Soon after coming to power, Prime Minister Narendra Modi made a grand announcement to set up 100 new smart cities (later it was revised to 109 cities) in the country.
Later, the ministry of urban development prepared a draft concept note on the smart city scheme. The government announced a plan to develop 100 smart cities to provide better amenities in urban areas. The 100 smart cities are expected to include all state capitals and union territories. It will also comprise 44 cities in the population range of 1-4 million people, nine satellite cities with a population of 4 million or more, 10 cities that are of religious and tourist importance and 20 cities in the 0.5 to 1 million population range.
It’s been nearly two years since PM Modi announced formation of smart cities, but things are still not visible on ground. The moot question, meanwhile, remains if we actually need a smart city?
India is urbanising at an unprecedented rate with various data suggesting that nearly 600 million of Indians will be living in cities by 2030, up from 290 million as reported in the 2001 census. It is clear that Prime Minister wants to take the living standard for big cities to a new level where 24X7 utility services becomes an essential part of public service delivery mechanism.
Under the smart cities schemes, high quality infrastructure and technology based governance will be provided to the citizens. The whole idea looks good for India as it will change the face of country in global market. But there are many other aspects too, which require a lot of brain storming.
The very basic requirement to build a new smart city will require land pulling, that will add more fuel to the heat created due to the suggested changes in Land Acquisition Bill by the NDA government. Even on the ground, farmers are reluctant to give up their plots of land as they know their employment prospects in the new cities are dim, concentrated in low-wage and insecure informal work.
The other and the most interesting facet of smart cities concept is the RSS, which is also a serious ‘backstage’ stakeholder in Narendra Modi led government. It may be a 90-year-old organisation, identified as representing a more conservative set of values. But the RSS is witnessing steady progress by introducing many technologically advanced programmes.
RSS knows that its growth is inversely proportional to the development of smart cities and there will be no place for RSS’s core Hindu ideology if the idea of smart cities comes to fruition in full. For, it will act as a barrier in expansion of its ideology.
It is evident that, according to RSS, two different nations India and Bharat reside within our country and RSS always bats for the very idea of ‘Bharat’. Their view suggest that the very idea of westernisation persists deeply in the urban class which they call India.
RSS also knows the idea of smart cities is so appealing that it will openly fascinate the rural crowd and will directly impact their aspirations. It will be wrong to say that RSS is not present in urban cities but mostly in terms of ideological connect, it is very strong among rural masses.
Even today, ‘Shakha’ plays a vital role in the personality development of many rural and small town children. On the other hand, smart cities will follow the western pattern of development which will consist of tall buildings, largely English speaking crowd, well decorative public spaces and high class infrastructure. It is obvious to understand that such places have no space for RSS to hold ‘Shakhas’ for engaging masses.
A study suggests that in the last one year ‘Shakhas’ have grown by 18% across country. But there is no denying that Modi’s own popularity has played a key role in the sudden growth of RSS and enhanced its reachability towards urban youth.
Modi’s smart city plan is commendably linked to increasing jobs. Newer and better urban infrastructure, in theory, will attract investment and jobs, but the principle of “if you build it, they will come,” in India as well as elsewhere in the world, has produced more white elephants than thriving cities.
RSS used the same argument when Rajiv Gandhi was keen on introducing computers based infrastructure in India but now things are different. This time RSS can’t dare to oppose the idea at open platforms because of two very strong reasons. First, this time the ruling party is BJP, which considers RSS its ideological parent. Secondly, in this globalised era, RSS can’t afford the ire of India’s aspirational youth, which constitutes 65% of India’s population in total.
From a distance, it appears that RSS is going through its golden phase but the truth is that the top brass in the Sangh Parivar is, in fact, worried about the future of their organisation.
Modi’s political and ideological background has been deeply connected with the RSS but since 2002, when Modi was crowned as the chief minister of Gujarat, their relationship saw many ups and down. During his 12 years long regime, he left the RSS, VHP and many other organisations which consider BJP as their political brother fairly marginalised.
But, you may call it the beauty of Indian politics that the same organisation threw their weight and efforts behind Modi during 2014 general elections. Things are different now, despite differences on many issues, Modi and the RSS are incomplete without each other and shaping up the idea of smart cities is need of the hour.