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Showing posts with label Modi government. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Modi government. Show all posts

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Modi sarkar will be the biggest loser by 2019 polls

It is disingenuous in the extreme that television news and various other apologists for this regime seek to label the uproar over Rohith Vemula, the Hyderabad PhD scholar's suicide as "politics". What they mean is "partisan politics" in which rival political parties try to pry advantage from the mistakes of the ruling dispensation. That is how the BJP came to power...by jumping on the mistakes of the Congress party and leveraging them into a stentorian election campaign that promised the moon. It resulted in a first majority government since 1984 and heightened expectations.

The reality has hit like a bucket of cold water on a winter's morn. In the 20 months, the BJP government has piled up an Ozymandian mountain of mistakes and faux pas that has many people wondering about its governance skills. Even more questionable are the parliamentary skills on display; with a solid majority in the lower house, the government has been unable to engage the opposition to help pass bills that are sorely needed.

To begin with, these bills including the GST had been rancorously opposed by the BJP when it was in the opposition. After it formed the government, the BJP refused to grant Congress president Sonia Gandhi, the status of leader of the Opposition in the lower house. That's not exactly reaching across the aisle.

Coming back to the latest gaffe by the government, several ministers and the party's acolytes in the media have challenged Mr Vemula's Dalit status. This is the unkindest cut of all for it simply dismisses the complaint in his suicide letter that he faced many trials and tribulations during his abbreviated life. Now that is "politics." BJP leaders seem to think that by bandying technicalities, they will re-establish their standing with Dalit voters.

Many of the saffron lot also believe that the RSS chief's comments about reviewing reservations cost them the Bihar election. This is the banal thinking. In refusing to acknowledge the growing perception that there is a lack of transparency and accountability in the government's workings, that important campaign promises are seen to have been cast by the wayside, both the government and the ruling party find themselves cornered.

Also the prime minister's deafening silence on Dadri, Lalitgate and Vyapam has severely dented his credibility. It seems that saffron strategists believe that such lapses catch public attention momentarily and if immediate questions are parried, media coverage dies down and the chapter is closed. The Bihar results show how grievously they erred.

On the governance front, the strategy seems to be to blame the Opposition for the government's inability to get any legislation through the upper house. When you start off your innings with ad hominem attacks on your electoral adversaries and through gadfly cases, seek to harass the leadership,you can hardly expect any cooperation. With just 44 seats, the Congress has stalled the government at every turn. What's worse for the government, the Congress has emerged as a unifying force for opponents of saffron.

This was evident in Bihar and is looming as a major challenge in future elections, notably Uttar Pradesh. The Congress has shown a degree of maturity in accepting the leadership of Nitish Kumar's JDU) and Lalu Prasad's RJD in Bihar. It has similarly expressed its willingness to be part of a grand alliance in UP as well.

The truth is the BJP has no hope at all of attaining a majority in the upper house through 2019. The only option the government has is to deal with rather than to harangue and harass the Opposition, particularly the Congress. The prime minister has made some conciliatory remarks but election season is in the offing and attacks on opponents have begun. Modi's recent comments in Tamil Nadu show that Congress-baiting season is underway and will only get worse as the campaigns begin in Punjab, Assam, Bengal and Uttar Pradesh.

Prospects of a truce appear dimmer than ever. Inappropriate though the mixed metaphor may be in the circumstances, the plan to brand India as sodom before May 2014 may backfire. Without Opposition support, no bills will get passed and the resultant policy paralysis could make the government look like a pillar of salt.

Meeting heightened expectations may become impossible without passage of the GST bill and others pertaining to the revival and acceleration of economic growth. There goes the GDP; there goes double-digit growth; there goes the one-crore job revolution; there goes the credibility; there goes the entire ballgame.

(An edited version of this post will appear in Education World, February 13, 2016.)

Friday, December 11, 2015

Everything Modi sarkar is doing wrong by attacking dissent

The indefatigable campaigner came steadily unglued in Bihar, reverting to a nakedly bigoted message

Since he was named the Bharatiya Janata Party's prime ministerial candidate in September 2013, Narendra Modi ran a loud and aggressive campaign on two fronts: one, to run down the Indian National Congress as a corrupt force responsible for the lack of development; two, to sell a "happy days are here" story packaged with slogans and sound bites.

As such, he blanked out the Congress' impressive record of 10 years of eight per cent growth, painted a grim picture of the nation's economy and projected himself as the knight in shining armour, come to pull India out of the morass he conjured up in his invective-filled speeches. Using dog whistle communal messaging for his following of bigots while holding out the promise of strong leadership for others, he spoke persuasively of "achche din."

The strategy worked brilliantly. A year later, the BJP won a clear majority in the Lok Sabha and Modi was named prime minister.

Now, Modi finds that his majority in the lower house does not amount to much when faced with a determined and united opposition in the Rajya Sabha. The first-past-the-post system that gave his party a clear majority with just 31 per cent of the vote is not enough to sustain his fantasy of global power status he sold to credulous voters, leave alone a "Hindu rashtra" he has promised sotto voce to the bigots.

On the contrary, Modi's carefully-crafted image of forceful governance is taking a beating from the 69 per cent who gave him thumbs down in the 2014 election. Like bushfires, dissent is springing from every nook and cranny. These spontaneous protests have discombobulated him. The indefatigable campaigner came steadily unglued in Bihar, reverting to a nakedly bigoted message.

