In the era of ‘instant’ media and information explosion, a government is under the lens from day one. The social media are normally full of intense emotional outbursts between those who support and do not support a government; issues concerning the nation and its citizens naturally take a back seat, if at all that too is not occupied by trollers. Therefore, appraising a government that has been in power for over a thousand days invites a caution. Even a seasoned, honest commentator who in previous years would hope at worst to be ignored for criticisms, runs the risk of inviting the twenty-first century expletives, so wonderfully perfected in these 1095 days, such as ‘sick(sec)ular’, ‘lib (bas) tard’ and press(pros)titute’. Nothing is left to imagination as to what the power dispensation and its supporters think of those who dare to point fingers at improprieties. It is a paradigmatic shift from pre-May 2014 days where critics would at best be engaged in a democratic discourse and at the very worst be ignored.
My objective in responding to the request of the editorial team of Uday India to pen an appraisal of three-years of Modi/BJP government is to look at and analyze the trends in various aspects of governance. The space being limited, I shall only point out trends objectively. Where I may be sounding partisan should be pardoned as human brittleness of a concerned academic, who is no less a nationalist than flag waiving and slogan shouting nationalists of today.
A Paradigm Shift
The sixteenth general election brought a paradigm shift in the history of the Indian polity. For the first time, a non-Congress party, that too Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), with a hugely contested political history, attained an absolute majority in the Lok Sabha (the Janata Party that defeated the Congress in 1977 never emerged out being a coalition of disparate political formations) and formed the government led by Narendra Modi on 26 May 2014. That the Congress was reduced to 44 seats showed how the grand old party has been hollowed in leadership and organisation since 1989 despite occupying the central space on India’s political stage due to its national movement legacy and fragility of the alternative space in the country; this too strengthens the paradigm shift as India reverted to having a brittle opposition space. However, the brittleness of the opposition space compared to the 1950s-1980s is in the absence of a leadership that compensated lack of numbers with commitment and oratory. This makes Narendra Modi-Amit Shah led BJP, which has ruthlessly sidelined the mentors of the party (incidentally their mentors too), abrasive and belligerent. In order to sustain this, they also build hysteria around their brand of ‘nationalism’.
Significantly, political analysts since the beginning of the millennium had classified the Indian party system turning bipolar, Congress and BJP being the two poles where the coalitional gravitation and ‘federalisation’ took place. Close to the sixteenth general election, despite trends to the contrary available, the analysists stuck to the bipolarity thesis. The BJP victory and its sticking to the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) put many analyses on their heads. For, the BJP emerged as the largest party, but not as dominant as yet, à la Congress of the 1950s and early 1960s. The retention of the NDA, a masterstroke from Narendra Modi, was to establish that dominance by silencing a large number of regional parties with power sharing.
However, the subsequent Legislative Assembly elections, minus Bihar and particularly Uttar Pradesh, have brought the BJP in near dominant position. It has begun to eye south of the Vindhya, which the party described as its soft underbelly in the 1990s. It has a good presence in Karnataka, where it has ruled for three years (30 May 2008-12 May 2013), aside from being a coalition partner earlier. Its NDA partner Telugu Desam Party is well-entrenched in Andhra Pradesh. The Telangana Rashtra Samithi in newly created Telangana is showing chinks in its political armour, but once strong Congress is invisible and the BJP is schematizing its plan to make its presence felt. Tamilnadu is in turmoil post-Jayalalitha, BJP is eyeing the state as the Dravida Munnetra Kazhgham appears directionless with the ailing patriarch Karunanidhi. The Rashtriya Swayam Sevak Sangh cadres are taking on the communist cadres in Kerala and could derive sympathy from murders allegedly by the communists. It rules Jammu and Kashmir in partnership with the People’s Democratic Party in (largely on the basis of its strength in Jammu), not expected some years back, it has an MP from Ladakh too. The PDP may be the state’s Kashmiri face, but it is the BJP that dominates owing to its presence in New Delhi.
Thus, the national presence of the BJP is a paradigm shift in India politics and Narendra Modi and Amit Shah combine deserve credit for it. That the organizational finesse with which they are achieving this, even though it means using some of the unprincipled political tactics of Indira Gandhi, the politician Modi would hate to admire, is another matter. Minus the much criticized Indirasque maneuvers (during her own era) trampling the constitutional principles, the BJP, as any other political party in the country, is fully within its rights to expand. The return of the stratagems that earned the former Prime Minister as much criticism of intelligentsia as admiration of the common man, is indeed not a paradigm shift and would bring back the negativity of the 1970s and 1980s. The strategy to wean away members from other parties, particularly the Congress, is succeeding, but it deserves a close watch, for it could have negative impacts too. These developments would have a mixed, largely negative, impact on the politics of the country.
Politics and Society
Plato had said that ‘you cannot dip into the same river again’. Indeed, politics of any country is highly dynamic, and in India that adds nearly twenty million voters each year, all of eighteen years of age, young and impressionable minds, the river of political change is flowing fast enough. Since the Congress is unable to influence these minds despite led by a relatively young Rahul Gandhi for the past decade and half, the BJP with its organized and well-spread RSS cadres has had an easy run in winning them. As I said earlier, whether anyone likes it or not, the party is within its rights to do so.
However, has the right, and its successful implementation in a short span of three years, albeit with decades of ground level work, brought the same degree of political responsibility? A party has the right to compete in a democracy and it is equally entitled to its strategy of berating its rivals. However, the BJP slogan of ‘Congress-mukta Bharat’ and its belligerent rhetoric towards other rival parties stops short of political responsibility. If the party would go beyond engineering defections in the Congress and other opposition parties to rid (mukta) the country of them deserves attention. This also comes along with the use of the office of Governor, which Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi did so brazenly, to achieve that extra space it falls short of in a state.
