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
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.