Modinama

Post-election scene on a Kolkata street. @Awrup Sanyal

This election has also been about illegal Bangladeshi immigrants for Modi and BJP, who have promised a pushback after May 16, the day the results were to be declared. Till date, of course, we haven’t seen any movements on this front. Will he follow-up on this promise?

Modinama

by Awrup Sanyal for AlalODulal

 

On 16 May, the vote counting day, it was evident that the Narendra Modi led BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) coalition NDA (National Democratic Alliance) was headed for a landslide victory even by noon. The final results were announced around 6 pm IST, confirming the rumours we had been hearing all day. Analysts and commentators had already analysed and speculated on the imminence of ‘Prime Minister Modi’, which was almost a foregone conclusion even before a single ballot was cast — the corporate media had already anointed his prime ministership.

Now that it is certain that he will be the king at the next coronation, we need to pause a little and take a long hard look, cutting through the grease of rhetoric and triumphalist prophecies, to see what it really means to have this most controversial, divisive and, ironically, elitist (an ex-chawallah) candidate as the next ‘CEO’ of India. From a chawallah to Prime Minister, this sounds like a more dramatic reincarnation of Slumdog Millionaire, and a thumbs up to the Indian polity; his is a story of a chawallah who became a member of RSS, worked his way up to becoming a student leader of RSS, the Gujarat Chief Minister en route to the hot seat of the Prime Minister of India. So, what can we expect from him? What is in store for India? How would it impact the region? And how did we get here?

We, first, need to take into account that in a tricky multilateral democracy the winners don’t necessarily take all. They don’t suddenly become a monarchy imposing their whims without being questioned or opposed. There are countless strings attached – corporate elites, religious organisations, regional alliances, bureaucratic organism, lending agencies, funding agencies, geo-political alliances, superpower affiliations and counterweights (economic and political), party apparatchiks, party cadres, vote bank agenda, to name some of them – to the puppets who sit on the hot seat and the ruling benches. It’s almost pitiable how severely restricted an incumbent is given the factors that control every bill, policy and laws that are promulgated in the parliament.

It must also be noted at this point that this was no ordinary win, it was what many are calling a spectacular victory. But, was it? In terms of number of seats BJP, by itself, and the coalition it leads, NDA, have almost no one to question them in the Lok Sabha. It wields an absolute majority. However, in terms of percentage of votes the BJP has polled, the story seems to be quite another.

The BJP has 31.3% of the votes polled (of the 66% of the voting population, approximately, that voted) which means that almost 70% (of the 66%) didn’t vote for BJP. The FPTP (First Past the Post) system decides the absolute majority, and doesn’t necessarily look at the margins of the wins, or the will of individual voters (a narrow win is a win, and a seat clinched, it is not a representative system; the bulk of the votes that was cast against the candidate is not taken into account). So, this victory can’t claim to represent every voter that has voted in this election (a whooping 69% didn’t vote for the BJP or Modi) and isn’t as spectacular as it first seemed.

In the advertising business there is a thumb rule that one goes by – the pitch is not the real business. The elections are not a very different ball game. Election time issues, and rhetoric thereof, don’t necessarily bear on the real business of governance, domestic and foreign policy decisions. How many times have we heard murmurs and grouses of ‘election promises not being kept’? Everyone who had followed and cheered the rise of Obama, and had nurtured an ‘audacity of hope’ for change, were within the first term eating crow. The election promises were not easy to implement, and the Obama administration was ensnared by the web cast by business lobbies that inform policy decisions at the Capitol.

This election has been about the Modi ‘wave’ that the mainstream media had helped create. But why? What’s at stake for the media houses? Siddharth Varadarajan in the blog, Hille Le, had this to say:

“Indications are that the amount being spent in the 2014 Lok Sabha election, especially by the BJP, runs to a figure at least ten times higher than five years ago. One estimate pegs the BJP’s advertising spend across all media including hoardings at a staggering Rs 5,000 crore. That’s just a bit less than the Rs 6,000 crore — roughly $1 billion the Obama campaign spent under all heads in the 2012 US presidential election! Once other expenses are added, the overall BJP budget will exceed that.”

Needless to say, the media is owned by the businesses that have funded Mr. Modi’s election campaign. The same can be said for the Indian National Congress.

