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Mainstream, VOL LII, No 46, November 8, 2014

Ominous Signals

Sunday 9 November 2014, by SC


Striking a note of departure from what PM Narendra Modi had promised the electorate during his whirlwind Lok Sabha election campaign earlier this year, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley has said rectifying the economy would take a “lot of time” since the “pit was reasonably deep” and a “large number of steps are needed”.

At the same time he told the India Economic Summit (organised by the World Economic Forum and Confederation of Indian Industry) in New Delhi yesterday that some major steps towards carrying forward the process of economic reforms were in the offing. These included, as per expectations, sale of loss-making PSUs, easier norms for land acquisition and labour law reforms. However, he hastened to add that the government’s current policy was divestment rather than outright privatisation.

Jaitley has thus removed all doubts, if there was any, on the government’s approach to reforms. It goes without saying that these would strike at the root of the interests of the peasantry and workers as well as the nation at large regardless of what the corporates and the media under their control claim. Nevertheless, he explained big-bang reforms could be adversely affected by “just one bad idea” like the provision of retrospective taxation. Instead he referred to the guidelines laid down for the auctioning of coal blocks and disclosed that similar reforms would soon be taken with regard to other minerals as well.

He said the process of changing the labour laws had already begun but declined to give a time-frame for concluding those changes. Interestingly, he opined that “some aspects of the labour laws can certainly be improved and rationalised” but underscored the need for wider discussion as the government had to convince people that flexible labour laws would help create new jobs. This was stressed evidently to conceal the hire-and-fire policy such ‘flexibility’ would entail so as to enhance the profits of the employers.

It was just jugglery with words—the direction was quite unmistakable: the neo-liberal development paradigm will be pursued as vigorously as the ground situation warrants, that is, without inviting any element of instability.

Would this be able to ward off the crisis on the horizon? The answer, from close observers of the national scene, is an emphatic ‘no’. Even the corporate mouthpieces have pointed to the fact that the “dark clouds haven’t disappeared”. In any dispassionate analysis, reform or no reform, these clouds would deepen in the days ahead. And that is when the Modi Government will come out in its true colours which it has been able to successfully hide so far thanks to the generous cooperation of the corporate-driven, “free” media.

Meanwhile as the path has now been cleared for polls in Delhi (where there has been no government for the last eight months) with the BJP conveying to the LG its inability to form a government in the present Assembly, there are worrying incidents of communal violence and tensions in Trilokpuri and Bawana in the Capital city. Howsoever much enlightened citizens seek to bring back the focus of attention on development and governance, there are vested interests entrenched in the ruling establishment at the Centre that are working overtime to ensure genuine communal polarisation in a bid to garner votes. (Modi’s rhetorical outbursts at election rallies on the twin issues of ‘development’ and ‘governance’ should be dismissed offhand as mere electoral propaganda.) That attempt needs to be countered with all the strength at one’s command. This is where secular democrats must build up cohesive resistance for there are prospects of the scenario on this score turning from bad to worse in the days ahead.

Reports from Bihar carry ominous portents. Following the BJP parting ways with the JD(U) Government there, since June 2013 there have been 170 incidents of communal clashes in the State—more than 10 incidents a month.

As far as the BJP is concerned, its attitude to the Muslims in the States ruled by it is transparent from the low Muslim representation not only in the State Assemblies where it has a majority but also in the Ministries in those States: there is just one Muslim Minister (in Rajasthan) among 151 Minsiters in the nine States where it enjoys a majority in the Assemblies: in contrast Muslim Ministers in the 13 big States not ruled by the BJP number 52 (this is 16 per cent of those States’ total ministerial berths). A report in The Hindu to this effect reveals the BJP-RSS-style of nation-building completely ignoring the country’s religious diversity, composite culture and pluralism.

Such a situation under the BJP was not in the least unexpected. But this lends fresh evidence (if such evidence is at all needed) of how the idea of India is being systematically undermined across the country by the ruling dispensation at the Centre. And this really bodes ill for the nation’s future.

November 6 S.C.

ISSN : 0542-1462 / RNI No. : 7064/62