Prime Minister Narendra Modi will complete one year in office on 25th May 2015. His swearing-in ceremony was on 26th May 2014. PM’s achievements remain contested true to his polarising personality. While the PM’s followers exaggerate his achievements as unprecedented, his detractors can only recount the promises that remain undelivered. An honest assessment becomes difficult if not impossible. However, here we are trying to capture some trends and directions of the Central Govt. headed by PM Modi.
True to the election slogan, “abki bar Modi sarkar”, it would be more appropriate to call this Govt. as Modi Govt. rather than NDA Govt. There have been reports in the media wherein NDA partner organizations have criticised the policies of Modi Govt. The Swabhimani Shetkari Sanghatana, a NDA partner from Maharashtra and Akali Dal have been critical of the proposed amendments to the Land Acquisition Act, the Shiv Sena has been opposed to the Jaitapur Nuclear Power Plant in Maharashtra. In fact, during the Assembly elections in Maharashtra, the Shiv Sena compared the BJP with the army of Afzal Khan descending on Maharashtra. In contrast to the previous UPA Govt., the PM may be wanting to convey that he is a tough PM and he alone decides. However, in democracy, one has to carry every section and every interest along. There was a classic photograph published in media wherein PM Modi was sitting on a high chair whereas all the other cabinet ministers were sitting on a lower pedestal giving clear message to all as to who wielded real authority. The private secretaries of the ministers needed approval of the PMO, ostensibly to ensure that they did not appoint their relatives and acquaintances as their private secretaries. Why a simple instruction did not suffice and why the ministers appointed by the PM were not trusted to follow the instructions and what was scrutinized by the PMO would remain a mystery.
The Modi sarkar reportedly centralized authority in the PMO. The secretaries of all the ministries reportedly had the access to the PMO and the PMO could call for any file from any ministry. The decision making would certainly be faster, but all fast decisions are not necessarily best decisions. PM Modi could decide the fate of Rafael deal in France without involving the Defence Ministry and undertake unprecedented numbers of foreign tours beginning with Bhutan, Sri Lanka, Nepal, UK, Germany, US, Canada, Australia, China and ending with Mongolia. The Minister for External Affairs was left handling safety of 39 Indians in Iraq such other functions. PM Modi was the face of even the relief work in Nepal for the earthquake victims. The PM addressed the NRIs in the countries he visited with an eye on media coverage back home and talked about domestic politics. While addressing the NRIs he would also announce routine decisions on procedures for granting of visa.
Centralising decisions in one authority tends to favour those who are close to and can have better access to the authority concerned. The more powerful an authority is, the more discretion it enjoys and policy discretions tend to benefit politically privileged. The PM enjoys the reputation of being business friendly and hence his campaign – ‘ease of doing business’ and ‘make in India’. These campaigns meant lesser scrutiny and regulations for business, faster clearances and permissions, lowering of corporate taxes, laxer environmental regulations, more liberal hire and fire labour regime weakening the labour unions, pushing the wages down and a state facilitating land acquisition and investing huge amounts of tax payers money in creating better infrastructure for the industries. Mumbai-Delhi Industrial corridor and running bullet train from Mumbai to Ahmedabad were the priority for the Govt. Compare this with some of the priorities of the previous UPA Govt., even though they too were no less business friendly. UPA came up with some spending on welfare schemes like MNREGA, food security, Right To Information Act and so on.
SCs, STs & NITI Aayog
The allocation for Special Component Plan (SCP) for the Scheduled Castes and Tribal Sub-Plan (TSP) in the 2015-16 Union Budget was reduced from Rs. 43,208 crores in the previous Budget to Rs 30,851 crores and from Rs 26,715 crores in the previous Budget to Rs 19,980 crores respectively. This fell much short of the officially accepted requirement of allocations in proportion to population share. According to SCP and TSP Guidelines, 16.6% of the Plan Outlay, amounting to Rs 77,236 crores should have been allocated for SCP; and 8.6%, i.e. Rs. 40,014 crores should have been allocated for TSP. (Dogra, 2015)
If the allocation for the SC & ST in the 2015-16 Union Budget was reduced, it was also very disappointing for Muslims because there is no significant (Rs.4 crore) increase in the budget allocation in 2015-16. On the other hand, the government has decreased the allocation in the revised budget for about Rs 569 crore which has affected the functioning of schemes like MSDP and scholarship programmes in 2014-15. (Khan, 2015). The Budget Estimate for the year 2015-16 is Rs 3,738 crores. The revised estimate for current year 2014-15 was Rs 3,165 crores as against the budgetary allocation of Rs 3,734 crores. (Jafri, 2015). The Minister of Minority Affairs Ms. Najma Heptullah was more concerned with spending money on schemes to incentivise increased fertility of the Parsi community than lack of livelihood and education among other socially and educationally backward minorities.
The Planning Commission was replaced by NITI Aayog by the Modi sarkar. The Planning Commission, according to the Modi sarkar was relic of command economy era. Over the period, the Planning Commission was adopting more inclusive policies and had come with the concept of allocation for the SCs and STs in proportion to their population in the Plan Outlays. The Eighth Five Year Plan first mentioned the word “minority” and the need to bridge the gaps between different marginalized sections of the society and bring them on par with the rest. The Ninth Five Year Plan concentrated on all round development through social and economic empowerment as well as social justice. Implementation of provisions for minorities began in the Tenth Five Year Plan. This plan focused on the socio-religious development of different marginalised groups, including women and minorities. The Eleventh Five Year Plan focused on a more inclusive growth with emphasis on equal opportunities for all. The six major categories out of 27 targets at the national level were - (i) Income and poverty; (ii) education; (iii) health; (iv) women and children; (v) infrastructure and (vi) environment. The Twelfth Five Year Plan had even higher allocations for the marginalized sections. (Dewan & Mhatre, 2015, pp. 15-16)
Replacement of Planning Commission with NITI Aayog should be seen in this light. The NITI Aayog would not carry the baggage of inclusion of the marginalized. The Aayog is in the nature of think tank for “transforming India”, focusing on developing infrastructure for the industrial corridors and markets.
