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BJP got blinded by Article 370 success. Now it’s getting a reality check

Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman's ‘oversight’ on small savings interest rate is the latest example of the BJP govt bowing to popular sentiment.

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If the Bharatiya Janata Party had a theme song, it would most likely be Britney Spears’ ‘Oops!I Did It Again’. The number of times the BJP has retracted its policy decisions due to a public backlash or an imminent election is now getting embarrassingly one too many. This time it was the five assembly elections that made Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman realise, at 7.54 in the morning, that she had made an oversight — a decision was made without her “noticing” it.

If you thought the Narendra Modi-Amit Shah government, with its twin House majority and might, can get away with anything, especially after the Article 370 decision, think again.

Business as usual

On 31 March, the website of the finance ministry uploaded an ‘Office Memorandum’ issued by the Department of Economic Affairs that cut interest rates sharply on various small savings schemes by 40-110 basis points. Nirmala Sitharaman overturned this decision the very next morning, saying it was an oversight. Top bureaucrats have, however, confirmed that such a decision could not have been made whatsoever by an “oversight” because the process for such a ruling is robust.

According to a senior government official speaking to The Indian Express, “The file on quarterly reset of interest rates on small savings moves from Deputy Director to Director, Budget, then Joint Secretary or Additional Secretary Budget and Department of Economic Affairs Secretary. The rates are thus decided within the Budget division, usually with the prior knowledge of the Finance Minister.” Obviously, the initial ruling upset the middle class and could have made things go downhill for the BJP in the five assembly elections.

But this is not the first time the BJP has done something like this. Former finance minister Arun Jaitley’s introduction of the Goods and Services Tax (GST) came in the backdrop of many rollbacks — from tax slabs to taxable items in them.

One such item was the sanitary pad, which was taxed as a “luxury item” at 12 per cent. It enraged women around the country, which perhaps made the government realise its ‘Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao’ campaign would fall flat on its face if they continued to tax sanitary pads, an essential item. One of the leading factors for girls dropping out of school in India is menstruation. Soon after, interim finance minister Piyush Goyal announced that sanitary pads would be exempt from tax. Eventually, 178 items were removed from the highest tax slab of 28 per cent and it took the Modi government four months to realise it.

Also read: Beyond secularism & fascism: CAA gives opportunity to re-imagine clichés about idea of India

Then came NRC-CAA

The National Register of Citizens (NRC) exercise was first rolled out in Assam, and despite Home Minister Amit Shah making it an election issue, the BJP hasn’t been able to extend it pan-India, largely due to the nationwide protests in December 2019 after the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) was enacted.

The BJP is unable to go ahead with its so-called bold reforms despite being in its strongest position politically and electorally simply because it’s not pro-people. And the problem lies in the yardstick it has chosen to assess public sentiment on ‘bold’ decisions — the abrogation of Article 370 in Kashmir. The nation erupted in jubilation over this decision because the people of India — the majority of them anyway — wanted it. The BJP mistook this public sentiment to be a confirmation of how people will be pro-BJP on any decision it takes. It was obviously wrong.

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A reality check

The backlash to the three farm laws that the BJP introduced without consultation with the public is the prime example. As much as the BJP made it out to be a protest led by lumpen elements who were ‘anti-India’, the truth is that farmers are not happy with the agricultural laws because it makes them insecure about their future. The same is the case with the NRC. People are insecure about having to prove their citizenship in the face of absent documents and widespread illiteracy. Of course, many who lean far-Right politically claim that only Muslims are insecure about the NRC, but 12 lakh out of the 19 lakh people excluded from the final Assam NRC list were Hindus. So, the popular imagery on proving citizenship must be similar to what people experienced during demonetisation — standing in several kilometre long queues, uncertain if the documents they hold will be enough to prove their citizenship.

If the BJP is still not convinced that its policies don’t seem pro-people, it should introspect why its own ministries implored the finance ministry for months not to go in for privatisation of PSUs. The government has chosen to keep “bare minimum presence” in strategic sectors while non-strategic sectors have been marked for complete privatisation, mergers or closures. A telling concern is about defence manufacturing, a strategic sector that has always been State-owned is now being divested and/or privatised. The government says this will encourage domestic production but the defence ministry itself has expressed concerns over the quality standards and how privatising it would not be in the interest of national security.

They say that learning brings change in knowledge and behaviour as a result of experience. It is high time the Modi government started giving some thought before introducing its ‘bold policy moves’.

The author is a political observer and writer. Views are personal. 

(Edited by Prashant Dixit)

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  1. ha ha, the pain is actually of 370; why did you miss Ram Mandir.. rest as usual more you write more you guys are exposed. just read the comments… but keep up the good work.

