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The Big Story: Double standards?
Imagine this situation.
A political ally of the Congress party is convicted of corruption, yet allowed to continue as before because the Election Commission cuts short the disqualification period. A bank, with political links to the Congress, comes close to failing, and then it emerges that the reason for this was massive amounts of fraud and money not recorded on the books.
The markets react badly to this, worried that many other politically connected banks may have similar stories hidden away. The Congress government, more worried about industry than the slowdown in the wider economy and unemployment, decides to give tax cuts to corporations instead. Meanwhile, estimated Gross Domestic Product growth is slashed three times in the same year.
The Congress prime minister visits the United States but comes away without even a modest trade deal but instead receives an admonition to improve India’s human rights records “rapidly.” And amid all of this, yet another Congress leader is accused of rape by a young woman.
If you remember anything of the period in which India was led by the Congress-run United Progressive Alliance, you would know that this sounds like a recipe for one of the many crises that seemed frequent during its latter years. Indeed, such a combination of circumstances might have put the government on the ropes.
Now replace all references to the Congress with the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party. If you haven’t already gathered, the paragraphs above are an accurate description of the current situation. The Election Commission has gone soft on the corrupt Sikkim Chief Minister. The ruling party’s mismanagement of the economy continues to play out as more instances of fraud emerge from the banking sector, including a BJP-connected bank.
The Reserve Bank of India has lowered this year’s growth forecast to 6.1% from 6.9%, and this is after bringing it down from 7.4% in February. Prime Minister Narendra Modi spent a week in the US without getting much for India. And Chinmayanand, a former union minister, has been accused of rape.
Yet, far from being on the ropes, the BJP appears to be in a very comfortable place. On the economic front, it continues to give the impression that it has no idea how to go forward. But from a political standpoint, with elections to Maharashtra and Haryana due on October 21, the BJP is not just the front-runner but already the presumptive victor.
Under Modi and BJP President Amit Shah, the party has not only notched up extremely impressive electoral victories, it has also put in place an aura of invincibility. No criticism seems to stick to the party.
Crises that would have during the Congress era resulted in ire being heaped on the leadership are now rationalised away with flimsy excuses. Remember the arguments at the time of demonetisation that Modi’s niyat, his intentions, were good, and the problem was actually with the bureaucrats implementing the policy?
This aura hasn’t emerged from nowhere. A few things have gone into building it:
- Nationalism, communalism, majoritarianism and Pakistan: This is the obvious explanation. The BJP has successfully centred the narrative around emotive questions of nationalism, working hard to project Modi as being the synonymous with India. As a consequence, any questions about him are perceived to be questions that are critical of India. With a good dose of Hindu majoritarianism thrown in, this is a formula that is not easy to either beat or emulate.
- Us vs Them: In the same vein, the BJP has consistently pushed the idea that politics is a binary between it and India’s enemies. There is no middle ground, no opportunity for self-reflection for patriotic Indians who take issue with the BJP’s policies. It is all or nothing, That’s why for those in the BJP camp, even rape accusations against one of their leaders is brushed away as a conspiracy against the party.
- Pliant media: Most of the national media, particularly television, has given up any semblance of doing journalism that holds the government accountable. Indeed, the most-watched TV channels spend their time berating the Opposition (and insisting that India now dictates the global order) rather than offering an accurate picture of the nation.
- Shambolic Opposition: As Carnegie Endowment South Asia Program Director Milan Vaishnav put it, “One hundred days into its second term, the BJP is focused on securing a third mandate in 2024 while the Congress is still reeling from the debacle of 2014.” As the Opposition struggles to address the majoritarian politics that the BJP has perfected, their mistakes are magnified by their terrible organisational structures and ineffective leaders, with the Congress at the very front of the pack in this regard.
- Political funding: Even as one acknowledges that Modi and Shah have been extremely successful at building a strong political narrative that is difficult to address, it is also important to acknowledge that they put into place an electoral funding system that privileges the party in power and allows for no transparency. This enables the BJP to massively outspend its opponents and spread its propaganda nationwide.
While all of those factors are true, it still really is remarkable how much of a Teflon coating the BJP under Modi and Shah has created around itself, managing to weather nearly every storm without so much as a drop falling on it.
Even as we, on a weekly basis in the Political Fix, examine the successes and failures of their policies, it is impossible to ignore the extremely powerful narrative machine they have built that continues to bulldoze its way through the country.
