Count-Down Begins

Modi–the Saffron Caesar-II

Bibekananda Ray

Voters' disaffection with the BJP in three States, where it lost, last year has been attributed by analysts to their governments' failure to fulfil certain promises that Mr Modi made in 2014. He had pledged to create two crore jobs per year but as of now more than a seven crore are said to be job-seekers. Only industries create maximum jobs but in the last five years, no big industry came up in public or private sector. The party all along has been stressing on self-employment by training and enhanced skill ("Making and selling pakodas is better than doing nothing", said Amit Shah). Industrial growth came to rock-bottom in 2018, following under-performance of manufacturing firms. The slowing of the economy has been confirmed by the Fitch, Dr Amartya Sen and other economists who attribute it to low food inflation too, eroding farmers' incomes. The Fitch adds, some 1.1 crore people lost jobs in 2018. The 2014 manifesto also promised to check price rise and try hoarders and black marketeers in special courts but neither was redeemed. On the contrary, prices of every commodity soared after demonetisation and the GST from 2017; fossil fuel prices rose to all-time high in 2018 until the government gave slight relief from excise duty. Rupee continued to slide in its exchange rate with US dollar. The manifesto promised brick-homes for every homeless equipped with free or cheap power, water and toilet but ground reality belies the claim. It also pledged to set up 'Diamond Quadrilateral' bullet train network but settled with only a short segment from Mumbai to Ahmedabad with Japan's help. Mr Modi's sensational promise to retrieve black money from home and overseas banks ended up in smoke; by demonetisation, only 99.3% of two banned currencies of 500 and 1000 rupees returned to the RBI; the rest (0.7%) might have been destroyed, remain hidden or exchanged to white money before the Tughlaki measure came into force on 8th-9th November'2016 night. On the 8th, the two currencies accounted for 15.41 lakh crore; the returned notes accounted for 0.10 lakh, i.e., only 10,000 crore. By this bizarre ban, the RBI could have made a profit of 10720 crore rupees but the hasty printing and delivery of new notes cost it 13000 crore; causing a loss of 2280 crore. His another sensational but absurd promise to credit 15 lakh rupees in every Indian's bank account out of retrieved black money turned out to be a hoax. The 2014 manifesto committed to reserve one-third of the seats in Lok Sabha and state assemblies for women by Constitutional amendment but nothing was done. The Women's Reservation Bill, passed by the Rajya Sabha in March 2010 when the Congress-led UPA government was in power is still pending in the Lok Sabha, despite the NDA having a majority in the lower house. It also promised to ensure at least 50% profits over production cost to farmers by reforming Agriculture Produce Market Committee Act 2003, by implementing farm insurance and adopting a 'National Land Use Policy' but nothing was done, except the vague assurance that their income would double in 2022. The party's 2014 slogan, 'minimum government, maximum governance' was not reflected in the size of Mr Modi's cabinet of 74 ministers. He also promised to implement a Uniform Civil Code; nothing has been done on the score. Its promise to build a Ram Temple in Ayodhya" has gone subjudice. It also promised to ensure "return of Kashmiri pandits to their deserted homes in the valley by abrogating Article 370 of the Constitution" but neither was done. West Bengal Finance Minister, Amit Mitra has alleged that the Foreign Direct Investment in 2017 fell to (-)10.26%, owing to negative impact of demonetisation and the GST.

The successes that Mr Modi brags about should have changed India's look; they did not. Dr Amartya Sen and other renowned economists question the flaunted GDP growth of above 7% and allege that on the contrary, Draconian demonetisation and the GST drove the burgeoning economy backward. Dr Sen says, many of his schemes are 'eye-washes' to hoodwink people by rhetoric. He also cites steep rise in employment in the last five years as a betrayal of his pre-poll promise in 2014. An enormous number of posts are lying vacant in Central offices, undermining their efficiency and burdening the shrunken staff. In many cities, heads of offices look after several other offices too. India's alarming problems are environmental pollution, population explosion, unemployment, farmers' distress and inequality of income and assets; in solving or reducing these Mr Modi has drawn a blank. A BJP MP writes in Facebook, rather ludicrously that the government could not compile unemployment data in five years but will do so in next regime (if it returned) and would then create jobs. As in Vajpayee's NDA-I regime, BJP's soul-mates- the RSS and the VHP drew oxygen from BJP's victory in 2014 and with vengeance tried to promote their orthodox programmes; Mr Modi's administration did not rein them. On the contrary, their activists went berserk and in at least 24 places, the RSS activists killed or lynched Muslims for buying or storing beef. Its cow-vigilantes ran amok in Muslim-majority regions and forbade or discouraged sale of old and sick cattle. The VHP revived its agenda of building a Ram Mandir at the site of demolished Babri mosque in 1992, which has since become a disputed land, pending settlement by the Supreme Court. Ten agencies were empowered to keep vigil on the communications by the anti-BJP intelligentsia in their computers and some were hauled up for sedition under a jinxed British-Indian law. Under him, the revamped PMO became over-active and is keeping a vigil on anti-Modi persons and the media.

