MR. MODI’S BAGGAGE IN OFFICE

    S Nihal Singh

    There are obvious contradictions between Mr. Modi’s concept of tapping the very best in technology for the greater good and obscurantist and ludicrous beliefs that defy logic. The great danger is that the very constituency – the urban aspirational middle class that brought Mr. Modi to power – will be increasingly disillusioned with a ruling party still living in an imaginary ancient world”, says the author

    With the Modi government settling down to its new responsibilities, it is becoming increasingly clear that it comes with its baggage. And each day brings a new gem of wisdom from the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP’s) ranks and its allies to offer a concept of India and the world that is part medieval, part gauche. Judging by our six years of experience of the Vajpayee government, we had come to expect our education and allied ministries to be packed with Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) ranks or sympathizers.

    We have seen an obscure historian with pronounced RSS sympathies take over the Indian Council of Historical Research. In the ministry dealing with education and allied subjects, instead of an ideologue, the Modi Government has done better: appointing a novice and school leaver to provide the RSS a sheet of blank paper to write on. Indeed, the oratory of BJP ranks and allies has been in full flow in welcoming a Hindu India of Mr. Modi’s concept and in dilating upon the evils of such peril as bikinis and bars in Goa. On the sensitive issue of rape, very much in the public eye, BJP party men’s views are as conservative and retrograde as those of many other parties such as the Samajwadi Party.

    The world’s gender revolution has still to catch up with the bulk of our male politicians who still live in a male-dominated society, with the country’s traditional and mythical tales reinforcing a chauvinist mindset. There are obvious contradictions between Mr. Modi’s concept of tapping the very best in technology for the greater good and obscurantist and ludicrous beliefs that defy logic. The great danger is that the very constituency – the urban aspirational middle class that brought Mr. Modi to power – will be increasingly disillusioned with a ruling party still living in an imaginary ancient world.

    The fact that the scale of the BJP’s victory in the Lok Sabha election that brought the party to power, much to its own surprise, meant that many candidates were given the ticket indiscriminately without proper scrutiny and comprise a large element of the lumpen class. Some of the BJP’s allies are, of course, a class by themselves. We are therefore treated to the dubious entertainment of honorable members of Parliament stuffing rotis into the unwilling mouths of the catering staff.

    Another aspect of Mr. Modi’s Gujarat model has made its appearance in Delhi. Indeed, the Prime Minister appears to be part sanitary inspector, part micromanager, part strict headmaster in running the national government. And such conduct must lead to serious doubt whether what would work in one state can be replicated nationally. If ministers cannot appoint their own private secretaries, it must leave question marks. Perhaps the quality most sought after by a majority of people who voted for him is the expectation of his decisiveness.

    After the United Progressive Alliance II experiment with a dual key arrangement kicking problems to a bewildering array of committees, the people took Mr. Modi as advertised and voted for him. Many problems are too complex to be resolved instantly, but those who voted the BJP expect those that can be promptly dealt with to be attended forthwith. Language has proved to be another deal breaker, with an ambiguous government note on compulsory noting in files in Hindi riling non-Hindi speakers.

    In any event, the missionary zeal with which the new government is promoting Hindi is counterproductive. One problem, of course, is that many of the BJP leaders are not fluent in English and choose to speak a Sanskrit’s Hindi hard to understand because it abandons commonly spoken Hindustani espoused by Mahatma Gandhi. The danger, of course, is that by using Hindi in their discourse, the BJP government is cutting out non-Hindi speakers from the South and the East in particular from the national dialogue.

    Indeed, one delegate made known his predicament after a Hindidominated conference because he simply could not comprehend what was being said. There was no translation offered, whether of simultaneous or subsequent variety. The Gujarat model of governance can therefore lead Mr. Modi to go off at a tangent. India is not peopled by one homogeneous people or language. Language, as preceding upheavals have shown, strikes at the heart of a people’s being and deeply affects their outlook.

    One hopes the brand new Modi government will learn its lesson in desisting from forcing Hindi on unwilling peoples. One conclusion one can draw from these early days of the Modi government is that scale makes an immense difference between how problems can be looked at and resolved. As Chief Minister, Mr. Modi was able to subdue the Opposition and largely govern the state as a single-party government, even worsting the Governor in diluting the Lokpal’s role.

    The Opposition, singly or collectively, cannot be thus subdued at the national level. And in conducting parliamentary or other business, there has to be an element of give and take. Whatever decision the Speaker of the Lok Sabha takes on giving the official status of Leader of the Opposition to the Congress, the BJP lost an opportunity in not being immediately generous, instead of hiding behind precedents. Mr. Modi demonstrated in Gujarat that he could keep fringe and extremist elements of the Sangh Parivar at bay in his state.

    His task is immensely more complicated at the national level because the RSS backed him to the hilt for leadership and will now demand its pound of flesh not only in appointing pliable or ideologues as ministers but also in doing its bidding on issues it considers important. Against Mr. Modi’s eloquence and vitriol on the election campaign, his silence on major issues of the day has been much commented upon.

    The tasks of governance are, of course, quite distinct. Responsibilities of government impose restrictions on the free flow of ideas, but interactions with media restricted to short tweets or terse official press notes will prove to be a handicap in running the country. Mr. Modi is a quick learner and one hopes he will change course in some areas as he moves forward.

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