In his address to the nation on India’s 75th Independence Day, Prime Minister Narendra Modi expanded the pithy slogan of his government ‘Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas, Sabka Vishwas’ (the support of everyone, development for everyone, the trust of everyone) with ‘Sabka Prayas’ (everyone’s effort).
‘Sabka Vishwas‘ was added after the BJP’s resounding victory in the 2019 general elections. The phrase served to not only underscore the trust the people of India had reposed in the party, but also signalled to all political opponents and those that didn’t vote for the BJP that their trust would also be sought.
So what is the significance of this latest phrase now, smack in the middle of Modi’s second term? This seemingly innocuous addition is open to interpretation and warrants a discussion.
In its immediate invocation, ‘Sabka Prayas’ naturally takes its meaning from the context of the COVID-19 pandemic in India. The height of the destructive second wave saw a lot of criticism directed at the government, even by the party faithful, for prematurely celebrating a victory against the virus, failing to anticipate the spread of new variants, holding huge election rallies and religious festivals at a time when cases were spiking, and a faulty vaccine policy amended later possibly at the heels of criticism by the Supreme Court.
Faced with a rising number of deaths and a nationwide oxygen shortage, a defensive BJP called for people to come together and take the fight against the pandemic in their own hands, to supplement government efforts rather than merely issue criticism from home (forget the fact that if it weren’t for the criticism, the government would have probably continued celebrating its faux victory and making questionable decisions). This is most likely the impetus for updating the slogan mid-term, and why the additional new slogan is phrased as it is.
‘Sabka Prayas’, in the other natural line of interpretation, can possibly mean the effort of everyone towards crafting India’s development story. But such a thought, on the face of it, is obvious – so why add it to the slogan? Possibly because prayas, or effort, in the BJP’s dictionary, is that which humbly goes along the directives dictated by the government and does not question its motives.
By now there are enough examples that show that the present-day government does not tolerate dissent well. ‘Sabka Prayas‘, announced on our Independence Day, carries the obvious connotation that everyone must make an effort towards the betterment of India and that this mean supporting the government through thick and thin.
Extrapolating from the above, it seems that ‘Sabka Prayas‘ has an element of involving the people in what is ostensibly the government’s work. It can thus easily be wielded as a ready excuse by the government to account for policy failure; a convenient way to shift the burden of deficient policy execution to the people – the end users – instead.
This reversal of responsibility is exactly what the slogan should not imply.
Neither the PM nor his government should be considered exempt from the moralising lessons of their own slogans. Since PM Modi was speaking to the people, it could seem obvious at first that the phrase is meant for the people – but it should equally apply to government functionaries as well.
‘Sabka Prayas‘ should mean democratic policy making that takes into account people’s views in drafting laws (unlike in the case of the farm bills) and not be a phrase that acquits the prime minister and his cabinet for bad policy decisions or for working less. It means the government should own primary responsibility for its response towards the pandemic; that it does not transfer blame to the people for faulty working of any programme or scheme; that it turns a reflective eye to its own functioning that dismantles democratic parliamentary practices or passes important Bills without a discussion in mere minutes.
If ‘Sabka‘ implies inclusiveness and equal participation of all, then it calls for the ruling party to listen to the dissenter and political opponent – which cannot happen if one repeatedly, since the last four sessions, adjourns parliament early. It calls for extending a hand to minority communities made insecure by alienating speeches and discriminatory legislation like the Citizenship Amendment Act.
An ideal instantiation of ‘Sabka Prayas‘ should focus on both an inclusive involvement of citizens in implementing sound government policy on ground, as well as ensuring that the government’s various offices do the work that they are obligated to do and are held accountable for doing just a bare minimum.
In the latter understanding, this means the collective effort of all elected members of local bodies, members of state legislatures, members of parliament, and especially the executive (including the vast bureaucracy) to jointly work towards India’s development and her people’s welfare in a democratic and legal way, within the principles and the spirit of the constitution. It also means having the maturity and courage to take responsibility where and when it is needed.
For the phrase ‘Sabka Prayas‘ to not be in discord with the rest of the slogan, its lesson should apply to both the people and the people’s elected and non-elected representatives. I sincerely hope that the latter group, when listening to the prime minister coin his new phrase, realised this too.
Abhiraj Singh is an independent researcher. Views are personal.
Featured image: Prime Minister Narendra Modi waves at the audience during the 75th Independence Day function at the historic Red Fort, in New Delhi, August 15, 2021. Photo: PTI/Kamal Singh