Liberal opinion believes the BJP, because of its RSS parentage, has never really accepted the constitution as the final arbiter of public affairs. In the first place, M S Golwalkar, supreme leader of the RSS, was dismissive as is evident from the following excerpt from his 1966 book, Bunch of Thoughts:
Wednesday, November 29, 2017
Thursday, July 13, 2017
In 70 years, there has never been an incident quite like BJP president Amit Shah’s party conference in the terminal at Goa’s Dabolim Airport. Presumably, Mr Shah did it with Mr Modi’s consent. The alternative is equally worrisome; if the party leader commandeered a high-security platform for his meeting on his own steam, the number of questions multiplies.
Either way, the meeting at Dabolim airport is an unprecedented event. Clearly, rules and regulations were wilfully ignored or bent to facilitate it; worse, security was compromised. The civil aviation ministry, the airports authority, the home ministry, the Central Industrial Security Force, the Goa state government, the Goa police… all need to be held accountable for the violation.
The disingenuous response by BJP’s Mauvin Godinho, whose Dabolim constituency includes the airport, was that they had taken “all the permissions required to host the function.” The question is about these permissions being given at all. Today, given global terrorist threats, airports rate the highest possible security levels; the Goa airport doubly so because it is a military asset.
No matter how saffron sophistry plugs it, the fact is Mr Shah’s act is reckless, much like Mr Modi’s demonetization. He was on a two-day visit to Goa, the welcome event could have been staged anywhere but he chose to hold it at the airport. There could be a number of reasons for it:
One, Mr Shah now thinks he is beyond accountability, especially after he claimed responsibility for the BJP’s much-hyped victory in Uttar Pradesh. That is a dangerous dimension of power. To select the airport as a venue for a party meeting is to show he can do whatever he wants. He simply has to wish it and the forces at his command will browbeat the central bureaucracy, state governments, and the security establishment to make it happen.
Two, Mr Shah seems to treat Goa as a pocket borough like Gujarat. It would seem that way: since the Vajpayee days, the BJP and its various Hindutva offshoots have chosen Goa as a venue for significant saffron meetings. Also, according to the local grapevine, following its failure to emerge as the single largest party in the last election, the BJP lavished resources on the state to ensure the formation of a government.
As such, it may have been easy for his people to persuade the powers that his plan to hold the meeting in the high-security airport terminal was normal.
Three, if Mr Shah decided to do this on his own, without consulting anyone in the government, especially the prime minister, then the act is a flagrant abuse of power. He has no locus standi to direct government agencies; leave alone command them to transgress rules and regulations. There is no provision in the Representation of People Act of 1951 or its many amendments that extends such powers to the head of a political party.
Four, if Mr Shah did get an okay from the prime minister, then the questions extend to both. The thinking on display is that electoral victory determines the freedom to act without let or hindrance. It would appear they simply do not feel bound by the dos and don’ts of the constitution. Seen in conjunction with the fact that both are products of the RSS, a cultish organization that explicitly refuses to acknowledge the Indian constitution, Mr Shah’s airport meeting becomes even more questionable.
One of the most disconcerting aspects of the ascent of Mr Modi on a 31 per cent mandate is his clear signal that India is now a Hindu rashtra in place of the secular nation envisioned in the constitution. Worse, all those who abide by the notion of an inclusive republic are dismissed out of hand, either as weak-kneed liberals or wild-eyed radicals.
Meanwhile, the prime minister and the BJP president have simply ignored instances of violent bigotry that are evident with increasing frequency. Beyond that, Mr Shah revived dog-whistle politics in a recent campaign speech in Gujarat, referring to Muslims as “alia-malia-jamalia.” The phrase was first used by Mr Modi during his communally-surcharged election campaign following the Godhra train burning incident.
