Modi's disastrous first year
WHEN Narendra Modi arrived in New Delhi to be sworn in as India's Prime Minister, he flew in a private aircraft of the Adani Group - not a commercial flight or chartered plane. On landing, he was greeted with the communal-military slogan Har Har Modi.
The two events showed where Modi's future loyalties would lie: with Big Business and Hindutva, which he piously served in Gujarat through the 2002 anti-Muslim pogrom and crony-capitalist deals.
Over the past year, he has showered favours on both, and antagonised many people who voted for him. His honeymoon period has ended, but he hasn't fully understood that.
This was proved by Modi's statement in Shanghai to an Indian audience: "Earlier, you felt ashamed of being born Indian, now you feel proud to represent the country..." In Seoul, he added to this the religious motif of "sins" (committed in past life).
Modi thus gratuitously insulted Indian citizens. Terms like "shame" and "sin" reveal a deep inferiority complex. The boast that India's "mood" has changed dramatically in a year is meant to cover up inferiority - the way Hitler and Mussolini did through military aggression and by making the "trains run on time"!
The first-year balance-sheet of Modi's government is overwhelmingly negative. India has socially regressed, economically become more unequal, and politically got further polarised.
India's social regression is evident in rabid communalism, attacks on democratic rights, intolerance of dissent, Hindutva takeover of educational-cultural institutions, spread of male-supremacism, insecurity among the minorities, and neglect of human development.
Ghar wapsi, attacks on churches and calls for depriving Muslims of voting rights are just the crassest forms of communalism. The government's indulgence of them means it's open season to malign non-Hindus, and build a cult around Gandhi's assassin Godse.
The message is amplified when those charged with Gujarat's communal "fake encounters", including BJP president Amit Shah, are discharged without trial; but the state's full might is used against secular campaigners like Teesta Setalvad.
There have been savage cuts in social sector budgets: 20 percent in health, 29 percent in mid-day meal schemes, 17 percent in education, and 51 percent in women and child welfare.
The Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act had its worst-ever performance under Modi, with 40 percent less employment created than two years back. Only three percent of families got the promised 100 days of work, and 70 percent of wages were delayed—to disastrous effect in a year of agrarian distress.
Modi's shamelessly pro-rich, anti-poor suit-boot-ki-sarkar is cajoling capital to invest. But investment isn't forthcoming. 52 percent of India's top 500 companies are excessively indebted, 14 percent of bank loans have gone bad.
Modi cannot diagnose this, and believes that to stimulate investment he must dismantle environmental regulations, allow unbridled diversion of agricultural land to industry (hence the land ordinance), and allow hiring-and-firing of labour.
Thus industrial-project clearances have been ruthlessly "fast-tracked" without scrutiny, violating forest and coastal-zone regulations.
Worse is to come: abolition of pollution-control boards, self-certification of environment-related information by project promoters, and automatic clearances for roads through forests. But environmental regulations don't obstruct industry: 94 percent of proposals are cleared.
Land has become a super-contentious issue. The UPA's land law was to give agriculture-dependent people a stake in determining their fate. The NDA's ordinance undermines this. It's fiercely opposed by numerous parties. A land agitation could turn politically explosive.
The government is sitting on lakhs of acres, but hasn't distributed it. The ordinance will give private capital land and what lies under it, especially minerals - a huge racket.
The planned dismantling of labour protections will destroy the right to form unions (the minimum membership has been raised from 7 to 100). Employers can freely lay off workers or close factories with 100 workers; 90 percent of all units. The factories Act will be undermined, compromising safety.
Modi is running India's most over-centralised government ever. This is creating insecurity among bureaucrats and ministers; RSS men disguised as "officers on special duty" spy on them.
Modi has introduced venomous confrontation into politics. Several Sangh Parivar outfits have turned against the land ordinance.
Going by all recent elections, by-elections, and local-body polls, the enthusiasm for Modi seen a year ago has vanished. The BJP couldn't repeat its Lok Sabha vote-share performance even in Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh. The edge it established in parts of West Bengal, including Kolkata, has eroded.
What's becoming manifest is the effect of the thinness of Modi's original support. He won 31 percent of the vote, but 52 percent of the Lok Sabha's seats. His support was highly concentrated in a few states - thanks to planned communal violence, and caste-and-class polarisation.
Another factor was his multi-billion-dollar election campaign, which hyped up Gujarat's "development". A CSDS-Lokniti poll asked people which state they thought was India's most developed: 64 percent answered Gujarat, only four percent said Maharashtra, and even fewer cited Kerala, India's most socially-developed state.
This illusion, based on the search for a messiah, is disintegrating. The "56-inch-chest" man is turning out a hollow caricature. Modi's troubles are set to worsen.
The writer is an eminent Indian columnist.