Autonomy of educational institutions
Besides PM Modi, if there was another minister in news, it was the Minister for Human Resource Development – Ms. Smriti Irani, most of the time for wrong reasons. The HRD minister had aplenty confrontation with various educational institutions e.g. over scrapping of four year UG programme of Delhi University; withdrawal of Amartya Sen from second term of Chancellorship of Nalanda University, alleging that the Govt. did not want him to continue; controversy surrounding resignation from the of IIT-B Board of Governors by former Director of Atomic Energy Commission Anil Kakodkar, and R K Shevgaonkar; replacing German with Sanskrit as compulsory subject upto Std. X mid-term in Kendriya Vidyalays were a few of them. The autonomy of educational institutions was being undermined. In Haryana Gita will be taught in schools and in Rajasthan schools, Surya Namaskar has been made compulsory
Top RSS functionaries including Suresh Soni, Krishna Gopal Dattatray Hosbale along with BJP leader J P Nadda and Ramlal met the HRD Minister to demand “correction” of the history taught in school. The meeting held on 30th October 2014 was sixth such meeting (Yadav & Mathew, 2014). Dinanath Batra written books were prescribed by the Gujarat State Govt. to the school students for additional reading. These books contain history coloured with Hindu Nationalist perspective, glorification of past with the objective of instilling false sense of superiority and pride based on unsubstantiated facts. History is mythologised and mythology is historicized. PM Modi himself based his statements during inauguration of Science Exhibition in the Mumbai University stating that in India technology of plastic surgery was known and the proof of it was in Lord Ganesha wherein they knew how to implant elephant head on a human body. We were left wondering how a massive elephant head weighing a few quintals could be carried on human neck even if successfully implanted. As a mythology, the story may be extremely instructive and useful to believers and we must fully respect their right to do so. Similar statements were made by various BJP leaders stating India had discovered nuclear missiles couple of thousand years ago. Such conformism on part of students limits the critical faculties. Frontiers of knowledge and understanding of truth develop when we critically examine the established beliefs, knowledge and truths.
The Hindu Nationalist cultural consciousness
The Hindu Nationalist cultural consciousness is rapidly diffusing in the society. Hindu Nationalist cultural consciousness is different from Hindu religious consciousness which is varied in its manifestation. It may manifest as notions of purity and pollution that informs practices of with whom one can have roti-beti (inter-dining and matrimonial) relations, with whom one can associate and sections that one does not consider equal to her/him. And it can also manifest as spirituality as that of Meera, Kabir, Guru Nanak, Tukaram, Ravi Das etc., inclusive and representing love, compassion, equality, pursuit of truth and non-violence as best practices of religion. Hindu nationalist consciousness is political consciousness imagining a political community with caste based hierarchies, defining itself more in terms of who is the ‘other’ of the community and projecting itself to be at constant war with the ‘other’ so defined. Hindu nationalist consciousness is consciousness that is ready to accept an authoritarian state that would uphold the ‘cultural’ privileges of elite upper-caste and violently suppress, exclude and even expel the ‘other’ community.
The polarizing discourse has become bolder with Godse temples emerging in some states and Godse being lauded as Hindu Hero. Godse is being invoked for ratchet up belligerency externally against Pakistan and internally against Muslims. The diffusion of Hindu nationalist consciousness is more rapid and its influence can be seen particularly on the lower middle class urban youth and the rural elite. Increased attack on churches – 11 reported since December 2014, including Delhi, West Bengal, Panvel (Maharashtra), Haryana, Manglore (Karnataka) and MP is one indicator of this rapid diffusion. Ruling party MPs and even ministers are making statements punishable under Sec. 153A of IPC for promoting ill-will, hatred or enmity. Right from Giriraj Singh, Sakshi Maharaj, Yogi Adityanath, Sadhvi Prachi and others. The statements widely reported without Govt. performing its constitutional duty of registering cases under Sec. 153A, 153B, 295 etc, range from calling those not following Lord Ram (Hindus) as illegitimate offsprings, calling Madrasas as dens of terrorism, asserting that the population of Muslims was increasing rapidly and therefore Hindu women should produce at least 4 children and that those who did not vote for Modi (read Muslims), should settle in Pakistan. All these statements are within the teeth of aforementioned Sections. Yet no action was taken against the assertions, and no deterrent action against those attacking the church. The discourse demonizing minorities is being normalized.
Campaign for ghar wapsi (conversion to Hinduism) was undertaken wherein even the RSS Chief Mohan Bhagwat spoke in despicable terms justifying coercive conversion of non-Hindus to Hindu religion in Agra reducing Muslims to chattels stating hamara mal wapas kardo (return our property). The Home Minister instead of taking action against those converting fraudulently or by coercion or by inducement from other religion to Hinduism called for anti-religious conversion law. Similarly open campaigns were taken to coercively prevent marriages of Hindu girls with non-Hindus against the will of the couple.
All this is normalizing the discourse of Hindu nationalists spewing hatred against non-Hindus. This is diffusing Hindu nationalist consciousness which in turn is justifying construction of a cultural nationalist authoritarian state. GujCTOCA a draconian legislation was passed by Gujarat Assembly. Modi sarkar through the President gave its assent to the anti-cow slaughter legislations which is handy to harass the minorities and reduce them to second class citizens. The cultural nationalist state reduces the citizens to subject status some having a sense of privilege while others openly second class subjects and this in turn facilitates free market and aggressive capitalism.