EK Saal, Bura Haal
Namo Ka Ek Saal, Gamoh Ka Ek Saal
1 Year of Modi
“Good” Governance – Stifling Democracy, Pushing Saffronisation
Narendra Modi’s tenure of over a dozen years as Chief Minister of Gujarat provided enough indication of what his style would be if he became Prime Minister. His campaign speeches – in which he was fond of referring to himself in the third person – provided further confirmation that this was a man who could function only as a centralized, singular centre of power, brooking no dissent even from within his own party and cabinet. Even so, the first year of Modi’s prime ministership has come as a shock to all of India for the extent of its authoritarianism.
The very first act of this government, even before it had won the vote of confidence in the Lok Sabha, was to promulgate an ordinance to allow Modi to have a principal secretary of his choice, Nripendra Misra. The ordinance was necessary because Misra had earlier been chairman of the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) and the TRAI Act explicitly prohibited anybody who has headed the body from being appointed to a post in the Union or state governments. Modi’s reaction was typically authoritarian – if the law won’t allow me to do what I want, I’ll change the law.
In the 12 months since this revealing start, it has become common knowledge that even senior Cabinet ministers have little or no say in who gets appointed as Secretary of their departments and ministries. It is one man’s wish alone that matters. Forget consulting the minister, if newspaper reports are to believed, there have been occasions when the minister concerned has learnt from media reports that a new secretary has been appointed in his department.
Modi has also ensured that the BJP’s leadership is wiped clean of dissenting elements, having ensured the appointment of his confidante Amit Shah as the party president and restructuring the party’s leading bodies to get rid of those known to be not quite part of his fan following within the BJP. How senior some of those leaders are, how big their contribution to the party’s growth or even his own career in politics, has not bothered him. The message is clear – I am the boss.
This authoritarian streak is evident also in the way that the Modi government has dealt with Parliament. At the slightest sign of any resistance in Parliament to any legislation the government wants pushed through, it has resorted to ordinances. The most telling example of that has been the Land Acquisition Bill, which has now been promulgated thrice making a mockery of the principle that ordinances are to be used only to meet urgent situations in which there is no time for Parliament to meet, discuss and enact the relevant legislation. Here is an instance where it is amply clear that the intended law does not have Parliament’s approval and yet the government just cocks a snook at it and carries on as if Parliament is of no consequence.
Opposition MPs have also pointed out that of the more than 50 pieces of legislation that this government has brought in during its first year, only a handful have been sent to the standing committees, the only institution that gives the opposition too a role in formulating laws. Clearly, the Modi government is not interested in the opposition being involved at all, despite its talk of wanting to build Team India and so on. Such brazen disregard of Parliament would have been shocking even for a government that had won a massive mandate, but coming from a party that got a mere 31 per cent of the popular vote in the elections, it is even more galling.
The BJP will claim, of course, that the mandate was not just for it, but for the alliance it headed, and put together they won much more than just 31 per cent. The reality, however, is that this is a government of the National Democratic Alliance only in name. The NDA has not met once during the year. That’s hardly surprising given the contempt with which the BJP has treated its allies, including the one with which it has had the longest and ideologically most compatible relationship, the Shiv Sena.
That the government can’t tolerate dissent is manifested most clearly in the manner in which it has dealt with NGOs and activists who have raised their voices against any of its plans – from Teesta Setalvad to Priya Pillai of Greenpeace. It is evident also in the manner in which the organisation of the students of IIT Madras has been derecognized merely because they made some critical comments on the PM.
The practice of this government also belies its claims that it believes in the spirit of “cooperative federalism” with the states being equal partners in developing India. As part of this claim, it highlights its ‘generosity’ in giving the states a much higher share of Central taxes – 42 per cent against the earlier 32 per cent. The reality, however, is that state after state is complaining that the total transfer of Central funds has actually come down not gone up. There is reason behind this complaint. The devolution of Central taxes did go up as a result of the recommendations of the Finance Commission – not the Modi government’s unilateral generosity – but Plan funds transferred for Centrally-sponsored schemes have been drastically cut. The net result is to create a bigger hole in states’ finances.
This phenomenon of claims and reality being in complete contradiction is evident also in the government’s approach to ending corruption, one of its main campaign slogans. Not only has the government continued with the same neo-liberal policies that have fostered large scale corruption over the last two decades, it has refused to even appoint people to head key bodies supposed to help deal with corruption. The Central Vigilance Commission (CVC), which deals with corruption by public servants continues headless. The Central Information Commission (CIC), which passes orders on Right to Information-related issues, also remains headless. The Lokpal is yet to be appointed. On black money, the promise of bringing back all the money stashed abroad and bringing people to book sounds like a sick joke. All we’ve got is an SIT and some names from the Swiss authorities.
The ‘good governance’ plank of the Modi Government is most thoroughly exposed by the manner in which it has dealt with communalism. The old RSS trick of speaking in two voices while fanning communal polarization is quite clear. Not only have elements of the sangh parivar indulged in vicious communal propaganda, even BJP MPs like Sakshi Maharaj and government ministers like Niranjan Jyoti have followed suit. Niranjan Jyoti, for instance, suggested that India was split between ‘Ramzaade’ and ‘haraamzaade’. What has been the PM’s reaction to such comments? In most cases, the initial response is deafening silence. When he has been forced to make a statement, he has made the right noises, but what has actually happened to such elements? Has a single one of them been dropped from the council of ministers? Far from it. In fact, some have even been promoted within the party hierarchy after ostensibly being rapped on the knuckles for saying what they did.
Meanwhile Modi’s chosen one for the Human Resources Development ministry, Smriti Irani, pushes the saffron agenda brazenly, exhibited most clearly in the shocking appointment of Y Sudarshan Rao, a dyed-in-wool Sangh man as the head of the Indian Council for Historical Research. Rao’s main task has been made quite explicit by his disbanding of the advisory committee of the journal Indian Historical Review. The committee included luminaries like Romila Thapar, Satish Chandra and Irfan Habib and its disbanding has shocked the academic community not just in India, but across the world. But for the sangh, that is a small price to pay for ideological ‘cleansing’.
That then is the gist of the Modi strategy – on the one hand, run a highly centralized, pro-business administration that brooks no dissent from the people or their elected representatives. On the other push the agenda of the sangh, for which achhe din have indeed arrived.