Playing fast and loose with facts to a willing audience has not hurt either Narendra Modi or Amit Shah.
In case you’re wondering where Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s promised “Acche Din” (Hindi for ‘good days’) went, the answer is getting clearer. As part of the Uttar Pradesh campaign, BJP-affiliated social media has been spreading clips of a September 16 TV appearance by party president Amit Shah, where he directly answers this question.
So let’s examine the six claims that Shah, the most influential BJP leader after Modi, made to show how much better our lives are now.
A poor mother burning a wood-fired stove had to inhale the equivalent of 400 cigarettes a day. Now she gets cooking gas from the Ujjwal Yojana, that’s called Acche Din.
Shah seems to have a point here. The Rs-8,000-crore Pradhan Mantri Ujjwal Yojana (PMUY) – that offers below-poverty-line (BPL) households a subsidy to offset the cost of getting a liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) connection – had a strong start since May 2016. In merely nine months, 1.7 crore BPL households have received LPG connections, of a target of 5 crore by 2019. The annual growth in LPG connections has ticked up from an average 10-11% in recent years to 15% in the current fiscal year.
But, as the cliche goes, Rome wasn’t built in a day. In response to studies that found that urban and middle-class Indians gains disproportionately from LPG subsidies, in 2009 the UPA launched the Rajiv Gandhi Gramin LPG Vitaran Yojana (RGGLVY) to expand the network of rural LPG dealers. It also decided to subsidise the cost of an LPG connection to BPL households using the corporate social responsibility funds of India’s petroleum PSUs. These efforts bore fruit: the share of rural LPG distributorships rose from 14% in 2009-10 to more than 40% now, and some 70 lakh BPL households received LPG connections via RGGLVY. Around 17 state governments also had separate programmes to do the same, including Andhra Pradesh’s “Deepam” scheme that started in 1999.
The PMUY is essentially a supercharged version of RGGLVY, and the Modi government deserves full credit for stepping up the funding and delivery targets. The risk is what we saw with the Jan Dhan Yojana: such a target-driven push could produce a huge number of LPG connections that aren’t actually used. This isn’t hypothetical: government numbers show that 47% of households had LPG connections in 2011, but the census that year found that only 29% of households actually used LPG as their primary cooking fuel. Things have certainly improved in recent years, with the weeding out of duplicate accounts and so on, but it’s something to keep an eye on.
That said, the PMUY is a clear step forward from the past.
Verdict: Amit Shah scores on this point
All over north India, farmers used to have to demand their supply of urea, which was in short supply. For the last two years they have received all the urea that they asked for, that is called Acche Din.
Now that’s pretty cheeky. Urea is not a fertiliser generally in short supply in India, as long as imports occur in a timely manner and states lift their quotas. But the most vivid shortage in recent times occurred under the Modi government’s watch in late 2014, when delays in urea imports caused major shortages, sparking unrest and anxious questions in parliament. The 2014 general election did play a role: the outgoing UPA didn’t tender for imports in April-May 2014, and the new government’s Jun 2014 tender failed to attract bids. Urea imports in June-October 2014 fell to less than half of what they had been the previous year. By the time urea imports had picked up, farmers had already planted wheat, mustard and gram and were feeling the pinch.
So when Shah claims that Acche Din have returned for urea consumers, he’s really comparing today with the terrible first six months of the Modi government.
For 68 years, 15,000 villages didn’t get electricity, that’s called bure din [bad days]. When 9,700 of those villages get electricity, that’s called Acche Din.
Moving words indeed. It’s certainly true that the Modi government has stepped up the pace of rural electrification, seeking to connect the last 18,450 Indian villages without an electricity connection. But the NDA’s effort pales before what the UPA did between 2005 and 2014, when it electrified more than 1,07,600 villages.
This doesn’t take away from the Modi government’s achievement: many of the remaining villages are in remote locations and are harder to bring electricity to. But for Shah to claim that electrifying 15,000-odd villages in three years heralds the arrival of Acche Din is just cute.
Verdict: Fail again
For the first time in 37 years, in the case of DAP and fertiliser, a Rs 150-350 reduction in the price per bag is called Acche Din.
Libertarians will love this one (not). Since decontrol in April 2010, the prices of diammonium phosphate (DAP) and other non-nitrogen fertilisers have moved freely, with a fixed government subsidy given to producers to help keep retail prices down. A fall in global DAP prices would in any case have brought the domestic price down from Rs 1,394 (per 50 kg bag) in April 2016 to Rs 1,216 in January 2017. But in late summer 2016 (as attested by a Rajya Sabha answer on August 5, 2016) the fertiliser industry caved in to government pressure (on unproven grounds of “undue profiteering”) and reduced the prices of DAP by Rs 125/bag, muriate of potash by Rs 250/bag and complex fertilisers by Rs 50/bag. What is scandalous is that the government could have achieved the same outcome by increasing the subsidy by an equivalent amount, but chose instead to bully companies into lowering prices.
If coercing fertiliser companies to cut prices is your idea of good market practice, this one’s a winner. If not…
Verdict: Fail worse
To evaluate the quality of farmers’ land by giving them soil health cards, that’s called Acche Din.
A blatant fib, one that Modi himself has often himself repeated. Soil health cards have been in use since 2003, and the UPA issued 2.8 crore cards in its final three years, bringing the total in circulation to around 6.8 crore (source here). Modi relaunched the scheme on 19 Feb 2015, promising to issue 14 crore cards over the next three years, but progress has been slower than expected. Some 5.3 crore cards have been distributed in the scheme’s first two years.
The new scheme involves some compromises. Farms were earlier individually tested, but soil samples are now being taken from 10-hectare (in rain-fed areas) or 2.5-hectare (in irrigated areas) zones, effectively clubbing several farms together. This has speeded up the process of issuing soil health cards, but has made the results potentially less relevant to individual farmers.
To sum up, a good programme, but by no means can it be described as a new contribution.
Verdict: Another fail
60 crore people are without bank accounts, of whom 15 crore people are given bank accounts, that’s called Acche Din.
This is Modi’s favourite scheme to hog credit for. There’s little doubt that the Jan Dhan Yojana has accelerated the spread of basic savings bank deposit accounts (BSBDA) to low-income populations, and increased the accounts’ usefulness by adding life and accident insurance. But the entire architecture of financial inclusion (BSBDAs, Aadhaar, electronic payments, RuPay cards) was created and implemented long before Modi took office.
In the two years before Modi, the UPA opened 4.4 and 6.1 crore BSBDAs respectively, which under Modi jumped to 14.7 crore in 2014-15, 6.7 crore in 2015-16 and 5 crore so far in 2016-17. Assuming conservatively that another government would have opened 6.1 crore BSBDAs per year (as the UPA did in 2013-14), the Modi effect looks something like this:
It turns out that more than 24 crore unbanked individuals were brought into the financial system before Amitbhai’s government took office. A good performance by the current government? No doubt. But an unprecedented break from so-called bure din? Nah.
It’s quite telling that five out of six instances of Acche Din cited by Amit Shah are misleading. It’s hard to live up to promises as inflated as the BJP’s 2014 claims, both about the UPA’s dark ages and their own development genius. But clearly, playing fast and loose with facts to a willing audience has not hurt either Modi or Shah. Maybe that’s what they mean by Acche Din.