  2. Your mind is full of sickular thoughts about modi government, one thought that makes this nation to back again modi is his nationalist approach to be strong and show own strength of sovereignty, which made china to turn back

  3. Articles looks to set a narrative. No way connected just a noodle. Such writers will never succeed.

  4. People of India wanted Article 370 to be killed? If that is the general impression, guess we are talking two sets of people in India. One majority set does not even know what it is. The other, agrees with the BJP on everything. This really tells us nothing of a PM who legally won a minority 35% of the national voting block..

  5. Ma’am this article actually is an attempt to connect unrelated issues. Good JOURNALISM is about a neutral and balanced point of view. But this piece comes out as a completely biased narrative. Not value for money.

  6. Lmao keep seething. Muslims will be kicked out in most humiliating way possible and begum, trust me, I’ll get a raging boner looking at them inbreds being humiliated. It’s not a far-right thing, it a Muslim infestation thing. Try getting yourself a husband woman. I know this is why you’re always so mad lol

  7. What has article 370 to do with saving interest rates and farm laws? Only author’s fixation on Muslim victimhood.
    and perhaps bitterness that revoking Article 370 was popular.

  8. Pity the author. Can connect anything to convince self that BJP was “embarrassed”. Rather than author taking schadenfreude (find out the meaning!), she should worry that a limited intellect has nothing substantial to express.

  9. As usual govt supporters cannot make a logical rebuttal without calling names of the author. Privatisation per se hasn’t got anything to do without article 370 or CAA or Ayodhya or anything else of the RSS’ pet projects which Modi seems to be pushing. The problem of Modi Sarkar is that they think they are the only smart people in town who have conjured 2 consecutive Lok Sabha majorities and others are stupid and can’t see through their true motives. They have also lied so often that no one trusts them anymore. Hence when they talk privatisation, people hear selling tax payer assets to Gujarati pals who have bankrolled his electoral bonds. Hence today farmers are upset and soon it will be PSU employees then small businesses and so on and so forth.

    • “gujarati pals”.

      Your comment is generalizing the whole community by singling out a few ie classic racism.

  10. Wow! What a cunning way to satiate inner desires of putting this Govt in bad light. One mistake of interest rates (and I also do not believe that it was a slip) during election times and you go on connecting un-connectable events and justifying illogical opposition in the same thread. Salute to your ingenuity. Let truth be told: 1) People have seen through the fakeness and illogical reasoning of the protests (farm bill or CAA); amplified by those ever-wanting to put the Govt in bad light- irrespective of the consequences to the Nation. 2) Low interest rate and dis-investment are the desired policy direction for long-term benefit to the economy and people; although it may seem unpopular and tough 3) The base for these bold-reforms have been set and the narrative has changed; they will come any way. 4) One has to be really naive when saying that they expected a prefect GST (a complete regime change) right at the beginning; the approach was to evolve with experience and thats what has been happening for good (Tax collections are improving yet taxes on individual items are lower than before). The PM and government continues to enjoy high popularity ratings

    • Cunning/desire to see this Government in bad light?? Wow. The GDP number since demonetization, demo itself, GST, China on LAC, Article 370 in foreign press, Highest internet shutdowns in the world, Highest GDP fall during Covid-19 -23.9%, Continuous employment numbers fall from around 407 million per year to less than 400 million per year now, LFPR rate fall from 43% to 38% since 2016 to 2020. Continuous Falling exports, rising Petrol taxes multiple times even when the prices were historic lows….You can name multiple items ranging from fundamental Economic issues to pure stupid and optics issue like response to Rihanna tweets by the Ministry of external affairs to the Most right wing EU MPs arranged tour to Kashmir…. And you still think that a journalist will have some sort of desire to see this Government in bad light. This Government does a more than optimum job at that. The Farmers protest is well and alive on the borders of Delhi with huge numbers, bandhs, active participation of these farmers in elections against the BJP, largest numbers pouring out in the anniversary of Shaheed Bhagat Singh….. I mean this space will fall short of an exhaustive list is drawn up.

  11. Largest defence companies are private from Lockheed to dassault. Why should india worry about defence being privatised.

    In fact babus should not be allowed to run any enterprise

  12. The Modi government should continue with its bold reforms. The beneficiaries of the corrupt ecosystem will obviously be irked.

  13. The interest rate cut in small savings in the middle of elections was a politically suicidal decision by BJP. Having said that opposition was not able to encash it at all. In all others “roll backs” that Begum Zainab Sikandar points out, BJP is moving ahead, albeit at a slower pace. Take repeal of farm laws for instance. When was the last time Begum Sahiba last visited the Delhi borders and wrote on it? It is already receding from public memory. And with direct transfer of MSP into farmer’s account and with FCI asking for land records, this agitation of the rich farmers of Punjab, Haryana and Western UP, funded by Khalistani flag waving NRIs, will fizzle out over time in the summer heat.

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