Independence Day is an annual occasion for celebration — and of reflection — in a sense of summing up the year gone by, and setting benchmarks for the year to come. We don’t have much to celebrate this year; we’ll celebrate the good monsoon only in the coming year.
But there are other downers to ruin the mood. Despite two years of
promise, the economy remains bumpy, tensions in the countryside
exacerbated by triumphalist Hindutva hard-liners pose a grave risk to
the social peace of large parts of northern India, and the situation in
Jammu & Kashmir is, perhaps, the worst since the 2008 Amarnath yatra
Narendra Modi was elected prime minister
to transform the economic life and governance of the country. He says
he remains committed to those goals though the problems are obvious.
Though the economy is on the mend, the recovery process is taking an
uncommonly long time and has yet to gain momentum. The persistent
refusal of private sector investment to put down serious money in the
economic plans of the country is leading to what is being called ‘growth
without investment’ which is now accompanying jobless growth.
For the common man, there is as yet no respite from inflation with
almost all staples like dal and vegetables selling at astronomical
prices. A consumption bump of sorts will come with the release of the
arrears of the 7th Pay Commission, but it is well known that this is the
worst way of trying to achieve high economic growth.
The problem of governance has emerged with the rise of the gau
rakshaks in states ruled by the BJP such as Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh,
Haryana, or where the party is a member of the coalition, as in Punjab.
The issue, which pits the upper caste Hindus against the Muslim minority
and Dalits, has the potential to destroy India’s rural economy and
social fabric. Some of this has been recognised by the PM in his
Independence Day address; the only problem is that while he senses the
political danger of alienating the Dalit community, he sees no need to
address the equally dangerous effort to marginalise the Muslim
The situation in the foreign policy front is equally dismal. New
Delhi seems to have lost the plot in dealing with its difficult
customers —Pakistan and China. There is an argument that, given the way
that these two countries have pushed around India in the past, the Modi
government’s hawkish tit-for-tat approach is a long-needed corrective.
But foreign policy is not about satisfying the national ego and
assuaging national angst. It is about preserving and extending one’s
national interests. It is here that the sheer negativism of the approach
stands out. The PM’s references to Balochistan may have gladdened the
hearts of his bhakts, but they are likely to achieve little, other than
to satisfy our ego. No matter how you look at it, no country in the
world questions Balochistan’s accession to Pakistan, whereas virtually
no country in the world categorically recognises Jammu & Kashmir’s
accession to India.
The border conversation with China or the effort to pin down Pakistan
on the issue of terrorism have little to show for themselves. There
seems to be alarming subtext in a lot of government declarations that
India would not mind a bit of a scrap, if push came to shove. The least
that our chicken hawks should consider is the lamentable state of our
military which could well land us with egg on our face, were we to seek
some ill-advised military adventure.
Indeed, when doing the sums on Independence Day, the one area we find
that the plus side of the ledger is empty, is that of the defence
services. The much vaunted Make in India is proving to be like the
proverbial tale of the blind men and the elephant. Figuring out just
what ‘Make in India’ means is proving to be equally problematic. But
that is the least of the worries, the bigger ones relate to the delays
in carrying out the deep restructuring and reform of the military
The performance of the Prime Minister himself has been less than
stellar. It took him four weeks to react to the Una incident which took
place in a state that he had run since 2002. However, the hopes of the
country continue to rest in his leadership. He remains the premier
political figure of the country and the citizens continue to place their
trust in him. His own inclination is to avoid controversial issues and
seek the high ground where he can. He now seems to be adopting a
strategy of bashing Pakistan to seize the nationalist high ground with
his core constituency at home. The problem is that verbally chastising
Islamabad is one thing, but trying to execute those policies on the
ground are a recipe for disaster.
As it is, there is a feeling that his effort to consolidate his
political position by eliminating as many Opposition ruled governments
in states, and winning as many state assembly elections as he can, have
detracted from the ability of the government to deliver on its promises
of good governance and economic growth. But if in the consolidation of
his government the constitutional and social order are damaged, there
could be long-term negative consequences for the country.
Mid Day August 15, 2016