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Mainstream, VOL LII No 30, July 19, 2014

A Budget for Hindu Rashtra or Secular India?

Sunday 20 July 2014

by Arun Srivastava

Impassioned election speeches of Narendra Modi to create a Congress-Mukt Bharat (an India Free of the Congress) was not aimed only at changing the political system and power structure of the country, it also aimed to exhort the people, the policy-makers, the bureaucrats to move away from the Nehruvian model of politics and economic practices. Modi politically succeeded in liberating the country of the Congress, but the presentation of the first Budget of the Modi Government made it explicitly clear that it continues to perpetuate and practice the economic legacy of the Congress. The votary of the anti-Nehru economic policy and programme could not come up with an alternate concept. This only endorsed the pre-election apprehen-sions that the BJP, specially Modi, does not have any blue-print of an alternate economy policy. Though India during the period of globalisation has been following in the footsteps of the capitalist model of market economy and to accomplish the task has been vigorously pursuing liberalisation and reforms, the fact remains that still the Nehruvian economic model continues to exert strong political authority on the economy and planned development.

The BJP from the beginning, with the aim to assert its own independent identity in the political arena and positioning itself as a strong contender for power, has been projecting the façade of an economic model parallel to the models of the Socialists, Communists and Congress. But the bare fact remains that as the RSS has not evolved its own independent economic policy, the BJP borrowed the economic idioms and phrases from others. From specifically drawing on the concept of Ram Rajya from Mahatma Gandhi and that of “integral humanism” from Deen Dayal Upadhyaya, the party hovered between the Swadeshi model and the Gandhian economy. In the past the BJP even contemplated to amalgamate it with the Hindu ideals. But the subjective political conditions did not help the party to the extent that it should go ahead with experimenting the idea.

In the 1950s and early 1960s, the Jana Sangh opposed Nehru’s plan to develop land cooperatives on the ground that it was no different from communist collectivisation. The Jana Sangh’s 1951 manifesto demanded that labour-management relations be organised on the basis of profit-sharing. Importantly, it declared that foreign trade should be regulated “in the interest of self-sufficiency and swadeshi”. In a policy statement in 1951, the party urged: “It is, therefore, necessary to revive the spirit of Swadeshi. This will save us from reckless imitation, from unnecessary and excessive dependence on foreign capital, and create in us a tendency for restraint and avoidance of conspicuous consumption.”

During the 2014 Lok Sabha elections the RSS had planned to push forward the old economic concept of Swadeshi. The blue-print was with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh but the Sangh leadership did not think prudent to unfold it at that juncture. It was apprehensive of the electoral success of the policy; whether the middle class and the corporate sector would like it. Nevertheless, Modi’s massive victory in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections and the associated rally in the Indian markets could have been the perfect setting for the BJP specially to revive its old economic formula for keeping the promises made to the people. But once again the RSS and BJP retreated. In fact in the second week of January the top leadership of the RSS and BJP had discussed the economic issues, including foreign direct investment (FDI) and tax reforms, just before the National Executive meet of the BJP. The BJP was represented by senior leader Murli Manohar Joshi, former Finance Minister Yashwant Sinha and Murlidhar Rao, among others. Leaders from the Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh and Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad also participated in it. At the meeting the RSS leadership did not force the BJP to opt for old ideas; instead advised it to articulate the people’s aspirations.

The RSS and BJP have never been clear about the economic model to be adopted by the party though some economists close to the Sangh and Modi have been presenting an anti-Amartya Sen line; but at the same time they were for intensifying the reforms. Interestingly, the BJP following in the footsteps of the AAP was for scrapping FDI in multi-brand retail in Delhi. But Modi adopted an ambivalent stand. The BJP had opposed tooth-and-nail the bringing of FDI in multi-brand retail even in Parliament. Modi suggested to the traders and also his partymen to restrain and not to outright oppose FDI in retail. What is clearly evident is that the RSS, BJP and Modi do not converge on a common economic policy and programme.

Rajiv Gandhi as the Prime Minister took to liberalisation in 1985 with the aim of taking India into the 21st century as an advanced industrial country. However, his drive was met with stiff opposition from within his own party and also from the Communist Parties and the powerful trade unions. The BJP was critical of Rajiv’s economic policies for going on “a vast borrowing spree, both externally and internally, in the name of liberalisation”. It viewed “with alarm the growing scale of the invasion of our national economy by multinationals” and it demanded the “immediate reversal of such suicidal policies”.

