Into the last stretch of hard-fought election battles from one state to the next, the story of missing words from the political dictionary used by contending leaders symbolises the nature of the campaign. You can take your pick of them, but for me, the significant absence is of "acche din" and "secularism," the first from the BJP's campaign and the second from that of the main opposition party, the Congress.
This time, not even by mistake was the 2014 campaign slogan of "acche din" uttered even once by either Narendra Modi or Amit Shah. Even a minimum sense of accountability would have surely persuaded these leaders to inform the nation to what extent they have delivered "acche din."
But false claims have few takers. Having spent over Rs 4,000 crore in self advertisements, the Modi government finds itself unable to overcome the painful reality of failed schemes. Take the Jan Dhan Yojana. In March this year, the website showed that there were around 34.87 crore accounts with a total of Rs 93,567 crore in deposits. This works out to just about Rs 2,683 on average for each account - hardly a vote-catcher and more a reminder of the jumla of Rs 15 lakhs promised in each account.
The much-trumpeted free gas connection scheme, the Ujjala Yojana, according to government claims, provided 34 crore free gas connections to poor women. Across India, women who received the connections know the reality. Nothing free about it. Each recipient has to pay Rs 1,600 in installments. Till January this year, Rs 9,968 crore has gone into the government's kitty for the "free gas". If you include the savings of Rs 3,690 crore from the subsidy cancelled on 13 lakh gas connections, the government has collected Rs 13,658 crores from the people themselves - which is around 68 per cent of the total cost of the scheme. Meanwhile, the prohibitive price of the gas cylinders, a hike from Rs 392 per cylinder when Modi took office, to over Rs 800 today, with the subsidy covering the cost only partially, means the gas stoves lie unused in the homes of the poor while women continue, in the main, to use polluting cooking fuels.
The Mudra bank loan scheme, another Modi flagship programme, shows that on average, recipients got just Rs 46,000 as loans, while banks have warned that this is going to result in another huge scam of NPAs. There is no record or monitoring to show whether these loans helped increase incomes or livelihood opportunities. The story is the same for other schemes too.
In these five years, what is confirmed is that the rate of unemployment is the highest in 45 years. Instead of the promised two crore jobs annually, there was a loss of 1.1 crore jobs post demonetisation.
The average farm income is the lowest it has been for the last 14 years. There was a 42 per cent increase in farmer suicides in the first three years of Modi's taking office with the number climbing to 48,000 after which the government stopped publishing statistics of farm suicides.
The average rural wage decreased or remained stagnant, the average number of work days under MNREGA came down because of inadequate funds by the central government, while the wages paid under the same rural employment scheme were less than the minimum wage in 33 states and UTs.
In five years, widow pensions on the account of the central government did not increase by a single rupee.
Inequalities in India saw a massive increase in which just one per cent of the richest now own 73 per cent of the wealth.
Instead of answering what happened to "acche din" and the utter failure of the Modi regime in delivering a single electoral promise, the top leaders of the ruling party have run an abusive, shrill, negative campaign against the entire opposition on a fake nationalism platform in which everyone opposed to them is termed anti-Hindu, pro-Pakistan traitors. Pragya Thakur Singh, an accused in a terror case, being given a BJP ticket is symbolic of the toxic campaign which leaves deep wounds on the polity even when its proponents lose, as they will.
But in the face of this openly divisive and communal campaign, the main opposition party, the Congress, has refused to defend the basic concept of secularism in this election campaign. The word itself is missing from the platform of that party. Congress leaders talk of love versus hate, hugs versus hits, and so on, but never once in a single speech, has there been a word on secularism. It was India's Home Minister who stated in parliament four years ago that secularism was the cause of all India's ills and it would seem that those most influenced by such unconstitutional words were the leading party of the opposition.
Why has the main opposition party abandoned taking on a debate on secularism? Secularism has many aspects. But the fundamental principles of secularism are that the State has no religious identity and that religion and politics must remain separate. In the Bommai Judgement delivered in 1994 two years after the criminal demolition of the Babri Masjid, the Supreme Court, reiterating that secularism is part of the basic structure of the constitution which cannot be changed, had said "The Constitution does not recognise, it does not permit, mixing religion and State power. Both must be kept apart. That is the constitutional injunction. None can say otherwise so long as this Constitution governs this country. Politics and religion cannot be mixed."
Politics and religion cannot be mixed. But this is exactly what the Congress has been doing, a soft version of it. Photo-op temple-hopping at the time of elections, use of religious symbols to distance itself from the BJP charge of minority appeasement, declarations of being a bhakt of this or that deity, giving up social reform in the name of faith, remaining silent or absent when innocent people are killed in the name of cow protection - the list is quite long. No wonder Arun Jaitley, the current "his master's voice", mocks the Congress leadership, claiming the success of the BJP in establishing the importance of a religious identity.
Yet secularism and secular principles are at the heart of the battle to save India from the disaster that awaits it were the BJP to return to power.
The backstory of the "missing words" in the campaign also points to the need for an alternative vision, policies and politics. It must be a vision which is uncompromising in its defence of the basic structure of the constitution both in words and deeds and equally committed to change, to reverse economic policies which in the name of reform have led to the most obscene social and economic inequalities. It is only then that India will see the beginnings of acche din.
Brinda Karat is a Politburo member of the CPI(M) and a former Member of the Rajya Sabha.
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