Break Away Pol­i­tics

Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi has ush­ered in a re­fresh­ing era of clear de­par­ture from the poli­cies of the Congress. The Modi gov­ern­ment’s suc­cess­ful so­cial en­gi­neer­ing is steadily al­ter­ing the com­po­si­tion of India’s rul­ing groups. This per­haps is the most

Southasia - - CONTENTS - By S.G. Ji­la­nee

With ev­ery pass­ing day, India’s prime min­is­ter, Naren­dra Damodar­das Modi’s mass pop­u­lar­ity graph seems to be ris­ing, due to his bold re­forms, which amount to a clear break with the past. No more the pol­i­tics of “hand-hold­ing,” with its In­dian vari­ant of the old ‘ mai-bap sarkar’ of the British days, prac­ticed by the Congress dur­ing its long rule. Those days are gone.

Modi has fos­tered “the age of the con­fi­dent In­dian cut­ting across eco­nomic and so­cial strata.” Hav­ing sev­ered the lan­guorous legacy of the past 60 years, this is the ba­sic dif­fer­ence Modi is mak­ing - cre­at­ing a new fab­ric of In­dian pol­i­tics and so­ci­ety.

The pro­longed, prac­ti­cally un­in­ter­rupted, ex­er­cise of power by the Congress had led to the on­set of en­nui, in­do­lence and, above all, gar­gan­tuan cor­rup­tion in the party and its rule. It was dur­ing the Congress days that the G2 spec­trum scam and the Com­mon­wealth Games scan­dal sur­faced.

Com­par­ing Modi’s BJP gov­ern­ment with the Congress gov­ern­ments of the past, at this point would be far too early. He has been in of­fice for just about 32 months,

al­though his clear ma­jor­ity in the Lok Sabha is likely to en­sure he com­pletes his full five-year term. The time for com­par­i­son will come two years down the line.

Any at­tempt to draw a com­par­i­son now, would look al­most like an ac­tion re­play of the elec­tion posters that came up in dif­fer­ent parts of the coun­try on the eve of the 1991 gen­eral elec­tions. Is­sued by then Prime Min­is­ter Chan­dra Shekhar’s po­lit­i­cal out­fit, the

posters read: “40 saal ba­nam chaar

mahiney — faisla aapke haath” (40 years ver­sus four months: The ver­dict is in your hands). The com­par­i­son was laugh­able, since, it sought to compare his gov­ern­ment’s prac­ti­cally nonex­is­tent achieve­ments with suc­ces­sive Congress gov­ern­ments.

Shekhar’s ten­ure lasted only seven months. What could he have achieved in such a short time, to compare with the Congress, any­way? He had come to power with the help of the Congress, be­cause, Ra­jiv Gandhi had sought to use him to top­ple V.P. Singh.

Chan­dra Shekhar broke with the Janata Dal Party in 1990 and formed the Janata Dal–So­cial­ist fac­tion. With the sup­port of Congress ( I) Party, he re­placed Singh as India’s prime min­is­ter on Nov. 10, 1990 at the head of a weak mi­nor­ity gov­ern­ment. Mean­while, its pur­pose served, the Congress (I) Party with­drew its sup­port. So, he re­signed on March 6, 1991.

Achieve­ments of the Modi gov­ern­ment ought to be seen in con­tin­uum to Atal Bi­hari Vajpayee’s six years in of­fice. That too was a BJP-led gov­ern­ment and the first nonCongress regime that com­pleted its full term. The prin­ci­pal mile­stones of Vajpayee’s regime were, first, the launch of the am­bi­tious high­way de­vel­op­ment pro­ject link­ing the coun­try’s four met­ros and an­other road-build­ing pro­gramme to con­nect vil­lages with a pop­u­la­tion of 1,000plus to the near­est high­way. Se­cond, by un­der­tak­ing an ex­panded nu­clear pro­gramme, sym­bol­ized by the Pokha­ran blasts of May 1998, the first BJP gov­ern­ment out­smarted Indira Gandhi’s 1974 mod­est nu­clear im­plo­sions. Modi has made fur­ther progress on both counts. High­way con­struc­tion is pro­ceed­ing at a rapid pace while India’s mis­sile pro­gramme, along with satel­lite de­vel­op­ment projects, places the coun­try in the big league.

