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Modi@1: Some positive steps, long way to go

By Gopal Krishna
Last updated on: May 26, 2015 16:04 IST
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A supporter of Bharatiya Janata Party holds a placard with a picture of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.It has been said that by 2025, India could become among the top five economies in the world. If India does become a $5 trillion economy but gets all its rivers polluted, food chain poisoned and genetic pool depleted and biometric database of Indians sold or stolen at the behest of commercial czars, will it not be a pyrrhic economic victory, asks Gopal Krishna.

It’s a one-year-old infant. It has taken few perfect steps, has faltered on some but is yet to take several required steps to chart a course different from previous regimes. 

When Narendra Modi took over as the prime minister of India on May 24, many suggestions were made for the new government. The evaluation of its performance in the light of those suggestions is germane.

  • In a case of arresting the decline in autonomous foreign policy, the Modi led government supported a UN treaty to regulate corporations reversing the stance of Dr Manmohan Singh-led government. It was indeed a sad commentary on the state of affairs in India that a Congress-led government did not express support for the Ecuadorian declaration regarding "transnational corporations and human rights" before the UN Human Rights Council session in September 2013.

The representative of the government of Ecuador at the UN had proposed a legally-binding international instrument on business & human rights. The proposal was aimed at clarifying “the obligations of transnational corporations in the field of human rights" besides providing “for the establishment of effective remedies for victims in cases where domestic jurisdiction is clearly unable to" do so.

But contrary to its consistent stand since the 1970s, the Congress-led government chose to align itself with most of those countries like Norway that seem to safeguard the interests of transnational business enterprises. It is noteworthy that this reversal in India’s position for a brief period happened when Salman Khurshid was minister of external affairs.

By June 2014, Norway responded to the Ecuadorian proposal by tabling an alternative resolution co-signed by other countries. The Ecuadorian resolution was drafted by Ecuador and South Africa and co-signed by Bolivia, Cuba and Venezuela. It appears from the UN records that India remained aligned with Norway at least till June, 2014.

It is apparent from the circumstantial evidence that when Sushma Swaraj took over as external affairs minister India’s long held position was restored. It took exactly one month for the new minister to undo the damage done by her predecessor.

When the resolution was put to vote for adoption by the UN Human Rights Council on June 26, 2014, India voted in favour of the Ecuador resolution which was adopted by the council.

There was an urgent need for a legally binding treaty to be adopted to regulate admittedly undemocratic organisations like corporations which have become bigger and more powerful than democratic governments. The Modi government took the right step at the most appropriate time.

  • An argument was advanced for adoption of the Contesting Election on Government Expenses Bill, 2012 which is pending in the Rajya Sabha to combat black money. This bill has been long due for putting a check on increasing use of black money in elections and political activities to facilitate state funding of elections. This six page long bill introduced by Prabhat Jha, Member of Parliament from BJP merited his government’s attention. This Private Members' Bill reiterates what several Parliamentary Committees have recommended.

One year has passed but the Modi government has not pay any heed to this bill. Given solemn assurances by the ruling party for combating black money, it is hoped the government will adopt the bill in the next year.

  • By shaping not only the strategies, rational choice but also their goals, political parties as institutions structure political situations and leave their own imprint on political outcomes. This significance underlines the inference that parties cannot be left at the mercy of non-state actors. As long as these actors shape the outcome no matter who wins in electoral battles, democracy is not a winner because our deformed political system is turning legislatures into a forum for legalised bribery.

The way out could be to ensure corporate donations are pooled into an electoral fund which can be used for state funding of elections.

An argument was made for adoption of the 20 page bill titled "The Intelligence Services (Powers and Regulation) Bill, 2011" that was introduced in the Lok Sabha by Congress MP Manish Tewari, "to regulate the manner of the functioning and exercise of powers of Indian intelligence agencies within and beyond the territory of India and to provide for the coordination, control and oversight of such agencies…” The government has not attended to the need for enacting such a law.

