Modi in Motion

Gimmicks sell. New Gimmicks are sold with meticulous precession before old gimmicks become too old to be ignored. After ‘Make in India’ campaign Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his Independence Day message from the ramparts of the Red Fort announced yet another action plan—‘Start-up India, Stand up India’. The real meaning of these ‘high-value’ and yet less productive slogans is to keep the saffron propaganda machine busy round the clock. The mainstream media as usual is driven by Modi swing and whatever rationality is maintained is due to questionable reasons. How ‘India is Shining’ campaign lost its relevance to vast majority of people in a short period is now history. The fate of ‘Make in India’ push will be no better. It was basically aimed at wooing foreign investors a la China. But foreign companies didn’t oblige Modi in manufacturing sector. And all the tall talk of generating employment, rather employment in factories, has been on paper for the last one year or so. Multinationals are not swayed by Modi’s ‘populism’, they are unlikely to bring in labour-intensive industries despite massive concessions. Tempted by China’s success in export-led manufacturing, Modi thought ‘Make in India’ campaign would sell like hot cake. No, it was not. Many thought and not quite unreasonably, it was hot potato. Without a domestic market manufacturing remains a utopia. What is happening in China is a pointer. The good old days of export-oriented bonanza are no more there. They are now devaluing their currency Renminbi to remain competitive in overseas markets. But degradation of currency is unlikely to save the situation. Nor would it reverse the process of plant closure while rendering thousands of workers jobless in the immediate future.

As Modi’s ‘Make in India’ stunt has failed to build industries, he now needs something new to keep people in good humour. So this new slogan—‘Start-up India, Stand up India’. Though India is in a constant state of flux, this moment, rather Modi moment, in history seems to be both opportune and more dangerous than any other moment in history. This programme too, like the previous ones, in all probability, will fail even before it takes off. After all to talk of entrepreneurship in limited areas is easy, but it is not that easy to create a few million entrepreneurs across the country with the hope of generating many more million jobs and providing livelihood opportunities for the poor in remote villages. Old and small entrepreneurs are dying in a situation of non-elastic domestic market and competition from big shots who deploy job-killing machines in the name of skill development and efficiency. And yet they think new entrepreneurs will flock in thousands to Modi’s ‘Single Window’ solution.

And to give top priority to farmers’ welfare may be the biggest joke of the neo-liberal phase of Indian economy. A deliberate policy of neglecting agriculture over the years has compounded the problems of farm sector, making farmer’s suicide a regular staple item in the media. They are going to rename the Agriculture Ministry as the Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers. Modi, however, in his 85-minute Independence Day address to the nation, didn’t take any trouble to elaborate how mere changing the name of Agriculture Ministry would minimise the spate of farmers’ suicides.

India is slowly but steadily switching over to rich peasant economy while allowing big agri-business to refashion agrarian scenario completely, destroying the age-old agricultural practices and their sustainability. India’s food security lies in small-peasant enterprise but they have already dismantled a major portion of it. With the growing control of multinationals over India’s agriculture it is next to impossible to do any meaningful welfare of peasants. Unless agrarian process is reversed to get back what has been lost—peasant autonomy over agricultural practices—no amount of demagogical outbursts would save farmers from perpetual  drudgery and helplessness.

Quite expectedly corporate India showered praise on Modi’s innovative ideas of ‘Start-up India, Stand up India’. They were a bit euphoric about employment-linked incentives to industry as outlined by Modi in his Independence Day speech. But the captains of industry have all along been demanding stringent labour laws to systematically reduce labour force and favour jobless growth. There is something about the centrality of Modi’s incentive package in defining or re-defining focus on agrarian economy by giving imputes on productivity through enhanced irrigation facilities and improvement in soil fertility. In truth they are talking Turkey. By soil fertility what they actually mean is to increase use of fertilisers and chemicals, which in the first place, have virtually ruined Indian agriculture, making it vulnerable before market forces. They are hoping to have a good share of exchequer in the form of incentives, if the Modi plan gets implemented. It remains to be whether it could be a game-changer or not for labour-intensive industries like textiles, leather, food-processing etc.

As for corruption Modi had nothing new to add other than reasserting that the steps taken by his government had started yielding results. The ground reality is otherwise. Repeated exposures of scams in high places, in recruitment, in admission in educationational institutes and almost in every government department at lower levels tell a different story. And they have stopped talking how to curb the menace of black money. Judicial activism seems to be the only option for social activists to fight corruption. And Modi’s resolve to combat communalism sounds ludicrous. Nobody believes it.

Police violence against the weaker sections and minority communities continues, homelessness is increasing, democratic space is shrinking rapidly for the dissenters, saffronisation of culture is menacingly growing and yet they think Modi can make India beautiful through his innovative gimmicks.

Vol. 48, No. 8, Aug 30 - Sep 5, 2015