One doesn’t vote against anyone, one votes for — an ideology, an idea, a vision. Many a fence-sitter or those disillusioned by corruption scandals, empty promises, and void of ideas of the incumbent have opted for the BJP, simply because they were the only party to present a vision, however disagreeable that might be to many. Presenting Modi as a strong prime ministerial candidate during the election campaign, almost styled after the US presidential elections, added to voters’ confidence. In contrast, the other parties presented no new ideas, no declared prime ministerial candidate, and no election promises that voters could be excited about. There weren’t any binaries – the UPA or the NDA – this election, there was only one party that the new, fence-sitting, or issue-based voters could pick, the BJP.

Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) was perhaps the only other party that had a clear agenda, but they are the babes in the wood – they have to show more staying power.  AAP quitting the Delhi government in 49 days was an amateurish move; that single action shot them out. They failed to capture the imagination of the people in spite of the foothold they had managed. Kejriwal, as Chief Minister in Delhi, had an opportunity to bring AAP’s ideas to fruition within the workings of parliamentary democracy. That opportunity was lost when he took a stance against corruption by deciding not to work in a corrupt system; he remained an outsider. Activism is, after all, not just opposing; activism is also doing, or fighting to get things done in the face of adversity.

 

The Modi Way

Modi’s agenda is an over promise. His hands will be as tied as were the Congress’. We need to understand that the country’s development agenda is largely inspired by the IMF and the World Bank. Much like their policy recommendations, India believes in liberalisation and support the monetization of everything. Similarly, they believe in Clinton’s famous call for “big business” and end of social programs “as we know it”.  Mr. Modi has been happily playing that same tune. Mr. Modi’s tenure might be quite a rerun of the deficit-heavy US administrations of the post Clinton era (but maybe not as much because India isn’t about to wage expensive wars around the world, at least not that we know of, if precedence is anything to go by). We have a lot to learn from the US, but most importantly, this: straightforward capitalism increases inequality.

With that in perspective let’s look at the three things that have defined Modi and BJP’s run this election.

 

Development: The Gujarat Way or the Invisible Way?

That India will shine anew with Modi’s ‘Gujarat Model of Development’, also termed Modinomics, has been the broth that has been stirred to froth. What is this elixir that will deliver India from its poverty, bad infrastructure, income inequality, and a crushing poverty?

The Gujarat Model

The Gujarat Model focuses on “innovative growth” that reaches the “weakest”. Without identifying exactly how, the model seeks to increase economic growth, like it did in Gujarat. (For details, visit: http://www.narendramodi.in/the-gujarat-model-of-inclusive-sustainable-development/)

Has the much touted Gujarat model delivered to the claims that are being made? Let’s look at Gujarat in relation to its pre-Modi development pattern and compare the Modi period to the rate of development in some other states in India. Also, let us look at the ‘growth rate of the per capita income’ that the vaunted Modinomics has helped achieve in Gujarat.

In an article in The Guardian by Maitreesh Ghatak and Sanchari Roy, which is an edited extract of a forthcoming essay that will be available on “Ideas for India” where details of the statistical analysis, including data sources, tables and figures, will be available, argue this:

“Gujarat’s growth rate was higher than the all-India level in the 1980s and 1990s as well. To establish the claim that Modi had a transformative impact on the state in terms of growth rate of per capita income, we have to show that the difference between Gujarat’s growth rate and that of the rest of India actually increased under Modi’s rule, and more so compared to other states.

“Gujarat’s growth rate in the 1990s was 4.8%, compared to the national average of 3.7%; in the 2000s it was 6.9% compared to the national average of 5.6%. The difference between Gujarat’s growth rate and the national average increased marginally, from 1.1 percentage points to 1.3 percentage points. A good performance? Yes. Justifying the hype? No.”

They go on to compare this with what has happened in Bihar:

“the state that has been in the bottom of the rankings in terms of per capita income throughout: its growth rate was 2.7 percentage points below the national average in the 1990s, but 1.3 percentage points higher in the 2000s. So the prize for the most dramatic turnaround in the 2000s would go to Bihar.”

When so much money is poured into advertising and PR campaigns the spin gives it a colour that doesn’t easily come off. Many people believe in the ‘miracle’ of Gujarat. After all, for a country that survives on less than US$1.25 a day [The World Bank] a promise that intends to give them a better life is taken at face value. But, sadly, the growth never trickles down. It benefits mostly the people at the top of the food chain, trickles down to top management levels somewhat, but thereafter the funnel seems to be constricted, the benefit thus does not reach the ones who need it the most, “the weakest, most deprived and remotest of people”.

Ram Mashru writes in The Diplomat.

