Modi Should Leave The Elites Alone
Through his unconventional campaign-style diplomacy, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has enamoured leaders as well as ordinary citizens of various countries. By now, his foreign hosts and audiences are familiar with what to expect from or offer to his insatiable appetite for investment, technology and innovation. Internal recognition, however, is a different story and resistance is still strong. More than six months after the regime change, the elite have not forgotten the 31 percent of popular vote secured by the BJP. Ignoring similar situation of all the previous governments is convenient and politically correct. Indeed, some do not hesitate to use obituaries to deride Modi; it is distasteful to read that the persons in question did not ‘wish to live in Modi’s India.’ Hurtful as they are, Modi should continue his focus on good governance.
Through careful chirography, he has firmly established a full and effective council of ministers. Regional disparities, administrative issues and professional deficiencies were deftly handled in the October reshuffle; he still would have to accommodate one or two members from the Shiv Sena before the next Parliament session. Key bureaucratic positions, especially in the Ministry of Finance, are in place. With necessary administrative changes, problems arising out the absence of Leader of Opposition have been settled. This paves the way for filling top slots in various national security agencies. He has been more accommodative than his critics cared to admit. The committee appointed to commemorate the 125th birth anniversary of Nehru was more inclusive and non-partisan than the ones appointed either by the UPA government or by the Congress party.
Yet, Prime Minister’s exclusion from the Congress-appointed committee was justified on the ground that Modi does not “truly believe in democracy and the ideals of Nehru.” Apparently all those who were invited had these qualities.
Hence, once the winter session of Parliament ends, the government’s next focus could be the Ministry of Human Resource and Development. Since she took over in May, Smriti Irani has been at the receiving end of elite anger and rebukes. With two junior ministers as aides she should swing into action. Some of her recent statements and actions have resulted in avoidable controversies, for example, the issue of introducing Sanskrit in Kendriya Vidyalayas. Let there be no mistake; no language, idea or stream of thought can be popularized by banning, blocking, restricting or superimposing on others. Such an approach is Stalinist and is unworkable in any plural and democratic society. Irani was obviously given a bad advice, especially on the tactical front. A simple but effective approach would be to expand the basket of languages available to the young minds; make Sanskrit as attractive as others and in the process popularize it.
The Ministry has filled a few senior positions but many educational institutions are either headless or need a complete overhaul. The issue is more than naming a new person as selection should not be of ornamental value. The paucity of talents with the ranks of the BJP is widely recognized. Not just BJP was out of power for a decade but its supporters and sympathizers did not benefit from long state patronage. Since Indira Gandhi fought with syndicate leaders in the late 1970s, the Congress party relied on and cultivated a whole army of elites who gradually occupied senior positions in various educational institutions, advisory bodies, autonomous institutions and statutory and other committees.
As a result, for over four decades these elites provided not only legitimacy to the Congress policies and positions but also contributed to the idolisation of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty. In the process they institutionalized the marginalization of all other towering figures of the freedom movement. Indeed generations of students and scholars, were trained to believe and accept certain things as gospel truths. Not many for example, learnt why Mahatma Gandhi who successfully led the freedom struggle was not present when Jawaharlal Nehru delivered his famous Tryst with Destiny speech in the Parliament.
The task before Irani should begin with the University Grants Commission. As with the Planning Commission, the UGC needs a serious overhaul and even a replacement. Innovation does not appear to be its priority. It is unable to recognize the core problem of Indian education as highlighted by the Prime Minister in his maiden speech in the Parliament: the Indian youth have degrees but no skills. Most find jobs in areas and fields far removed from their basic training or discipline. It is not uncommon to find qualified engineers and scientists working as bank officials. Indeed, the employability and degrees are completely segregated. And over the years the UGC has become another government bureaucracy; more jobs for lesser results. Indeed, many UGC experts really publish scholarly works and it would be more appropriate to call them administrators than experts.
Things do change. The meeting of former Kashmiri separatist Sajjad Lone with the Prime Minister made headlines and was widely commented upon. It is obvious that below the radar and away from public view, hundreds of such meetings are taking place between the former critics of Hindutva and senior functionaries of the government. Publishing the visitor’s logbook at the MHRD and even better, the residence of BJP chief Amit Shah, would be an interesting revelation. Driven by their appetite, many academics are turning into weathercocks; changing affinity is far easier than slogging for academic excellence. If what one hears is accurate, the wish list before the MHRD is as long as Hanuman’s tail. Many have ‘rediscovered’ their Hindutva roots; some traced it to their youth, others flagged their pedigree to offer themselves as the new foot soldiers of the ruling party. Their demand is simple: academic positions ‘commensurate’ to their aspirations. If the Planning Commission is no longer available, the government appears to be adopting greater scrutiny of ‘job applications’; hence, finding a parking slot for semi-retired and retiring senior academics will not be easy for the Modi government.
Contrary to the priorities of the RSS, the BJP would have to be pragmatic and cannot select people merely on the basis of ideological affinity, and prolonged commitment to the Sangh parivar or similar other criterion. Unlike natural sciences, the support base of the BJP in the social science is limited. Hence, the government may have to rely on people with less scholarly credentials or with dubious scholarship. Alternatively, it will have to choose from the former brigade of the Left-leaning scholars who were the vociferous critics of Modi and his brand of politics until May. Naming erstwhile darlings of the Left to senior academic positions would dent the credibility of both; the former would be seen as an academic “Aaya Ram, Gaya Ram” and it would highlight Modi lacking a talent pool and expose him to further criticisms.
Let there be no mistake. The elites did not elect Modi, the ordinary men and women of this country did. So, Modi who has been at the receiving end of endless criticisms for over a decade should ignore the patronizing and condescending rebukes of the elite and pursue his agenda of inclusive India. Pleasing them is a mirage; hence, Modi should better leave the elites alone.
By P R Kumaraswamy