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Two years of Modi

TWO years ago this month Narendra Modi took office as prime minister of India. Even making allowance for the inevitable loss of shine with the passage of time, his image in the country now is an unflattering one. This is especially true of the business community which had hailed him as the deliverer.

The banks are in a shambles with poor accountability for loans which they ought never to have given. Fall in exports, industrial production and agricultural growth tell their own tale as does the spate of farmers’ suicides. The ruling BJP does not enjoy a majority in the upper house, the Rajya Sabha. Modi expects the opposition’s cooperation while launching a ‘Congress-mukt desh’ (Congress-free country) campaign. Already two states, Arunachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand, have borne the brunt of this campaign.

Last year, the BJP fared miserably in elections to the assemblies of Delhi and Bihar. On May 19, results will be out in the elections to the assemblies of West Bengal, Assam, Ker­ala, Tamil Nadu and the Union Territory Pudu­cherry (former French colony Pondicherry).

The alarming feature in the election campaign is Narendra Modi’s habitual descent to cheap rhetoric which is most unbecoming of a prime minister.


Only Hindutva has seen a clear direction of policy.


Last week, in Tamil Nadu he raked up Sonia Gandhi’s Italian connection when he spoke on the scam-ridden AgustaWestland helicopter deal with Italy, insinuating that the former UPA government was culpable and Congress president Sonia Gandhi was accountable. Of a piece with this is his government’s attack on the press, NGOs, autonomous cultural and educational institutions, especially universities. Right at the outset, Modi made two moves which indicated that he was out to secure total power. One was to get his confidant from his Gujarat days, Amit Shah, a virtual retainer, appointed as president of the BJP. The veterans — L.K. Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi, and Yashwant Sinha — were securely put on the shelf.

The other change was of a fundamental nature. The prime minister’s office was made the centre of policymaking. Ministers had to obtain the approval of its head, a bureaucrat, at the initial stages.

Less than two weeks after taking oath, Modi met around 50 secretaries to the government of India. His message was that in case of a ‘conflict’ between them and the ministers the matter should be brought to Modi’s notice immediately for a ‘resolution’.

It spelt aggrandisement of the prime minister’s power and authority; diminution of ministers’ powers, authority and morale; the civil servants’ loss of respect for their ministers; and subversion of the cabinet system.

In foreign affairs, Modi’s performance, or the lack of it, has been widely noticed since he himself drew attention to it by his incessant trips to foreign lands. Relations with Nepal began well with a much-heralded trip to Kathmandu. The five-month-long blockade drove Nepal to seek China’s support. President Bidhya Devi Bhandari’s visit to India, which was due to begin a few days ago on May 9, was cancelled, three days earlier and Nepal’s ambassador to India Deep Kumar Upadhyay was recalled.

Sri Lanka has resumed provision of facilities to China to which India had objected.

The swings in relations with Pakistan baffle supporters as well as critics of the government. The sudden trip to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s home at Raiwind, after a mere four hours’ notice, was followed by a setback that is all too common in relations between the two countries.

Relations with China are worse than they were before Modi be­came prime minister. His approach to the boundary dispute is as flawed as his image of that country — ‘expansionist’.

Those with the United Sates seem to be on the move upward. But, expectations conflict and the conflict can affect the bonhomie later.

Only on one front does one see a clear direction of policy. It is on Hindutva. The last two years have seen a rise in atrocities against Muslims and Christians; bans on the slaughter of cows; the ghar wapisi (conversion to Hinduism) project and stifling of dissent generally. A climate of intolerance has grown.

The situation was well summed up in the recently published report of the US Commis­sion on religious freedom internationally.

“In 2015, religious tolerance deteriorated and religious freedom violations increased. Minority communities, especially Christians, Muslims, and Sikhs, experienced numerous incidents of intimidation, harassment, and violence, largely at the hands of Hindu nationalist groups. Members of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) tacitly supported these groups and used religiously divisive language to further inflame tensions.

“These issues, combined with long-standing problems of police bias and judicial inadequacies, have created a pervasive climate of impunity, where religious minority communities feel increasingly insecure, with no recourse when religiously motivated crimes occur.” On all these Modi has maintained a meaningful silence.

The writer is an author and a lawyer based in Mumbai.