Modi has critics within his party
Like nature, politics abhors a vacuum. It will be unrealistic to believe, therefore, that a majority in parliament ensures trouble-free governance. Even after the opposition has been comprehensively routed, as in the present case, the party in power can still face critics from its own ranks.
This is exactly what has happened to Narendra Modi. Notwithstanding the BJP’s unassailable position in the Lok Sabha, and the fact that the prime minister stands out as a person who is politically irreplaceable for the party now or in the near future, Modi will still have to contend with two groups within the saffron camp who may not see eye-to-eye with him.
One of them includes the organisations affiliated to the Sangh parivar such as the Swadesh Jagran Manch (SJM), the Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh and the Bharatiya Kisan Sangh. At their meeting with the finance minister, Arun Jaitley, they voiced their objections to the railway fare and freight rate hikes and advised the government to follow a pro-people line.
Their arguments are the same as those of the Left and other opposition parties – no doubt the BJP would have spoken in the same vein had it been in the opposition – since they see poverty alleviation in terms of keeping all user charges low for decades without any concern for the financial health of the service providers.
In India, this has been the standard approach of virtually all political parties, which is seemingly a legacy of the colonial period when no one cared if the foreigner-dominated official agencies were driven to bankruptcy. After independence, the manner in which the ruling classes were seen to enjoy a luxurious existence at the tax-payer’s expense might have also led to the belief that the concept of the tightening of belts should not be applied only to the ordinary people.
The socialistic ideal of the state providing cradle-to-grave social security (in lieu of civil rights) also buttressed this outlook. As a result, successive governments have desisted from the idea of increasing the charges which the consumers have to pay, whether it is train or bus fares or fuel rates or whatever. The official reluctance was also due to the possibility of violence during the rail-roko or rasta-roko agitations. In 1966 in Calcutta (as it was known then), 13 trams standing in a row near College Street were set on fire following a one-paisa price hike. The next few days will show whether Modi will be able to buck this trend even if the ‘bitter medicine’, which he has said he will administer, ‘dents’ his popularity. But, the protests he is facing from within the parivar demonstrate how difficult it is to push a reformist line. As the SJM and others have pointed out, they are less interested in bullet trains than in measures for the poor, showing how the economic reforms are associated with pro-rich policies. As is known, the protectionist SJM is opposed to foreign investment of any kind and not to the retail sector alone, like the BJP.
These are not the only elements of which Modi has to be wary. There are also the Hindu fundamentalists who continue to flood the inboxes of computers with their vitriolic messages directed against the Muslims and the Nehru-Gandhi family. An email combining the two pet hate objects of the saffronties says: ‘The story of Mohammed Ghauri … shows treachery and cunning (and) teaches us how Indians have lost out to foreign invaders … Sonia Gandhi undoubtedly possesses some of Mohammed Ghauri’s qualities… I sincerely hope Narendra Modi possesses vast reserves of native wisdom … to outwit the Italian Gandhi ‘. The VHP’s Ashok Singhal also looks to Modi to stop the ‘total Islamisation’ of India.
Evidently, the Hindutva group’s basic outlook hasn’t changed for all of the prime minister’s emphasis on development. At the same time, it may experience a sense of betrayal, as during Atal Behari Vajpayee’s tenure, when its key objectives – building the Ram temple, scrapping Article 370 and introducing a uniform civil code – were kept under wraps. These have now been incorporated in the BJP manifesto. But, there is no sign that the government is in a hurry to implement them.
It is open to question how long Ashok Singhal and Co will remain patient. Moreover, if Modi’s focus on reforms begins to find acceptance among the non-Left economists, the middle class, the corporate sector and the so-called pink newspapers, then the Hindutva plank will take a back seat. In that case, even if protectionists like the SJM and the fundamentalists become united in their grievances, they will be unable to act against Modi’s successful juggernaut.
No one can be more aware than Modi of the need to push ahead with the reforms since he will not like to commit the mistake which the Congress admitted that it did when, according to
P Chidambaram, it took the ‘foot off the accelerator of reforms’. Modi will probably expect, therefore, at least conditional support for the reforms of the kind provided by the RSS when it said that the government should have first prepared the ground for a fare hike before taking the step.