Modi’s Real Enemies
In the popular perceptions, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s biggest assets are strong convictions, decisiveness and unflinching commitments towards India’s growth and development. After being in office for nine months, if these perceptions are beginning to change, it is precisely because, and here I completely agree with the leader of the Opposition in Rajya Sabha Ghulam Nabi Azad that Modi’s real enemies are from “within”. That is, the “enemies” are his alliance partners on the one hand and elements from the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its ideological mentor Rastriya Swayam Sevak Sangh (RSS).
As I write this, highly reliable sources tell me that some extremist RSS leaders are literally threatening Modi to scuttle the move to have a coalition government of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and BJP in the sensitive state of Jammu and Kashmir. Both Modi and PDP’s supremo Mufti Mohammad Sayeed are convinced that last Assembly elections in the Jammu and Kashmir have provided “historic opportunities” not only for the Muslim-majority Kashmir valley and the Hindu-majority Jammu being equal partners in the state’s peace, stability and growth but also for cementing the bonds between Kashmir and rest of India. Both Modi and Sayeed have reconciled to the idea of pragmatism over politics. It is really remarkable that Sayeed, who will be the Chief Minister of the state for six years with a BJP-nominee being Deputy Chief Minister, has come down considerably to be pragmatic over the controversial Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act that gives the Indian Army some operational immunities. But the same cannot be said of the extremist RSS leaders who argue that the BJP must not make any compromise over the deletion of Article 370 of the Indian constitution that makes the Jammu and Kashmir relatively autonomous, a distinction that no other Indian state or province has. Personally speaking, I am against the Art. 370 too. I have written elsewhere that this Article, supposed to be a temporary measure, does not exactly bring the people of Kashmir nearer to the national mainstream. But then in the last election, the BJP did not make the abrogation of Article 370 an issue at all; at the most it talked about “national debates over Art.370”. And debates do not mean outright abrogation. In any case, the debates over the Article 370 are going to be a protracted affair. That being the case, RSS extremists putting unnecessary pressures on Modi is unfortunate. They are, in the process, tarnishing the image of Modi and weakening the Prime Minister’s position in the government.
Let us come to another issue of the Land-ordinance that amended the land Acquisition Act. The ordinance was brought about by the Modi government to do away with the clause that requires the consent of 70 percent of the land-holders before land is acquired for some select purposes such as defence, housing for poor, and crucial infrastructure of road. And here the land will be taken over by the government or the government-dominated partnership with the private sectors but the farmers or the landowners will continue to be compensated by 400 per cent extra of the normal land-price. I am not going into the merits or demerits of this ordinance here. But the point that is to be noted is that this ordinance was promulgated after the Union cabinet recommended it to the President of India. And the cabinet comprises members belonging to the allied parties such as Shiv Sena, Akalis and Lok Janshakti Party.
In other words, the land- ordinance is a matter of collective responsibility for the entire Modi-cabinet, or for that matter the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) as a whole. And now that the government has to get the Parliaments’ stamp of approval on this, it is as much a responsibility of the BJP as of other allies to work for the realisation of that objective. But things are just opposite. It is mindboggling that Shiv Sena is threatening to resort to agitations all over against the ordinance! Other allies are not so stubbornly defiant as yet, but their public reactions against the ordinance are against the “dharma” (ethics) of the cabinet-system of governance in a parliamentary democracy. In my considered view, Modi should introspect whether he deserves such allies, particularly the Shiv Sena? The sooner he throws away Shiv Sena from the ruling NDA the better it is for his government and the NDA. True, Shiv Sena’s departure may complicate the fate of the BJP Chief Minister in Maharashtra. But I think that will be manageable by co-opting the Nationalist Congress Party of veteran Sharad Pawar (erstwhile ally of the Congress), who, it is an open secret, wants to join or ally with the NDA. At least, Modi and Pawar are on the same wavelength as far as growth-oriented policies are concerned.
