As Narendra Modi takes over as Prime Minister, and a BJP Government takes the reins of power, what are the signals his Government is sending out?
Even as Modi calls himself the ‘Mazdoor No.1’, the most powerful ‘maaliks’ – corporate biggies Ambani, Adani and Hinduja – were prominent at his swearing-in ceremony.
The invitation to foreign guests was essentially more of an exercise to secure international projection for Modi than a concrete foreign policy initiative. The choice of invitees was also subject to controversy and questions. The invitation to Sri Lanka President Mahinda Rajapakse, notorious for war crimes and an ongoing policy of majoritarianism and ethnic cleansing of the Tamils in Sri Lanka, has led to anger and protests, especially by the people of Tamil Nadu. Apart from SAARC countries, Mauritius, an invitee to SAARC, was a guest at the swearing-in – begging the question why other SAARC invitees who are also India’s immediate neighbours, like Myanmar and China, were not invited?
Modi’s ‘minimum government’ mantra seems to mean concentration of key Ministries and decision-making in the PM and a coterie of Ministers – effectively a super-PMO and super-Cabinet. The clubbing of Finance and Corporate Affairs ministries indicates that economic policy priorities of the Government will be led by corporate interests.
Modi’s decision to give a Ministerial berth to Muzaffarnagar riot-accused Sanjeev Baliyan is a deliberate step, intended to display majoritarian arrogance and impunity for the riot-accused. We can recall that Modi had likewise patronised Maya Kodnani in his Gujarat Government, until a Court convicted her for her role in the 2002 communal violence.
The choice of retired Army General VK Singh for Minister of State (Independent charge) for North East Affairs is also significant. The Modi Government is indicating quite brazenly that it will view the North East from a military prism, mocking the demands for scrapping the discriminatory and draconian AFSPA.
The statements of various newly appointed Ministers are cause for concern. Najma Heptullah, Minister for Minority Affairs, has declared that Muslims are too large in number to qualify as a genuine minority, and that Parsis – a genuine ‘miniscule minority’ in her view – will instead be a priority for the Government. The fact is that Muslim and Christian minorities in India are the ones at the receiving end of the maximum violence and discrimination, while Muslims are the minority community that is economically and socially most deprived and stigmatised. To pit the Parsi minority against other minorities, and to declare that Muslim minorities are not really deserving of the Government’s protection, is another early display of brutal majoritarianism by the Modi Government.
Jitendra Singh, MoS in the Prime Minister’s Office, has declared that the Modi Government is ‘already’ taking steps to abrogate Article 370 that gives special status to Jammu and Kashmir. How can the PMO claim to move independently to meddle with a key Constitutional provision like Article 370, without any discussion in Parliament?
Given that Modi’s USP is his personal leadership over every aspect of his Government, these statements by Heptullah and Singh cannot be seen as mere ‘loose canon’ remarks, but as indications of the RSS footprint on the Modi Government’s policy orientation. With daily RSS-BJP parleys over Cabinet formation and policy-making, the RSS control over this Government is blatant, with no pretence of being covert.
The Modi Government, right from day one, has displayed its readiness to twist and distort the law to suit its whims. The appointment of a former TRAI Chief to the post of PS to the PM was in violation of the TRAI Act that forbade post-retirement Government jobs for TRAI Chiefs. When this came to light, the Government promptly promulgated an ordinance to do away with this safeguard on conflict of interest, and ‘legalised’ the illegal appointment post facto!
There are other worrying signals that the new Government will wield power to ensure impunity for its political partners and its own leaders. RSS leader Indresh Kumar, accused in terror blast cases, campaigned for Modi in Banaras – and has now demanded payback, saying that the Modi Government must ‘review’ terror cases in which RSS elements are implicated. Why should the politics of the accused be the basis on which terror cases will be reviewed? The induction of Baliyan likewise indicates that the Central Government is likely to back the demand for release of key Muzaffarnagar riot-accused. And the first statement by the new Minister of State (Home) has been that the Government will ‘review’ the Snoopgate probe – in which Amit Shah and Modi are both seriously implicated in the illegal surveillance of a young woman and several other citizens.
Emboldened by the Modi victory, lumpen saffron brigades have indulged in violence in several places: these include communal violence and minority-baiting by a BJP victory procession in Karnataka, communal violence in Ahmedabad on the eve of Modi’s swearing-in, and the attack by ABVP on a seminar held at the AN Sinha Institute in Patna. Other disturbing signals include the arrest of some individuals for anti-Modi remarks on social media, the crackdown on several protests in the capital city in the name of Section 144.
Another disturbing symptom is the unwillingness of much of the mainstream media to live up to its professional responsibility. The Supreme Court verdict holding the Gujarat police and then Home Minister Modi responsible for framing innocents in the Akshardham blasts case was buried by most of the media. Likewise the media’s discussion of the Cabinet formation and new Government innings largely avoids questioning the appointment of a riot-accused as a Minister, or the issuing of an ordinance to legalise an illegal appointment to the PMO, or the propriety of the Government insulating its leaders from being investigated in the Snoopgate matter.
The Modi Government is just beginning its innings. It must be held accountable to its promises to end price rise, corruption and unemployment, as well as farmers’ distress and the rights of students and youth. The PM who calls himself Mazdoor No.1 must make his stand clear on labour laws and the rights of workers. And the Government must be held accountable to the strictest Constitutional obligations – including the rights and liberties of all citizens including dissenting voices, minorities, women and the oppressed castes. With the diminished Opposition inside Parliament, and the self-censorship embraced by much of the media, the role of the people’s opposition on the streets will be crucial.