What else may explain this success? And will (or can) anything come in its way? Write to firstname.lastname@example.org with your thoughts.
Kashmir is still under lockdown. It has been 63 days now. Despite the government claiming the lockdown is only in “some people’s minds”, here is a picture of what normalcy looks like in Kashmir.
Maharashtra election watch: Shiv Sena scion Aaditya Thackeray jumped into the fray, the first of his influential clan to actually contest an election. Meanwhile, Chief Minister Devendra Phadnavis asserted his power over the BJP state unit, with former senior ministers Eknath Khadse, Vinod Tawde, and Prakash Mehta all being left out of the candidate list.
Haryana election watch: The Congress infighting continues, with former state unit chief Ashok Tanwar resigning from primary membership of the party, after he was denied a ticket. Though Tanwar is not terribly influential, the infighting so close to elections on October 21 does not bode well for the party.
The Supreme Court is rushing to hear an urgent plea against the cutting of trees in Mumbai’s Aarey colony. Police attempted to prevent residents protesting against the cutting from reaching the area over the last few days, after the Bombay High Court said that Aarey is not a forest.
The Election Commission arbitrarily reduced the period of Sikkim Chief Minister Prem Singh Tamang’s disqualification from electoral contest. Tamang is, obviously, a BJP ally, which may explain why even a conviction for corruption did not hurt him.
The squabbling between alliance partners, BJP and Janata Dal (United) in Bihar continues. Much of it from the BJP side is aimed at JD(U) head and Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, who would otherwise be expected to take the lead in political planning ahead of elections next year.
The euphoria of the stock market after the tax cuts has disappeared. Fears of further financial sector contagion, and the realisation that it may not reduce the effective tax rate much, has meant that this will not be the panacea all were hoping for.
On Scroll.in last week
- I write: There is no way to be polite about it. Indian Home Minister Amit Shah’s proposal to allow refugees into India as long as they aren’t Muslim is both unconstitutional and bigoted.
- Rajesh Kasturirangan tells us how authoritarian rulers are using algorithmic politics to tighten their grip, including in India.
- There is division in Naga groups, even as India seems to think it is about to reach an agreement to help end the decade-old dispute, reports Arunabh Saikia.
- Aarefa Johari reports from Maharashtra on the impact that putting an export ban on onions has on farmers.
- Safwat Zargar reports on boys aged 14 and 16 from Kashmir being held under the dreaded Public Safety Act and sent to Uttar Pradesh jails.
Reports and Op-Eds
“How do we ensure the ideals of Gandhi are remembered by future generations?” This is the question that Prime Minister Narendra Modi poses in an Op-Ed under his name published in the New York Times, that, as many have pointed out touches only on part of Gandhi’s legacy.
Modi has declared India open-defecation free, but there are miles to go before this becomes a reality – and government coercion will not achieve it. Nazar Khalid and Nikhil Srivastav write in the Hindu about a study of 10,000 people that found 44% still defecating in the open.
We need to take a very close look at “pakodanomics”, the idea that self-employed entrepreneurs will revitalise the Indian economy. Anjana Thampi and Ishan Anand in Mint find that only 4% of the self-employed create jobs, while the majority are underpaid and many rely on unpaid help.
Kerala once again tops the NITI Aayog’s School Education Quality Index, which puts the state on a solid footing. But the numbers reveal a huge disparity in education indicators across India, suggesting that much more needs to be done for states like Uttar Pradesh to catch up.
India needs a government-run land bank. This will address the Non Banking Financial Company crisis, says Andy Mukherjee on Bloomberg, by taking on the real danger that insolvent real estate firms pose to the wider economy. Anant Narayan, on CNBC-TV18, has a different solution for the same problem.
Can’t make this up
Here’s subcontinental story with a couple of layers. At the top level is the rather uncomfortable phrasing: “Tycoons’ dinner reception with COAS: Top businessmen explode before Gen Bajwa.” Don’t worry, no corporate “tycoons” actually blew up in front of Pakistan Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa. The News here is using “explode” metaphorically, though pretty much any sub-editor would tell you that – considering the context – maybe some other imagery would have been more appropriate. The second layer is the story itself: The Pakistani businesspersons appear to have dropped any pretence about who runs the country, and decided to take their economy complaints to the Pakistani Army chief. Imagine business leaders doing the same in the United Kingdom or even India (discounting, of course, the steady stream of Indian tycoons visiting the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh headquarters in Nagpur)?
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