Modi Raj Begins – and Hard Times Kick In

Modi’s poll campaign had recklessly promised everyone the moon. Price rise, unemployment, corruption, rape – ‘Modi Sarkar’ was the answer for every woe. As Modi Raj makes itself felt, however, there are misgivings all around. The initial symptoms are pretty ominous.

Even as Modi calls himself the ‘Mazdoor No.1’, the most powerful ‘maaliks’ – corporate biggies Ambani, Adani and Hinduja – were prominent at his swearing-in ceremony. And the Rajasthan Government of the BJP has already shown the way in introducing anti-worker ‘reforms’ in labour laws. Abandoning any pretence of tripartite mediation, the Rajasthan Government weighed in on behalf of the industrialists, without even any consultation with trade unions.

Modi’s ‘minimum government’ mantra seems to mean concentration of key Ministries and decision-making in the PM and a coterie of Ministers – effectively a super-PMO and super-Cabinet. The clubbing of Finance and Corporate Affairs ministries indicates that economic policy priorities of the Government will be led by corporate interests. The pruning back of the Planning Commission is also to make sure that there is no room for any parallel authority to the centralised Modi PMO.

Modi’s decision to give a Ministerial berth to Muzaffarnagar riot-accused Sanjeev Baliyan is a deliberate step, intended to display majoritarian arrogance and impunity for the riot-accused. We can recall that Modi had likewise patronised Maya Kodnani in his Gujarat Government, until a Court convicted her for her role in the 2002 communal violence.

The choice of retired Army General VK Singh for Minister of State (Independent charge) for North East Affairs is also significant. The Modi Government is indicating quite brazenly that it will view the North East from a military prism, mocking the demands for scrapping the discriminatory and draconian AFSPA.

The statements of various newly appointed Ministers are cause for concern. Najma Heptullah, Minister for Minority Affairs, has declared that Muslims are too large in number to qualify as a genuine minority, and that Parsis – a genuine ‘miniscule minority’ in her view - will instead be a priority for the Government. The fact is that Muslim and Christian minorities in India are the ones at the receiving end of the maximum violence and discrimination, while Muslims are the minority community that is economically and socially most deprived and stigmatised. To pit the Parsi minority against other minorities, and to declare that Muslim minorities are not really deserving of the Government’s protection, is another early display of brutal majoritarianism by the Modi Government.

Jitendra Singh, MoS in the Prime Minister’s Office, has declared that the Modi Government is ‘already’ taking steps to abrogate Article 370 that gives special status to Jammu and Kashmir. How can the PMO claim to move independently to meddle with a key Constitutional provision like Article 370, without any discussion in Parliament?

Given that Modi’s USP is his personal leadership over every aspect of his Government, these statements by Heptullah and Singh cannot be seen as mere ‘loose canon’ remarks, but as indications of the RSS footprint on the Modi Government’s policy orientation. With daily RSS-BJP parleys over Cabinet formation and policy-making, the RSS control over this Government is blatant, with no pretence of being covert.

The Modi Government, right from day one, has displayed its readiness to twist and distort the law to suit its whims. The appointment of a former TRAI Chief to the post of PS to the PM was in violation of the TRAI Act that forbade post-retirement Government jobs for TRAI Chiefs. When this came to light, the Government promptly promulgated an ordinance to do away with this safeguard on conflict of interest, and ‘legalised’ the illegal appointment post facto!

There are other worrying signals that the new Government will wield power to ensure impunity for its political partners and its own leaders. RSS leader Indresh Kumar, accused in terror blast cases, campaigned for Modi in Banaras – and has now demanded payback, saying that the Modi Government must ‘review’ terror cases in which RSS elements are implicated. Why should the politics of the accused be the basis on which terror cases will be reviewed? The induction of Baliyan likewise indicates that the Central Government is likely to back the demand for release of key Muzaffarnagar riot-accused. And the first statement by the new Minister of State (Home) has been that the Government will ‘review’ the Snoopgate probe – in which Amit Shah and Modi are both seriously implicated in the illegal surveillance of a young woman and several other citizens. More recently, a concerted media campaign is underway in favour of rape-accused ‘Godman’ Asaram – clearly, the saffron brigades expect that the Government will work to free ‘their own’ from the clutches of the law.

Emboldened by the Modi victory, lumpen saffron brigades have indulged in violence in several places: these include communal violence and minority-baiting by a BJP victory procession in Karnataka, communal violence in Ahmedabad on the eve of Modi’s swearing-in, the attack by ABVP on a seminar held at the AN Sinha Institute in Patna, and most disturbing of all, the killing of Mohsin Sadiq by a Hindu Rashtra Sena lynch mob in Pune.

Other disturbing signals include the arrest of some individuals for anti-Modi remarks on social media, the crackdown on several protests in the capital city in the name of Section 144, and the attempt at forced eviction of Bhagana protesters from Jantar Mantar. The Kerala police has booked 18 students and teachers on campuses designing an anti-Modi crossword puzzle, and other anti-Modi pieces in college magazines!

And the leak of the so-called ‘IB report’ on NGOs, is a signal that the Government aims to wage war on activists who are exposing mining plunder, environmental devastation and pro-corporate policies that endanger people’s safety and health.

Another disturbing symptom is the unwillingness of much of the mainstream media to live up to its professional responsibility. The Supreme Court verdict holding the Gujarat police and then Home Minister Modi responsible for framing innocents in the Akshardham blasts case was buried by most of the media. Likewise the media’s discussion of the Cabinet formation and new Government innings largely avoids questioning the appointment of a riot-accused as a Minister, or the issuing of an ordinance to legalise an illegal appointment to the PMO, or the propriety of the Government insulating its leaders from being investigated in the Snoopgate matter.

Addressing an elite club of industrialists in Goa, Modi said that he was about to take ‘touch measures’ that would weaken people’s ‘love’ for him. The shift from ‘good times’ rhetoric to hard talk of ‘tough times’ has been brutally swift. With the massive rail fare hike, the Modi Government has made a mockery of its own campaign slogan of ‘Bahut Hua Mahengai ki Mar, Ab ki baar Modi Sarkar’ (Enough of being hit by price rise, This time elect Modi Govt). With the massive increase in passenger fares, freight charges and monthly season tickets, working people who commute daily to work are worst hit, while the hike in freight charges will inevitably hike prices of essential commodities that are transported by rail.

The Modi Government is peddling the excuse that the hike was a UPA-II decision. But Modi did not win elections by claiming to implement UPA’s decisions! The Modi Government is rushing to get rid of UPA-era Governors and heads of Commissions, but is remaining deeply loyal to the anti-people measures of the UPA.

In 2012, Modi who was projecting himself as the would-be PM, had written a scathing letter to then PM Manmohan Singh, protesting the UPA-II decision to hike freight fares ahead of the rail budget! Modi had then pointed out how such a hike would escalate the costs of food grains and fertilizers, as well as the cost of coal and power generation. Modi has then asked Manmohan Singh, “Was the Central Government waiting for the results of the elections to five State Assemblies to impose an anti-people and anti-farmer policy?” Today, the people of India might well ask Modi if he was waiting to become PM, in order to drop the mask of “acche din” (good times) and impose the “hard times” of anti-people and anti-farmer policies?

In this feature, we take a closer look at the implications of some of the recent developments and decisions emanating from Modi rule. These include the lynching to death of Mohsin Sadiq, the proposed changes in labour laws mooted by the Rajasthan Government, and the leak of the IB report against ‘foreign funded NGOs’ that, together with elaborate reports on similar lines by the UK and US defence establishments, create a template for a war on dissent and activism.

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