Mr Modi's venomous spits at the Congress are not only half-truths, or downright lies, but are also in bad taste. No Prime Minister before him brought political culture to such a low; even Indira Gandhi before 1977 poll was more gracious. His constant charges of corruption against the Congress are false or exaggerated. Dynastic succession is not unique to the Congress; it occurs in many other parties and trades, e.g., showbiz industry. Scions of celebrities rise on their own merit; otherwise, the systems will throw them. For example, in February 2010 the Congress-led UPA government signed a contract with helicopter-maker Augusta Westland, a UK-based company for buying 12 AW 101 choppers for the IAF for Rs 3,600 crore but in 2014, cancelled the deal alleging that the integrity of the pact was violated and that the company paid kickbacks to the tune of Rs 423 crore to the IAF for securing the deal. The CBI charged former Indian Air Force chief, SP Tyagi, his cousin Sanjeev Tyagi, the then IAF Vice-Chief JS Gujral and advocate Gautam Khaitan for allegedly being involved in the scam. The Congress was not in the picture. Over 150 military veterans including some former services chiefs wrote to the President expressing 'outrage' over (Mr Modi's) blatant politicisation of (secular and apolitical) armed forces, citing the "unusual and completely unacceptable practice of political leaders taking credit for cross-border strikes as well as claiming the armed forces to be 'Modiji ka Sena (Yogi Adityanath). They deplored the practice of party workers donning military uniforms and use pictures of Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman and of military hardware in poll posters etc. They urged for his intervention in preserving the apolitical character of the services, as such practices by politicians could infringe on the morale and efficiency of troops. Similarly, more than 75 celebrities in cinema and theatre individually (Nasiruddin Shah, Amol Palekar, Konkana Sen Sharma) and collectively in Kolkata issued a statement on 11th April, critical of Mr Modi's observations, alleging 'fascism'. Elsewhere, 600 stage artists, over 100 film-makers and 200 writers in a statement, the same day, urged people to "vote hatred out of power; they were, however, countered by a pro-Modi campaign by over 900 artistes; their statement read: "it is our firm conviction that the continuance of government, led by PM Narendra Modi is "the need of the hour". Indeed, the way the BJP and other parties are following the maxim, "Notes chase votes" by pouring in white and slush funds prove Sir Thomas More's (1478-1535) remark in the 'Utopia' (1516) that democratic governments are a 'conspiracy of the rich' against the poor who give mandate to the former to loot the nation for five years in the pretext of ameliorating the latter.

Mr Modi bent the official media - Doordarshan, Akashvani, DAVP and the Publications Division to disseminate, excessively his own and NDA's successes and claims, eroding their popularity, integrity and independence. Like the TMC government, led by Mamata Banerjee, the NDA spent enormous money, rather blatantly, in building his (Nehru-like) benign image and promoting a personality cult, as all dictators did. In first four years, it spent a whopping 4343 crore rupees on multi-media publicity of its programmes and Mr Modi's image-building. His travels to 92 destinations abroad cost the nation 2021 crore rupees, often unnecessary, uninvited and unprecedented. He and President Kovind's foreign jaunts give the impression that they must make maximum use of their offices, even if unscrupulously. While the JeM suicide bomber was gunning the extra-long CRPF convoy, refused airlift, on Jammu-Srinagar Highway on 14th February, Mr Modi, Nero-like, was enjoying a Sunday break by taking part in a tourist documentary in Jim Corbett National Park; he did not react to the mayhem until six in the evening and returned to New Delhi much later in the night.

