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Mainstream, VOL LIV No 28 New Delhi July 2, 2016

Two Long Years and Nothing to Show

Friday 1 July 2016

by Mridula Mukherjee

The Modi Government loves mythology. And not only as a substitute for history. But as a substitute for reality. And this for good reason. The reality that has unfolded in the last two years is so far removed from the dreamland or ‘Achhe Din’ promised in the longest election campaign in Indian history, that myth-making is the only choice left for the dream merchants of the Sangh.

One-third of India is in the grip of severe drought, with many areas suffering for the third consecutive year. The situation is so bad that even drinking water is scarce, and it is not only fields that are dry but throats that are parched. Water-levels have dipped precariously in lakes, tanks, wells and even underground. Agriculture, never a money-spinner, except for tax-evading urban businessmen who show huge tax-free farm incomes, grew at 0.2 per cent in 2014-15. Farmer suicides are rising and spreading to new areas. You would imagine that the government which talks of ‘sabka saath sabka vikas’ would at least show compassion and order all its Ministers and party functionaries to devote all attention to this emergency.

Instead, you are offered a grand Yoga Day celebration. It is all very well for well-heeled urban babus to congregrate at India Gate lawns and other public places to perform yogic exercises. After all, they need to calm their nerves and relieve the tension caused by not being able to decide which foreign country or university their progeny should go to for higher education to prove their nationalist credentials, since the best Indian universities are dens of ‘anti-national’ elements. They spend sleepless nights wondering whether the best choice is the PM’s favourite country where super-nationalist NRIs spend all their time (left over from making money) promoting Hinduism. Their worries increase when the thought creeps in what if their darlings get swayed by unspeakable temptations lurking in this Christian, beef-eating land? Sure, they need Yoga.

But what about the tens of millions, or crores, who have not enough to fill their stomachs or satisfy their thirst? Their crops have failed because of drought, so nature is at fault. But why has the government reduced the expenditure on MGNREGA from the peak of 0.6 per cent of the GDP in 2010-11 to 0.26 per cent of the GDP in 2016-17, when rural distress has increased and the rural poor need enhanced employment opportunities? Why is food inflation not checked, and the price of dal, especially arhar, remains at absurdly high levels for months on end?

On the excuse of increased share of revenue to States, funds for schemes, which the Centre is legally obliged to support, are not transferred. The ICDS centres are in poor state in many parts, mid-day meals in schools are under stress, there is little provision for providing fodder for cattle, feeding the destitute, the elderly, the children. Funds for RTE have declined, as are those for rural health and sanitation.

Recent surveys by independent agencies, such as the CMS, have shown that of the 40 governmnt schemes studied, MGNREGA and Food Security Act were among the worst performing schemes.

Jan Dhan Yojana is the best performing, but how will empty bank accounts fill hungry stomachs? The spectacle, Jan Dhan accounts, is more important than the substance, which could be provided by Food Security Act and MGNREGA. Is Yoga the panacea for empty food and water bowls? Vice-Chancellors may well bend to the UGC diktat to conduct Yoga performances on June 21, but dare the government order panchayat heads to do the same in India’s villages?

The tragedy for this government however is not that they did nothing for the poor, especialy the rural poor. That was only to be expected from a regime that got corporate support for their election campaign to an extent unparalleled in the history of independent India. It is not only the innocent young first-time voters who bought into the El Dorado promised by Modi. Corporate India, which should have known better, fell for the bait of ‘enhanced ease of doing business’, having forgotten the history of the fate of German business which hailed Hitler only to regret it sorely later. The tragedy of this government is they could do nothing for their corporate supporters. Exports and imports have been falling for months, industrial production is failing to pick up, Make in India remains an empty slogan. The enormous opportunity provided by falling petroleum prices and the slowing down of the Chinese dragon has been frittered away.

Ordinary citizens are wondering when the famed black money will reach their empty Jan Dhan accounts. When will their children get the promised jobs, since job-creation is abysmal?

In the meantime, the government ensures they are kept entertained by TV channels (we have a free press, please remember) who daily berate the anti-national elements, whose natural habitat is in India’s best Universities, such as HCU, JU, and JNU. Further diversion from empty stomachs and no jobs is provided by nationalist lawyers beating up anti-national students such as Kanhaiya and journalists like Sonam Malhotra, so everybody can go to sleep satisfied that their deprivation is for a good national cause.

The icing on the nationalist cake (sorry, not the foreign version but the desi milk cake, for which the infamous Dadri is famous), whenever people’s minds wander, and they hear “arhar Modi” instead of ‘Har har Modi’, is provided by history and historians. Rename roads, A.P.J. Abdul Kalam instead of that bigot Aurangzeb, Maharana Pratap instead of that infidel Akbar. Or, how about targeting a history book we don’t like, such as Bipan Chandra’s? Let’s remove that builder of Modern India, Jawaharlal Nehru, for a start. Let’s make Sardar Patel, a Congressman all his life, into our mascot. People will soon start believing he was a leader of the pro-British Hindu Mahasabha. And then let’s go for Subhas Bose, who gave Mahatma Gandhi the highest honour of being the first one to call him the Father of the Nation.

The bottom-line is: If you don’t have history, you need mythology. If you do not have your own nationalist heroes, you need to steal other people’s. If you do not have substance, you need rhetoric. We hope that the next three years will be short on rhetoric and long on substance.

Prof Mridula Mukherjee is a Professor of Modern Indian History (now retired), Centre for Historical Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.