Talk of democracy: None is a sacred cow in Indian politics

Talk of democracy: None is a sacred cow in Indian politics

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s first year in office saw his best performance on institutionalised reforms. Fresh in power, Modi took on the reform agenda with vigor.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s first year in office saw his best performance on institutionalised reforms. Fresh in power, Modi took on the reform agenda with vigor.Six years on, the pace of reforms noticeably slowed as the country started looking inward and focused on socio-political priorities.

Immediately after coming to power taking in May 2014, Modi started a major exercise to embrace foreign leaders and business executives. The government quickly opened up key sectors of its economy to foreign investment.

The Center for Strategic and International Studies, Washington, D.C., tracked 30 high-impact reforms that enable job creation and ease of doing business through their “India Reforms Scorecard” for each of the two terms of the Modi government during which it had enacted six major reforms. These include opening up most of the railways to foreign direct investment (FDI), allowing more private sector participation in coal production and FDI in construction projects, extending the validity of industrial licences, removing the last 20 remaining protected sectors under the small-scale industries list, and deregulating diesel pricing. Reforms noticeably slowed as the term progressed.

The top 10 achievements of the Modi government as noted by FM Nirmala Sitharaman in her interim budget 2024-25 were increase in average income of people by 50 per cent, GST has enabled one nation, one market and one tax. Infrastructure build-up is being seen in a record time. Direct transfer of Rs 34 lakh crore using PM Jan Dhan scheme has led to savings for the government. Inflation has been brought under check and has been within the policy band. PM SVANIDHI scheme gave credit assistance to 78 lakh street vendors, and crop insurance was paid to 4 crore farmers under PM Fasal Bima Yojana and so on.

While all this was on the economic front, when it comes to politics, a general impression has been gaining ground that Modi is seen as a politically dominant person. His command over his party is total; he faces a weak and fragmented opposition. That is because the opposition refuses to re-invent themselves. Last one decade has seen accusations and counter accusations and everyone talks about threat to democracy from the other, but no one wants to really save the democracy. The ruling BJP and the opposition never get tired of swearing by democracy but then is the opposition doing anything to restore the lost glory? They are not and they will not. Because when they want to accuse Modi they will speak about suppression of people’s voice, suppression of media harassment of political opponents using or misusing the probe agencies, nepotism and favoritism killing democratic institutions etc. But in the states where they are in power they are no less dominant. They too are no less dominant, and resort to suppression of voice whether it is individuals or media or political parties.

This reminds me of the Hindi adage “Haathi ke daant Khan eke alag dikhane ke alag.” (Elephant has two different sets of teeth – one to show i.e., tuskers and the other to chew food). Since this suits the BJP too, it has not really done anything to check the aberrations in the system.

Another major charge is that the Centre would go soft towards certain parties in power in states if they toe their line. One example they quote is that of Andhra Pradesh. The state was allowed to raise loans much beyond the FRBM limit though the Union Finance Minister denies it. There may not have been direct violation of the FRBM but they were allowed to device ways and means to bypass the FRBM Act to get loans.

Even in Telangana before the BRS had gone against the Centre, there were no objections to raise loans through different innovative methods. Float a corporation and take loans was the funda. The same formula was followed by neighboring Andhra Pradesh where over 30 corporations were formed and loans were taken and used for direct cash benefit schemes, but not to invest for revenue generation. Well, blinking at such activities might have served the purpose of the BJP in getting support to all the crucial bills they had brought before the Parliament but ultimately, it was the genuine tax payer who had to bleed and the state had to suffer as there has been no development. Of course there are analysts who claim AP got thousands of crores of investment. But on the ground, one hardly sees any new industry.

Again whether it was Andhra Pradesh or Telangana, policy of zero tolerance towards adverse comments against the government was adopted. In the past, barring the dark days of emergency when there used to be heavy controls on the political parties as well as the media, zero tolerance towards criticism was not there. In the last one decade many state governments including the two Telugu states had brought in certain draconian laws and the officials were even given powers to file cases and get political opponents or critics arrested. In the past, legal measures used to be the last option while in the last decade it has become the first option.

What did the Centre do to set things right? Nothing. Even now, though the election code is in force, demonstrative tough actions are not still visible in Andhra Pradesh. The very fact that though Election Commission has sacked some volunteers for participating in political campaign for YSRCP, the practice has not stopped.

Prior to the code, though the Centre had information as to what was happening in the state and how many illegal arrests were made, neither the state BJP nor the central BJP or the Central government had done anything to put things in order. It is only after the TDP-Jana Sena and BJP alliance was firmed up that some criticism of the YSRCP is being heard. Still the BJP is not as vociferous as the people of the state expected. Even the Prime Minister’s first election speech after five years did not criticise the government.

The state governments proved that they are no holy cows. When it comes to accusing the BJP, they allege that there is no freedom, no democracy, but in the respective states where they are in power, things are equally bad if not worse.

We are seeing how the issue of phone tapping in Telangana is taking new twists and turns. Prima facie, it appears that some of the important persons at the helm of affairs in the previous government had made some trusted officers to do what the political executive wanted. In fact, if the charge is true, it should be of great concern to democracy.

The allegations are that state police officials imported spy equipment from Israel to tap the telephones of political opponents in the name of some software company and the worst part is the comment made by the key persons in the previous government: “yes we heard them speak,” what is wrong? Well, if that is the case in what way are they different from BJP whom they call names. It was these very people who wanted to play a dominant role in national politics and even introduce a new Constitution. Does this amount to protecting democracy?

This being the situation, the fundamental question that one needs to ponder over is whether the political parties have any right to speak about democracy, transparency in governance or having ushered in corruption-free administration.

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