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A year of Modi Raj – India in crisis

Indian PM Nahrendra Modi, May, 2015. Demotix/ Kshipra Simon. All rights reserved.Almost two years ago, in an
article for openDemocracy, this writer made a couple of predictions regarding
the outcome of the general elections in 2014 that turned out to be wide of the
mark.  The article made other assertions
that, after what came to light later in 2013 and early last year, help explain
why the predictions went awry.

I had predicted that Indian Prime Minister
Narendra Modi’s party, “can hope for a maximum of 25 percent vote share
nationally.” In the event his Bharatiya Janata (Indian people’s) Party got 31
percent of the votes polled nationally, resulting (thanks to the
first-past-the-post system, as in Britain) in a comfortable majority for the
BJP on its own, without having to depend on coalition partners. So the
following prediction stood nullified: “Modi will have to make deals with
several smaller parties, each claiming bigger pounds of flesh than their
strength in terms of seats warrants.”

The article concluded that India’s “central
government will keep lurching from crisis to crisis as coalition partners of
the bigger parties run rings around them”. A year after he was sworn into
office on 26 May 2014, there is no crisis threatening Modi and his government.

But then India and its people – especially
the indigenous peoples who live, unfortunately for them,  in mineral-rich forested lands, Dalits (formerly
known as “Untouchables”) as well as Muslims, Christians and other marginalised
groups –  are in acute crisis, thanks to
the pro-corporate and majoritarian Hindu-supremacist policies the Modi regime
is pursuing.

This is not to suggest that the crisis in
India is merely a year-old: the previous Congress party government, a
corporatist and generally supine dispensation, was hardly anything to look back
to. Led for ten long years by Manmohan Singh, who not only failed to check
massive corruption among his ministers but failed to address massive poverty
and destitution on a mass scale while his finance minister and others –
especially in the run up to the 2014 general elections – went about dispensing
massive largesse to corporate entities, the previous regime disappointed on all
counts. Singh, a person of the Sikh faith, went along with the non-prosecution
of several members of his party who were engaged in the anti-Sikh pogrom in New
Delhi in 1984  that claimed more than
3,000 lives and left thousands of families in dire straits following the
assassination of the then Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi by her two Sikh
bodyguards.

And this is not a crisis discernible to
most media-attuned people living in India’s cities – chaotic though they may be
with traffic problems, power outages, water shortages and so forth. There are
vast swathes of India that the Indian media – much less foreign – rarely ever
gets around to covering, including in the cities. Indigenous Indians protesting
against illegal evictions by government entities backed by paramilitary forces
in order to hand over vast lands to corporations are dubbed Maoists and extreme
leftists. It is open season on them. Members of police and other “disciplinary”
and armed forces in most if not all parts of the world are trained to be
ruthless to any quarry pointed out to them. In India the police, the
paramilitary forces and the armed forces used for “counter-insurgency” well
within the country’s borders enjoy “special powers” meaning impunity. They have
done so under the Congress dispensation as they do now.

Someone who has been very much a part of
the establishment in India – grandson of M.K. Gandhi, former civil servant,
former Indian ambassador in South Africa and former governor of the state of
West Bengal – sees the country as being in a “state of emergency”:
Gopalkrishna Gandhi said while delivering a lecture in March in memory of one
of India’s foremost dissidents albeit from a privileged caste-class background,
Jayaprakash Narayan, “There is no emergency in force in India today. There is
no promulgation of the emergency either in the states or in part of the states
or in the country … but let us examine for a few moments the ingredients of
authoritarianism which is what the emergency was, an unashamed exercise in
authoritarianism and self-assertion,” he said, alluding to the state of
Emergency proclaimed by Indira Gandhi on 25 June 1975 which lasted until March
1977. “In a country which has been through the fires of Emergency, we do not
have a state of emergency today but we have in the air the whiffs of the
emergency sentiment, we have strains of the emergency doctrine and palpable
pulsations of emergency fear."

Gopalkrishna Gandhi went on to say:
“Dissent enfeebles the dictator; the absence of dissent enfeebles the common
man and woman.” He then turned to the fear gripping the minority communities in
India now and said, “in times when there are no riots or riots in real time there
has never been a time when fear has been so pronounced in the hearts and minds
of the minority communities in India”.

Alluding to the Hindu chauvinist groups’
campaign to convert Muslims and Christians to Hinduism under the name “Ghar
Wapsi” (home-coming), Gandhi said: “the PM has said nothing against Ghar Wapsi
but then the PM has said nothing about so many things and they are happy and
they are being justified. Conversion and reconversion have been part of our
country’s life for centuries but a political payload that has been put into the
matter today is unprecedented … this is the first time so sharp a  polarization is sought to be introduced in
the trust between communities in India.”

