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Modi and the hunt for a Sanjeevani Booti

January 30, 2019 09:00 IST

Modi Sarkar will not stand on ceremonies even if that means stepping on the Constitution, says Udit Misra.

It is a terrible thing to do but one must start by stating what is painfully obvious: Narendra Modi seems to be finding out that five years is too long a period for him to carry on as prime minister without having much to show for it.

For the longest time, the government jumped from one slogan to another and from one policy announcement to another, spinning the news like there is no tomorrow.

Nowhere was this more pronounced than on the issue of employment.

 

Modi started his tenure with the promise of an obscene number of jobs. But when, especially after the demonetisation debacle, that promise was unravelling, his government stressed the importance of self-employment.

Modi notably said that jobs were being created but what was lacking was the data for it. Indeed, for a while, the government even claimed that, based on the payroll data, millions of new jobs were being created in the economy.

Before long that myth was busted when independent sample surveys showed that actually millions of jobs were lost.

The other big area where Modi’s failure was rather pronounced was the status of Indian farmers.

His government had come to power berating the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme. He characterised the MGNREGS as the monument of the Congress party's failures.

Indeed it was to a great extent because the MGNREGS was to provide a safety net for those who lost out in the economic growth story. The more people this net caught, the more it was evident that India’s growth story was not inclusive.

Modi's government promised a sound and effective food policy to ensure better remuneration for farmers and berated the Congress's politics of dole. Five years down the line, the MGNREGS budget has swelled further, albeit its administration continues to be just as poor.

Lack of jobs in urban India and farm distress in rural India are the two key things that have hurt Modi more than anything else.

The season of electoral reversals started with the Gujarat assembly polls, where the Bharatiya Janata Party barely managed to stay in power.

But the results on December 11, where the BJP lost three big states in the cow belt and that too to the Congress, have made it amply clear to anyone who is observing that the days of the so-called 'Modi Sarkar' -- that is, a government which is essentially an embodiment of Modi’s approach -- are numbered.

And no one knows this better than Modi and his astute lieutenant Amit Shah.

That is why Modi is now trying to break through the final frontier -- the Indian Constitution -- in his bid to locate a sanjeevani booti and revive the chances of re-election of his ailing government (no pun intended).

Till now this has resulted in two key changes.

One relates to making it easier for Hindus as well as people belonging to five other religious groups to get Indian citizenship if they are trying to escape 'religious persecution' in Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan.

But the most curious thing about this Bill, which is still pending in the Rajya Sabha, is that while it appears large-hearted about the troubles of Hindus in some neighbouring countries, it also targets (that is, rules out) Muslim refugees from these very countries (such as those belonging to the Ahmadiyya sect in Pakistan).

Moreover, it also ignores the troubles of Muslim refugees in other nearby countries such as the Rohingyas of Myanmar.

For a country which has a Constitution that promises, under Article 14, ‘equality before law’ to all its citizens, such cherry-picking of refugees not only goes against the spirit of the law but is downright condemnable for not being in line with India’s secular credentials.

It is another matter that this amendment can be used, and perhaps that's the point, as a cynical tool to polarise voters.

The second change, which has now received the legislative stamp of approval from both the Houses of Parliament, is the 10 per cent reservation in government sector jobs and educational institutions for those in the general category who are considered economically weak.

Again, the existing Constitution and its reading by the Supreme Court had ruled out reservations purely on the basis of economic criteria. Job reservations were not meant to be poverty alleviation schemes as this government has treated them to be.

At one level, the move shows that even Modi understands that there is anger against him for the job losses brought about by his rather unconventional policies.

But more importantly, if this amendment survives the judicial review, especially in relation to the 50 per cent quota cap that the Supreme Court had placed, it would open a whole new set of demands from all concerned.

After all, if going beyond the 50 per cent cap is allowed and reservations can be granted on the basis of other parameters, why not reserve jobs on the basis other markers such as gender?

Moreover, and the Congress party’s Kapil Sibal pointed this out in his speech, it is entirely possible that a terribly poor individual belonging to one of the Scheduled Castes is unable to get a job while, in the same lot of job openings, a much better off (but still considered economically weak) individual belonging to one of the upper castes gets the appointment letter under the 10 per cent quota for the general category.

Forget for a moment the fact that such a picture will hurt the BJP as it would be seen by the lower castes as a party that helped the upper castes instead of fighting for the SC/ST cause. What is worrying is the uproar that perhaps lies ahead once this electoral cycle is through because more and more people can be expected to raise their hands and ask for reservations and sub-reservations in the coming days.

In essence, the BJP would have been responsible for having thrown India into another cycle of populism.

Of course, this is still January and we have the Budget ahead of us. Be sure of one thing: Modi Sarkar will not stand on ceremonies even if that means stepping on the Constitution.

Udit Misra
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