Budget Session Part 2: Crucial Times Ahead

The latter half of the Budget Session which would begin next week (25th April) is expected to be a crucial one, not only in terms of economic reforms but also for PM Modi’s re-election bid in the 2019 Lok Sabha Polls. The senior leadership of the Bhartiya Janata Party, in the cabinet & otherwise, must tone down the nationalism sentiment; keep the Hindutva moron brigade in check and instead focus solely on conducting critical legislation cleared in parliament, thereby kick-starting the economy & providing them with some talking points before the 2017 Uttar Pradesh & Gujarat Elections, the results of which would provide vital indications of the disposition of the electorate before the 2019 polls.

The spirits would be tense in the legislature with the questionable dismissal of the Uttarakhand government by the center, the access to Patankhot given to JIT from Pakistan, the never-ending confusion over the Provident Fund withdrawals, droughts in various parts of the country, amidst the  usual Dalit-Muslim vote-bank securing tactics of the opposition. The Prime Minister must drop his statesman-like silence on issues that dominate the news cycle & lead from the front in countering all possible attacks in parliament. He must not play into the traps set up by the opposition and  instead concentrate on highlighting the many successes of his government so far.

Inflation has been down ever since the NDA government came to power; highway construction is on an all time high of 28 km/day; there is tremendous focus on infrastructure augmentation with the Inland Waterways Bill or the Sagarmala Project; the focal point of Budget 2016 was resurrecting the rural economy & with the weather department predicting a better monsoon this time around, the agriculture sector is expected to turn around with assistance from the new crop insurance scheme, national agriculture market which aims to provide better market access to farmers or the RURBAN scheme which aims to modernize rural areas, thereby increasing economic activity around the area concerned. The Prime Minister’s foreign policy outreach is starting to bear results, the latest being Chabahar Deal which would give India access to Central Asian Markets or the Logistics Agreement signed with the United States, ostensibly to contain Chinese maritime influence in the region. The two biggest successes of the government have been responsive, efficient governance & cutting of red tape. Every minister in the cabinet is being lauded for the initiatives undertaken by their departments, a track record of which has been compiled by Swarajya magazine  (Oil Minister Dharmendra Pradhan is a notable exception in the above compilation).

But the job is far from over. The Banking sector is still in stress, due to inadequate debt recovery mechanisms & exports have been contracting for 18 months in a row, due to weak global demand. The latter can only improve with time but the former can largely be dealt with the Insolvency Code, one of the many important economic reforms currently stuck in parliament.

The Insolvency Code would expedite the process of debt recovery by creating an autonomous body to oversee the same & put a 180 day time limit on the process. The Goods & Services Tax would subsume the many indirect taxes currently imposed & turn India into a single market, a crucial reform to augment GDP growth. The Small Factories Bill would encourage small-medium size business to invest in the manufacturing industry by exempting them from various labour regulations. The Labour Ministry further plans to introduce four integrated labour codes which would replace the colonial era laws that currently operate in the domain. All the above are just few of the many other bills that are currently in the offing & which need to be passed urgently to unshackle the Indian economy.

The Prime Minister must not waste any more time in pushing through the above reforms in the upcoming parliament session, not the least because pushing pro-business reforms right before state assembly elections would be a major political miscalculation. The politics in this country has always been confrontational and would continue to remain so in the future, but its economics must not suffer as a consequence. The Prime Minister understands this all too well & he must play his cards right while dealing with the opposition. ‘Coz come 2019, he would be judged by the very standard he set for himself, SABKA SAATH, SABKA VIKAAS.

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JNU ROW: An Exemplar of an India Divided under MODI

During the campaign phase of the 2014 Lok Sabha Polls, which resulted in a historic mandate to Narendra Modi, many of his critics worried that, as Prime Minister, he would irrevocably polarize the country, on the same lines as he did in Gujarat. Two years hence, their predictions have come true, albeit partially. While the relations between Hindus and Muslims remain as sensitive as ever–they haven’t worsened as the critics predicted–, it is the distance between the Nationalist Right and the Intellectual Left which has constantly widened ever since he was elected to office. Nowhere has this been more exposed than in the events of the preceding week on the campus of Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi.

A few days back, a group of student activists organised an event to protest against the “judicial hanging” of Afzhal Guru, who was convicted and later hanged by the Supreme Court over his role in the attacks on the Indian Parliament which took place in 2001. After the event, videos emerged which showed some protesters calling out for India’s destruction during the rally. One might think this was just a benign attempt by an over-excited 20 year old to provoke university officials, but, over the last three days, the JNU Campus has turned into nothing short of a Stalingrad between the right-wing BJP government at the center and everybody in the opposition, alongside the Left leaning intellectuals in the university as well as in the media.

ABVP, the student wing of the BJP, termed the protesters as ‘anti-national’ for celebrating a convicted terrorist,  while the protesters claim that the event was just another manifestation of the ‘anti-establishment’ culture, quite mainstream on the JNU campus.

The conflict really intensified when the JNU Students Union President, Kanhaiya Kumar, who organised the protest was arrested and charged with sedition by the Delhi Police. The scuffle at the Patiala House Court, where the accused JNUSU President was to be produced, led to an all-out fight between the Left-Wing and the Right-Wing fractions of our political system. The Left asserts that the Modi government is trying to micro-manage the central universities by stifling dissent, while the Right claims that those raising ‘seditious’ slogans in the name of dissent would not be spared. It is hard not to draw parallels between JNU and the case of Rohith Vemula, a Dalit scholar at the University of Hyderabad who committed suicide after the University suspended him, allegedly due to the pressure of the Union governement, for condemning the execution of Yakub Memon, another convicted terrorist, or with that of FTII Pune, where the Union Government is accused of appointing a director with, shall we say, questionable credentials.

While the center had to lose face in the case of Rohith or FTII but the JNU row has managed to polarize the country like never before. Now, we have one side avowedly supporting Modi and all his policies, but at the same time, we have the other side who are ready to cross any possible line to defame his government. It is clear that, as we progress forward, one would most likely be forced to pick a side. It is up to every individual to decide which side he/she wants to defend.

As far as I am concerned, I find myself leaning to the right.To be clear, I am no bigoted patriot and an extremely strong proponent of unrestricted freedom of speech, but, if reports are to be trusted, even I find it hard to defend the provocations by some of students present at the JNU event. What happened at the Patiala House Court was appalling, without a doubt, but playing the ‘victim card’ after provoking the state to take action has been a marked characteristic of the Left Circuit in India. The truth remains that the reason university conflicts dominate the news is because the opposition does not miss to seize any opportunity to divert attention from the policies undertaken by the Modi government. What they really should be worried about, is the drop in agricultural productivity after two consecutive bad monsoons or the eminent banking crisis in the Public Sector Banks or the decline in exports after the fall in oil prices. But that seems to be the least of their concerns. All they are trying to do is find an excuse to further stall the parliament in the next session. Although I am no psephologist, but one can easily conclude that the 2019 Elections are not going to be won on an ‘Anti-BJP’ campaign or a ‘Free Speech’ campaign and definitely not on an ‘Anti-National’campaign. This would prove to be grave miscalculation on the part of Rahul Gandhi or Sitaram Yechury.

I know that as soon as one reads the above paragraph, I would be dismissed as a ‘bhakt’ or a ‘sanghi’. And there lies the problem with India. Anyone criticizing Modi is deemed ‘anti-India’ by the right and anyone supporting Modi is deemed ‘pro-RSS’ by the left.

It is clear that the age of discussion is over and the age of confrontation has begun. My advice? Well, sit back and enjoy.