Especially since the UP victory, the general assessment seems to be that under the Modi-Shah duo, the BJP will win the next general election in 2019. The RSS and the browbeaten and servile media have pushed that line as an inevitable outcome. But this assumes that the 69 percent of voters who did not vote for the BJP plus millions of citizens not on the electoral rolls will simply watch as cunning bigotry helps the BJP steamroller its way to a victory.
Actually, the recent hue and cry about Mr Shah’s Goa airport meeting shows that the duo may have misread the extent of their support, surrounded as they are by yes men and pliant media.
The Goa airport meeting may well have been the last straw. It comes in the wake of the #notinmynameprotests that have spread across the country. For the first time, we have seen a galvanized opposition in Goa besiege the airport director, who negated the BJP claim they had requisite permissions to stage the meetings.
An activist high court lawyer has upped the ante by taking his complaint to the high court. A television news channel known for its aggressive advocacy of the government featured the meeting on its broadcast.
Meanwhile, the Goa bench of the Bombay High Court has issued notices to senior officials in the central government, state government as well as the central industrial security force and asked them to provide a written explanation in three weeks to the petition by Goa lawyer Aires Rodrigues seeking a probe into the event. The BJP and its leadership is about to be cut down to size.
(An edited version of this post will appear in DailyO.in, July 13, 2017.)
Thursday, March 9, 2017
Narendra Modi has often claimed that elevation to the prime minister’s office in New Delhi was historic and inevitable. Last November, he attempted to consolidate his position in Indian history by making a pre-emptive announcement that invalidated Rs.500 and Rs.1,000-rupee notes valued at Rs.15.44 lakh crore or 86 percent of currency in the Indian economy. To counter the rain of criticism that greeted this diktat, Modi and his band of propagandists fielded cheerleaders — journalists, academicians, publicists and businessmen — to obscure and obfuscate the absolute mayhem the arbitrary announcement caused.
In this context, it would be instructive to examine the consequences of demonetisation.
• It crippled informal sectors of the economy in which most dealings are in cash. Contrary to government propaganda, ‘black money transactions’ are simple currency exchanges outside the banking system. Reserve Bank and government of India data (2011-2015) indicate the cash economy contributes mightily to the national economy: 45 percent of gross value added; 40 percent of capital formation and nearly 67 percent of investible funds.
• A study by the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) estimates that prime minister Modi’s demonetisation diktat knocked the stuffing out of the informal economy which employs more than 90 percent of the country’s workforce and generates almost 50 percent of national income.
• According to CIBIL, a credit rating agency, the formal sector of the economy was also badly singed. It reported a 30 percent decline in overall credit offtake with a 60 percent nosedive in November-December 2016.
• CIBIL also noted that distress was acute in rural and semi-urban areas and within the lower middle class, citing a dramatic decline of 40 percent in loans for automotive two-wheeled vehicles.
• Union labour ministry data indicates a 20 percent increase in demand for unemployment relief under MNREGA, the welfare scheme for the poorest. This suggests a reverse flow of migration from city to country.
• In the country’s eight largest cities, the real-estate sector reported a decline of 44 per cent in housing sales, a 16-year low.
• The All India Manufacturers Association which represents small and medium enterprises reported a 50 percent loss in revenue and a 35 percent cut-back in employment.
• According to estimates of economists at the National Institute of Public Finance and Policy, national GDP growth rate is likely to plunge from 7.56 percent in 2015-16 to 6.1 percent in 2016-17.
Against this backdrop, the prime intent of the Union Budget 2017-18 presented to Parliament on February 1, is a cover-up to obfuscate the impact of demonetisation on the economy which was already slowing since 2014. When awareness dawned that the ill-conceived hasty demonetisation stunt would backfire, the Modi government became unhinged and unclear about its response. The prime minister’s justification was a weird analogy that just as surgery is best performed on a healthy patient, the currency ban was a timely move against black money because the economy was in good health.