“The preoccupation with the “Gujarat model” is curious given the fact that there are many better candidates. Between 2004/5 and 2011/12, in per capita terms, Gujarat maintained an 8 percent growth rate, less than Tamil Nadu’s 8.6 percent and Bihar’s 15 percent. Gujarat is often spoken of as an exceptional case, but if any state qualifies as such, it should be Kerala, which, despite eschewing a corporate growth model, boasts a 7.9 percent rate of growth over the same period.” Reads a report called Modinomics: Myth or Magic?

To go back to economists Maitreesh Ghatak and Sanchari Roy, this is what they have to say about the inequality that still persists despite the stellar growth in Gujarat:

“The level of inequality in Gujarat was less than the national average in the 1980s-90s, but actually rose above the national average in the 2000s. If we look at the percentage of people below the poverty line, Gujarat, along with several other states such as Himachal Pradesh, Punjab, Kerala, Haryana, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka, has had consistently lower levels than the all-India average. However, the largest poverty reduction of the past decade was achieved by Tamil Nadu, not Gujarat.”

The Invisible Model

The reality is, as it often is,  quite different. Modi’s dependence on the big business houses of India – the likes of Adani and Ambani – for party and campaign funding is a well known fact. All through the campaigning season Modi has been crisscrossing the country and has logged in the most flying hours; a fleet of three aircrafts have been at his service. As the Times of India reports in one its articles, “Almost every day, Modi takes off from Ahmedabad airport in an EMB-135BJ, an Embraer aircraft, for his rallies. The jet is owned by Karnavati Aviation, a group company of the Adani Group.” The same article also mentions that the other jet is owned by the DLF group.

The rise in Adani’s worth since the start of the Modi campaign is considerable. To quote Kartikay Mehrotra and Jack Witzig in Bloomberg:

“Since Modi became chief minister of Gujarat 13 years ago, Adani Enterprises’s shares have risen about 85-fold, while the benchmark Sensex index grew about eight-fold. The stock has tripled since Modi was named prime ministerial candidate on Sept. 13, the eighth-fastest gain in that time among the 500 members of the S&P BSE 500 index.”

Now, here’s a no-brainer: With the capitalists pouring in so much money wouldn’t they demand their pound of flesh after the elections are over? Already allegations of Modi’s Gujarat government showing undue favours to its crony capitalists, in this case the Adani Group, have raised quite a few eyebrows. According to a report in the Business Standard:

“The rates at which the Gautam Adani-promoted Adani Group bagged land from the Narendra Modi-led Gujarat government for its port and special economic zone (SEZ) project — between Re 1 and Rs 32 per square metre — were much lower than other companies that set up units in the state. Concessional pricing apart, the group did not face land acquisition hurdles, as the state allotted non-agricultural government land for Adani Port and Special Economic Zone (APSEZ), the country’s largest multi-product SEZ spread across 15,946.32 acres (6,456 hectares) in Kutch district’s Mundra block.”

The port and SEZ (Special Economic Zone) at Mundra in Gujarat is an environmentally questionable enterprise that has led to “widespread destruction of mangroves and deterioration and loss of creeks near the proposed North Port” according to a panel of the Ministry of Environment and Forests (the Economic Times, April 2013). They further said:

“…the company has not taken stipulated measures to ensure that channels bringing large volumes of seawater for use in the thermal power plant and then discharge, as well as the storage tank are lined so that there is no chance of salinity contamination in groundwater.”

Perhaps election funds were the Adani Group’s way of saying thank you. What will Modi’s return thank-you look like? Time will tell.

But Modi’s speeches are telling, as well.  Peppered with phrases like “less government and more governance” and “people public private partnership”, and “It is my philosophy that the government has no business doing business”, Modi has expressed his intent to lessen the role of the State to that of a facilitator of privatisation of public institutions so that businesses can do better business.

“Talking about economic reforms…Narendra Modi..came out strongly in support of privatisation while addressing the first Think India Dialogue of Network18…and said government’s role must be of facilitator in land acquisition” as reported by IBN Live.

Modi’s ascendancy it seems might mean certain things: we can expect the State to disinvest, and make way for privatisation — giving away government land, public services, and public enterprises, at subsidised rates to the crony capitalists, who will then turn them into profit-making ventures. This reduced role of the State in certain key sectors, that is perhaps inevitable in a neoliberal setup that India has adopted, doesn’t augur well for the country where approximately 11% of the population (amounting to 148  million people) live under US$1.25 a day [The World Bank], because they are likely to keep living in dire conditions. It is but the duty and responsibility of the State to be able to humanize its development and growth so that the fruits of development are equitably distributed, amongst its poorest of poor, which under privatisation will push basic services – gas, electricity, water – outside the reach of many ordinary Indians. Unfortunately, privatisation alone cannot be the answer.

