NDA report card

Modi's one-year legacy: sharpening social conflicts, nervous religious minorities

Programmes like love jihad and ghar wapsi occurred against the backdrop of key state polls.

Regardless of the extent of its own culpability, the Modi government in its first year of existence has reinforced, even enhanced, all the dark fears the religious minorities have had about living under a Bharatiya Janata Party regime enjoying a majority of its own. This hasn’t been a surprise. But what has been is the sharp increase in social tensions involving classes and myriad pressure groups.

This is reflected in the binaries the Modi government has spawned over the last 12 months. We have farmers pitted against industrialists, workers raging against their employers, civil society groups upset with the Indian state, and women decrying moves of regressive elements to curb their right to free choice.

Yet, in many ways, the heating of India’s social plates should not have surprised. In the DNA of the Rashtriya Swyamsevak Sangh, from its very inception in 1925, are codes that transform its members into votaries of anti-minoritism and the idea that a hierarchical social order must be preserved.

Even under the supposedly liberal government of AB Vajpayee, Christians were set upon in tribal areas, and the Muslims of Gujarat became victim in 2002 of what many describe as a state pogrom. Nobody ever accused Vajpayee of complicity in the menacing of minorities, but just about everyone outside the Sangh thought his image was diminished because of his failure to control the hotheads of the parivar.

Electoral compulsions

This is just as true of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Nobody has accused him of masterminding the minority-bashing programme that has rocked the country through his first year. Yet, for a variety of reasons, he is considered complicit in the crafting of political programmes such as love jihad and ghar wapsi, largely because they occurred against the backdrop of elections.

True, BJP president Amit Shah had spoken of protecting the honour of bahu-beti during the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. But vicious and virulent movement against so-called love jihad ‒ the alleged campaign by Muslim men to seduce Hindu women in order to convert them to Islam ‒ was launched during the weeks preceding the by-elections to 12 assembly seats in Uttar Pradesh in September. For the BJP, victories in in these by-elections were vital to bolster the perception that its stupendous performance in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections hadn’t been a fluke. However, the BJP was able to bag merely three seats in the by-elections.

Love jihad as an electoral technique was then cast aside for the ghar wapsi programme, which attempted to persuade Muslims and Christans to "come home" to the faith abandoned by their ancestors hundreds of years before. The ghar wapasi campaign had as its immediate backdrop the assembly elections in Haryana and Maharashtra and, subsequently, Jharkhand. In the era of 24x7 TV it doesn’t matter where precisely divisive political agendas are executed. The BJP ended up forming governments in all these three states. It was not a coincidence that several churches in Delhi were vandalised two months before the city-state went to polls. Concerted efforts were made to foment communal tensions in Delhi, one of which blew up into rioting in Trilokpuri.

This linkage between elections and the raising of communal temperature leads to an indubitable conclusion: Modi definitely did not  think the attempt to consolidate Hindus would hurt him or his party's poll prospects. He did not admonish the Hindutva provocateurs. Instead, he might have tacitly encouraged them through his decision to observe Good Governance Day on Christmas.

'Total protection'

It was only when the BJP lost Delhi ignominiously  in February that Modi spoke out against the anti-minority campaign. He chose a Syro-Malabar Catholic Church function to reiterate the “undeniable right” of people to “adopt or retain the religion” of their choice without coercion. In a recent interview to Time magazine, he reaffirmed his government’s intention to provide “total protection” to all communities, all of whom he said “have the same rights”.

Modi, however, was wide of the mark in his other claim to Time magazine – that “whenever a [negative] view might have expressed [about] a minority religion, we have immediately negated that”. He might have ticked off the Sangh radicals at 10 Race Course Road, but he had until recently desisted from expressing his disapproval against divisive politics in public, apart from speaking in Parliament against the lynching of a Muslim youth in Maharashtra early in his tenure.

It’s his silence that has been dismaying, not the least because he is arguably the most outspoken of all prime ministers over the last 25 years. Perhaps the RSS’s DNA explains his silence. Did he refrain from publicly criticising RSS-affiliated outfits only because he feared alienating the powerful pracharaks, who have started to resemble the apparatchiks of the yore? Or does his dual persona of being Hindu Hriday Samrat and Mr Development demands he remain silent to balance the contradictory pulls of groups supporting one of the two issues his personality now embodies.

These questions assume importance because of Modi’s own past. His role in the 2002 Gujarat riots has been ambiguous, to say the least. But what is undeniable was the manner in which he milked the riots and stereotyped the religious minorities to reap political dividends. Then again, he has been an RSS pracharak himself. His silence, therefore, was (or will be) construed as evidence of his complicity in the strategies of the RSS, infamous for speaking with a forked tongue.

Modi has now spoken out against the coercion against religious minorities. We will have to wait to see whether this restrains the Sangh from pursuing its brand of precipitous politics, particularly as Bihar goes to polls later this year, Assam in 2016, and Uttar Pradesh in 2017.