The Union Budget 2017-18 therefore betrays persistence of gimmickry: the presentation date was advanced to circumvent Election Commission restrictions on state-specific proposals; the railway budget was merged into the main budget and meaningless tax concessions were announced for the organised sector. A classic example of playing to the gallery was the scrapping of the Foreign Investment Promotion Board whose role has already been severely circumscribed to the point that less than 20 percent of all proposals are cleared by it.
The budget could have acknowledged that the currency ban made it impossible to predict revenue of the next fiscal year. It could have ignored the spending limits imposed by the Fiscal Responsibility and Budget Management Act of 2003 to boost economic growth. The government could have announced major cuts in indirect taxes as these levies have a cascading impact on the economy and substantial cuts would have helped hapless citizens whose livelihoods are threatened by the demonetisation diktat. Instead, the finance minister played around with rejigging direct tax rates and slabs and offered hollow concessions including tax rebates to small and medium enterprises.
In the final analysis, Modi’s budget simply continues the disinformation campaign surrounding the demonetisation bloomer. Initially, he sought to portray it as a “surgical strike” on black money. When it became clear that it had no impact on unaccounted cash, he billed it as a “masterstroke” against counterfeit currency and terror funding. When that too proved inadequate, he positioned it as a strike against the rich on behalf of the poor. When even that didn’t catch on considering the credible “suit-boot sarkar” charge made against him by the opposition, he simply dropped the subject. Budget 2017-18 reflects this.
Saturday, January 14, 2017
Gujarat is a small, relatively homogeneous state. Its people are entrepreneurial, focused on business and count their success in accumulated assets; not for them the glamour of a corporate career or the power of a government position. To them, government is somewhat ceremonial in the state and a complexity best avoided at the center. They want to just get on with it, providing for their families and future generations, with travel thrown in as a major diversion.
The Gujarati believes that governance with a light touch is best. For the first decade of its existence, the state government coasted along building assets: roads, power stations, factories, pleasant cities and not getting in the way of a thriving mercantile culture.
Things began to change with the decline of the textile industry, the backbone of Gujarat’s thriving economy. Politics began to dictate outcomes. The state was overwhelmed by civil disturbances including large-scale religious and caste riots. This set the stage for the populist Navnirman movement that gave way to the rabid bigotry of the BJP.
There are interesting coincidences surrounding the rise of the BJP in Gujarat and emigration from the state to the US. With the amendment of the US Immigration and Nationality Act in 1968 to allow relative petitions leading to permanent residence (green card) and citizenship, a veritable flood of middle-class people from Gujarat immigrated to the US through the 1970s. By the 1980s, they had established small businesses and begun to prosper.
Like most Gujaratis, the US cohort retained its insularity: not engaging with the host culture, refusing to blend in but especially remitting savings to families back home. Most of the money was transferred through informal channels. I can remember some people wanting to advertise in my India Tribune newspaper offering more rupees to the dollar and cash delivery to specified persons and addresses in Gujarat.
As the quantum of remittances in unreported cash grew, investible surpluses held by recipients also grew and were ploughed into real estate projects. An array of brokers and fixers emerged to facilitate such investments, usually by bending bylaws and circumventing other legal inconveniences. They became the forerunners of the BJP that came to dominate Gujarat politics, banishing the genteel idealists who served Gujarat since its formation. In their place arose a horde of scofflaws and bigots to grasp at political power.
From these murky swamps emerged a man of overwhelmingly modest intelligence but with remarkable amounts of cunning, Narendra Modi. Starting out with the Kutch earthquake in January 2001, he successfully undermined the incumbent BJP chief minister Keshubhai Patel. Modi used the earthquake to promote himself as a development icon. In reality, he merely coasted on a global disaster relief effort that was mounted in the aftermath of the earthquake.
Right at the outset though, his claims to have created an industrial and infrastructural miracle in Kutch were challenged by Edward Simpson, a highly-regarded anthropologist from the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS). In his book, The Political Biography of an Earthquake: Aftermath and Amnesia in Gujarat, India, Simpson argued that not all the changes in Kutch following the earthquake were for the better, and that in the years following the quake, divisions between Hindus and Muslims in Kutch widened.