Finally, the price that poor farmers have paid with their lives in Gujarat under this model of development is catastrophic. The Hindu reported:

“Gujarat has been trying hard to project itself as a State that is much ahead of others in development and industrialisation. Modi’s “Vikas Yatras” have become well known. The large number of suicides, however, fly in the face of his claims and, in fact, indicate that development in the State is clearly not balanced and definitely not in favour of the poor farmer. In fact, experts say investment in agriculture has been compromised in an effort to favour industry.”

We have witnessed the mass movements of Singur and Nandigram, we have watched activists and local Singrauli tribes of Central India take on the might of MNCs like Hindalco and London-based Essar’s proposed coal mine project that would lay to waste one of Asia’s oldest forests. The Gujarat model doesn’t seem to be the one size that will fit all [of India]. Modi, as PM, will have to contend with much more opposition than he has had to in Gujarat, in spite of the thumping majority his party will enjoy in the Lok Sabha. This opposition will come from the civil society and social movements, which, if West Bengal is anything to go by, can bring down governments.

 

The Politics of Illegal Immigrants

This election has also been about the illegal Bangladeshi immigrants for Modi and BJP, who have promised a pushback after the May 16, the day the results were to be declared. Till date of course we haven’t seen any movements on this front. Will he follow-up on this promise?

I would argue this is mostly an election ruse to appease the core of Modi’s staunch Hindu support. Interestingly, equating ‘illegal immigrants’ to Bangladeshi Muslims is a travesty. If there has been immigration, and illegal ones, it has been for economic reasons, which is but expected when one arbitrarily draws a line across communities who have been interacting and trading for centuries. It is important to point out that there are Hindu immigrants too, but Modi and the BJP doesn’t have a problem with them. Because, according to their Hindu Rashtra polemics Hindus equate to Indians, not so the Muslims. If this is the verve of the RSS/BJP manifesto, which is anti-constitutional, Mr. Modi has to contend with the humongous Muslim population of India, whom he clearly is ‘othering’. It must be said that it’s not going to be so easy to steamroll over this issue. For appeasement’s sake there might indeed be some nasty token attempts at push-backs or commencement of fencing of the borders even. A few hundreds pushed back can’t be put past them. This will, though, open up a geopolitical can of worms that might quite become a foreign policy nightmare for the new government. The Bangladesh government, and we need to see it beyond party politics on either side of the border and view it as a state to state bilateral diplomacy, has played all the right cards when it comes to India’s concern of cross-border terrorism and facilitation of transit to the Northeastern states of India.

This, therefore, is a potential powder keg in international and human right terms. More importantly, with the secessionist and ethno-national movements that plague the Northeast, for the Indian mainstream this very ‘illegal immigrants’ is an important pawn. A) they are probably the only constituency that perhaps votes for national parties and, B) it is easier to contain the identity-based nationalist movements like the Bodoland by playing one against the other.

This issue also needs to be seen from the development-economic perspective, which has been the main promise of Modi’s election campaign. If the agenda is to ensure privatisation and free-market economy, in the name of development, fomenting a groundswell of opposition from the religious minority, cannot be conducive to such plans. The capitalists must be allowed to quietly milk the land, the people, and the natural resources, behind prying eyes. Thus, a token effort apart the Modi government might as well have to let the sleeping dogs lie.

 

Hindu, Hindutva, Hinduism

The much talked about flavour of the season – Hindutva – needs to be tasted before it is declared a new culinary hit amongst Indians.

It’ll be naïve to believe that the majority Hindu Indians are a homogenous lot who have suddenly become all communal and divisive. One would think the very same ones who have not given BJP a carte blanche to establish a Hindu dominion over India’s multi-lingual, multi-religious, and multi-ethnic reality for so long, are in no hurry to do so. BJP has its own vote bank in the business class and upper class Hindus, as also amongst the blue collar Hindus, who have bought into the development bogey, not necessarily the Hindutva agenda.

Let’s hark back to the idea of the ‘homogenous Hindu’. Hinduism, unlike the Semitic religions has never had ‘one’ vision, deity, ritual or practice. It purportedly has over 330 million deities. Each Hindu sub-cult has its own idea of ‘dharma’, and the rituals thereof. During this campaign, for example, Mr. Modi has raked the issue of export of Indian cows for meat. The Hindu reports:

“[The] BJP prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi accused the Congress-led Central government of promoting meat export and cow slaughter. “Could those who worshipped the cow support this”, Mr. Modi wondered at a rally here, making a pitch for the crucial Yadav votes in Bihar.”

