It is eight years since Narendra Modi became Prime Minister of India, heading an NDA government. The BJP is observing this anniversary in a big way, combining it with their election campaign for some state Assembly elections due later this year, Gujarat being one of the important ones. The ruling party organised a meeting of all its national and state office bearers recently in Jaipur where a long statement narrating various achievements of the Modi government was issued. Also declared in this meeting was a triple slogan for marking the anniversary from 30 May to 15 June. The slogan is – Sewa (service), Sushasan (good governance), Garib Kalyan (welfare of poor).
It is a cruel irony that the ruling party has chosen these slogans. In eight years, the Modi Sarkar has actually dedicated itself single-mindedly and zealously to providing service to the country’s corporate sector, it has worked night and day to protect its welfare and tailored governance to suit and benefit this sector. Governments are executive committees for the ruling classes, as we all know. But never before has India seen a government so brazenly and shamelessly working for the domestic and foreign big capital.
Let us look at some of the ways Modi Sarkar has been working for the corporate sector, the big landowners, and their hangers on.
Good Governance – Making Laws to favour Rich
The Modi Sarkar has crafted several laws that are meant to favour the rich, specifically, the corporate sector. Some of them are:
• Labour Codes: 29 existing labour laws were scrapped and ‘merged’ into four Labour Codes that have been passed by the Parliament in 2019 and 2020. These are the Codes on – Wages, Industrial Relations, Social Security and Occupational Safety, Health and working Conditions. Together, these Codes destroy whatever meagre protection offered by earlier labour laws against exploitation, low wages, dismissal from service, healthy working conditions etc. The new Codes enshrine a hire and fire right for employers, provide for fixed term employment, change the way minimum wages are fixed, allow increased working hours, make it difficult to organise and almost finish off the labour law implementation machinery. All of these were long standing demands of the corporate sector and the Modi government fulfilled them, ignoring the repeated demands of working class movement to not go this way. The Rules that need to be framed under these Codes are still not ready, since they have to be devised by State governments. But most BJP state governments have gone ahead and implemented the Codes in letter and spirit through their own ordinances or laws. This has led to huge insecurity of jobs, stagnant wages, deteriorating work conditions, and increased work loads on workers. On the other hand, profits of industrial houses and other companies have soared in the past few years as they threw workers out during the pandemic just to maintain their profit margins. The struggle against these laws continues.
• Farm Laws: In 2020, in the midst of the deadly pandemic, the Modi government brought in three new laws related to agriculture, and an amendment to the Electricity Act. These were meant to dismantle the government procurement system, do away with the Minimum Support Price (MSP) mechanism, allow contract farming, allow traders and wholesalers to stock and determine prices of food grains and other essential items, besides denying subsidised power for farmers. It was a naked attempt to deliver the country’s agricultural production and trade system into the greedy jaws of corporate sector. In this case however, the farmers unitedly fought back and after a year long struggle, the government was forced to repeal the laws. However, attempts to sabotage the existing mandis and procurement system continues surreptitiously.
• Goods & Services Tax (GST): Through this complete overhaul of the existing tax system, the central government has taken within its jurisdiction virtually all taxation powers that earlier resided with states. Also, the complex and onerous slab system has destroyed small and medium enterprises, while benefitting the big corporate houses. In one fell blow, through the imposition of GST in 2017, the Modi government destroyed thousands of small and medium enterprises, rendering their workforce unemployed.
• Insolvency & Bankruptcy Code (IBC): Through this law, a system of quickly declaring companies insolvent or bankrupt was brought in so that bigger corporate houses could buy them up at low prices. Banks and other creditors have lost huge amounts of their loans while corporate houses have moved in.
• Changes in foreign direct investment rules: Various sectors – from coal mining to space exploration, from defence production to steel – have been opened up for inviting foreign investment through changes in rules governing investment. This will lead to takeover of these sectors by deep-pocketed multinational companies who will siphon away profits from the country. These FDI changes have gone hand in hand with privatisation of public sector assets.
These are a few important examples of the way Modi Sarkar has worked tirelessly to favour the super rich corporate class in India. It is because of this effort that many international agencies and corporates are so full of praise for PM Modi. But this is not all.
