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Mainstream, VOL LII No 29, July 12, 2014

No Manna will Fall from Heaven

Monday 14 July 2014


During his poll campaign Narendra Modi wanted the people to vote for a Congress-mukt Bharat and make him the Prime Minister. In return he promised to bring them manna from heaven. On becoming the Prime Minister, he warned the people to be ready for ‘tough decisions’ which will end the ‘populism’ of the UPA regime. But the Union Budget presented by his Finance Minister, Arun Jaitley, in Parliament yesterday came as an anti-climax. There was no manna falling from heaven. There was no striking or radical departure from the economic policy of the Manmohan Singh Government. Faced with the hard reality of the situation, the electoral rhetoric was quickly forgotten. The post-Budget briefing saw a different Jaitley, humble and pragmatic.

However, the central message of both the Railway and Union Budgets was Privatisation with a capital P. There were many tax concessions/reductions/exemptions for the corporate sections. The consequent fall in revenue will have to be made up by increasing indirect taxes on the people in different ways. Some of the indirect taxation imposts may be made through executive orders, bypassing Parliament, as was done in the case of the railway fare and freight hike.

In other words, there will be a shift of taxation from the rich to the poor. No special measures have been indicated to control prices. The stern warnings to the hoarders and blackmarketeers have been treated with scorn and contempt. They are quite used to it. Prices have not come down nor will they do. There is no coordinated policy or programme for massive employment generation. In no way does Jaitley’s Budget make a basic departure from the UPA’s Budgets. It is by and large the continuation of the economic and fiscal policies followed by the Manmohan Singh Government. The Budget is corporate-oriented, not people-oriented. The same is true for the Railway Budget.

Take the bullet trains, for example. What is the tearing hurry for introducing bullet trains at a cost of Rs 60,000 crores and that, too, with private participation? The first bullet train will run between Mumbai, the financial capital of India, and Ahmedabad, another bustling hub of industrial activities. This will help businessmen and industria-lists who will get a cheaper alternative to travel—cheaper than air journey. But what about the common people? Will they be able to afford the fare—in this route and those that will be built later? Could not the money being spent on the fancy bullet trains be more beneficially used for providing better equipment for railway safety? Instead of providing Internet services to business people at select stations, the money could have been spent for more passenger amenities.

The Union Budget is a directionless one. It doesn’t show any light at the end of the long tunnel. Disillusionment will soon set in among the tens of millions of unemployed young men who had lustily shouted ‘Modi, Modi’ in every election meeting addressed by him in the hope that he will give them jobs. And therein lies a danger. As price rise continues and more and more people go below the subsistence level, public discontent will grow—first in an unorganised and scattered form, then in an organised and more forceful and articulate manner. The mindset of the BJP and its mentor, the RSS, being what it is, the Modi Government will be far more ruthless in suppressing these movements than the Congress.

These unemployed youth, seething with anger and suffering from a sense of being betrayed, will come in handy. The danger of the polity remaining democratic in form but fascist in its actual functioning is already looming large on the horizon. The threat to imprison Congress President Sonia Gandhi in an income-tax case is a pointer. The takeover of big media houses by corporate giants like Reliance has already started the process of erosion of media freedom.

The anointment of Amit Shah, the closest lieutenant of Modi, as the President of the BJP, obviously with the approval of the RSS, is a foretaste of the future. He has been rewarded not only for his past performance in Gujarat in 2002 but also for his recent success in conducting the poll campaign in Uttar Pradesh. Muzaffarnagar contributed handsomely to the filling of the BJP’s vote kitty. This will be a useful tool to divert and distract people’s attention from the real issues to divisive issues for fratricidal blood-letting. This will be the easiest way of targeting and destabilising the States which are ruled by non-BJP parties. With the Left marginalised and in utter disarray, new forces will spring up to take over the leadership of people’s struggles. The sudden emergence of the Aam Aadmi Party last year caused a surprise. There is likely to be many more surprises in future. There are stormy days ahead.

July 11 B.D.G.

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