Can you inaugurate something that’s not ready?
If you’re Prime Minister Modi, you can. You parade yourself in an open top jeep, with scores of security guards and attendants, and inaugurate 9 km of a proposed 96 km expressway, that was first proposed in 1999.
The next morning, your followers wake to full-page announcements where your Union Minister of ‘Road Transport & Highways…’ proclaims:
“Congratulations to NHAI and Welspun Group for completing the green and sustainable Delhi Meerut Expressway in record time”.
For a government perpetually in PR and campaign mode, why bother with the details, namely that only one tiny phase of the project is ready?
Talking of campaign mode, it doesn’t harm the party that a by-election is around the corner, and it just happens to be a stone’s throw away from the expressway. Campaigning inside the constituency would be a violation of EC norms, so let’s find a new way of fingering these outmoded pseudo-democratic traditions.
Seizing share of voice in the political marketplace is Modi’s forte, and he leaves the opposition flat-footed several times a week. Every institution – governmental, corporate, or non-governmental is recruited for the purpose.
Opponents can cavil, but the moment is passed.
Finicky folk can point at the facts, but this is a post-truth world.
There is a larger issue with public projects. In our country, especially, large projects span several governments, as they go from conception, through planning, to debate, costing, land acquisition, tendering, and execution. The Delhi-Meerut Expressway was first mooted in 1999. The idea was written into the NCR Transport Plan 2021 in 2005. Chidambaram announced it in his 2006 Budget speech. At one stage, it was to be built by the UP state government; in 2013, it was confirmed that the central government would be responsible for the project.
Given these massive gestation periods, infra-success has many fathers. What matters is who proclaims paternity loudest. Right now. Modi is doing that.