The din has quietened

Over the last one month, it must be said, the Sangh’s rabble-rousers have been quieter than before. Have his assertions about the rights of minorities and freedom of religion chastened Hindutva hotheads? Or is their silence largely because Parliament is in session, which in winter was often disrupted because of the intemperate remarks of BJP MPs? Or are they and the Sangh’s footsoldiers merely taking a break because there isn’t any election around the corner?

Divisive political programmes have social implications not immediately visible. For instance, so-called love jihad conceptually enables the family and community to curb gender intermingling and monitoring of girls. On top of it, a string of BJP MPs wanted Hindu women to give raise at least four children. This conservatism has been a grim reminder of the many humiliations rained on dating couples or girls dressed in a style perceived to be western. On the day Delhi voted, I heard two girls dissuading their mother from voting the BJP, arguing that its activists want to tether women to illiberal ideas.

We may feel heartened that Modi has spoken against the Hindutva storm troopers. Yet faith in his avowals, as of now, wears thin. He can’t speak of protecting all communities and yet have his government hound activist Teesta Setalvad for keeping alive the memory of those who perished in the 2002 riots – and for wresting justice for the survivors. Was it because of her the government has barred banks from dispersing without its prior approval the Ford Foundation funds to recipients? Modi, once again, has largely kept his counsel.

For Setalvad, though, the link is undeniable. As she told Outlook magazine recently, “We are targets as we have persistently tried to keep the battle for justice for survivors of 2002 flying. Strange isn’t it, a worldview built on false notions and historical misconceptions of Hindu ‘trauma’ can’t accept the need for acknowledgement, transpare­ncy and accountability for mass car­n­a­ges?”

Indeed, in sharpening other forms of social conflict, Modi’s role isn’t ambiguous at all. Though it was the United Progressive Alliance government that first brought the NGOs into its crosshairs, the freezing of bank accounts of Greenpeace India has been decidedly the Modi government’s decision.

The action against Greenpeace is an outcome of Modi’s philosophy of facilitating industry through a sweeping aside of all obstacles, including the resistance of activists to the flouting or relaxing of environmental norms. It’s also a signal to civil society groups of the price they might have to pay for opposing the government.

Ultimately, it is Modi’s worldview that has heightened social tensions. The ordinance facilitating easy acquisition of agriculture land for industry has deeply dismayed farmers, already reeling under declining productivity. The manner in which the land ordinance was promulgated speaks of the Modi government’s aversion to building consensus.

Next is the turn of industrial workers to get a blast from Modi’s ideological foundry. A slew of changes in labour laws is being contemplated, including allowing firms employing less than 300 employees to retrench workers without the government’s prior permission. As of now, this right is enjoyed by business concerns having less than 100 people on its rolls.

Paradoxical welfare schemes

Immensely welcome are the insurance and pension schemes the prime minister has announced recently, providing a modicum of security to a mass of people. Yet it appears a tad schizophrenic to allow employers to sack workers summarily and dispossess farmers to benefit industrialists in the present – and yet offer them the security of pension in the distant future.

The upshot of all the measures and responses of Modi over the last one year is to undermine steadily the conception of the Indian state being the neutral arbitrator of competing interests. Perhaps this neutrality of the Indian state has always been a fig-leaf. Nevertheless, for many, the Indian state now appears to be brazenly working for the rich and the middle class and siding with the majority religious community.

The twin tendencies of demonising the minorities and framing policies favouring the elite have often gone hand-in-hand around the world.  There is just no reason why India might prove different.

As civil society activists challenge the Modi’s government’s pushback, and farmers and workers find their interests sacrificed on the altar of Progress, communal consolidation could well become the knife for cutting the knots of unity citizens might forge in their discontent. That’s why any verdict on Modi’s avowals to Time magazine must wait till May 2016 or 2017.

Ajaz Ashraf is a journalist from Delhi. His novel, The Hour Before Dawn, published by HarperCollins, is available in bookstores.

We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

Transforming patient care by managing talent better

Active leadership roles by physicians, innovative human resource strategies and a strong organizational culture can bridge the talent gap in healthcare.

Attracting and retaining talent is a challenge for many industries – however for the healthcare industry, the problem is compounded by acute shortage of skilled professionals. India has a ratio of 0.7 doctors and 1.5 nurses per 1,000 people as against the WHO ideal average of 2.5 each of doctors and nurses per 1,000 people. This reflects the immense human resource challenge in the Indian healthcare industry.

So, what can hospitals do to retain and groom the existing talent? How can a clear leadership vision motivate healthcare professionals to perform better? These were among the questions addressed at the Hospital Leadership Summit hosted by Abbott. The panel focused on three key aspects: leadership, talent retention and organisational culture.

Role of leadership

Dr. Robert Pearl, Executive Director and CEO of The Permanente Medical Group and Faculty at Stanford Business School, spoke at length about the role of strong leadership in human resource and talent management. He began by defining the role of a leader. In this video, Dr. Pearl describes a leader as someone who motivates others by setting a strong vision.


