Modi 2.0: Early Signals and Renewed Challenges

CONTRARY to widespread expectations, the Modi government has come back stronger. The BJP on its own has secured an enhanced majority and a bigger vote share. In the last five years we have seen how the Modi government used its 2014 victory as a license not only to promote corporate loot and aggression but also to wage a sustained war on the Constitution, destroy the autonomy of various institutions of governance and the system of checks and balances to unleash and enforce the agenda of the RSS. It is not difficult to imagine how the Modi government will tend to use its power in its second term. Indeed, there are already plenty of initial signals in the first ten days.

True to his fraudulent rhetoric, Modi did make the right noise of inclusive governance, asking his party to be humble in victory and assuring the minorities that they had no reason to be fearful. This was perhaps aimed at impressing the international community where he is widely recognised by the title given by the Time magazine: India’s ‘divider-in-chief’. Within the country, his followers of course interpreted his words as signs of encouragement and impunity as they garnished their victory celebrations with dozens of episodes of terror. Opposition activists were killed, voters were beaten up, and in Tripura punitive fines were imposed on opposition voters in the name of collecting donations for the BJP’s victory celebration. In West Bengal, buoyed with its stunning electoral success, the BJP is virtually running an expedition to conquer the state, triggering wholesale defection from the TMC.

The clearest signals of the new government came with the formation of the new cabinet. Amit Shah has joined the cabinet as the Minister of Home Affairs, considered the second most important post in the cabinet. It should be remembered that Shah was the Home Minister in Gujarat and was the mastermind behind the string of encounters which had led to his incarceration and was debarred from entering Gujarat on Supreme Court order before he dubiously got himself acquitted. In the 2019 elections both Modi and Shah campaigned aggressively for implementing the NRC and amending the Citizenship Act, terming immigrants as infiltrators and termites and promising their forcible deportation. Other key issues of the RSS agenda like the construction of Ram temple in Ayodhya, scrapping of Article 370 and 35A have been prominently featured in the BJP’s 2019 manifesto and Amit Shah will clearly have a key role in intensifying the Modi government’s ongoing war on the Constitution and the institutional foundation of our Republic.

Two other entrants to the Modi cabinet also indicate the direction of the government. Former bureaucrat Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, who served as Foreign Secretary under the Modi government from January 2015 to January 2018 has been inducted as the External Affairs Minister. This clearly shows how the Modi government is systematically politicising the bureaucracy and destroying its autonomy. We can already see two important steps in this direction – packing the bureaucracy with handpicked individuals via the newly introduced ‘lateral entry’ route, and then inducting bureaucrats into the cabinet. With retired Army Chiefs and career bureaucrats joining the cabinet, we can easily see how the government, aided by the RSS, is penetrating every institution and laying the foundation of a totalitarian state. The other ‘shock entry’ into the cabinet is that of Pratap Chandra Sarangi from Odisha. While he is being showcased as an epitome of austerity and ‘social service’, he should be best recognised as the chief of Odisha unit of Bajrang Dal who instigated the killing of Australian Missionary Graham Staines and his two minor children in 1999.

In its first term, the Modi government had coined the phrase ‘cooperative federalism’ but functioned as an over-centralising machine that tilted the Indian polity away from any semblance of federalism to an increasingly unitary state. This time round, Modi began with another deceptive acronym called NARA which apparently reconciles National Ambition with Regional Aspirations. But just as the BJP Lok Sabha contingent has not a single Muslim face, Modi cabinet has very limited representation from the southern states which are increasingly feeling the pressure of the Hindi-Hindu-Hindustan model of the RSS. The anti-federal anti-diversity character of the Modi government also became clear in the draft New Education Policy proposal to make Hindi a compulsory third language in all non-Hindi states. The growing centralising tendency of the Modi government is also affecting the balance within the NDA forcing the BJP’s second biggest ally, JDU, to refuse the symbolic representation offered to it.

During the elections, the Modi government tried its best to insulate itself from any public scrutiny about its performance. The government suppressed the alarming GDP and unemployment data, forcing top statisticians to resign. The data are now formally out. It is now officially on record that the GDP growth rate in the first quarter of 2019 was at the lowest in last five years: 5.8% in sharp contrast to the tall claims of double digit growth rate. And while growth rate has hit the lowest point, unemployment has hit a peak last touched forty five years ago. The Modi government claims to have fetched growing global recognition for India, but his return for the second term coincided with the US announcement denying India the Generalised System of Preferences status, rendering almost 50 Indian commodities exported to US costlier, thus delivering a big blow to India’s small and medium enterprises which account for the bulk of GSP exports. There are no indications from the government as to how it plans to tackle all these economic challenges. But the government was quick to announce its road map of privatisation of PSUs and curtailment of trade union rights.

The Modi government is back to what it has been doing all along – destroying the economy, dividing the people and decimating the institutional fabric of democracy. The people of India must also resume their resistance without any delay.