There are beef eating Hindu cults. Prof. Ram Puniyani writes in The Hindu:

Taittiriya Brahman categorically tells us:`Verily the cow is food’ (atho annam via gauh) and Yajnavalkya’s insistence on eating the tender (amsala) flesh of the cow is well-known. Even later Brahminical (sic) texts provide the evidence for eating beef. Even Manusmriti did not prohibit the consumption of beef.”

There are gods and goddesses that are absolutely local in nature and not worshipped at all across all of India — Bonbibi, for example, is the presiding deity of the Sundarbans, in West Bengal and Bangladesh, venerated by both the Hindu and Muslim honey collectors and woodcutters isn’t found anywhere else in India . Hinduism is many things to many people, it is polycentric [Wendy Doniger: The Hindus, an alternative history]. There are personal deities, popular deities, and different avatars of the same deity within this uniquely pluralistic religion. To flatten it and codify it into one unitary wholeness is nigh impossible; and this is where the idea of Hindutva, as espoused by the RSS, is fanciful.

The Modi campaign has been quite layered playing on development nationally, and on caste and religion-based issues locally. It has not even spared the minority vote bank politics. As per a report in the First Post that has been monikered as Modi’s ‘secular’ moment, Modi did stoop to touch the feet of a Muslim:

“Narendra Modi, who honoured him [Nizamuddin, known as ‘Colonel’, was a member of the Subhash Chandra Bose’s Azad Hind Fauj during the freedom struggle] by touching his feet when he came on stage during the Gujarat CM’s appearance in Rohaniya, Varanasi, yesterday.”

He even tried to get Ustad Bismillah Khan’s family to endorse his nomination for the Benares seat, which the family declined.

The master plan has been to tap into the many founts of the Indian fabric. Having had only one shot at power with the Vajpayee government and having sat out on the opposition bench over the last decade, BJP had been quite desperate to regain its prominence and be in power. This desperation has also marked an important departure by downplaying the Ram Mandir card, which had landed it into quite a quagmire, dividing the polity. It could not afford to be seen as the hardliner party anymore, openly that is, if it wants a long lifeline. Arguably, it can be said that even if BJP/RSS wants a Hindu Rashtra it needs to be patient. It needs to be in power for a longer time to be able to contrive the machinations to achieve that dream. For now it has to seem to be ‘reasonable’ to the multiple constituency it has wooed. The promise of development and a better life seems to have brought the ‘lower caste’ Hindus into his fold. Though such courtship can’t just be about economics, it also has to be about the social status of the ‘lower castes’. The RSS/BJP agenda has to knead its Hindutva dough anew.

 

Afterword

Finally, we are all democrats, and we have to accept the verdict of the Indian populace in choosing Modi to run India. Many are now resigning and/or ‘reconciling’ to Modi’s reign. We have already heard people say, well, since he has been given the mandate let’s see if he keeps the promises, we can always vote him out.

Modi makes many uncomfortable for multiple reasons; he is not the kind of leader we have had as the PM of India. We don’t know how to understand his background and him as an ideologue. Modi comes inseminated with one of the most virulent form of religious indoctrination as an RSS cadre, which is based on Hinduism’s supremacy over other religions. M.S. Golwalkar, an RSS ideologue was opposed to the idea of secular India. In “We, or Our Nation Defined” he states:

“The non-Hindu people of Hindustan must either adopt Hindu culture and language, must learn and respect and hold in reverence the Hindu religion, must entertain no idea but of those of glorification of the Hindu race and culture … In a word they must cease to be foreigners, or may stay in the country, wholly subordinated to the Hindu nation, claiming nothing, deserving no privileges, far less any preferential treatment—not even citizens’ rights.”

How will this play out in a country that is home to more than 200 million non-Hindus? We can rely on the old adage, ‘time will tell’, or the civil society of India will play the role of opposition— oppose, challenge and debate any step that will compromise or denude the secular nature of the Indian constitution. If Mr. Modi’s paean to B.R. Ambedkar, the chief architect of the Indian constitution, was not an election gimmick then he should defer to the uniqueness of India as multi-ethnic, multi-lingual, and multi-religious — the rainbow race that we are.

[With contributions from Nadine Murshid]

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