Here’s a hypothetical question. Is it possible for any country, at any point in time, to have a 45-year high unemployment rate, and still witness the return of the incumbent government?
Narendra Modi’s second term has come on the back of a crippling slowdown that his government is handling clumsily. Yet, most will agree that the BJP is likely to sweep the forthcoming assembly elections in Jharkhand, Haryana and Maharashtra. Like the 34-year-old Communist rule in West Bengal, the BJP’s election machinery is disconnected from the economic performance of the government. The two have nothing to do with each other.
If poor management of the economy, massive job losses and stagnant rural economy can’t make the BJP lose elections, what incentive does Narendra Modi have to focus on the economy?
What a politician chooses to spend their political capital on always tells a lot about their priorities.
In Narendra Modi’s first term as PM (Modi-1) it was demonetisation. A harebrained economic plan with a moralistic and socialist bent. As demonetisation brought daily life to a halt, Modi laughed about how people didn’t have money for weddings. “Ghar mein shaadi hai,” he said, “paise nahi hai,” waving his thumb. People have weddings but no money at home, he joked. The audience laughed too.
Demonetisation epitomises Modi’s love for disruption and chaos. It is by no means the only example. The tinkering with the Reserve Bank of India, the agile deal-making to win elections at any cost, the tearing hurry to implement GST, all point to Modi’s penchant for disruption and chaos.
Modi’s compulsive need for disruption is so immense that often it is disruption for the sake of disruption. He wants nothing more than to take the world by surprise and make a sudden address to the nation. This is in contrast to the status quoist Congress, which likes to act as a slow-moving elephant, losing opportunity but not wanting to rock any boat.
Throw open the safety valve
The Indian National Congress was formed in 1885 supposedly as a ‘safety valve’ through which Indians could let off the steam of discontent against the British. The idea of a safety valve is to maintain the status quo, prevent a rebellion or revolution.
The joke is that the Congress party even today continues to see itself as a safety valve. Its style of running India for all these decades has been about managing the myriad frictions in the country. The Congress way is to not rock the boat for the elites and yet give the poor something; to not give Dalits land and still make them believe in the idea of India; to tire out the secessionist movements, by neither succumbing to popular revolt nor losing out to militants. To make Article 370 meaningless without actually removing it is the Congress way of doing things.
The BJP of Modi-Shah is the opposite of a safety valve. They want to open the fissures, turn them into bleeding wounds, and see which ones heal and which ones don’t. It is an anarchist approach, because when the dust settles there will be a new order. That the process will be painful is a given.
Modi’s first term was about economic anarchy. Modi’s second term, it has been made clear, is about political anarchy. People thought Article 370 can’t be removed. The government removed it with one notification (with 52 errors). With such audacious unilateralism on display, it is clear that Modi’s second term is going to be all about political anarchy. Already, many have compared the Kashmir move to demonetisation.
The political triumphalism will give way to ill effects for many years to come. But by then, Modi-Shah would have carried out many more anarchic disruptions. Uniform Civil Code, further weakening of federalism, creation of new states and new union territories, Ram Mandir, a long queue of opposition leaders in jail — these are just some things that are expected.
The real anarchist
The NRC process in Assam has clearly shown that the idea that the state had millions of illegal Bangladeshi Muslim immigrants was a xenophobic and Islamophobic myth. Despite that, the BJP wants NRC across India. It will help in anti-Muslim polarisation. If and when it happens, the process itself will be a punishment. And even limited success would help disenfranchise some Muslims, making it even easier for the BJP to win elections.
As for the Hindus who may fall foul of the NRC, there’s the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill to give Hindu migrants citizenship. Note how the BJP doesn’t seem to be perturbed by the fact that the Citizenship Bill could stoke new fires in the northeast. They don’t mind fanning new fires. They actually love it. Chaos and anarchy produce opportunities for re-alignment. How do you expect to dismantle a secular state and establish a Hindu Rashtra without chaos?
Why would Amit Shah of all people say India needs a national language to unify it? As someone who has been taking the BJP to the remotest corners of the country, he surely knows that a statement like this could alienate many regions from the BJP. Yet, the need for chaos and disruption is always greater.
From 2011 to 2014, it was the Lokpal movement and the Aam Aadmi Party that were accused of being ‘anarchist’. Since then, the AAP has been trying to become more and more mainstream. Today none can even call the AAP anti-establishment. It is Modi who turned out to be the real anarchist.
Between the status quoism of the Congress and the anarchism of Modi, what India really needs is a reformist. That seems like a distant dream now.
Views are personal.