Asked to run interference, his spokespersons, in government and others like the puerile Chetan Bhagat, have raised a whataboutery defence, seeking to discredit the artists, scholars and scientists who have spoken out against the increasingly-evident Hindutva agenda: they are "Congress supporters who didn't protest in 1984" and theirs is "manufactured dissent."

When that didn't wash, they cursed the protest, calling it a campaign of calumny against the BJP by leftists and pseudo-intellectuals. Perhaps their most disingenuous defence is that the hate incidents happened in states that are not ruled by the BJP, ignoring the fact that the perpetrators were self-proclaimed supporters of the saffron calling, including union ministers, Members of Parliament and sundry state-level leaders.

About the only truth to emanate from the saffron defenders is this: the protestors cannot accept the BJP as ruling party and Modi as prime minister. This is largely because of their not-so-hidden Hindutva agenda. It is apparent that the narrow, divisive worldview does not resonate beyond fringe groups and that Modi and his supporters are mistaken in their loudly stated belief they represent the vast majority. Hobbled at first by a small but determined opposition in Parliament, now they face an existential challenge from the liberal legacy of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru and Vallabhbhai Patel.

There promises to be no rest for the ruling dispensation until 2019; the fires of dissent will only continue to spread.

(An edited version of this post will appear in DailyO.in, November 2015.)

Monday, December 7, 2015

Grim harvest of failed education system

Digital India, Make in India, Clean India, Smart Cities... these are slogans supporters of embattled prime minister Narendra Modi chorus to emphasise the primacy of his “development and growth” agenda. On the other hand, ghar wapsi, love jihad, Hindu rashtra, bans on beef, books and broadcasts… these are slogans supporters of empowered prime minister Narendra Modi raise to assert the primacy of hindutva.

Numerous commentators have remarked on the lack of progress of the modernist charter while lamenting the spread of the primordial agenda. Supporters say the prime minister’s development plans are being held hostage by “fringe elements”. Opponents challenge this, saying the hindutva project is Mr. Modi’s main plank.

And thus the political debate goes on, nightly on television and in the newspapers every morning. What’s indisputable is that India is caught in a bind, with the whole world watching. There are two reasons why the world is watching: one, the prime minister is an avid traveller who basks in the company of the world’s who’s who. He is adept at showcasing his forays in the Indian media and before large and adulatory NRI audiences.

The other reason why all eyes are on India is because of reports that primordial formations are threatening to derail India’s democracy. While Modi’s global tours go unreported in the mainstream world media, the killings, bans, and bigotry are prominently displayed in pixels and print the world over.

Given such alarming reports in global media, who will take the prime minister’s invitation to build modern India seriously? Even as Mr. Modi tries to assure the world of his commitment to diversity and democracy, his partners in the saffron brotherhood blacken faces of dissenters, commit hate crimes against minorities, and talk menacingly about regulating the media.

In Mumbai, the brazen threats of the Shiv Sena, an ally of the BJP led by Mr. Modi, forced the cricket authorities to withdraw all Pakistani umpires and commentators from the remainder of the India-South Africa series. It’s the same with utterances and speeches of senior saffron sages about the need to regulate the media.

How this stand-off between economic modernisation and the authoritarian and revivalist agenda will be resolved is difficult to say. In a nation with a burgeoning middle class, the tendency would be to favour the former. This assumes that the middle class is the repository of enlightened liberal values and as such a bulwark against what the Indian press used to call “fissiparous tendencies”. I don’t think the assumption can stand scrutiny. Here’s why.

Historically, Indian policymakers have ignored elementary education and vocational training in favour of higher education and professional development. The result is an educated elite listing in the storm-tossed sea of a poorly educated majority. Even within the elite class, the emphasis is on engineering and medicine, management and accountancy. Middle class children, especially male, are encouraged, forced and nudged into the study of these streams to land steady jobs. Liberal arts disciplines such as literature, history, language and philosophy are dismissed as unworthy, okay for girls.

Despite heavily subsidised bias in its favour, the higher education system has failed miserably. It produces a vast pool of middle class graduates, ill-equipped to meet the demands of a modernising economy. Unable to find jobs, they are recruited by political parties to fight nefarious numbers wars that determine political outcomes. Easily manipulated, these youth become the foot soldiers of atavistic campaigns against change. As such, they form the bulk of illiberal forces threatening to take India back to the Stone Age.

On the other hand, the higher education system also produces some world-class scientists, engineers, lawyers and doctors, managers and technocrats. But decades of command-and-control industry policies have impaired the ability of the economy to provide jobs and business opportunities. Caught in the socialist quagmire, shiploads of the best graduates have migrated westward, contributing to India’s ‘brain drain’. True, the best middle-class graduates did well in the US and elsewhere but the disruption took its toll and they became implacably opposed to licence-permit raj and its purveyors.

Therefore, like those they left behind, they too became supporters of illiberal forces. These are the groups that turn out in huge numbers to hear Mr. Modi rant and rave against the previous regime in New York, California, Australia and elsewhere. Thus the top layer of the education system and its vast middling layer have fused into an aggrieved segment, embracing religious and cultural revivalism and chauvinist causes, harbouring vague hopes of seeing India emerge as a “global power”.

This is the whirlwind the country reaped in the 2014 election. With just 31 percent of the national vote in their favour, majoritarian political forces are poised to hack away at the carefully-nurtured edifice of constitutionalism. In the final analysis the education system bears a major share of responsibility for the growing atavism and intolerance spreading across the country.

(An edited version of this post appeared in Education World, November 2015)