‘Bad Omens’

The next financial centre might be in china, not in Modi’s India, at least, notwithstanding the Gujarat hype. After the euphoria, Modi’s magic looks less charming even to the blue-eyed boys of the corporate media. With almost 100 days in office, at the time of writing, he seems to have decided not to talk of ‘good days’, which he used to talk frequently during electioneering. People in the streets cannot distinguish between ‘bad days’ and ‘good days’. The vicious cycle of deception continues unabated. By-poll results of 18 assembly constituencies in Bihar, MP, Punjab and Karnataka show a wave does not last forever; saffron colour is fading, rather quickly much to the dismay of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The fact is that BJP bosses don’t attach much importance to the ‘moderate’ set-back they have suffered in assembly by-elections but they cannot dismiss it lightly in view of forthcoming legislature elections in a number of states. Among many factors that influence the mood of the electorate, it is caste that plays the decisive role in any electoral outcome in Bihar. The opening and closing ceremonies of by-polls in Bihar look more caste-driven than ever before. Without caste the mandalites will be jobless.

Reversal in by-polls didn’t deter the BJP chief Amit Shah to assure the people of Jammu, that his party would get a majority in the next assembly election in Kashmir and form a government. In truth his Kashmir campaign was well orchestrated with a little bit of jingoism and it was well supplemented by the BJP ally Shiv Sena that wanted an immediate war with Pakistan because of the latter’s repeated violation of cease-fire and firing at Indian border villages. Just in the last week of August, Pakistani troops reportedly shelled and fired upon 40 border outposts and 24 villages on the Indian side. Surprisingly, what Indian troops did in retaliation was not reported. While striking an emotional chord with the people living in the border helmets, Mr Shah recognised the plight of refugees of 1947, 1965 and 1971 in Jammu and Kashmir and promised them rehabilitation in safer places. But the victims of communal disturbances that plagued the valley in the 1980s with the rise of jihadists, are continuing to languish in camps. The BJP in their earlier stint in New Delhi did nothing for them. In the end what they will do this time is anybody’s guess.

But the problem of refugees relating to the years of 1947, 1965 and 1971 in the east is no less grave and daunting. People who were forced to leave their homeland—erstwhile East-Pakistan—in 1947 and 1965 and again migrated from newly created Bangladesh in 1971, are refugees still. After so many years they have not been naturalised yet and are treated not as Indian citizens. Ironically, the Shahs are hoping to come to power in Bengal also, riding mainly on the wounded Hindu sentiments of East Bengal refugees. No central government at any point of time tried to address the partition-related tragedy in its totality. It is unlikely for the Modi dispension to behave differently.

As for Bengal and Kashmir, the burning question is political refugees. But today ‘Development and Growth’ refugees far out-number political refugees. One can see them in every state—in jungles, in hills and in backward areas. If anything the number of ‘development’ refugees is directly proportional to the level of backwardness of the region concerned. More backward the region more ‘development’ refugees are likely to face more uncertain future.

Meanwhile Modi has floated an ambitious plan of extending banking facilities to every household, albeit existing banking service is collapsing because of shortage of staff and unaccounted loot by business tycoons, corrupt politicians and notorious bureaucrats. Instead of recruiting more employees to cope with the mounting work-load they have been systematically curtailing the staff strength since the 1990s. To translate Modi’s pet scheme—the Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Joyana—into reality over seven crore households would need to be enrolled to open their bank accounts. But more casualisation and farming out of bank job is on the card. And both employees and officers who periodically resort to strike to press their demands, feel insecure, no job security in the prevailing economic culture.

Modi’s bank-account programme is just continuation of Congress Party’s populism without much substance. Under the prime minister’s ‘Dhan Yojana’ (wealth project) every account holder will get a RuPay Debit Card with Rs 100,000 accident cover in addition to insurance and pension products. They have abolished the 100 days’ work and are now trying to salvage the situation by introducing a new project—Dhan Yojana. Also, it may be a back-door attempt to revive, now discarded and condemned, AadhAar-linked bank transfer scheme.

Not many people, not excluding some heavy weights of the corporate lobby, are pinning too much hope on Modi’s ability to deliver as quickly as they expected despite the ‘Gujarat certificate’ in his bag. But he is getting applause from some unexpected quarters. China sees ‘rosy pictures’ in India-China bilateral relations because their old friend Modi is well entrenched in the saddle. The policy makers in Beijing think, as reflected in their recent discourses in the media, anti-China hysteria in India’s public opinion since 1962, has been mitigated since Modi assumed office three months ago. With Chinese President Xi Jinping’s slated state visit to India, drawing near, Beijing has added reasons to see everything bright in Modi’s statecraft, whatever be the ground reality. They are too optimistic about Modi. Meanwhile the much publicised Qinghai-Tibet railway line stretching from Lahasa to Shigatse which has already been opened to traffic, comes closer to Indian borders near Sikkim. Whether their long-time friend Modi would like it or not is not known.

Vol. 47, No.9, Sep 7 - 13, 2014