As I have invariably argued, in the last general elections, people voted for Modi, not necessarily for the BJP. They voted for Modi because here is a leader who talked of growth and development and who did not glorify poverty. As distinct from the BJP, Modi’s economic outlook was totally different from the Nehruvian outlook that has been the dominating thought so far in an independent idea. In other words, many of Modi’s supporters will like to give the Prime Minister a chance (which he has earned after winning the elections) to experiment with genuine conservative economic policies, something a Conservative government in Britain, a Republican government in the United States and a Christian Democratic government in Germany pursues.
All told, the BJP in India is not a conservative party, even though it talks of the importance of a strong military, robust nationalism and assertive Hindu culture (most of the BJP cadres and supporters are assertive political Hindus, though some of them are also, and that is highly unfortunate, flaming bigots). On the economic front, the BJP, unlike a genuine conservative party, believes in socialism and populism (it talks of pursuing “Gandhian Socialism”). The party has top leaders who literally hate the liberalisation of the economy and globalisation. In fact, these elements, whether in the BJP or the RSS, are opposed to the Land- ordinance as well. They believe that it is the job of the government to provide everything free or subsidised. They do not talk, like Modi, of less government and more governance. They do not highlight the importance of empowerment of the poor so that they do not remain poor; they will like poor to remain beggars for the government freebies and subsidies.
They romanticise India as a country of agriculture, even though the fact is that agriculture as such has never given India name, fame and wealth. Even before we became a British colony, all our riches—and we were certainly richer than Great Britain, and along with that of China our economy did constitute about half of the then world’s GDP—were earned through trading, both within the vast Indian subcontinent and abroad. We were never a big exporter of agricultural commodities, particularly the food items. Our villagers were, no doubt, self-sufficient units in food. But, as a trading nation, we imported pearls, wool, dates, dried fruits and rosewater from the Persian Gulf; coffee, gold, drugs and honey from the Arab world; tea, sugar and silk from China; gold, musk and woolen cloth; metals like copper, iron and lead, and paper from Europe. Our undoubted wealth stemmed from the fact that our total imports were much lesser than our exports of cotton textiles, handicrafts, raw silk; pashmina shawls; indigo; opium; pepper and other exotic spices; and precious stones and drugs.
We became poorer under the colonial rule, when we were forced to become essentially an importing nation of the products and raw material that were, ironically, sent from our land—metals and minerals. Indians lost their entrepreneurial streak and our people were forced to depend more and more on agriculture for their basic survival. In other words, our poverty became intrinsically linked with the overdependence of the majority of Indians on agriculture. Even today, agriculture is still the largest source of employment in India, with 45.5 per cent of Indians being dependent on it for their livelihood. Actually, the truth is even harsher given the fact that most of those depending on agriculture or farmers are often underemployed since fulltime farming is dependent on a number of variables. Farmers have not enough land to cultivate in a big scale since 60 per cent of the ownership holdings have a size smaller than one hectare; majority of them are still dependent on erratic monsoonal rainfall for agriculture; the yield of the crops in the country is low in comparison to the international level; faulty strategy of irrigation and agricultural development is degrading land resources in the forms of alkalinity, salinity and water-logging, thus badly affecting the fertility of the soil.
My basic point is that the best way of helping the unemployed, underemployed and poverty stricken farmers of India is not to keep them captive of the agricultural sector but to empower them in such a way that they have options to choose non-agricultural careers. Why cannot our leaders and policy makers encourage the revival of the lost entrepreneurship in our villages? I am sure that the best way of ending unemployment and underemployment in the country is to promote cottage or small scale industries in our villages. We must realise that big industries and factories do not make a country necessarily rich. Take the case of Japan, one of the most indutstrialised countries in the world. Little is it realised, and here I am quoting a 1996 statistics, that out of a total of 6.50 million business establishments in that country, small and medium enterprises accounted for 6.43 million with 98.9 per cent share. Much has not changed of this phenomenon in Japan in the subsequent years.
If one views the land-ordinance against this backdrop, Modi is certainly on the right course. But he has enemies within to derail him. He must fight them. Surrendering to them will amount to betrayal of the mandate for him. He must realise that it is the people who are his real friends; he must tell his enemies within the NDA, BJP and RSS that if they are not responsible then he is prepared to go to the people again, not wait till 2019.
By Prakash Nanda