To stay in, and return to, power, every elected government all over the world banks on development, or promises for it; Modi government was no exception, nor can it claim any special forte. The difference lies in priority and perception of problems and the party's genetic agenda. Howsoever, Mr Modi may debunk the 134-year old Congress party, governments run by it did strive a lot to reduce poverty after Indira Gandhi gave the historic slogan Garibi Hatao in 1971. Many of the five major rural development programmes, prevalent after Mr Modi took over, were launched and run by the Congress in its 2004-2014 regime, e.g., MGNREGA (100 days' work), NRLM (National Rural Livelihood Mission), IAY (Indira Aabas Yojana), PMGSY (Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana), and NSAO (National Social Assistance) programmes in addition to existing schemes like the Food Security (rationing), ICDC, Antyodaya etc. The greatest boon to poor rural labours by Congress is the 100 Days' Work scheme under the MGNREGA, which Dr Manmohan Singh's government launched in 2012; it continues to be the anchor of survival of landless and marginal farmers. Thus, the record of the Congress party ruling India for 54 years since 1947 except 18 years- from 24th March 1977 to 14th January, 1980 (Morarji Desai & Charan Singh), from 2nd December 1989 to 21st June 1991) (V P Singh & Chandra Sekhar), from 16th May 1996 to 22nd May 2004 and from 21st May 2014 (Narendra Modi)

Recipe For Hindu India
Let us revert to the question: "Will return of Narendra Modi as Prime Minister be good, or bad, for India?" The media has given new interpretation of the Constitutional name of India, Bharat; it means the country of poor people; 'India' means that of the rest. To be fair, despite last year's defeats and media criticism, much of Bharat may want him back but the rest of 'India' remains critical of him, of his acts of omission and commission and of his intentions and the promises. It is not possible to accurately predict the voters' choices in the ensuing poll; such predictions sometimes went awry, as in 2004 when belying guessing games, the Congress, led by Sonia Gandhi returned with a bang. The Rafale riddle, demonetisation, GST and shrinking of job market, Priyanka-Rahul charisma and individual gains or losses are bound to reflect in the EVMs, despite 'three surgical strikes' by the IAF and successful test of Shakti, the anti-satellite missile that took India to the diabolic 'Star Wars Club, founded by late US President, Ronald Reagan.' The civilian awards by Saudi Arabia and Russia before and during the poll, respectively may enchant some voters but certainly not all, as the two countries may be helping him to win.

Mr Modi and the BJP have gone crazy about staying and returning to power, both are making whirlwind tours to nook and corner of the country,as if life is not worth living without it. Pakistan feels, the IAF may again make an aerial strike on POK to help Mr Modi exploit people's patriotism and prove his invincibility, true to the latest slogan: "Modi Hai to Mumkin hai" (If it is Modi, it is possible"). If he makes so much of three routine aerial strikes by the IAF on Muzaffarabad, Chakothi and Balakot, all in POK, what he would have done if India's defence forces won two wars against Pakistan that L B Shastri and Indira Gandhi won in 1965 and 1971, respectively. There are 13 non-BJP States but why Mr Modi and Mr Shah have singled out West Bengal and brazenly want her to quit is a mystery. Could it be that as she is most vocal about BJP's misrule, if she can be muted, the opposition would also be dumb?

No government has ever been above criticism or blame; even the BJP's ideal Ram Rajya was not. If in the BJP's place, any other party or coalition governed India for five years, such assessment could be made before a parliamentary poll. What matters are not the errors or shortfall of governance but the milieu a regime creates or leaves behind, should it fail to return. The ambience created by the second BJP regime after 10 years of interregnum of Congress rule is far from secular democracy. Even after the expiry of the first Modi regime, some Central outfits seem inclined to favour it. The EC paid no heed to the opposition demand to return to ballots, or subject at least 50% VVPATs to scrutiny. In the first phase on 11th April, a number of EVMs did not function and had to be repaired or replaced; 15 of them were destroyed in people's wrath. At least two experts alleged remote interference in their functioning; they were not asked to demonstrate. The ED, the IT department and the CBI function at the behest of the ruling regime; why else should they be overactive before and during the poll?