Service & Welfare of Corporates
The Modi Sarkar has used its full fiscal and financial powers too, to provide enormous largesse to the corporate sector. This is where the ‘sewa’ or service and the ‘kalyan’ or welfare part comes in. Here are a few well-known examples:
• Corporate Tax Cut: In 2019, Modi Sarkar gave a huge gift to the corporate sector by cutting the corporate tax rate from 30% to 22% (35% to 26% if surcharges etc included). In effect this meant that the government gave a gift of Rs.1.45 lakh crore to the corporate sector. The logic that this would lead to more investment and hence more jobs has proved to be untrue – the jobs situation continued to worsen, investment too remained sketchy.
• Other Tax Concessions to Corporates: Between 2014-15 and 2020-21, Modi Sarkar gave various rebates, concessions and waivers worth Rs.6.15 lakh crore to corporate tax payers, according to Union Budget documents. These are distinct from concessions given to non-corporate entities and individuals, and it does not include revenue foregone due to customs duty rebates.
• Loans Write-off: Since Modi Sarkar came into power eight years ago, Rs 10.72 lakh crore worth of loans have been written off by banks, mostly public sector banks, which act on the directives of the government. This was revealed in an RTI reply to The Indian Express in 2021. Who has benefitted? Most of these loan write offs are for big amounts – over Rs100 crore loans – which means this concession is again benefitting the corporate sector.
• Big Defaulters: In response to an RTI query by a Pune based activist, the Reserve Bank of India revealed that there were 1913 wilful defaulters, who together owed Rs1.46 lakh crore to banks as on June 2020. Of these, there were total 264 wilful defaulters with bad loans of Rs.100 crore and above who owed Rs.1,08,527 crore to banks.
Not satisfied with giving these concessions that increase the profits of corporates, Modi Sarkar has embarked upon the most shameless of loots on behalf of the corporate sector by selling off the country’s precious physical assets including functioning industrial assets to private entities at much discounted prices.
• Selling Off Public Sector: Between 2014-15 and 2021-22, the government sold off various public sector enterprises for a whopping Rs.4.86 lakh crore to various private bidders. Of late this drive has run into trouble because of the pandemic induced slow-down in global economy and the resistance from workers unions, as seen in the recent BPCL case. Yet the government has pushed through the disinvestment of LIC, jeopardising crores of policy holders’ interests.
• Sale/Lease of Public Assets: Since such disinvestment was not proceeding at the pace desired by the corporates, the Modi Sarkar has come up with an even more flagrant sale programme – it is planning to ‘lease’ out Rs.6 lakh crore worth of physical assets like railway lines and stations, telecom system, power transmission lines, oil and gas pipelines, roads, bridges, ports etc to private entities, under the National Monetisation Pipeline.. These so called ‘leases’ will run for upto 40 years so in effect this is outright sale disguised as a lease.
What about the people?
The people are meanwhile suffering from back breaking unemployment, low wages, and sky high prices that are destroying family budgets. The promises of ‘achhe din’ (good days) and ‘2 crore jobs per year’ have gone out of the window. The Modi Sarkar claims that it has given benefits to the poor and needy by running various welfare schemes. But most of these are under-funded and limited. For example, an estimated 10 crore persons are not part of the public distribution system. About 14% of people who apply for MGNREGA jobs are refused work on an average every year and in any case, average number of days of work is barely half of the stipulated 100 days. Various loans given under Mudra scheme and other such skill related programmes have failed to make any dent in rising unemployment. The free cooking gas connection too has turned out to be a hoax because the subsidy on domestic gas cylinders was withdrawn a couple of years back and families are unable to buy gas cylinders at Rs.1000 or more. So much so that the government has continued to increase excise duties on petrol and diesel raking in over Rs.18 lakh crore in the past eight years, unmindful of the fact that this has driven up prices of transportation, and hence caused a general price rise.
When the BJP celebrates “Sewa, Sushasan, Garib Kalyan” it is hoodwinking people because actually it has served only corporate and rich sections’ interests, leaving the poor to fend for themselves. Perhaps it feels that the people will be entangled in disputes about temples and mosques, about Taj Mahal and Qutub Minar, and dazzled by Kashmir Files and citizenship criteria changes. But the cup of misery and suffering is overflowing – the people see through this fraud and they are gearing up to reject this anti-people government lock, stock and barrel.