100 days – mostly hard and bitter, not of the dreamy and sweet kind promised before the elections – have elapsed since Narendra Modi was sworn in as the Prime Minister of India’s first BJP-majority government. The new government may not yet have unveiled any clearly formulated policy agenda, but we already have enough pronouncements and indications to assess which way the government is headed. And when Narendra Modi and the BJP are at the helm of governance, it does not make sense to focus our attention only on the government. The actions of the party and its numerous Sanghi siblings and coalition cousins clearly have no less impact on the overall milieu.
Talking of policy initiatives, the new government is pursuing the familiar UPA agenda with greater intensity. Almost the entire economy has now been thrown open to foreign capital, with Narendra Modi dramatically inviting foreign capital to “come, make in India” on the anniversary of India’s independence from colonial rule. From railway to finance and even defence, every sector will now see greater penetration of foreign capital. And in a bid to make a final rupture with the Nehruvian legacy of economic governance, the new government has decided to do away with the Planning Commission. With systematic disinvestment, private corporations will now have a free run on India’s rich resources, cheap labour and growing market.
While giving a freer hand to big capital, the government seems committed to subverting and weakening the framework of rights for the working people. Major amendments are being mooted in labour laws, food security and employment guarantee legislations are being rendered toothless, and safeguards against indiscriminate land acquisition are being planned to be systematically subverted. Instead of ensuring universal rights to food, shelter, sanitation, health, education and employment, the government is promising development through MP/MLA funds and so-called corporate benevolence. The Jan Dhan scheme is high on symbolism and low on substance: it promises financial inclusion through bank accounts, debit cards and pretentious insurance covers without any indication of augmentation of the abysmally low income levels for the toiling masses.
Modi has also been trying to project a range of foreign policy initiatives beginning with the surprising invitation to leaders of South Asian countries during his swearing-in ceremony. The promise of opening a new chapter in relations with neighbouring countries has however already given way to the reality of cancellation of talks with Pakistan. His government’s silence on Israel’s war on Gaza and the refusal to adopt even a parliamentary resolution condemning Israeli aggression have signalled a new low in India’s international profile, reducing India virtually to an appendage of the US-Israel war machine. While Modi was most unimpressive at the BRICS summit in Brazil, in Japan he went so far as to invite Japanese investment representatives to become a part of India’s ‘decision-making process.’ With his oblique comments against China, he has left no one in any doubt about his government’s keenness to drag India into an anti-China axis with US and Japan.
While Modi thus looks determined to shed the last vestiges of the Nehruvian legacy in economic and foreign policy domains, in the arena of governance he is in a hurry to inculcate the Indira style of centralisation of power and authoritarian rule. The PMO has emerged as the super cabinet monitoring every minister. Contrary to the poll rhetoric of ‘cooperative federalism’, Governors appointed during the UPA period have been forced to step down and are being replaced brazenly with political appointees to tighten the Centre’s stranglehold around the states. From appointment of judges to dealing with various institutions – executive interference and partisan control have become the order of the day. The Modi cult has also brought about a metamorphosis in the BJP, reducing the party which once used to ridicule the Congress for its culture of sycophancy to a veritable fiefdom of Modi and his Man Friday who manages the party presidency.
The biggest worry for the common Indian is however not that Modi has forgotten his poll promise of ‘achchhe din’, it is the impunity and brazenness with which the entire Sangh brigade is enforcing its agenda of communal polarisation. Communal targeting of the Muslim youth is spreading dangerously across the country. The brutal murder of software professional Mohsin Sadique Shaikh in Pune shortly after the May 16 Verdict and Modi’s refusal to condemn the killing were dangerous early warnings that have now assumed alarming proportions with the BJP crying ‘love jihad’ at every instance of a Muslim man marrying a Hindu woman and Yogi Adityanath spewing communal venom as the incharge of the BJP campaign for the forthcoming UP by-polls. Meanwhile RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat has begun his sinister campaign to redefine India and Indians – the word Hindu is coterminous for him with Indian! From physical violence to ideological assaults, the power-drunk BJP and Sangh brigade have started going berserk.
The signs of sanity have come from the people in the by-polls in July and August. The people have made it abundantly clear that the verdict for Modi in May was no licence for the BJP to ride roughshod on the people’s livelihood and civil liberties. Modi has gone on record complaining that he has not been given the kind of honeymoon period that new rulers are traditionally supposed to enjoy. A demagogue who betrays the people does not deserve any benefit of doubt. The developmental aspirations and democratic determination of the Indian people must prevail over every authoritarian whim and communal conspiracy.