If the BJP and Mr Modi return, what is going to happen? Of course with renewed zest, they will pursue development schemes, as promised in the Sankalpa Patra (manifesto), released on 8th April, an inkling of which came in the 'interim' budget for 2019-2020, rather unethically presented by the then Finance Minister, Pijush Goyal in lieu of traditional vote-on-account budget. If implemented, these can ameliorate their target population but by far the greatest damage that another BJP-led coalition can do is to the Constitution and to the ambience of India. Mr Modi, or whosoever leads this government, will again have the RSS and the VHP as piggyback-riders to promote their orthodox programmes. Cow-protection and ban on cow-slaughter will go high in the agenda; the fear of Muslims of lynching that seized the community after related incidents in Dadri (28 Sept'15), on Delhi-Mathura Local (22 June 2017), at Rajasamand on 6th December 2017, on Alwar Highway (1st April'17) and Una on 11th July 2016 will deepen. They will certainly bull-doze their way by offloading 'secularism' and pave the way for making India a theistic Hindu State. Ram Mandir will certainly be built in Ayodhya on the disputed, or some other, site. If he again heads the BJP, Amit Shah, will see to it that the National Registration of Citizenship (NRC) is completed in Assam and the controversial Citizenship (Amendment) Bill will be passed; illegal migrants from Bangladesh and Myanmar expelled from Assam and other north-eastern States, wherever migration had taken place will be expelled, creating a mammoth refugee problem like that of Rohingiyas. If Mamata Banerjee stays despite Mr Shah's threat and return in 2021 Assembly election, she won't let them happen in West Bengal.

Although democracy became part of people's DNA, as it were, India had a taste of incipient dictatorship in the last five years, as in 17 months of Emergency (1975-1977); if Mr Modi. Mr Shah and the BJP return to their respective offices, they will make India anchor on it. Secular and democratic India will become a Hindu theocratic dictatorship, as the BJP's manifesto focuses on its goal of nationalism (an euphemism for Hindutwa), the kind of militant nationalism that Rabindranath Tagore deplored in dictators of jingoistic Japan and Nazi Germany in 1926-1927, Mr Modi's recent remark that "whosoever speaks ill of him speaks ill of India has the air of déjà vu, as a similar remark was made during the Emergency, when the then President, Fakhruddin Ali Ahmad said: "Indira is India". The world's 'great dictators' emerged by taking ten steps, all of which Mr Modi took in his first tenure. These are: subverting the Constitution,(messing with RBI, CBI etc.) corrupting and threatening the media (the PMO is said to have a special wing to achieve this), coin catch phrases to trap gullible people (Mai Chowkidar Hoon, Modi Hai to Mumkin Hai" etc.), sops to the corporate sector, subversion of social media and institutions, projection of an external enemy (Pakistan), that of an internal enemy (the Congress Party), forging brute majority, using money power to muzzle opposition, cornering State power, appeasing defence forces and rewriting history ('saffronisation' of Indian history, modern science and text books). The BJP top brass's stout denial of corruption in the Rafale combat jet deal with France and initial victory in the first Supreme Court judgement will be challenged, as the apex court decided to reopen the case on a writ petition in the light of the secret documents in the Ministry of Defence made public by a newspaper. If Rahul Gandhi's charge of secretly benefiting his friend, Anil Ambani to the tune of Rs 30,000 crore by paying inflated price of the jets and getting his greenhorn aviation company an 'offset partner' of the Dassault Aviation is proved. Mr Modi will go down in history as the world's most corrupt Prime Minister. Ironically, a Hindutwa leader has been exposed by a newspaper, called 'The Hindu'!

As a leopard cannot change spots, Mr Modi will not change his obsessions and style and with doggedness and determination gradually transform India into a Hindu State by amending the Constitution. If they lose ("No ruler is invincible", says Sonia Gandhi) in a repetition of 2004 mandate, India will return to its time-tested groove of democracy. If BJP wins but falls short of the magic figure of 272, it may seek support of a like-minded party to form the government, who may demand replacement of unpopular Modi by aspiring Nitin Gadkari, or some other acceptable leader. If he cannot return, India will miss and rue his optimism, megalomania, rhetoric and drama that endeared him to common people in 2014. In any case, his fall will illustrate poet T S Eliot's famous observation: "This is the way the world ends, / Not with a bang but a whimper".


Vol. 51, No. 44, May 5 - 11, 2019