Is Hindutva baggage diluting Modi’s development focus?

Is Hindutva baggage diluting Modi's development focus

RSS’ Hindutva baggage is once again haunting Prime Minister Narendra Modi  and this time criticism against it has come from an unlikely quarter: the India Inc.

According to a report in the Times of India, corporate chieftains are increasingly getting disillusioned with the NDA government, which will complete a year in office next month. The reasons for this are two fold: for one, the tax demands being slapped on some of the companies and secondly, “the seemingly unchecked Hindutva agenda of some right wing groups”, the ToI report said.

Tax notices had been a concern for businesses ever since Pranab Mukherjee introduced retrospective tax in 2012, when he was the finance minister. There have been a slew of tax litigations between corporates and the government ever since. What is creating a heartburn for the business community now is the fear that the NDA government may be continuing with the ‘tax terrorism’ of the UPA, which finance minister Arun Jaitley had recently promised to end.

According to reports, the income tax department has slapped $5-6 billion as minimum alternate tax on nearly 100 foreign funds. The amount is likely to rise to $10 billion, a PTI report said. This comes close on the heels of the department demanding $3.3 billion tax from Cairn India on the gains it had got when it transferred shares to parent company some 8 years ago.

Jaitley’s clarification that these are legitimate demands has only heightened the worries of the business community.

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Interestingly, the ‘ease of doing business’, which had been businesses main grudge against the erstwhile UPA government, seems to be no longer a big issue for the corporates. This appears to have been replaced with the ‘Hindutva agenda’.

“…As a secular nation, we must avoid any form of fundamentalist activity. Random fascist comments lead to communal disharmony and should be dealt with severely,” RPG Group chairman Harsh Goenka has been quoted as saying in the ToI report.

The report also cites another un-named banker who also has raised worries about the Hindutva agenda.

The business community’s concerns are not displaced given some of the recent church attacks that have unsettled the Christian community and the conversion drive under the name of ‘Ghar Wapsi’ being undertaken by right wing organizations like the Vishva Hindu Parishad and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh.

What is making the matters worse is the insensitive and ill-informed comments made by some of the RSS leaders and even BJP ministers about various issues, ranging from science to gender equality.

The business honchos’ concerns about the Hindutva assume significance also because rarely do they get vocal about such sensitive issues. One earlier instance was in the aftermath of the Gujarat riots, in which thousands of Muslims and Hindus were killed in clashes.

Rahul Bajaj, one of the most outspoken industrialists in India, had termed 2002 as the “lost year” for Gujarat because of the riots. He even questioned the leadership of Modi, who was the chief minister of Gujarat during the riots.

“We would like to know what you believe in, what you stand for, because leadership is important. You are today the undisputed leader of your party and government in Gujarat and we want to know you better…We are prepared to work with governments of all hues, but we also have our own views on what is good for our society and what works for it,” Bajaj told Modi at a CII function.

The industry leaders now seem to be echoing Bajaj’s sentiment then. This is because Modi, as the prime minister, has not taken any concrete steps yet to address the increasing right wing menace. And the business community has every reason to be worried because, as FICCI president Jyotsna Suri told ToI, “It (statements by the saffron hotheads) is certainly diluting the focus and is uncalled for.” 

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