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02 September, 2014

Contours of Modified India

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

As the Narendra Modi government completed 100 days in office, there was good news from the economic front, with officials reporting an impressive growth rate of 5.7 per cent during the quarter from April to June against 4.7 per cent in the previous quarter.

The government of the day is entitled to claim credit for the favourable turn in the tide. However, since the quarter was already on its last leg when Modi took over, it has to share the credit with the previous regime. The coming quarters may well see even faster growth and also reveal the cost the poor have to pay for the promised economic miracle. The new government has already diluted several laws enacted to safeguard the interests of the poor and protect the environment to accelerate economic growth.

Both Manmohan Singh and Modi are enthusiastic supporters of globalisation with visions of India as an economic power. The differences in their approach are related not to policy but to the pace of its implementation. The change of government will, therefore, make little difference to the shape of things on the economic front.

Modi has replaced a number of state governors and bureaucrats appointed by the previous regime. The exercise has been undertaken not to tone up the system but to bring in a new set of cronies. A former Telecommunication Regulatory Authority Chairman was appointed the Prime Minister’s Principal Secretary after amending the law to overcome the ban on his re-employment. A former Chief Justice of India has been picked for appointment as governor. These moves may offer new temptations to persons holding high offices.

These are but minor aberrations in comparison with the developments on the social front. Ziya us Salam, a senior journalist of the highly regarded daily, The Hindu, summed up the dilemma that the Modi establishment’s majoritarian politics poses to minorities when he wrote, “It is not easy being a Muslim in India, it never has been, especially being a secular one.”

As is clear from his words, the problem is not new, but a continuing one. Its origin can be traced to the communal mobilisation that has been challenging the country’s secular traditions for more than a century.

Scholars have pointed out that the census operations, which began in the 19th century, have played a part in the growth of communalism. The census in Britain did not go into the religious affiliation of the people. But the British colonial administration tried to identify the people’s religious background and classified them into five broad divisions and a dozen subdivisions.

In 1909, one UN Mukherji, in a pamphlet, titled “Hindus: A Dying Race”, citing census figures, claimed that the Hindu population was declining. That paved the way for Hindu communal mobilisation, first under the auspices of the Arya Samaj and later under various other organisations espousing the Hindutva ideology enunciated by VD Savarkar. In its wake came Muslim communal mobilisation, which eventually resulted in the creation of Pakistan as a Muslim homeland.

In the first general election of 1951-52, held while the communal tempers raised by the Partition riots still ruled high, the Indian National Congress, which upheld the ideal of secularism, was challenged by three Hindu parties, the Hindu Mahasabha, the Jana Sangh, predecessor of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, and Ram Rajya Parishad, an outfit led by ascetics. Together they could get only 10 seats in the 489-member Lok Sabha against the Congress party’s 364.

In the Assembly elections in Punjab, the Congress put up Ghaffar Khan, whose was the only Muslim family in the Ambala constituency after migration by members of the minority community to Pakistan. He won the seat and was re-elected twice before death caught up with him.

Today the BJP has a majority in the Lok Sabha, which was won on a minority of votes. The Congress has been reduced to a party which is too small to earn recognition as the official opposition in the house.

Many factors contributed to the rout of the Congress. One of them is corruption. Another is its declining appeal as a secular force. While under Jawaharlal Nehru the Congress took communalism head on, later on it moved towards a soft Hindutva line.

Developments on the social front will determine the final shape of Modi’s India. Recently he called for a moratorium on communal violence. It remains to be seen if the Hindutva outfits which have sprung up in different parts of the country will heed the call. -- Gulf Today, Sharjah, September 2, 2014

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