Focus on development

If the government does not at least periodically distance itself from Hindu propaganda, it could swamp Modi’s development agenda. 

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Bharatiya Janata Party got an overwhelming majority in the Lok Sabha elections on the repeated promise of development.

The victory was helped by the incompetence and blatant corruption in the UPA 2 government. The BJP government has to deliver the promise while keeping the RSS, which toiled for its victory, happy and cooperative. 

Without the RSS, the BJP cannot be a winning political party because it does not have the cadre that the RSS does. Did RSS cadre excite Hindu sentiment in their voter contact?

It would be surprising if they did not. The invisibility of non-Hindu BJP candidates and Members in Parliament is evidence that the BJP is essentially a Hindu party. 

The new government’s focus in office seems to be on foreign affairs and development. The RSS and its associated organisations have already gone public with Hindu propaganda; witness Dina Nath Batra’s books extolling the Hindu discoveries in science hundreds of years ago, and predating inventions that history books say were more recent.

These books have now been added to the reading material in Gujarat schools. Another instance is the propaganda without evidence,  cases of Muslims entrapping Hindu girls into marriage and then converting them to Islam-‘love jihad’.

Yet another is the inflammatory speeches by swamijis and others campaigning for the BJP in the state by-elections; the anti-Muslim rhetoric especially in Uttar Pradesh. A big issue which will not die is the attempt to take the Hindu philosophy of acceptance of all faiths and incorporating all beliefs, to an extreme by saying that all other religions are in fact part of Hinduism, so that there are Muslim Hindus, Christian Hindus, Sikh Hindus, etc.

While this is acceptable in philosophical debate, it arouses passions when it becomes public propaganda. If the government does not at least periodically distance itself from this kind of rhetoric, it could swamp its development agenda.

The development mantra is aimed to bring improvement in living standards, better health services that are accessible and affordable to all, more educational institutions and greater focus on their quality, improving livelihoods through a massive programme of skills development, and constantly expanding the numbers in employment. 

The very many poor who lack basic comforts, sometimes not even enough food, with inadequate services for health, education, skills development and nutrition must quickly experience a change in their lives. Urbanisation must be supported by better infrastructure, housing, water supply and sanitation in urban areas.

Economic growth and development will result in more consumption of goods, and also of services like health, education, and so on. This must reflect in an increasing volume of the production of consumption goods (from agriculture and manufacturing). There must also be a greater  availability of services. So infrastructure and manufacturing must boom. This has not happened for some years. 

The absence of any counter by the Central government to the Hindu propaganda which has gained public pitch since the general elections can have many negative consequences for economic development. It could revive the western obloquy of Modi after the 2002 Gujarat riots, except that he is now the prime minister and it will therefore be very disparaging to India. The Americans had refused him a visa. 

The Modi government has already changed direction in foreign relations, with a strong tilt to Asia and particularly Japan and China, both of whom have huge foreign exchange reserves and low interest rates. The creation of a development bank with 100 billion dollars to start with is another sign of moving towards Asia. Japan and China were not bothered by the earlier accusations against Modi and indeed, reached out to him. 

Communal tension

Any communal tension, will distract government’s attention from development issues to dealing with law and order. It will slow down consumption and hence living standards will not rise as desired. Exports will be adversely affected.

Volatile oil prices will add another serious hurdle. Almost certainly the Pakistan border will become more active. Terrorism internally will rise. The development agendas described earlier will be adversely affected. 

The Opposition parties will mount agitations against the BJP government. They will prevent legislative progress in the Upper House. They can prevent the reforms in direct and indirect taxation, and particularly the introduction of the goods and services tax. 

Development will need improvement in the speed with which the capability to deliver services is created and its quality. Construction of infrastructure services is tardy: power plants, roads, metros, flyovers, mining, mass housing, to name a few. This can be seen and experienced in all parts of India. The situation has got worse in the last 10 years. It will be worse when there is internal unrest. 

The challenge for Modi is to reconcile the two conflicting demands, of development and the Hindu tilt. What it might actually do is to walk a tight rope and accept the tilt where it might not cause unrest; It could encourage ayurveda and yoga and other Hindu related remedies for better health.

It could place restrictions on cow slaughter, which might hit exports but not significantly in overall terms. It might go slow on the special schemes for Muslims introduced in the United Progressive Alliance régime, and leave Muslims in a backward condition. It could continue to target Muslims whenever there is a terrorist incident. The aim will be to keep Muslims backward relative to other communities. 

It will be a sad day when a government resorts to such discriminatory practices. A large majority in parliament, control of most state legislatures and being feted by many foreign countries vying for a share of the Indian markets, will allow the government to do so. One hopes that the BJP will keep it to the minimum. 

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