Modi Sarkar’s First Birthday
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 Defense 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 discretion’s 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. Guj CTOCA a draconian legislation was passed by Gujarat Assembly. Modi sarkar through the President gave its assent to the anti-cow slaughter legislation 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.
Collision with the Judiciary: undermining democratic institutions:
Modi sarkar introduced the National Judicial Appointments Commission Bill, 2014 in the Lok Sabha on August 11, 2014 together with the Constitutional (121st Amendment) Bill, 2014, which establishes the National Judicial Appointments Commission (NJAC). The NJAC Act provides for the procedure to be followed by the NJAC for recommending persons for appointment as Chief Justice of India and other Judges of the Supreme Court (SC), and Chief Justice and other Judges of High Courts (HC). If the earlier collegium system was flawed, the NJAC was worst remedy. The Commission would consist of Chief Justice of India (ex-officio) as chairperson, two other senior judges of the Supreme Court next to the CJI (ex-officio), two eminent jurists – to be nominated by a committee consisting of the PM, Leader of Opposition and the CJI.
Union of India is the largest litigant in India. The Minister of Law and Justice representing the largest litigant – Union of India – sitting as a member of NJAC for appointment of judges of the Supreme Court and the High Court amounts to litigant and the judges hearing the litigation sitting together. Justice must not only be done, it must also be seen to be done. Besides, the Minister of Law and Justice along with an eminent jurist on the Commission would have veto power as the NJAC Act states that NJAC shall not recommend a person for appointment if any two of its members do not agree to such recommendation. The NJAC would facilitate higher judiciary amenable to the Union Govt. Rather than focusing on mitigating pendency of cases and improving justice delivery system, Modi sarkar’s priorities have been misplaced. As the CM of Gujarat, PM Modi and Ministers of Gujarat Govt. had to face a number of litigation and two of his trusted aides were convicted – Maya Kondnani and Amit Shah.
The NJAC would weaken the independence of judiciary. Earlier, the PM Modi had called upon the judiciary to have an internal mechanism for self-assessment and introspection, and urged the Chief Justice of India H L Dattu and other judges to reflect if “five-star activists” and “perception” were driving the judiciary today – a public censure of the judiciary by the head of the executive (Anand, 2015). Calling defenders of human rights as “five-star activists” too was not only unfortunate, but also unsubstantiated. It gave an impression that the executive was on collision path with the judiciary. The CJI refused to participate in the NJAC proceedings pleading that the SC is hearing the PIL challenging the NJAC.
Modi sarkar failed to appoint the Chief Information Commissioner and four Commissioners under the RTI Act. This largely rendered the RTI dysfunctional. In the Central Information Commission six commissioners had disposed of 22,351 cases in 2011, whereas in 2014 seven commissioners disposed of only 16,006 cases! Pending cases get stuck for years and make the law which penalises withholding information for more than 30 days ineffective.
Modi sarkar failed to appoint Lokpal. The “Team Anna” enthusiastically cheered by the Hindu nationalists had fought for the legislation for a strong ombudsman as a remedy to corruption. The sarkar won the mandate of the people promising anti-corruption measures but has failed to appoint the ombudsman under the Lokpal and Lokayuktas Act 2013.
Cultural and moral policing
While the moral policing has increased on the streets imposing illiberal and traditional-conservative culture on the society, the Modi sarkar ensured moral and cultural policing by appointment of Pahlaj Nihalani as Chairperson of Central Board of Film Certification. Nihalani is little respected film producer. His credibility is that he had earlier made a campaign Film for PM Modi called “Har Har Modi, Ghar Ghar Modi”. After making it difficult for Earlier Chairperson Leela Samson to continue as chair of the Censor Board after Film Certification Appellate Tribunal certified Messenger of God, featuring Dera Saccha Sauda chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh in lead role, which the Censor Board had rejected, Leela Samson and 12 other Board members preferred to resign.
CBFC members including Ira Bhaskar, M.K. Raina, Pankaj Sharma, T.G. Thyagarajan, Shaji Karun, Anjum Rajabali, Shubra Gupta, Nikhil Alva, Rajeev Masand, Mamang Dai, K.C Sekhar Babu and L.K. Prabhu tendered their resignations on Saturday in a joint email to I&B Minister of State Rajyavardhan Rathore. “The events that led to the chairperson Ms. Leela Samson resigning from her position are merely the proverbial last straw…we have been asking for some critical changes, which are imperative if the functioning of the CBFC has to be reformed. However, in spite of sending numerous recommendations and appeals, and having several meetings with the Secretaries and senior officials of the Ministry, and even one with an earlier Minister, not a single positive step has been taken by the Ministry,” the joint resignation letter said (Singh, 2015).
There was a rebellion in the Censor Board against Pahlaj Nihalani’s style of functioning. A prominent member Ashoke Pandit called Mr Nihalani “anarchist” in his tweet.
Mr. Pandit called Mr Nihalani an “archaic monarch” who treated the Central Board of Film Certification as his “personal fiefdom.” Several Board members are believed to disagree with Pahlaj Nihalani’s somewhat autocratic decision-making style, his scissor-happy ways and his list of banned cuss words which include 15 Hindi cuss words and 13 in English. The film fraternity has also accused Mr Nihalani of “moral policing”. Filmmakers like Vishal Bhardwaj accusing the censor board of behaving like the Taliban (Prashar, 2015).
