them off for profit, something that affected various other welfare schemes earlier. Another achievement that is repeated: the electrification of villages.
Not many of those present would have looked at the brochures. That might have been the purpose of giving them out as people took their leave. But some of the claims would have left many of those present flummoxed. Under the head of ‘Employment’, the brochure mentions the central government decision to do away with interviews while recruiting class C and class D employees. Not clear how it would help generate employment.
One of the brochures claimed that the Government had identified 416 job roles for the youth. Among the few mentioned on the brochure were “bamboo growers, apple growers, beauticians, carpenters and auto mechanics”. I was confused. No the party couldn’t possibly be claiming that the Modi Government had done the incredibly smart thing of identifying these occupations, I concluded. It was far more likely that the Government had decided to offer training to those desirous of following these job options.
True enough, the brochures provided details of two training programmes. As many as two million youth are claimed to have been trained under the “Pradhan Mantri Kaushal Vikas Yojana’( PMKVY) while under the ‘Deen Dayal Upadhyay Grameen Kaushal Vikas Yojana’ (DDU-GKVY), just 3.56 lakh youth, presumably rural youth, are said to have been trained.
All BJP MPs, MLAs and party functionaries have apparently been asked to take these success stories to the people in the next fortnight. All of them have been asked to fan out in their own constituencies and highlight the 150 slides. As I resolved to look at the brochures more closely, I couldn’t help thinking that the Modi Government looks still unsettled, claiming too much too soon in its bid to reassure that it has more than fulfilled its promises.