Lumpenism in Indian politics is certainly not BJP’s innovation. From Congress to the Left Front, all have used it in different points of time. BJP’s innovation, however, is ideological lumpenism. It may be argued that the Left Front in West Bengal innovated it. But the transfer of the lumpen lot to the Trinamool Congress suggests that it was not ideologically left, it was just politically opportune. The spread of a saffron mindset (that is also not politically wrong), with the strategy of ‘otherising’ the non-Hindu communities, unshackles an ideological hue that cannot but negatively impact India’s plurality in the long run. Thus, ‘go raksha’, laudable as long as it is only for protecting and caring for the country’s bovine population, with an otherised community as the target because it eats ‘beef’ (largely buffalo meat) has already begun to impact not only the social fabric of the country, but also begun to politicise and weaken the law and order administration. If a part of it becomes ineffective due to the dilemma emerging from a political push from the political apex, the other part connives willingly for career or political gains. This institutional weakening of already creaking police machinery is clearly visible in rising cases of brutal lynching, many a times in the presence and even active participation of the police. In the aftermath, they fudge the case by booking not only the accused, but also the victims. Those who question this ‘new normal’ in a ‘new India’ are subjected to trolls with the expletives already mentioned above. An avoidable brutalization of the society is the creation of a score of Frankensteinian monsters, the process that has in the past harmed the nation, that could turn against the creator.
A mention must be made of the voluntary sector which is under severe attack since the Modi government took over. Is it because these institutions, many of them receiving foreign funding for their developmental work, were in the forefront against Chief Minister Narendra Modi after 2002 Gujarat riots? We do not have a clear answer. No one would have a quarrel with the government in streamlining the sector, which has been happening since the 1990s, but snuffing them out could only indicate a negative mindset.
The process becomes even more alarming when we see that social and cultural forums, including education system and institutions, are the targets for ideological capturing. Here too, without building a credible scientific alternative narrative, the effort is to plant ‘own’ persons. This part has been conceded by the Modi government to the RSS and affiliates, who dictate the appointments in a large number of cases. That the left and other academic cliques have maneuvered such appointments earlier, does not cut ice, as we would have expected this government to be doing better, not far worse. Let us be sure that the saffron elites would not send their own children to such institutions, as high-end private institutions and foreign universities are available for them. The signals sent to the top-ranking institutions of higher learning are far from positive.
Narendra Modi’s election campaign in 2014 was pitched on ‘achchhe din’ (happy days) that he and his party were promising to bring. With corruption rising and jobs disappearing, the Congress-led United Progress Alliance government was fast losing its credibility to govern. Three years since the scene has not drastically changed. The unemployment rate in 2015-16 was 5 percent of the labour force, going up from 4.9 percent in 2013-14 during the UPA rule. However, between July 2014 and December 2016, the eight major sectors of manufacturing, trade, construction, education, health, information technology, transport, accommodation and hospitality created 641,000 jobs. This, data show, does not include jobs created between January 2016 and March 2016, for which data are unavailable. In comparison, according to data given by the Union Ministry of Labour, these sectors had added 1.28 million jobs between July 2011 and December 2013. If we add data from the eight major sectors included in the Union Ministry of Labour’s quarterly employment surveys and data on the Prime Minister’s Employment Guarantee Programme, the total number of jobs created in the first three years of the BJP government until October 2016 would be 1.51 million, which is nearly 39 percent less than the 2.47 million created during the three previous years, based on the same data sources. Obviously, the economic policies and strategies followed by the government has no yielded the desired results yet.
Since he came to power PM Modi has personally led a drive to attract FDI. According to a release by Ministry of Commerce and Industry, the FDI inflow to India in the financial year 2016-17 was $60.08 billion, which was around $5 billion more than the record $55.6 billion recorded in 2015-16. In June 2016, PM Modi personally interacted with the top mandarins of the economic ministries, opening the country to 100 percent FDI. If that would have an impact on the dipping employment opportunities, is still to be seen. This also needs to be correlated with the employability of India’s so called ‘demographic dividend’.
In Lieu of a Conclusion
It would be unfair to write a conclusion for the performance of an ongoing government. If it has completed three years, two more are still to go; if Modi does not go for an early 2018 poll as rumored. Moreover, the analysis here is incomplete as areas such as foreign policy, where the achievements, according to various analyses, is at best mixed, has not been touched. Jammu and Kashmir, where the government is tottering in not being able to use its velvet glove to wean away the youth, is too complex an issue to be discussed in a few sentences. But if the government thinks that diplomacy is not an answer to domestic turmoil such as this, a mailed fist too is not achieving results.
The overall performance of the government has been judged by Election Promise Tracker (http://www.electionpromisestracker.in/governments/central-government/), an initiative by some inquisitive bright young minds with interesting results. According to them the Narendra Modi government made 126 promises at the outset. At the end of three years 11 have been fulfilled, 30 have seen adequate progress, 50 have seen inadequate progress, 32 are yet to start, 1 is stalled and 2 are broken. Thus, only 41 have seen positive results. The government still have a distance to cover. It should, therefore, not waste time and resources on the planned Modi-mela across the country, but focus on its primary task – governance.
(The writer is Director [Honorary], Centre for Public Affairs, Noida, UP)
By Ajay K. Mehra