PM Modi had to face the litigations filed by activists to make him and his Govt. accountable for its complicity in Gujarat pogrom in 2002. Human rights activists also defended the marginalized sections against aggressive acquisition of land for industrialization leading to displacement of adivasis and dalits and those who fought for justice for victims of Gujarat pogroms. The Modi sarkar therefore targeted the human rights defenders in his five-star activist jibe. NGOs under the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act were investigated, particularly Teesta Setalvad of Citizens for Justice and Peace and Priya Pillai of Greenpeace. Their sources of funds were targeted and Priya Pillai was even prevented from flying to UK to make a presentation before the MPs on the environmental damage caused in Chhattisgarh by Essar, a company incorporated in UK. These activists were targeted to scare other NGOs from defending the rights of marginalized and pre-empt any civil society vigilance over violations of environmental laws, labour laws and other laws of the country by corporations and to resist the developmental model proposed by the state.
While the state seemed to be making herculean effort to put defenders of human rights behind bars for alleged violations, the convicted criminals like Maya Kondnani and Babu Bajrangi in Gujarat were able to walk out of jail along with many cops from Gujarat who are facing trials but could get bail in the last one year, including D G Vanzara, N K Amin and others. After being released on bail, Vanzara told his “achhe din” (good days) had come. Gujarat State did not give sanction to prosecute former DGP of Gujarat P C Pande in the fake encounter case of Tulsiram Prajapati. The cops release on bail and still facing trial have been reinstated and even given promotions by the Gujarat Govt. Amit Shah, accused in the Sohrabuddin encounter case was discharged by the court in Mumbai. Earlier, the trial judge who had reprimanded Shah for not remaining present in the court was transferred. The CBI prosecutor’s arguments were not effective and the CBI did not appeal the discharge in higher courts.
The Modi sarkar received a lot of flak for the U-turns. Congress booklet listed 25 U-turns in 180 days (Express News Service, 2014), which included bringing back black money within 100 days, depositing couple of thousands of Rupees in the account of every Indian, and so on. Later Amit Shah, the president of BJP said that the black money brought back to India won’t be deposited into the account of every Indian as it was mere “jumla” (a point made) during elections rallies.
The Swachh Bharat campaign too has not achieved much. It was a clever move to sloganize people. The campaign was bound to fail as the sarkar had pretty little to contribute and required the citizens to act which was not unwelcome. However, cleanliness requires huge resources and equipments keeping land, water and environment and social prejudices clean. The campaign trivialized Gandhiji’s contribution to the nation reducing him to mere icon for cleanliness. The sarkar also tried to undermine the importance of Christmas celebrating 25th December as Good Governance day.
The Modi sarkar should be commended for some achievements as well. The most important achievement is ratification of Land Boundary Agreement with the Bangladesh which was signed in 1974. The ratification will facilitate exchange of land enclaves in each other’s territories. The inhabitants of the enclaves will have the choice to continue to reside within the territories or move to the country of their choice. The inhabitants of the enclaves on both the sides of the border were denied basic human necessities like health services, good education and other infrastructure. The BJP was opposing the agreement. However, this U-turn was welcome.
The financial inclusion of the rural and urban poor facilitating them to open zero-balance accounts with minimum documentation was another good move of the Modi sarkar.
What should we do?
The intention in the above write is not to comprehensively evaluate the performance of Modi sarkar. The intention was to merely flag some issues and map the direction. The direction is towards growing inequalities and further marginalization of the weaker sections while the elite corporations exploit cheap human labour, environment and public resources to mount huge profits. Sections of the marginalized, especially in the rural areas are getting disillusioned with the performance of the Modisarkar. We are not saying that Congress led UPA Govt. was any better. All we are saying is that Modi sarkar has proved to be even worst.
To bring in achhe din for the most marginalized sections – the dalits, adivasis, labourers and peasants, it won’t be enough if we bring awareness about the effects of the sarkar’s policies. Communal consciousness is serving as a balm diverting the attention of the marginalized and locating the causes of their problems and identifying their enemies wrongly among other sections of the oppressed, may it minorities. Communal politics and identity based mobilization pits one section of the oppressed and marginalized against the other, rather than building synergy among the oppressed to transform the oppressive structures and ideologies. But that will also require stronger organizations of the oppressed acting in synergy.
While struggling for better livelihoods and rights, we will also have to ensure that we critically examine our culture and traditions. India is diverse and we need education that teaches us to respect those having different cultural mores, to value plural traditions. CSSS has been supporting peace centres to achieve precisely this objective. More about this in another issue of Secular Perspective.
Anand, U. (2015, April 6). Are 5-star activists driving courts… look within: PM Modi to judges. Retrieved May 21, 2015, from The Indian Express: https://indianexpress.com/
Express News Service. (2014, December 2). 180 days, 25 U-turns by Modi government: Congress. Retrieved May 21, 2015, from The Indian Express: https://indianexpress.com/
Prashar, C. (2015, April 5). Pahlaj Nihalani ‘Anarchist,’ Says Censor Board Member Ashoke Pandit. Retrieved May 21, 2015, from NDTV Movies: https://movies.ndtv.com/
Singh, M. P. (2015, January 17). 12 more Censor Board members resign. Retrieved May 21, 2015, from The Hindu:https://www.thehindu.com/news/