The Prime Minister and his minters and party colleagues are repeatedly declaring that a ‘New India’ is being created by them. The latest in this chorus is a patriotic song released by the education minister himself, dedicated to ‘New India’. Almost simultaneously, India’s richest man and top industrialist Mukesh Ambani announced his approval for ‘New India’. Meanwhile the defense state minister exhorted children to work for ‘New India’. Surely, when the PM addresses the nation on 15 August 2019, he will refer to this again.
What is this ‘New India’ and is it what India’s people dreamt of in 1947?
While BJP and the larger Sangh Parivar will like to define ‘New India’ in multi-faceted ways, it all really boils down to two things: a new social-political system, and a new economic system. Let’s look at the features of each.
One whole state (J&K) has been turned into a prison, with thousands of armed troops guarding it, telephones and internet is shut down, media is gagged. Why? Because of an old RSS dream that a Muslim majority state cannot have a special status and it needs to be “integrated” by changing its demographics. Elsewhere, in the North-East, another state (Assam) is going through agony pangs as so-called foreigners (that is, Muslims) are being “identified” for deportation. In the rest of the country, the minorities are reeling under violence, discrimination and terror tactics, as they are pushed to the margins and ghettoised. Gangs of BJP/Sangh Parivar go about thrashing people if they don’t chant ‘Jai Shree Ram’ or ‘Vande Matram’. They will kill if you are found or even suspected of dealing with cattle.
So this is one feature of ‘New India’ – a mobilisation of Hindu fundamentalists for cowing down and trampling minorities. This of course flows directly from erstwhile RSS supremo and ideologue, MS Golwalkar’s edict that Muslims will have to live as second class citizens in India (if at all).
Achieving and holding on to power, while crushing any dissent is another feature that marks the emerging ‘New India’. Over a dozen state governments have been subverted so that BJP can grab power, the latest example being Karnataka where MLAs were reportedly bribed to abstain and thus allow BJP to prove its majority. For the Lok Sabha elections, BJP led by Modi and Shah, deployed hundreds of crores of rupees, mostly collected from corporate houses, to bombard the people with false promises, divide them on religion, caste and regional lines and ensure a victory. It was a victory of lies powered by money and muscle power. After winning, they have quickly pushed through various laws, including the abrogation of Art.370 and 35A, but also changes in RTI Act (to weaken it), and UAPA and NIA (to use the draconian laws for intimidation). Democracy and federalism – twin pillars of the Constitution and key achievements of the Freedom Struggle – are both being crushed by Modi et al. who are heirs of the RSS legacy and hence, don’t carry any history of the Freedom Struggle themselves.
In the creation of ‘New India’ an important feature is decisively shifting the legal and economic equilibrium in favour of big business. Hence, the quick passing of the Code on Wages and Code on Occupational Health, Safety and Working Conditions to effectively dismantle protective labour laws and allow freedom to employers to exploit workers. The labour minister announced that a national floor level minimum wage was to be fixed at a mere Rs.178 per day, less than a third of what should have been as per prevailing norms. This is the other key feature of ‘New India’ – it is heaven for corporate and landlord exploitation for unbridled profit-making. Small wonder that all the Ambanis, Adanis, Tatas and Birlas are genuflecting before this god of neoliberal rule. Other aspects of this pre-eminence given to private/corporate sector is the rapid steps taken to privatise large segments of education and healthcare as seen in the New Education Policy and the insurance based healthcare delivery system installed through Ayushman Bharat.
This has gone hand in hand with massive concessions to corporates, throughout the tenure of the Modi govt. amounting to as much as a whopping Rs.4.32 lakh crore, according to Budget documents.
But while all this frenzied building of ‘New India’ is going on, the economic situation that has steadily gone from bad to worse under Modi’s sagacious rule. Currently, unemployment is at a staggering 8%, with youth unemployment at about 20%, according to CMIE estimates. The great demographic dividend – a youthful population that will be more productive – is being frittered away, and indeed being sold to domestic and foreign corporates cheaply. Economic growth is down to 5.8% in the first quarter of this year, exports are down, and industrial production is down. The Index of Industrial Production (IIP) slipped to a low of just 2% in June this year while growth in eight core sectors was just 0.2%. The slowdown in automobile sector has led to job losses of an estimated 2.3 lakh workers according to industry body SIAM. Consumption expenditure is stagnating as people are dipping into their savings to survive. Farm incomes are suffering from endemic losses, agricultural wages are stagnating. In short, the country’s people are paying a heavy price for the govts. profligacy and favouring of corporate interests.
As a result of the social strife, economic distress and political skulduggery, there is widespread discontent and anger at the govt.’s policies as reflected in repeated struggles by workers, farmers, employees and other sections of people. The Modi govt. is managing this discontent not by resolving the problems but by throwing up distractions of pseudo-nationalism and patriotism in the name of Kashmir, or Kargill, or tiger counts or $5 trillion economy or Chandrayaan and such like.
But this was not what the people aspired for in 1947 when India became independent. The new India they had hoped for was a democratic, secular country where all people, irrespective of religion, caste and region would live and work together and where economic exploitation would end. The ‘New India’ that RSS and Modi are offering is a nightmare version of that.