Modi Government Borrows From UPA
In many respects, the Narendra Modi regime has shown predilection to borrow from the ousted United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government—something that was least expected of the ruling National Democratic Alliance (NDA) led by a rejuvenated Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Worse, apart from adopting some of the policies and programmes of the discredited UPA government, the ruling coalition has also taken many an argument from the UPA leaders to justify several of its own actions. The government’s flip-flops regarding black money are the recent instance.
At the time of writing these lines, it was unclear why was the government reluctant to release the names of those people who had stashed money in overseas banks. Was it just the gauche handling of the situation, as Bharatiya Janata Party leader and lawyer Mahesh Jethmalani suggested in a TV debate? Or there was an attempt to shield the guilty, as the Opposition leaders alleged? Or both? At any rate, NDA leaders were talking and behaving exactly in the manner their UPA counterparts did, whenever a scam would surface.
Nobody knows, why it took so long for the government, to submit the list of black money account—holders to the Supreme Court. The list of 627 names was given in a sealed envelope on October 29. But this happened only after days of wavering and blundering, and attracting considerable flak from the apex court. Many analysts rightly said that the NDA government’s response was no different from that of the UPA, on the issue of black money. So, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley was forced to make the statement the government that was not trying to shield anybody: “The government is keen that by whatever procedure in accordance with law, we must get to the root of the matter and the truth about these names, as also these accounts, must come out so that penal action can be taken against the people and the money lying there can be brought back to India.”
FOOLING ALL THE PEOPLE…
This was quite a comedown for a party, which had been shouting from the rooftops, about the astronomical amounts illegally stashed in foreign accounts by crooks, criminals, etc., and promising to bring all the money back. You can’t gas up rhetoric and raise expectations to the Himalayan heights, and then hope that, somehow, people would forget all the promises you had made.
Lincoln famously said that you can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time. The BJP, however, seems to think otherwise. Claiming to be the champions of Hindus, in the late 1980s and 1990s, it pledged to build the Ram Temple, take care of the interests of Kashmiri Pandits, force the Pakistanis to behave themselves, go on ‘hot pursuit’ of terrorists, and eliminate the relics of Nehruvian socialism.
But the Vajpayee government forgot about the Temple; Sushma Swaraj even compared the issue with a bank cheque which could not be cased twice! Kashmiri Pandits continued to live in exile. Jihadist terror did not abate; in fact, it increased in intensity, as evident from the attacks on Parliament and Akshardham Temple in Gujarat. Vajpayee and his ministers just used strong words (remember aar-paar ki ladai?), but did little. Apart from privatization of public sector undertakings, which was carried out with aplomb, nothing was done to bury socialism. The denouement was 2004. Unfortunately, like the Bourbons of yore, BJP leaders seem to have learnt nothing and forgotten nothing.
Worse, the government has started liking many of the things the UPA did. So, the Aadhar has got a lifeline. The Leftist anti-trade stance that the previous dispensation adopted at the World Trade Organization has also persisted. Ditto with some attitudes in defence, e.g., the official stand on the Henderson report on the 1962 India-China War. Further, old schemes have been repackaged and are being sold as innovation moves, Jan Dhan Yojana and Swacch Bharat Abhiyan being major examples. Apparently, Modi wants to be the winner by doing things differently, not doing different things.
It would, however, be wrong to continue with the Nehruvian system and hope that efficiency—which undoubtedly is one of Modi’s strong points—would make it work properly. The system is rotten to the core; it cannot be reformed; it has to be dumped. At the same time, it must be noticed that old order has evolved over the decades, spawning various pernicious ideas which are couched in a language that is meant to deceive.
THE TRAP OF LANGUAGE
We shape our buildings, thereafter they shape us, said Winston Churchill. The same can be said about language. For language has the bad habit of persisting with the ideas
long after their absurdities have become manifest; the persistence of certain phrases and catchwords has the potential of reviving the dead or dying ideas. Modi should beware of such phrases.
Consider the adjective ‘inclusive.’ The 10-year rule of the UPA made it an integral part of officialese. Everybody in the government, from the finance minister to the Planning Commission deputy chairman, talked incessantly about ‘inclusive growth,’ ‘inclusive development,’ and so on. Fact is that in the normal course, there cannot be growth without the inclusion of various sections of the population. It is inclusive in the sense that jobs are created at all levels and wealth is generated, even if the rich get a disproportionately higher portion of the pie. The rich get richer, but the poor don’t get poorer, as the Leftist lie says; the poor get less poor.
Another term that has gained currency is ‘nuanced approach.’ It is the favorite of consensus politicians, the folks who fear to take a moral stand. Position ‘M’ is moral and correct, whereas position ‘I’ is immoral and wrong. But almost invariably ‘M’ is difficult, because vested interests oppose it. At the same time, ‘I’ is manifestly reprehensible or practically dangerous. So, the politician opts for a nuanced approach. Often, it is the ‘middle path’ that is chosen for safe passage. The media loves to call such an approach ‘pragmatic.’
Then there is a shenanigan called ‘mature diplomacy.’ Pakistan aids and arms terrorists against us, foments trouble in our country, allows notorious jihadists to plan and execute 26/11—and what does our government do? It ‘strongly condemns’ all the ‘dastardly acts’ and… well, then it takes recourse to mature diplomacy, another euphemism for pusillanimity and inaction. The people of the country are enraged by what they feel is cowardice, but intellectuals love the nuanced approach.
Whenever a government contemplates a move in the direction of liberalization, intellectuals sermonize about the need to exercise ‘caution’ and harangue the powers-that-be about the possible ‘repercussions.’ Exasperated by duplicity of intellectuals and the spinelessness of her ministers, Margaret Thatcher wrote in her memoirs, “How I came to hate the word ‘repercussions’!”
VALOR, THE BETTER PART OF DISCRETION
Interestingly, the cardinals and bishops of statism rarely, if ever, caution the government against fiscal profligacy when populist measures are chalked out; they utter caution and repercussions only when there is any move to open up the economy. So, Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen was not worried about repercussions of the economically and fiscally ruinous food security legislation; in fact, he exhorted the nation to pass it as soon as possible. Of course, Sen, Sonia Gandhi, and other self-appointed champions of the poor scoffed at the idea of fiscal prudence. “There are people who ask whether we have the means to implement this scheme. I would like to say that we have to figure out the means. The question is not whether we can do it or not. We have to do it,” the Congress czarina thundered in Parliament. A shivering government complied, as also did the Opposition. No caution, no repercussions, only mindless populism.
It is amazing that Modi, who had the courage to take on the Dynasty and Nehruvian Consensus in the election campaign, has been so lukewarm in challenging the principles and phraseology of the old order now that he is at the helm of affairs. He has to realize that the key to his success so far has been his boldness, his keenness to question the canons of political discourse. He cannot allow his government to borrow from the policies, programmes, ideas, and language of the previous regime. In his case, valor is the better part of discretion.
By Ravi Shanker Kapoor