But with his headline management skills, Modi successfully staved off questions about his role in Kutch by focusing on the development story while stoking the communal fires. As he vaulted to the chief minister’s position after Patel’s ouster, Modi appeared to have crafted a winning election strategy in which the rhetoric was development but the actual organizational play was to polarize the electorate on an anti-Muslim platform.
The following year, 2002, he put it in play following the burning of the train in Godhra and asserted his dominance on Gujarat politics and on the BJP for the next 12 years without ever being challenged about outcomes and intent. Finally, it enabled him to vault to the Prime Minister’s office.
There was one crucial difference, however. As Gujarat chief minister Modi delivered both seats in the assembly and a large vote share. As Prime Minister, he chalked up the first single-party parliamentary majority in three decades but with just about 31 percent of votes. And that’s where the rub lies. Nearly 70 percent of the electorate did not vote for him. Consequently, the questions began to fly thick and fast from virtually the moment he became Prime Minister.
To avoid these questions, Modi took to what Ravish Kumar, the highly regarded anchor of NDTV India, called “eventocracy” facilitated by a “comedia.” Essentially, this meant remaining silent until the questions became persistent and shrill and then with the active collaboration of mainstream media, changing the subject to emotive issues like nationalism, patriotism, terrorism and Pakistan. Or else staging events like the BRICS summit, Madison Square Garden, Wembley or campaign rallies in which the melodrama quotient is insufferably high with quivering voice and tears in his eyes: “beat me first, I have taken on vested interests that will not rest until they have killed me, give me 50 days.” Also high in these rallies is abusive content and whataboutery in which he mocks, derides and rails at opponents.
Easily, the mother of all diversionary tactics was demonetization, his draconian assault on the monetary system. Everyone but the mainstream TV news channels could see the widespread pain it inflicted on the average person but especially the poor and rural populations. But Modi and his cohorts refused to acknowledge just how vindictive and arbitrary it was. They laughed at first, saying the people lined up in banks and at ATMs were black money hoarders. Then they changed the subject to digital payments, cashless economy, and surgical strikes on terror funding and counterfeit banknotes.
But the questions still persist. No amount of headline management and propaganda including suspect opinion polls and feel good stories in the media can change the facts about demonetization: it was a disastrous ploy that hurt virtually the entire population of India; it was an ill-conceived attempt to divert attentions from legitimate questions about the palpable lack of governance; it was a body blow to the economy that could take years to nurse back to health.
Clearly Modi has no answers about the black money cornered by his November 8 announcement; he has no idea of when a semblance of monetary stability will be restored. But he is campaigning for the upcoming state elections as though his life depends on it, cleverly bending the narrative to suggest he is leading a fight against black money, never mind that he has been accused of taking payoffs from a dubious business enterprise and is engaged in a Watergate-style cover up, using government agencies and arbitrary transfers of inconvenient officials.
By staging event after event, finessing the narrative propagated by the pliant and unquestioning media, he hopes to dodge accountability. Many believe though this time, the impact of his idiosyncratic manoeuvre is just too overwhelming. In Gujarat 2002, where his victims were, by and large, a minority; demonetization pits the wishes and hopes of more than a billion citizens against him. That’s why Modi is going to such lengths to convince selected audiences he has the support of the vast silent majority that has suffered because of the black economy.
Back in the real world, many economists are predicting a massive deflation led by huge drops in employment, in investment, in trade. The GDP is expected to plummet to the original Hindu rate of growth.
The countdown begins now; at stake is whether people will be swayed by his fantasies or hold him responsible for the massive damage demonetization has perpetrated on the nation. The way things are going, he could be a one-term prime minister. But there’s no telling what other knee-jerk options he could pull out of his bag of amoral cunning.
(An edited version of this post will appear in http://timesofindia.com, January 14, 2017.)