For better or for worse?

If Modi's vision of greater industrialisation, more edu-cated and skilled population, falls short, we can expect growing rural unrest as well.

Gandhiji made a nation of India. He united for a common cause a people scattered among different principalities, kingdoms, foreign enclaves, religions, castes, and languages. Jawaharlal Nehru nurtured the institutions that enabled this largely illiterate and disparate population to become a working democracy.

Both Gandhi and Nehru have been revered in independent India. This was helped by Nehru’s daughter and grandson ruling India for the longest period. They also deified the family by putting their names on every possible institutions or place.

This changed when the Congress lost the 2014 elections and gave way to the BJP. About the same time, documents began to surface which cast doubts on Nehru’s fairness and judgment. The Maxwell Report on the 1962 War with China, the “secret” papers on Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose and surveillance on the family till 1972, reports about India spurning the offer of a permanent seat in the UN Security Council in favour of China, and of course, the unfortunate reference by him of the Kashmir invasion by Pakistan to the United Nations and the consequent continuing confrontations with Pakistan.

Apart from the change in our historical knowledge, the change in government has brought or will bring other major changes. The Congress prided itself on being a “secular” party, (which was perceived by many as being fav-ourable to the Muslims). The BJP is an unabashed Hindu party. Its ideology emanates from the RSS which pushes for the primacy of Hindus and their beliefs.

The Congress (even after the opening of the economy in the late 1980s and more in 1991) considers itself socialist. This has meant spending vast sums of money on social schemes for the poor and marginalised. They were managed so badly that substantial sums were stolen or misspent. The Congress also persisted in a key role for government owned enterprises in the economy and in using bank finances.

The BJP government led by Narendra Modi set out to change all this. It has permitted its associates, leaders and its cadres, to propagate Hindu beliefs even when they had no religious sanction: like the agitation against cow slaughter, the sale and consumption  of beef, relations between a Hindu  woman and a Muslim man, removal of mosques when contiguous to Hindu shrines, basic changes in education at all levels – governance and management, text book contents, glorification of ancient Hindu scientific “achievements”, appointing Hindus to important positions in academic institutions even if poorly qualified or obscurantist etc.

Some of these have commenced and others will surely follow. Over time, this will extend to oversight on cultural content of all books, drama, films, Muslim culture etc to make them more acceptable to Hindutva ideologues. This will be accompanied by required rectifications of distortions in Indian history and also replacing them with distortions that propagate Hindutva viewpoints. As this programme evolves, we will see a dramatic change in the India we have known. It might have needed correction but not such an alternative.

Socialism (even for the Congress it had become more a slogan) will be replaced by market orientation. Private domestic and foreign investment will play a growing role in the economy. The role of state-owned enterprises and nationalised banks as instruments of state policy will diminish with privatisation and professional management.

Professional management of social welfare programmes will make them deliver better with less theft and waste. Secretive government will be replaced with more transparency and consultation. However, the Central government expenditures on health and education are already being squeezed and left to state governments. Human development imbalances between states will increase.

Economic baggage
Some trends are visible but the BJP government is yet to make these changes. It is carrying the old Congress economic baggage. True changes have to emerge. The BJP is a monolithic party. It has discipline and in the present regime, less freedom of internal expression and dissent. The party and the government responses to public dissatisfaction are already seen to be delayed and weak. Public unrest will increase.

The next general elections are due in 2019. We must expect to see a less equal nation between communities by then, if present BJP thinking is not changed. Our history will better represent the variety of leaders the country has had. The economy will improve and we can expect GDP growth of 8 per cent per year.

With a surge in foreign investment, the balance of payments will be in reasonable shape and the Rupee will remain relatively stable. Inflation will remain moderate especially with the prospect perhaps of low crude oil prices for three years. This economic stability and growth will moderate the protests about the Hinduisation of India unless Modi can quickly change the population’s dependence on agriculture.

If Modi’s vision of greater industrialisation, more educated and skilled population, falls short, we can expect growing rural unrest as well. Presently, our agriculture has too many dependents on it for employment. This has to change and change soon.  Modi’s slogans of Make in India, a massive skills development programme, many more smart cities with greater conveniences for all, must accompany large industrial investments.

They are crucial for the dependence on agriculture to reduce. This is a major weakness of this government. It has shown little sign of an agricultural policy that will improve productivity, increase farm prices, cut waste of produce, and enable better distribution. India is going to be different. Whether this will be a better or worse India is still a gamble.

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