No doubt the coun­try made spec­tac­u­lar progress in cer­tain fields dur­ing Congress rule. But it was lop­sided. The coun­try faced near­famine con­di­tions in the 1960s, ow­ing to Jawa­har­lal Nehru’s blind faith in the Soviet model of in­dus­tri­al­iza­tion, to the ne­glect of the agri­cul­ture sec­tor. But it was Congress rule that pulled India out of the abyss through the Green Rev­o­lu­tion of the late ’60s.

Al­though bank na­tion­al­iza­tion in 1969 freed agri­cul­tur­ists from usu­ri­ous money-lenders, yet, the farmer still re­mained de­pen­dent on the mon­soon’s va­garies, with lit­tle eco­nomic se­cu­rity. The Congress never con­ceived a scheme to in­sure farm in­comes. It was the Modi gov­ern­ment’s Fasal Bima Yo­jana (crop in­surance scheme) that fi­nally se­cured farm­ers against pe­ri­odic crop fail­ures.

Bar­ring bank na­tion­al­iza­tion, it is dif­fi­cult to think of any grand, gamechang­ing scheme ini­ti­ated by the Congress. Af­ter all, it was a sta­tus quo or­gan­i­sa­tion backed by rich farm­ers and big in­dus­tri­al­ists. Indira Gandhi may have tried to pro­ject the im­age of be­ing a mes­siah of the poor but the slo­gan of Gharibi Hatao re­mained just that — a slo­gan.

The BJP, how­ever, has slowly de­vel­oped a so­cial base very dif­fer­ent from the Congress’s up­per caste plus the mi­nori­ties. The party has sys­tem­at­i­cally weaned away up­per castes and as­sid­u­ously built a back­bone of the em­pow­ered Other Back­ward Class (OBC) sec­tions in the post-Man­dal era. Hin­dutva may still be the party’s ide­o­log­i­cal main­stay (which presages the party’s re­jec­tion by mi­nori­ties by and large), but the BJP’s so­cial group­ing to­day is much more in­clu­sive than the Congress’s.

The Modi gov­ern­ment’s suc­cess­ful so­cial en­gi­neer­ing is steadily al­ter­ing the com­po­si­tion of India’s rul­ing groups. This per­haps is the most sig­nif­i­cant dif­fer­ence the Modi regime has brought so far. The Congress is pay­ing a heavy price for not fos­ter­ing an OBC lead­er­ship, de­spite postGreen Rev­o­lu­tion and post-Man­dal eco­nomic and po­lit­i­cal power in ru­ral India tilt­ing heav­ily in favour of OBCs. If the BJP con­tin­ues to pro­mote this sec­tion, it would bring about a “tec­tonic shift” in power equa­tions in India. Other OBC-dom­i­nated par­ties like Mu­layam Singh’s and Lalu Prasad’s, failed to de­velop a pan-OBC char­ac­ter, re­main­ing con­fined to cer­tain pock­ets.

Along­side this, the Modi gov­ern­ment is sys­tem­at­i­cally pro­mot­ing post-mod­ern neo­cap­i­tal­ism by eco­nomic in­te­gra­tion through dig­i­tal tech­nol­ogy — the big­gest take­away of the de­mon­e­ti­za­tion scheme. Overnight, it has cat­a­pulted India into the dig­i­tal age, a big jump from the in­duc­tion of com­put­er­i­za­tion by Ra­jiv Gandhi. When de­mon­e­ti­za­tion is eval­u­ated some years down the line, it will be clear that Naren­dra Modi in­te­grated cities with towns, salaried mid­dle classes with up­wardly mo­bile ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties and en­gen­dered a na­tional mar­ket (with the GST to be launched from next April), which nei­ther the British nor the Congress had the vi­sion to ac­com­plish.

An­other ma­jor break with the past is young India’s chang­ing mind­set. Young peo­ple no longer han­ker af­ter gov­ern­ment jobs; an en­tre­pre­neur­ial think­ing is tak­ing over. The era of doles, which peaked dur­ing Indira Gandhi’s years and was con­tin­ued by her Congress suc­ces­sors, is slowly ebbing away. A fun­da­men­tal re­struc­tur­ing of the In­dian mind is tak­ing place. Dis­com­fited left-lib­er­als may de­nounce this as right-wing and ul­tra-na­tion­al­ist — but the change has come to stay, sig­ni­fy­ing a clear break­away from the past. The writer is a se­nior po­lit­i­cal an­a­lyst and for­mer ed­i­tor of Southasia.

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