Critical choices before 2019
India has entered a penultimate fiscal year on April 1, 2017, which may largely determine the shape of things to come in 2019, as the triumphant Modi Government steps up its relentless majoritarian drives in every sphere. Meanwhile, the country lacks an effective and credible opposition to assert civil rights and safeguard constitutional values, wherever necessary.
A weak and divided opposition in the Rajya Sabha, led by Congress with powerful voices, and though commanding majority, has had little impact on arresting authoritarian moves of Government, as was seen with the Finance Bill finally passed in Lok Sabha, ignoring key amendments unrelated to tax policies made in Rajya Sabha. This brings into question Parliamentary supremacy.
This is the year the Modi Government is going all out to flaunt its achievements of three years so far, which besides some commendable measures taken, could also misrepresent facts and perhaps also the moods and urges of the broad mass of the people awaiting the promised "Achhe Din". Towering all is the personality of Narendra Modi and his skilful presentations - which can make failures look symbols of success, all "pro-poor", as he made it for the disastrous demonetisation – have had a magical effect on broad sections of the electorate.
The UP vote is assumed to be a total endorsement of this well-intentioned but badly managed "historic" step, to the detriment of millions of ordinary people and trades and services. Emboldened, the way is now clear for this Government to do anything, even if disruptive and could cause inconvenience or sufferings to large sections of people.
Take the case of Aadhaar where it is prepared to flout the Supreme Court's directions. And a full bench of the apex court would later in the year pronounce on its implications for the privacy of an individual. The Court has no doubt given certain exceptions such as for income tax filing and bank accounts. The BJP Government has been on an over-reach to make as many services or welfare programmes Aadhaar-compulsory. That it is no guarantee of privacy has also been shown up, to the chagrin of Government in some cases recently.
The Aadhaar, which BJP had earlier scorned when out of power, has now secured a grudging acknowledgement from Finance Minister Arun Jaitley of this UPA measure. He now sees its revolutionary significance to be extended to every service and human activity, in effect being entirely controlled.
For instance, banks have taken the cue and try to disable any customer from withdrawing even small amounts from his own deposits for emergent needs including medical expenses unless one produces the Aadhaar, ignoring PAN card and other identifications. It may be understandable for opening a new account or for significant transactions. A mindless government is seeking to enforce it for most welfare schemes including PDS, midday meals, itinerant labour, rail travel, and so on. This is flouting the Supreme Court directions. Considerable numbers of people have yet to get enrolled or others awaiting the numbers which take a few weeks to receive.
There is no connect between the state of readiness in the country for the government to resort to such steps, including insistence on digitalisation, affecting daily lives of citizens, in a peremptory fashion. The rights of people, even loyal assessees and honest citizens are being trampled upon in different ways, as seen in the miscellaneous non-financial provisions included for passage of the Finance Bill as "Money Bill" by the Lok Sabha. Tax authorities have been given the widest powers ever because in this Government's view no citizen of the country is untainted until he proves himself!
More confidently now, building on the Modi/Yogi miracle in UP, BJP expects a renewal of national mandate in 2019 to lay firmer foundations for the "New India" the Prime Minister desires, in which the Hindutva-cum-Development model would be promoted. UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath has already been assigned to make this experiment successful so as to be replicable for other states. That would bring substance to the "One Nation" theory.
The signs are unmistakable from the way the Modi Government has been permissive, besides its earlier efforts at saffronisation of educational and cultural institutions, of the ruthless ways in which Hindutva groups and outfits have taken to moral policing and seeking to enforce conformity, over parts of the country. Liberal voices are sought to be silenced by being branded "anti-national".
With the largest state of UP now under BJP hegemony, coupled with the deliberate choice of the young firebrand Yogi Adityanath to head the government, the stage looks set for that "New India". All this fits in with the BJP/RSS ideal of a unified nation, not merely concerning GST, but politically leaning toward the cherished goal of Hindu Rashtra.
Prime Minister Modi is so self-assured that he has broken through the barriers of castes and religions such that even Muslims perhaps would be willing to recognise and support his "Development" model of governance, come 1919. This is a signal BJP seems to have read in UP verdict when the party had not given a ticket to any Muslim candidate. After UP, the Modi juggernaut is ready to roll into other poll-bound states, not merely BJP-ruled Gujarat and Rajasthan but also Karnataka, the only major state left with Congress as well as into BJD-ruled Odisha.
Still, to overcome fatigue after its 2014 humiliation with 44 seats in Lok Sabha, the party that led the nation to freedom is yet to bestir itself on a national scale to fight for the India as envisaged in the Constitution. The national party has the last chance to galvanise itself countrywide and build a platform of like-minded parties, especially regional majors, with a common agenda of inclusive social and economic development and growth and job priorities. This it must in the run-up to 2019 Lok Sabha poll, otherwise it could well fade into history. A truly democratic India needs an effective opposition besides a robust and stable government.
On the economic front, no matter the gloating over the passage of GST bill, it will not be smooth sailing for the Modi Government in fiscal 2018 either, mainly because of possible monsoon failure and global headwinds from uneven growth in developed nations, Fed rate hikes, and protectionist threats by the Trump Administration.
(The views expressed are strictly personal.)