The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government at the Centre led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the various BJP-led state governments are super busy, as always. PM Modi inaugurated a statue, a tunnel, a ferry service, all duly recorded and celebrated by the media. He addressed the G-20 summit, met with world’s top investment fund managers, advised state chief ministers to get cracking on the pandemic and prepare to roll out the vaccine. Modi spent Diwali with army men on a border outpost and direly warned other countries about expansionism. He along with the home minister campaigned in the Bihar elections, and both are now reportedly heading to Hyderabad for the municipal corporation election there.
The home minister, meanwhile, has been concentrating on West Bengal where Assembly elections are due next year. He even went and had lunch with a member of the politically important Matua community.
Yogi Adityanath, the Uttar Pradesh chief minister, along with his counterparts, Shivraj Singh Chouhan of Madhya Pradesh and ML Khattar of Haryana are busy tackling ‘love jihad’ in their states, besides helping out BJP candidates in elections. Khattar was instructed to stop the farmers heading towards Delhi, which he did with typical gusto, except that the farmers broke all the barricades and reached Delhi border – when he was told to step back. The BJP’s good governance team is busy.
Even the ministers are busy. So busy in fact that in October, the agriculture minister and even his junior minister didn’t have time to attend a meeting with representatives of farmers from Punjab.
The Modi-led government has also efficiently rammed through Parliament, three agriculture related laws – causing the ongoing widespread protests by farmers – and also passed Labour Codes, and notified rules under them in quick time, dismantling existing protective laws. This has caused much jubilation in the corporate world, which in any case was celebrating huge profits after tax even when the economy was sinking.
What About The Country?
Now, have a look at what’s happening in the country, and to the people. Surely all this activity and energy would have had some effect on multiple crises swirling around the country, besieging the people?
Over the last few days, even as thousands of farmers fought massed security forces and unseemly barricades just to reach the country’s capital and protest, news has come that India’s economy shrank by 7.5% in the July-September quarter, output of eight core sector industries dipped for the eighth consecutive month, consumer prices continued their upward spiral, and the countrywide share of employed persons declined to 36.4%, reversing any hopes of a reviving economy.
Earlier, the price rise data showed what common Indians were feeling the most – retail inflation rose to 7.6%, the highest in six years, while food inflation was agonisingly high at over 11%. Clearly, the economy is in a distressingly bad shape, despite the so-called relief and welfare measures announced periodically by the government.
This is happening even as a second surge in the COVID-19 pandemic is taking place, though masked by aggregate decline in case numbers. That’s because the pandemic is penetrating states and regions that were hitherto not so much affected while showing signs of easing in earlier high-incidence states. All this is if you take the numbers as true, which may not be the case.
The vaccine euphoria is also not readily swallowed by most Indians because the government doesn’t seem to be prepared for a roll-out at the massive scales required even if prioritised to the 30 crore most needy target population.
Crises Created by Faulty Policies
The economy was already slowing down since last year. The BJP government at the Centre, led by PM Modi was undoubtedly aware of it – they were energetically holding meetings with experts, announcing this or that measure, and doling out reassurances that all will be well, soon. One such famous measure was slashing the corporate tax rate in September 2019, giving a boon of Rs.1.45 lakh crore to corporate houses.
Yet, for all their busy-ness, what they really did was aggravate the economic crisis. Instead of spending more so that people’s buying power goes up and thence, demand grows, they squeezed the purse strings, curtailed spending on welfare programmes, gave concessions to the super rich, and deluded themselves in thinking that this will spur investment, kick-start the economic activities, boost employment. It was a foolish dream that has spectacularly crashed in front of their own eyes.
Yet, like that famous saying of insane people going on doing the same thing again and again, expecting a different result, PM Modi and his loyal finance minister have persisted in the same. They thought that the pandemic and lockdown was a golden opportunity to go where no earlier government had dared go before.
They got the Labour Codes through, and then they passed the three agriculture related laws that effectively lay the ground for finishing off the state subsidy to farmers through Minimum Support Prices (MSP) by allowing agri-business and big traders to take over purchase of agri-produce, its storage, movement and even its pricing. In fact, the contract farming law allows corporates to take over cultivation, too, thus destroying the whole agri-value chain. This, in a country where nearly two-thirds of the farmers are having small and marginal holdings, means that agriculture has been handed over lock, stock and barrel to corporate players.
The recent workers strike, that spread over virtually all sectors of the economy and covered an estimated 25 crore workers of all kinds (private/public, formal/informal, manufacturing/ construction/transport/services, etc) was caused by the government’s policies.
So is the current farmers’ agitation, because the farmers had actually been demanding better MSPs, strengthening of procurement system, end to debts, etc. Modi and his super-busy government did the opposite, probably to favour agri-business (both domestic and foreign), and to show to new BFF, the US, that they are on board with their agriculture related demands.
The ill-conceived and heartless lockdown of April-May has not only destroyed the already vulnerable economy, it has also failed in controlling the pandemic. Since it was imposed prematurely, the government is now left with a raging pandemic and no weapons to deal with it. That’s why PM Modi is visiting vaccine manufacturers to show that he is on the job.
BJP and its associates of the broader Sangh Parivar have succeeded in one thing though: they have managed to sow discord and hatred across the country, be it through election campaigns (as in Delhi, Bihar or now the Hyderabad municipal elections) or through changes in law (like the Citizenship Amendment Act and the proposed National Register of Citizens) or through sheer incendiary propaganda during festivals and other ‘occasions’ like the foundation stone laying of the Ram Mandir in Ayodhya. But even that is in the process of getting sidelined by the growing unity of people against the distress caused by this government.