Vikas (development) was the abiding Mantra of the first tenure of the Narendra Modi Government, Vichar (dhara) or ideology seems to be the overriding priority of its 2019 avatar.
Riding on a landslide, which perplexed even the best of long time political observers, the BJP Government went on an overdrive after assuming office in implementing some of its core agenda which had been put on the backburner since the Jan Sangh days itself. Foremost among them was the
abrogation of Article 370 of the Constitution of India, which granted special status to the then state of Jammu and Kashmir, with its own flag, constitution and citizenship laws, which discriminated against women, Dalits, displaced persons and minorities.
The celebrations were expectantly euphoric except within Kashmir and neighbouring Pakistan. Not only was the provision diluted, giving a body blow to the argument for separation and self-determination but also the state was split into two, with both parts becoming Union Territories.
While on the one hand the move has undoubtedly brought Kashmir at par with all other states and enabled the government to take bold administrative steps including the recent Ordinance radically amending the criteria for permanent resident status deeply impacting educational and employment opportunities, on the other, the prolonged lockdown, the arrest of political leaders and internet shutdown also drew widespread condemnation both from within and outside. The world is eagerly waiting to see how in the coming days development activities including industrialization and employment generation would be fast-tracked, terror incidents reduced, the democratic process revived and statehood restored.
Another bold step was the abolition of the abominable
triple talaq practice among the minority Muslims, which is not allowed even in many Islamic countries and has been allowed over the decades by successive Governments in its pursuit of what has now come to be known as appeasement politics. Not that voices were not raised against this past. A young Minister in the Rajiv Gandhi Government Arif Mohd Khan, a progressive leader, had supported the Supreme Court’s landmark Shah Bano judgment but instead of promoting such leaders, the grand old party decided to shunt him out and listen to the fringe elements. Such instances only served to strengthen the BJP further.
While the move was hailed by many Muslim women despite strong reservations, particularly for the penal provisions, expressed by Muslim outfits, it did not translate into any political support as was evident from the Shaheen Bagh and similar protests which witnessed huge participation by Muslim women. Nevertheless, the move was a progressive step towards gender equality and against discrimination.
Then came the
Supreme Court verdict allowing the construction of the Ram Temple at the disputed site in Ayodhya, the movement for which in the first place brought BJP to the centrestage of national politics. While this was a verdict of the apex court, there is absolutely no doubt that this would not have been possible if there was any other government in Raisina Hill. In fact, other political parties had even questioned the decision to fast track the hearing on a day-to-day basis. Except for some voices of dissent, the nation at large welcomed a solution to the vexed problem, which was considered inconceivable in our lifetime.
However, the hurry with which the then Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi was nominated to the Rajya Sabha within a few months of the historic judgement did leave a bitter taste and was perhaps avoidable at least to maintain the impartiality of the judgement.
Another long-pending issue with the larger Sangh Parivar or ideological fraternity has been the granting of Citizenship to persecuted minorities from the neighbouring countries — Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan. In fact, the plight of minorities in these three Islamic states was raised from time to time even by the Congress leaders including Dr Manmohan Singh during the previous NDA regime led by Atal Bihari Vajpayee. But what perhaps unnerved the opposition was the speed with which the ruling dispensation was pursuing its core ideological agenda. With elections to several Assemblies due, they stood no chance against the Modi-Amit Shah juggernaut.
What panned out then was playing with the fears of the minority community feeding on the resentment in certain sections against the triple talaq ban, Article 370 dilution and the Ayodhya verdict. An atmosphere was sought to be created as if all these were deliberate planned moves to reduce the Muslims into second class citizens. At least, the
CAA had nothing to do with the citizenship of Indian Muslims. It only allowed persecuted minorities from three countries a single-window opportunity to obtain Indian citizenship within a specific time frame. It also did not debar Muslim citizens of these countries from applying for Indian citizenship as per existing provisions. After all, noted Bollywood singer Adnan Sami, a Pakistani by birth was granted Indian citizenship during the first tenure of the Modi Government.
Yet, protests, fueled by a beleaguered opposition, spawned across the country including university campuses from JNU to Jadavpur and Jamia with the one at Shaheen Bagh led by women hogging even global headlines. However, local BJP leaders sought to encash it ahead of the Delhi Assembly polls and the move backfired. The unfortunate Delhi riots during the visit of US President Donald Trump was an outcome of the divisive politics practiced by all political parties. The lockdown following the corona pandemic shifted the focus from the protests.
Modi has a knack for turning adversity into opportunity and these protests also served to strengthen his ideological credentials further among the followers and loyalists. They saw in him a strong and competent leader who can take bold decisions.
There were also other bold moves though not widely discussed such as the amendment to the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act which has now made it easier for the government to designate individuals as terrorists, again another feather in its image of zero tolerance to anti-India forces.
Like the decisions pertaining to demonetisation and GST in its previous tenure, within a short span of one year, the government took several bold decisions on the economic front too including labour reforms and merger of 10 public sector banks into four major banks with a view to make them more competitive. Also, the Prime Minister projected turning India into a five trillion economy and doubling farmers income over the next five years. The corporate tax slabs too have been made the lowest in Asia.
The global corona pandemic has certainly proved to be a major setback for many of those ambitious plans but notwithstanding the criticism over the massive labour migration, Modi has come in for global praise for containing COVID-19 by imposing the world’s biggest lockdown at the initial stage itself and thereby enabling the country to prepare itself in terms of infrastructure, equipment including testing kits and ventilators and requisite facilities.
But the strong ideological undertones of even his economic policies became evident when as part of his post l
ockdown revival programme, Modi gave a major push to ‘ Aatmanirbharta’ (self-reliance) with a focus on ‘Vocal for local’ or Swadeshi, one of the core agenda of the ideological fraternity which sees in it the path to the country’s rejuvenation and restoration as the ‘ Vishwa Guru’ (Global Leader).
On the foreign front too, India has forged a close relationship with the United States and other global players though the ties with neighbouring countries including China, Bangladesh and even Nepal have witnessed a flip flop over issues ranging from CAA to border skirmishes and demarcation issues.
Nevertheless, India’s proactive response to rush medical supplies including Hydroxychloroquine to countries such as US and Brazil has earned it global acclaim and the recent ascent of Health Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan as President of the WHO Executive Council is only reflective of the nation’s growing global stature.
Thus, if the promise of
Achche Din riding on development ( Vikas) plank was the hallmark of the first five years of Modi Government, the first year saw an aggressive ideological ( Vichar) positioning with ‘ Atma Nirbharta’ (self-reliance) as the motto. -KG Suresh is a senior journalist and former Director General of Indian Institute of Mass Communication. The views expressed are personal