It is time to parse Modi’s Independence Day speech carefully, behind the hype and rhetoric, for signals of what India can actually expect in terms of policies from his Government.
On a range of troubling questions ranging from rape to sex-selective abortion to farmers’ suicides to communal violence, the Prime Minister’s words, artfully chosen to create an impression of ‘inclusive governance’, contrasted starkly with the actual actions of his Government, BJP leaders, and the Sangh Parivar.
His speech waxed eloquent on parental responsibility in checking rapes. It did not for one moment answer why a rape-accused man had been given a place in his own Cabinet. More significantly, as a measure to curb rapes, he called upon parents to “impose as many restrictions on the sons as have been imposed on our daughters.” Women protesting rape have, time and again, sought that no restrictions be imposed on them in the name of protecting them from rape. Moreover, the fact is that ‘restrictions on sons’ are already imposed – by branding their love of a woman from another caste or community as ‘rape.’ The khap panchayats that kill inter-caste couples and the moral-policing outfits that force couples to tie ‘rakhi’ to each other do, after, all ‘impose patriarchal restrictions’ on both women and men. On the very eve of Independence Day, RSS leader S Gurumurthy declared that Indian women are ‘shy not shameless’, and the very day after Independence Day, a Goa BJP Minister called for a ban on women wearing bikinis on Goa’s beaches. Modi’s words did not convey any hint of censure to his camp followers who seek to curb the freedoms of women; he instead legitimized those restrictions by ‘balancing’ it with talk of ‘restrictions on boys.’
Likewise, Modi’s ‘appeal’ to doctors not to perform sex-selective abortions is lame, coming from the PM. Modi was silent on what his Government plans to do to ensure that the law is upheld and doctors performing such illegal abortions are punished.
Modi rhetorically asked “who has benefited from communalism” and called for a “10-year moratorium on communal violence”. But he chose to be silent about the systematic communalization project being undertaken by the BJP in Uttar Pradesh. In UP, it is very apparent “who has benefited from communalism” – none but Modi himself and the BJP. When Modi himself communalized the question of the meat industry by calling it a “pink revolution” involving the slaughter of cattle, was it not communalization? When Amit Shah and the BJP in UP communalize rape, branding the entire Muslim community as rapists and terming even consensual elopements as ‘rape’, is it not communalization? Is the BJP not creating communal flare-ups over every possible event from kids’ quarrels to disputes over loudspeakers?
Days before Independence Day, the RSS chief had issued a challenge to the very idea of India, by declaring that all residents of Hindustan were Hindus. The textbooks that are now compulsory reading for school kids in Modi’s home state, and that the Sangh Parivar promotes for inclusion in national syllabi, have an obscurantist and absurd content, very different from Modi’s claim of progress and forward-looking development. Modi’s studied silence on the RSS’ declarations that India is a Hindu Rashtra, and on Batra’s textbooks, give the lie to his claims of “inclusive governance.”
Modi similarly condemned regionalist violence; even as he Shiv Sena, founded on regional chauvinistic violence, shares power with him at the Centre. Modi also condemned casteist violence, even as the Sangh’s close links with the Ranveer Sena’s Dalit massacres in Bihar are no secret, and the BJP’s Tamil Nadu ally PMK is systematically unleashing violence on Dalits.
The ‘mask formula’ of the Vajpayee days is being recreated, with the PM’s ‘inclusive talk’ serving to mask the free run that the RSS agenda actually gets in the same PM’s regime. In the Vajpayee phase, the NDA CMP imposed at least a nominal check on the Sangh agenda, by formally excluding the pet issues of the RSS. This time around, there is no such formal CMP, and the RSS openly holds parleys with the Government. Even as the RSS and BJP are clearly pushing for a greater legitimisation of the Sangh discourse and practice in all areas from education to women’s rights to communal violence to foreign policy, Modi seeks to camouflage all this as an agenda of “inclusive governance.”
Modi spoke of the pain of farmers’ suicide, only to suggest that bank accounts and insurance of Rs 1 lakh can help families out in a crisis. He failed to confront the fact that the farmers’ suicides are caused by the Government’s policy of leaving farmers and agriculture at the mercy of corporations and calamities. It has been observed that UPA Government’s cosmetic measures of loan waivers failed to curb farmers’ suicides, because it was a case of ‘mopping the floor while leaving the tap overflowing’. Modi’s ‘Pradhanmantri Jan-dhan’ scheme will be no different, unless the Government reverses the policies that trap farmers’ in a debt cycle.
Modi’s talk of ‘Model Villages’ to promote rural development are eyewash, given that he was silent on the Government-promoted corporate offensive on land and livelihood in rural India. Referring to Maoism, he asked people to shoulder the plough instead of the gun in order to put an end to bloodshed. This disingenuous speech masks the reality. After all, guns are being used by police and paramilitary to kill peasants and adivasis defending their land, and this bloodshed is justified by branding those killed as ‘Maoists.’ Not only that, the bogey of ‘Maoism’ is used less against against those armed with guns, and more to silence voices and even songs of dissent. Just a day before Independence Day, the ABVP, student wing of Modi’s party, threatened violence at St Xaviers’ College Mumbai in order to prevent Dalit singer and activist Sheetal Sathe from speaking at a student festival.
Modi issued a rousing invitation to the world’s corporations to ‘Come Make in India’, and he asked India’s youth to feel pride that the world would see the ‘Made in India’ label. It is well known that only countries offering cheap, pliant, exploitable labour – Bangladesh, Taiwan, Mexico, Honduras, China and so on – are favoured destinations for global manufacturing corporations. The countries whose names figure in ‘Made in’ labels are all known for their super-exploited workforce in sweatshops, and for repressive governments that crack down on workers’ right to unionize and protest. Modi’s government is already set to roll back or dilute various labour laws to facilitate and intensify the exploitation of cheap labour, and this agenda is what underpins the rhetorical call to ‘Make in India’.
It is true that the Planning Commission stands heavily discredited, since people associate it with the absurd poverty benchmarks declared by Montek Ahluwalia. But abolishing the Planning Commission entirely represents the final abdication of the last relic of welfare-oriented mixed economy and a complete switchover to the tyranny of corporate-dominated market economy.
In Modi’s speech, there was a marked silence on the promise of ‘acche din’, which each of his electoral speeches had harped upon. Far from the promised relief, change, and new vision and policies, what Modi’s Government, and his I-Day speech are doing is simply to repackage old, unfulfilled schemes as a brand new vision of development.
The people of India will not be fobbed off with rhetoric any more. They will be looking at the Government’s policies and actions on the ground. And attempts to re-package and re-brand price rise, land grab and exploitation of cheap labour by Indian corporations and MNCs as ‘development’; as well as the politics of communalism and patriarchy being pursued with the blessings of the Central Government, will not impress them.