Advocacy of national identity cards as if “everyday forms of identity surveillance” is natural and rational is a hangover of the colonial and imperial times. How is it that when heads of states are put under round the clock surveillance by colonial and imperial powers it is deemed an assault on national sovereignty but when a national government undertakes the same over their masters, the citizens, it becomes natural and rational.

The democratic mandate is against electronic and biometric identification exercises like AADHAAR, the government should have stopped the ongoing handing over of personal sensitive data to foreign intelligence companies like Mongo DB, Safran Group, Accenture, Ernst & Young and others and fixed accountability for the same on the acts of omission of the previous government.

This has not been done. The mandate which the NDA got is a mandate against AADHAAR among other things. The NDA government has disrespected the mandate by endorsing it and related programs. Voters will remember it for sure.

In the one year of Modi government there has not been any initiative in this regard.

  • As to The Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement (Second Amendment) Bill, 2015, there is logical compulsion for bringing out a white paper of land acquisitions undertaken by East India Companies, the British government and government of independent India so far in the name of public purpose.

Any peoples’ government would have rejected the recommendations of Dr Vijay Kelkar committee’s report which recommended sale of government owned lands, which has been acquired for ‘public purpose’ since 1894. This report was accepted by UPA Finanace Minister P Chidambram in his 2013 Budget speech.

  • Conceptualisation and implementation of economic activities in Ganga basin continues in a business as usual manner. Ganga river basin spreads over 239 parliamentary constituencies comprising 80 seats of Uttar Pradesh, 40 of Bihar, 40 of West Bengal, 25 of Madhya Pradesh, 16 of Rajasthan, 12 of Jharkhand, eight of Haryana, five of Uttarakhand, four of Chhattisgarh, two of Himachal Pradesh and seven of the Union Territory of Delhi. The catchment area of the Ganga falls in four countries, namely India, Nepal, Tibet-China, and Bangladesh.

On March 26, Modi chaired the fifth meeting of National Ganga River Basin Authority and called for an "uncompromising mission-mode approach" to stop further pollution of the river. But the meeting confined itself to the quality of water of Ganga river alone in a deeply parochial manner. Even with regard to water quality it did not address all the water sources in the Ganga basin and its relationship with soil pollution.

Given the fact that the Ganga river and basin has been divided into a large number of ongoing and proposed projects that focuses on water quantity. This includes diversion of rivers for Interlinking of Rivers project; the NGRBA should have paid attention to how depletion of water due to extraction of water in myriad ways has deteriorated the Ganga’s water quality.

There was a reference to Jan Bhaagidari (people’s participation) in the BJP’s election manifesto 2014. It referred to cultural heritage wherein it promised to “Ensure the cleanliness, purity and uninterrupted flow of the Ganga on priority. Massive Clean Rivers Programme across the country driven by people’s participation.”

The survival of the river and its basin is hardly a priority; it’s the electoral slogan of nirmal Ganga (cleanliness of the river) which seems to pre-occupy the attention of the government at the moment. So far it has disregarded aviral (uninterrupted flow) of the Ganga. Water quality improvement is impossible without uninterrupted flow.

This meeting of the NGRBA assumed significance especially because it happened in the aftermath of the submission of 217-page Main Plan Document titled Ganga River Basin Management Plan. It makes a controversial recommendation suggesting that Ganga river should be nationalised. The plan should have examined the role of bottle water industry and virtual water in the Ganga basin; it has failed to do so.  

This recommendation of the plan does not factor in the sad experience of declaring the tiger as a national animal, for instance. Whenever living entities have been declared national in the country they have become endangered.

It has been said that by 2025, India could become among the top five economies in the world. If India does become a $5 trillion economy but gets all its rivers polluted, food chain poisoned and genetic pool depleted and biometric database of Indians sold or stolen at the behest of commercial czars, will it not be a pyrrhic economic victory? Will not tantamount Faustian bargain?

Image: A BJP supporter holds a placard with a picture of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Photograph: Rupak De Chowdhuri/Reuters.

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Gopal Krishna