India first in Modi parlance
Jawaharlal Nehru wrote Discovery of India over four years – 1942 to 1946 – while being interred at the Ahmednagar Fort jail, after the launch of the ‘Quit India movement.’ Sardar Ballabhai Patel’s ‘steel-frame,’ the Indian civil servants have to undergo a mandatory ‘Bharat Darshan’ for at least two months during their training. That way, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s amalgam of ‘discovery of India’ and ‘bharat darshan’ cannot be called to an abrupt halt just not yet. But can governance wait till he has satiated all his five senses?
The most consensual answer emerging out of the populace would be a ‘no,’ especially considering the enervating complexities of the country. On the other hand, Modi has dispelled a lot of prejudices about himself that were a by-product of his iron rule of Gujarat for 12 years.
For example, many analysts thought that he would ascend to the seat of the Indian premiership with a loud ‘bang’ – a heavy handed thump on governance. He has not done that. Everyone, including this writer, thought the bills he ran up during his long campaign for the top job would have to be paid pronto, as soon as the Adanis, the Ambanis etc say ‘jump.
On the contrary, he appears to have come to office with a modus vivendi worked out beforehand – that they shall have to wait for a respectable period, till he gets his hands firmly on the wheels. The cognoscenti of Delhi had thought he, being an outsider, would surround himself with others of his ilk from the bureaucracy and the political arena and thus form a bubble in which he will function.
In contrast, he selected as his principal secretary in the PMO, Nripendranath Mishra, who is a quintessential insider, having been seated earlier on the lucrative chairmanship of the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India. There has not been any appointments yet of anyone who can be called a ‘believer’ in Modi’s own book for ‘raj dharma,’ exemplified in the seminal year 2002. Of course, there is a dishonourable exception in getting Sanjeev Balyan elected from the latter’s ‘karm bhoomi’ – in Muzaffarnagar - where he was a prime accused of the pre-poll communal riot that routed the Muslim minority.
But then what has he really done in the past two months – next weekend will mark the beginning of his third month of reign. Wracking the brains for any sign of life that the PMO, led by the PM, has shown a schedule of meetings. But then that’s what all of Lutyen’s Delhi had been thriving upon the past six decades – meetings after ineffectual meetings. The fact mentioned below will stand as proof to the point.
Consider the C Rangarajan panel’s poverty numbers – an attempt at trying to walk the fine line between truth and reality on the one side, and ideological neo-liberalism on the other. It still finds 22 per cent of the country’s population under the ‘poverty line,’ that is kind of rickety and decrepit.
The Union Budget presented by Modi’s current moll (decisively male), Arun Jaitley, the finance and defence minister, was so lacking in panoply that even the length of the speech was commented upon. While the business press extolled the virtue of ‘continuity’ in the budget, an inheritance from the fallen messiah Manmohan Singh, that Jaitley barely could fit in with his intellect.
This contrived consensus on the economic policies was the reason why the Congress Party and the BJP were called the two sides of the same coin. So even in that, there was no sign of an activistic Narendra Modi who was the first to call Ratan Tata to Sanand for setting up the Nano factory, even as Mamata Bannerjee stalled the progress in Singur.
But, there is one positive message that Modi government has been able to send to the world in its two months in power – that of a sense of nationalism where India will be driven by its own national interest, albeit the non-comprador elite’s. This is reflected in the defence ministry where despite the threat of the country growing a military-industrial complex, which could lead policy by the nose, the emphasis was on domesticisation of defence production.
At the World Trade Organisation (WTO) meeting in Sydney, the Commerce and Industry Minister, Nirmala Sitharaman, has put her foot down on the passage of the Trade Facilitation Agreement that has left the US and its ilk frothing in the mouth. She wants the WTO and its drivers to first provide the acceptance of developing country’s demand for raised subsidy limit on food. She believes alongwith her ministerial team that the developed countries will not even look at the countries’ demands once they get their trade facilitation. Hence, they have to be made to sign on her demand first, before they get theirs.
But ‘nationalism’ can also be a cozy habitat for those who do not want change and are indolent in defining the country’s needs. Will Modi government walk that path? The Indian bourgeoisie is looking at it with their own wish lists. And that is where his constituency lies.
The author is a senior journalist