Home > Archives (2006 on) > 2014 > Robbing Peter to pay Paul

Mainstream, VOL LII No 27, June 28, 2014

Robbing Peter to pay Paul

Saturday 28 June 2014, by Badri Raina

A good number of commentaries have been appearing, some askance at the rapidity with which the new Modi Sarkar is unleashing its corporate agenda.

It is as though something other than this was expected to happen.

After all, electoral campaigns are often in the nature of con jobs: robbing votes from Peter to pay hefty sums to Paul.

In an earlier article (“The Modi Whirlwind”, Mainstream, May 17, 2014) this writer had stipulated four categories of Modi-watchers: those looking to see prices fall, corruption end, and jobs proliferate; those looking to see a full-blown Hindutva agenda unfold; those salivating to see the corporates take over the state in all but name; and those apprehensive about the new governmental stance vis-a-vis the independence of state, and autonomous institutions.

Do we have trends, to borrow a phrase from breathless television anchors at times when results of elections are coming in? I believe we do.

On the first count the con job seems transparent: within a month of regime change prices have not fallen but risen stoutly all across the consumer spectrum, and are set to climb several notches more. The point to note being that this is not happening suo motu from within the economy but, like a finger in the eye, is being brought about as considered policy. A naval officer, a committed Modi acolyte, I met in my dentist’s waiting room, had some difficulty in explaining this except finally to make the argument that the earlier regime occasionally used to make, namely, that rising prices are an index of lessening poverty and increased consumption. He was only minimally uncomfortable when I asked him if the domestic help he had could buy a strip of medicine on her own or ever consider going to a dentist. In contrast, my paan vala who inhabits a decrepit khokha in the vicinity seemed astonished and crestfallen that precisely the opposite of what had been promised during the Modi campaign was happening.

That traumatic loss of conviction impelled him to venture the opinion that, as in the case of prices, corruption also would not be any great priority with the Modi Sarkar. When I sought to impress him with the fact that the government in place now has already set up an SIT to secure illegal wealth (“black money”) stashed abroad by Indians, his riposte was quick and disarming; namely that nobody talks about the black money here at home without which, for instance, elections may be fought but not won. Truly, one would have to concede that the sum of 14,000 crores being spoken of that ostensibly lies among Swiss banks seems like, in colloquial phrase, “oonth ke munh mei zeera” compared to the hundreds of thousands of crores in circulation within the country none of which any government wishes to look into for fear of what may emerge. That also reminded me of a rather unpleasant exchange with my erstwhile general medical practitioner some months prior to the elections of 2014. As he came on strongly and too insistently about corrupt politicians, I remember asking him a gentle question: why is it he never gave any receipts for the consultation and other fees he routinely charged his patients, I asked. Consequence: I lost me what was otherwise a competent physician.

So much for the corruption agenda.

On another matter, my paan vala also did not fail to express dismay at the fact that, contrary to the electoral slogan of the Modi campaign, “bahut hua mahilavoun pe atichaar/ ab ki baari Modi Sarkar”, the unprecedentedly cruel and gruesome rape and murder of two sisters in Badaun should have elicited not a word from the Prime Minister; a Dalit himself, he was quick to speculate that this may have been due to the fact that the murdered sisters were dalits. Nor was it expected, said he, that a gentleman accused of rape should continue to remain a member of the Modi Cabinet.

The hoi polloi obviously do think beyond the mistakes they make.

Obversely, it is clear that payback time for the new regime has begun in earnest, and should be expected to carry on full steam till such time as truly troubling social resistance along an all-India scale does not materialize. It is obvious that the Modi Government is wise to this; which is why the monomanaical corporate engine is being already secured with measures to deter such resistance. Most notably, the Intelligence Bureau seems to take on a new avatar, becoming an input into the corporate economic agenda. NGOs that were earlier lauded for taking on democratic and egalitarian concerns are fast being dubbed fifth columnists of “foreign” interests who do not wish to see India become an economic superpower, Never mind that famous ministerial names from both the NDA and the UPA spring to mind who have through the years expressed the very same environmental concerns that are now sought to be seen as the devious ploy used by “anti-national” NGOs to stymie the Indian march to glory.

It used to be said that the CBI was the Congress Bureau of Investigation; it will be interesting to see, besides the CBI, what the IB and other state institutions are set to become.

Clearly, the “change” that was promised during the campaign is more than likely to turn out to be much more of the same. Some difficulty may be offered by the rights-based schemes of social welfare driven chiefly by Sonia Gandhi from within the Congress as the new sarkar will surely weigh the canny electoral pros and cons of dismantling these schemes seen by the corporate masters as unconscionable waste of wealth. For the rest, Manmohan ji and Modi ji may indeed be tweedledum and tweedledee, with of course a substantial difference of degree.

Such seems the prognosis on the first, third, and fourth count. Modi watchers of the second rung may be battling mixed emotions. If on the one hand no gratuitous, hand-wringing, “minority-appeasing” prime ministerial state-ment has been forthcoming at the murder in broad daylight of a young innocent Muslim techie allegedly by “patriotic” vigilantes of the Hindu Rashtra Sena in Pune, and a properly “nationalist” averment has been made by the Maharashtra ATS refuting the NIA finding that the erstwhile Malegaon accused were innocent citizens, some feelers, on the other hand, sent out by the regime on such issues as Article 370, Uniform Civil Code, or the banning of cow slaughter seem to have been “disappointingly” quietened down for now. As had been suggested in my “Whirlwind” article, the regime will not but face annoyance at the furthering of the Hindutva agenda from the corporates who paid wholesomely to win a government of their choice because such an agenda never fails to cause needless social disturbance, distracting attention from unimpeded market-funda-mentalism. A tight-rope walk here seems in the offing, since, besides the corporates, the “aspirational” classes spawned by Manmoha-nomics who supported the Modi candidature to the hilt also do not much cotton to a political-communal agenda despite their new-found pride in Hinduism. The naval officer I met in the dentists room is testimony to the truth of what is said here. He said he no like this “religion business.” Good man that. Subtext: it may be alright to use political religion to win elections but, having won, the plank had best be dropped.

Fingers crossed for now.

What of the “other side”? Do you have memories of puissant herds in them wild west movies whose burly self-confidence seems suddenly shattered by one blast from the rustler’s gun, stampeding helter skelter in all directions? Well, we await the Gregory Peck who might coolly regather the bunch, cut out their flack, teach them to stand their ground, and turn the stampede into a meaningful charge.

For now, the saloon seem too glum and too befuddled to reach for a common toast.

In the meanwhile a single centre of authority will merrily, it seems, man a single-window of “good governance” inorder, naturally, to make up for lost time.

The author, who taught English literature at the University of Delhi for over four decades and is now retired, is a prominent writer and poet. A well-known commentator on politics, culture and society, he wrote the much acclaimed Dickens and the Dialectic of Growth. His latest book, The Underside of Things—India and the World: A Citizen’s Miscellany, 2006-2011, came out in August 2012.

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