After the 1991 elections, the Congress returned to power but as a minority government. Its first priority was to cope with an unprecedented economic crisis. The then Prime Minister, Narasimha Rao, made a paradigm shift in economic policy from the Nehruvian model to following the market dictates and liberalisation of the economy. The Rao Government received critical cooperation from the BJP. With liberali-sation the Congress had stolen a significant part of the BJP’s economic programme. But it settled down in favour of the reforms and liberalisation. Even at this stage the party did not opt for Swadeshi or Gandhian economy.

At that stage there was a strong view inside the party that the Hindutva model of growth should be adopted. The most distinguishing feature of Hindutva is the model of economic progress that it promotes, in which Hindu assertion is featured as a prerequisite for economic growth and prosperity. Denial of scholarships or refusing to accept the recommendations of the Sachar Comm-ission by Modi when he was the Chief Minister of Gujarat may appear to be a political action but in the true sense it was an economic sanction against the Muslims: obey me, follow me or lurch. Modi has even derided the welfare schemes as “dole politics”. He was opposed to the Food Security Act and it was merely a piece of paper for him. In fact the emphasis was on how Hindu resurgence brings in material progress. There is one interesting aspect of this develop-ment. The RSS and BJP ideologues and intellectuals view the demolition of the Babri Masjid as a prelude to the initiation of the new economic policy and hold it responsible for India opting for liberalisation and reforms. They even hold the view that it was the failure of the socialist mode of economy and economic growth that finally culminated in India moving towards market economics, material prosperity and openness. True enough, these people view these developments as a sign of assertion of Hindu economic growth.

If at all their argument is to be believed and accepted then the Modi Government at the first place should have discarded and abandoned the UPA’s economic policy. But in reality and even Modi’s Finance Minister, Arun Jaitley, did not deny that he based his Budget on the remnants of the UPA’s fiscal policies. The Budget speaks of initiation of major steps for reforms, but the government has not spelt out the specific actions and modalities. The RSS too has been soft pedalling the issue. Nowadays the RSS’ writ runs in the BJP to ensure that Modi’s writ runs, and not to enforce any ideological regimen. The RSS is no more willing to use its right to veto, but is too keen to play along with the agenda set by Modi.

It would have been naïve to expect some big action or implementation of the Hindu agenda by the Modi Government. But at the same time it was quite natural to nurse expectations that the government would execute some of the fundamental policies dear to the RSS. Except for emphasising a commitment to Budget restraint especially for future years, as well as announcing some steps for boosting FDI in a couple of sectors, there was no real big factor. It is also not that he was scared to antagonise the Muslims by following his pet Swadeshi economic agenda. It is said: “Jaitley presented the budget in about six weeks after the NDA Government under Narendra Modi took office. There was too little time to prepare a comprehensive Hindu or Swadeshi economic policy.”

It is hard to accept this explanation. This is simply an alibi. The fact remains that the BJP and the RSS were undecided about placing a Budget for Hindu Rashtra or Secular India. It is worth mentioning that both the BJP and RSS hold that Jaitley presented pragmatic proposals which are aimed at reigniting growth and reviving the economy. Significantly the Budget even does not carry the imprint of the priorities spelt out by the Prime Minister in the past six-to-eight months, during his election campaign. The Modi Govern-ment’s Budget was framed primarily with an eye on the international fraternity rather than trying to meet the aspirations and expectations of the Indian people. Naturally it would have to be secular in approach. The world fraternity has high expectations from Modi and they believe that here is a leader who is going to take India closer to its true potential of economic growth and deliver the policies that are necessary to take the country there.

The relation between the Hindu assertion and economic growth is what makes the idea of the Hindutva rate of growth opposed to the ‘Hindu rate of growth’. It is generally believed that the Hindu traditionalists have antagonistic relations with the middle class. This is the reason for the RSS failure to have effective intervention in the urban middle class. Since this section is bourgeoning fast, the BJP and even the RSS would like to have this section on their boat. Any move to stick to the basics of Hindutva or Swadeshi may alienate this section. Modi has put lots of efforts to erase the suspicion from the minds of the middle class about the lower-caste aspirations by projecting himself as a person having a backward-caste origin. The middle class is assured of no invasion on their economic benefits. In fact this is part of the strategy of Modi to change. Modi has transformed himself from an extreme Hindutva majoritarian figure to a Right-of-Centre moderate. A conscious effort is being made to project Modi as a leader more interested in economic growth and infrastructure development than religious politics and communal violence.

The author is a senior journalist and can be contacted at sriv52@gmail.com