According to Dr. Pearl, for a leader to craft such a vision and motivate others to work towards it, he or she would require certain qualities. These include empathy, good communication and ability to make quick decisions, stay calm under stress, multitask, and take responsibility - qualities that physicians typically possess by virtue of their profession. He thus urged doctors and physicians to play a greater role in leading their institutions.

His view is supported by research - a report in a Harvard Business Review says that physician-run hospitals scored 25% higher in quality rankings across geographies over hospitals run by professionals from non-medical backgrounds.

Dr. Pearl says, a leader who is also a physician is in a better position to set benchmarks for other professionals. Setting benchmarks would also mean setting an example for organizational behavior, culture and thought process. Many studies have examined the influence of a leader on his organization’s culture. This is expressed well by Dr Larry Senn’s concept ‘Shadow of the leader’ which emphasizes that the kind of ‘shadow’ a leader casts across the organization impacts how the employees think, behave and work. Thus, it is all the more important for physicians to get involved in hospital leadership.

Managing and retaining talent

One of the key responsibilities of leadership is to also manage and retain good talent. According to Dr. Pearl, one way of optimizing talent is by making efficient use of human resources.

A study by Tuck’s Centre for Global Leadership of nine Indian hospitals reiterates this. It shows that the strategy of ‘task shifting’ or the transfer of routine tasks to lower-skilled workers left specialists free to handle more complicated procedures. The result – more productive doctors performing five to six surgeries per hour.

Attracting and retaining talent was also a major topic of discussion in the panel discussion on ‘Transforming the talent ecosystem’ at the HLS summit. Some of the panelists believed that exposing professionals to areas that go beyond their core skills, such as strategy and analytics, could play a significant role in retaining talent. This would ensure constant opportunities for learning and growth and also answer the hospitals’ growing need for professionals from management backgrounds.

Dr Nandakumar Jairam, Group Director – Columbia Asia pointed out that hospitals need to look at people with soft skills such as empathy, ability to listen well, etc. So, while hospitals expand their recruitment pool and look to other industries for recruiting people, they should also train their existing staff in these skills.


The NYC Health + Hospitals in the U.S, a winner of the ‘Training Top 125’ 2017, is an example of how effective employee training can help achieve corporate goals. Its training programs span a range of skills - from medical simulations to language interpretation, leadership development and managing public health threats, thus giving its employees the opportunity to learn and grow within and outside their disciplines.

Reaching out to premier medical institutes in various ways also helps attract and retain talented professionals. Sir Gangaram Hospital in New Delhi, has emerged to be an attractive employer due its credibility in the medical research space. Their Department of Research aims to facilitate high quality, patient centric research and promotes laboratory based investigations across various disciplines, also assisting clinicians in pursuing projects.

Organizational culture and progressive HR policies

Rajit Mehta, CEO, Max Healthcare, also talked about the importance of having a conducive organizational culture that keeps the workforce together and motivates them to perform better. Every aspect of the organizational functioning reflects its culture – whether it’s staff behavior or communication – and culture stems from alignment with a strong leadership vision.

Organizational culture is also about incentivizing the workforce through performance rewards and employee-friendly HR policies. For example, at a popular healthcare facility in the US, all the 3,600 employees are actively encouraged to stay fit – they can buy fresh fruits and vegetables while at work, get healthy cooking tips from demonstrations in the office kitchen and enjoy free massages at their office chairs.

A report also talks about how some hospitals in the US inducted their employees into therapeutic activities like knitting, meditation etc., as part of their efforts to help them cope with stress. Some hospitals also have designated areas with amenities for staff members to relax and recoup.

Back home, Sir Gangaram Hospital recently helped its employees during the cash-crunched phase following demonetization by distributing currency notes to all. Such initiatives help establish trust and goodwill among the workforce.

Fostering a good culture is crucial for employee engagement. An engaged employee is one who is committed to the organisation’s goals and values and is motivated to give his or her best to the organisation’s success. Employee engagement has direct impact on hospital system health outcomes. According to a review of engagement and clinical outcomes at the National Health Service (NHS) in England, for every 10% increase in engagement there was a reduction in MRSA, a life-threatening skin infection, by .057 cases per 10,000 bed days. Additionally, a one standard deviation improvement in engagement reduced mortality by 2.4 percentage points.

It is however tough to gauge employee engagement and implement policies to improve it. As per an HRsoft study, more than 90% of managers or CEOs believe an engagement strategy is important for the organisation’s success but only 30% actually have one. The infographic below provides a useful starting point for managers to develop a strategy of their own.

These were just some of the insights on healthcare management gleaned from the Hospital Leadership Summit hosted by Abbott. In over 150 countries, Abbott is working with hospitals and healthcare professionals to improve the quality of health services. Additionally, in more than 25 countries Abbott is recognized as a leading employer in country and a great place to work.

To read more content on best practices for hospital leaders, visit Abbott’s Bringing Health to Life portal here.

This article was produced on behalf of Abbott by the Scroll.in marketing team and not by the Scroll.in editorial staff.