Saturation
control over the media

The article two years ago said, “a virtual
army of supporters has been working the internet from within India and abroad:
there is a sizeable Gujarati and upper caste Indian presence in North America
and Europe and good numbers of whom back Modi.” Crucially, the geographical
spread and numbers  staffing these call
centres in India or elsewhere are difficult to gauge, wrapped as so many of
them are in various cloaks of secrecy. However, media had access to one
well-run outfit named Citizens for Accountable Governance staffed by hundreds
of highly educated and technically qualified individuals and which is credited
with masterminding that
crucial leap from 25 percent national vote share to 31 percent.

Not with a view to hedging bets, the
article pointed to some dangers: “Hindutva (Hinduness) forces are trying to
recruit adherents from among the Dalits (formerly untouchables) and even
indigenous people of India, selling them the idea that Muslims and Christians
are their enemies.”

Where the article – and many others written
by numerous astute observers of Indian politics in 2013 and early 2014 – fell
short was in gauging the extent of “saturation control over the media” that
Modi and his party had come to enjoy by then. And it was only by early to
mid-2014 that the realisation began to dawn on media-watchers in India that there
were massive monies ranged behind Modi’s campaign. Opinion polls in India have
at times proven completely wrong – albeit at others spot on – and thus there
was considerable scepticism over survey results that said Modi’s party and
coalition would win.

For instance, in the run-up to the general
elections photographs began to emerge of Modi campaigning in far off places
across the vast expanse of India while flying on jets provided by an
Industrialist – Gautam Adani – who has been fattening on Gujarat
state largesse. Industrialist Mukesh Ambani now controls significant
sections of the media. He and Adani, Ratan Tata as well as numerous other
“captains of industry” are now being rewarded for their backing of Modi with
tax write-offs, controversial loans and other gestures on a national scale that
previously was offered in Gujarat, as Rohini
Hensman brilliantly documented in openDemocracy early last year.

Naturally, the government
has gone after human rights activists and non-government organisations such
as Greenpeace
and the Ford
Foundation for supporting grassroots activists opposing such
government-backed loot of land and resources belonging to the people of India.

One of the Modi government’s most
controversial initiatives is a law to make it easier to grab
farmers’ land that can then be gifted to the moneybags funding the ruling
party. Farmers have been committing suicides in their hundreds (both under the
current and the previous Congress regimes).

India’s already low spending on health has
been further cut in the current year’s budget and the government has shut
several official programmes, including those covering AIDS, child malnutrition
and tobacco control, while healthcare
is being increasingly privatised. The government has meanwhile allowed
pharma companies to raise
prices manifold.

Modi’s pre-election claim that he would
bring back unaccounted wealth stashed abroad or “black money”, was just a
gimmick, the BJP’s current president and the prime minister’s close confidant,
Amit Shah, admitted
earlier this year.

While Modi has spent much time on foreign
travels – accompanied by his favoured business tycoons – his foreign minister
and senior BJP leader Sushma Swaraj has been sidelined. In fact there are few
foreign ministers around the world whose roles have been as eclipsed by the
chief executive as hers. And many others among Modi’s other ministers have
rarely been heard from, so centralised has been his manner of functioning.

A few ministers and other Hindu supremacist
hotheads speaking out of turn and using foul language against the minorities
and calling for Muslims to be disenfranchised or to be hounded out of
Hindu-dominated housing complexes has gone largely
unnoticed by Modi.

Just months after he took office, violence
engulfed an area named Trilokpuri in the capital, most likely stoked by Hindu chauvinists.
Churches have come
under attack in
Delhi and elsewhere. That Modi, who presided over an anti-Muslim pogrom in
his native Gujarat state in 2002 that left more than 2,000 people dead and
thousands homeless, is an unreconstructed Hindu fanatic demagogue and fascist
needs hardly any corroboration: There are far too many Youtube links and news
links testifying to that fact. 

Trumped
up charges of being Maoists

Meanwhile, away from media gaze, a war has
been mounted on the indigenous peoples living in the central Indian states of
Chattisgarh, Jharkhand and Orissa. Human rights activists say jails are
over-flowing with under-trial detainees most of them facing trumped up charges
of being Maoists.

Education is being
under-funded and the directorship of government bodies overseeing it is
being handed over to known Hindu chauvinists, most of whom conflate Hindu
mythology with history. Meanwhile, 16-year-olds will henceforth be treated as
adults if they are charged
with heinous crimes, should a bill passed by the lower house of parliament
be approved by the upper house. The government has also allowed children as
young as 14 to work in family enterprises and in the audio-visual entertainment
industry.

A former minister and ideologue of the
prime minister’s party, Arun Shourie, has criticised Modi for poor handling of
the economy. Shourie’s criticism is from a right-wing perspective, but reveals
that not everyone even within his camp is buying the hyperbole
of economic turnaround under Modi.

As he begins his second year in office,
there is little hope that Modi will mend his ways. But resistance might be
building: a labour group aligned with his party has signalled its impatience
with current policies hurting workers and has decided to join a protest to
be organised by opposition groups. It is only such resistance from within
and without the ruling circles that hold out the hope that India might
eventually emerge from the nightmare of Modi Raj.

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