How Modi's government is already looking like the UPA

By hurtling from one controversy to another and responding with unconvincing spin-doctoring, the new regime appears startlingly like the old.

As the dust settles around the new Bharatiya Janata Party government in New Delhi, there's little that sounds new. There's supposedly a new order that wants to control the flow of information, and yet this doesn't seem that new. In any case, this control over information has not prevented the government from giving the impression that it is battling one crisis after another.

The previous government's crisis managers, who were clearly rather bad at their job, must be watching with some glee. If this is the state of affairs when Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government is still on its 100-day honeymoon, what great governance can we expect will follow?

Take the rail fare hike. We should laud the government's efforts to cut back on expenditure but also condemn its hypocrisy in defending the increase when Modi had opposed the previous, Congress-led regime's attempt to raise rail fares.

Defenders of this government accuse the UPA of leaving the treasury empty, something that the Congress denies. Couldn't the government have handled this better? Did it really need to do this before the rail budget? It should have considered in advance the measures it is now planning, such as introducing the hike in phases. If the government is selling us a Congress decision to raise rail fares, why did we elect this government?

This is just one example of how the BJP government is beginning to look like the UPA: doing damage control when the damage has already been done, acting unthinkingly with the arrogance of power and blaming the Opposition and the media and everyone else but itself.

This is how it has been from the start. First, the government faced some embarrassment over Human Resource Development minister Smriti Irani's educational qualifications. Second, it had to make a minister in the Prime Minister's Office retract a statement that Modi was rethinking Article 370, which grants autonomous status to Jammu and Kashmir.

Then it had nothing to say about the use of draconian laws to make out cases against and arrest people critical of the prime minister. As the BJP's prime ministerial candidate, Modi had condemned the hate crime that had led to the death of a student from Arunachal Pradesh in Delhi. Niether Modi nor his home minister had anything to say about a Hindutva outfit in Pune killing a Muslim just for being Muslim.

The government issued a circular saying bureaucrats should use Hindi instead of English for Tweets and updates on Facebook and couldn't defuse the backlash for days. All it needed to do was to issue another circular saying the government would Tweet and post Facebook announcements in all 22 languages of the Constitution's Eighth Schedule.

The government has revealed no plan to curb inflation, only calling a meeting and passing the buck to state governments, saying that they should curb hoarding. Inflation will come down, the government promises, echoing the promise that the UPA made every month for five years.

While campaigning, the BJP attacked the Congress regime's immorality, nepotism and arrogance. But how moral is this government in not sacking a minister in Rajasthan accused of rape? How moral is it when it copies the UPA's immorality of sacking BJP-appointed governors in 2004, despite a Supreme Court judgement that does not appreciate such pettiness?

If the BJP government is going to defend all indefensible things by saying the Congress did it too, why indeed did we boot out the Congress? If the Congress victimised an IAS officer for exposing Robert Vadra's alleged corruption, this government is not letting a lawyer become a judge because he did things inconvenient to the party in the past: he argued in the matter of Sohrabuddin Sheikh's fake encounter.

If the Congress regime saw cases regarding Bofors closed, the NDA is moving to close cases against Modi's right-hand man, Amit Shah. What is moral about deliberately leaking an Intelligence Bureau report calling inconvenient non-profits anti-nationals and curbing their right to receive donations from abroad?

From day one, the prime minister has shown dynamism in his approach towards foreign policy and yet there's already a big crisis on foreign shores. Indian workers in Iraq are being kidnapped and the government has made little headway.

You can imagine what the Bhartiya Janta Party would have been saying if it had been the Congress handling that crisis. It would have been called a weak government that was making India a weak state, one with no foreign policy leverage. How exactly is a "nationalist" government's approach to this hostage crisis different from what any other?

The good days, it turns out, are just like any other day. The next election may be five years away, but that's what the UPA also thought.

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