The politics of Hindutva is the politics of command and control. It seeks to draw the red lines on how people must live, what they must eat, what they must wear, which movies they may watch, what slogans they must raise, lest they are declared seditious if not outright treasonous.
Inspired by European fascism, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) seeks to refashion Indian society. And it seeks to do so with means that are not always democratic, even if they use the ladder of democracy to reach there — just as the European fascists did.
This vision is not in consonance with the ideals of liberty, equality and fraternity, which the Constitution places as the bedrock of the idea of India. The problem is not just with what Hindutva seeks to do, but also how it seeks to do it.
As we can see today, it wants to obliterate all other schools of thought, all other ways of thinking. It is not the fringe elements who demand the shutting down of the Jawaharlal Nehru University, a Leftist bastion. It is the mainstream army of Hindutva establishment’s disinformation warriors who do that.
Hindutva politics today cannot suffer that Jammu and Kashmir have a Muslim chief minister, and wants Muslims to prove their citizenship. It openly seeks to take “revenge” upon Muslims, as in Uttar Pradesh. The only thing fringe is the worshipping of Mahatma Gandhi’s assassin, which will also become mainstream one day.
Hindutva is like the neighbourhood strongman vigilante — and often Hindutva is literally that — defining what’s acceptable and what’s not. In other words, Hindutva is authoritarian by definition. It is not surprising that Hindutvawadis also bring their authoritarian mindset to running the economy.
The Vajpayee years
India’s first national BJP government was not really a proper Hindutva government. Atal Bihari Vajpayee was hobbled by a giant coalition of regional parties. He was perennially at loggerheads with the guardian of the Hindutva project, the RSS.
Vajpayee carried on with the consensus for economic reforms. Most importantly, the people who ran the economy for him — Yashwant Sinha, Jaswant Singh, Arun Shourie — were not from that nursery of fascism, the RSS shakha, even as they were decidedly Right-wing. Vajpayee was arguably the only prime minister of India who wanted to genuinely carry out privatisation of public sector companies. No wonder India’s economic growth increased under the Vajpayee government.
Excessive hard work
Unlike Vajpayee, PM Narendra Modi is a real Hindutva leader, one who spent many years as an RSS ‘pracharak’ (propagandist) before joining the BJP. Once famously described by political psychologist Ashis Nandy as a “textbook fascist”, Narendra Modi grows more authoritarian with every election victory.
Internet shutdowns, currency demonetised, tax system changed overnight, states re-organised without anyone’s assent, people throated with having to prove their citizenship — are just some things that betray Modi’s authoritarian streak.
The biggest problem with Modi’s economic vision is that he thinks he has one. He thinks he can run the economy with the help of bureaucrats and spin doctors alone. Not even the finance minister is needed. Nirmala Sitharaman, like her predecessor, the late Arun Jaitley, is a ceremonial finance minister. Modi has made clear his contempt for economists. He hurriedly got rid of economists who actually know a thing or two about the field. Harvard versus hard work, he once explained.
The Indian economy needs Modi to work less hard on it. His hard work has made sure that nominal growth is down to a 42-year low.
Forty-two years ago, it was 1978, and Indira Gandhi had just been ousted in the post-Emergency election. That Modi’s economic performance this year takes us back to the Indira Gandhi era is apt, because she was another authoritarian leader who believed she could, with her actions, make the economy attain ‘commanding heights’.
But as India discovered after the economic reforms in 1991, economic growth needs letting go, letting entrepreneurs create and innovate, letting the forces of demand and supply do their job. Economic growth needs freedom, trust and stability. India’s IT services sector could famously flourish because the government had no clue about it, and thus did not feel the urge to over-regulate.
Modi can’t let market forces flourish without his intervention because how can he not control something? This urge to be able to hold everything in one’s fist comes from the same fascist roots of Hindutva that want you beaten up by masked goons just because you subscribe to Leftist ideology, no matter how irrelevant your ideology is.
Narendra Modi’s authoritarian approach towards the economy also makes him more socialist by nature, willingly or unwillingly. It is telling that the Indian hoary Left and the Hindutva Right are often on the same page in their scare-mongering about capitalism, reforms and foreign investment.
What could ever be more socialist than the hare-brained demonetisation? That’s Modi’s economic vision, based on the idea that Modi can come up with a magic wand to make Indians prosperous overnight and thus be hailed as India’s Lee Kuan Yew. This is as true of Modi’s willingness to hand out loans to people he thinks might start small businesses, when the real start-ups with the potential to create large-scale employment face an angel tax. It was only after the economic slowdown began to make the top headlines that the outrage against the draconian angel tax was withdrawn.
Those MUDRA loans that he thought would create crores of jobs? The NPAs on it keep rising and no one’s seen the crores of jobs allegedly created.
Modi the reformer?
Modi says the right things that people want to hear at any given point of time — so you can find many platitudes by him in support of capitalism, business, entrepreneurship, wealth creation, and so on. But he often does the opposite. Having promised “minimum government, maximum governance” before his first election in 2014, he has actually delivered the opposite. Minimum government is not compatible with the Hindutva worldview.
Modi was not willing to back land acquisition reforms with his political capital because they didn’t give him any control. GST got his political capital, however, because it was just the kind of centralising law that makes him say one nation, one tax, one leader all in one sentence.
The defenders of ‘Modinomics’ — although that phrase went out of currency when 86 per cent currency was demonetised overnight — say he brought the bankruptcy code and has recently lowered corporate taxes. The first one is too little, considering the age mandate he has had. The second one is too late, it needed to have been done in 2014. Besides, it is wrongly timed, when the problem is mainly on the demand side.
Modi’s over-interventionist economic vision has broken trust in Indian business. No one knows when the Rs 2,000 note might be demonetised and the economy might suffer another shock. And so, no one wants to invest, even if the bleeding public sector banks are easy to lend.
There are examples of countries that have succeeded despite authoritarianism. China, Singapore and Russia are even cited as examples of how authoritarianism might even be good for economic growth. Yet these countries embraced authoritarian capitalism. Modi’s Hindutva authoritarianism is not compatible with capitalism.
Most authoritarian regimes are terribly bad for economic growth. For every China there’s a Venezuela, for every Russia there’s a North Korea, for every Singapore there’s a Myanmar. We wanted to be China, but right now even Bangladesh is doing better than us.
For the first time since the Indira Gandhi era, rural poverty has actually shot up instead of decreasing. That’s how dire the Indian economy is today. Modi? He wants Indians to first prove their citizenship.
Views are personal.