By S. Sethuraman
Signs of desperation for the majoritarian Modi Government, as the country moves closer to the May 2019 Lok Sabha poll, are becoming manifest at both political and economic levels. The abrupt manner of taking into police custody a group of civil rights activists, noted scholars among them, across the nation on August 28, without due processes has been widely condemned. It has drawn adverse notice in sections of global media and the highest court of the land.
Opposition leaders from have expressed concern about such actions, which are suggestive of an “undeclared emergency” even while India would like the world to continue to believe that it is not only the world’s largest democracy, where rule of law is observed, but also the fastest-growing economy. India falls far behind scores of poor and middle income nations in major social indicators, which are passed over here by the powers-that-be.
Denounced as attack on civil rights, and one of the critics wondering whether it is not opening the “road to dictatorship”, opposition parties and eminent men see in it an underlying threat to citizens’ democratic right to dissent.
The Supreme Court, now seized of one of the most serious developments since Independence (other than the 1975 Declaration of Emergency by then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi) has remarked “dissent is the safety valve of democracy’”
BJP spokespersons have justified the arrests as action directed against “urban Naxals” (Rights activists) having collusion with Maoists in the countryside. The Maharashtra police, launching the country-wide swoop on these intellectuals, contended that they were backers of the Naxalite movement with plots including one to assassinate the Prime Minister.
Government would be expected to produce before the apex court credible evidence incriminating all the five arrested activists. Primarily, action taken by the Pune police under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, meant to be used against dangerous elements, like terrorists, has to stand scrutiny.
A sense of outrage prevails when the country is seething with discontent and mobilisation of farmers in distress, Dalits denied rights, and other sectional interests taking place amid the heating up of the election fever. How the Modi government would react with morchas and other demonstrations of grievance holders in the coming days would be watched with anxiety, given its none too gratifying record of governance thus far.
But the arrest of activists may also have been designed as a balancing exercise against the murder of four liberal intellectuals by Hindutva extremist elements in the Karnataka-Pune region over the last four years. Some suspects in that regard have been taken into custody after a long drawn-out process. Apparently RSS concerns about the jailed Hindutva followers may have influenced the latest assault on civil rights defenders and to charge them with promoting “Maoism”.
On the economic side, Modi’s self-trumpeted demonetisation lay in tatters. Its disastrous consequences for the economy are still unfolding. Almost the entire amount of currency under the Note Ban of November 7, 2016 (86 per cent of currency in circulation) has returned to the banking system, which invalidates all claims of seizing black money hoards under demonetisation.
Finance minister Arun Jaitley has been on slippery ground trying to justify demonetisation on some pretext or the other. The only end-result could be an increase in tax assessees and revenues. That demonetisation failed to achieve the purpose for which it was clamped by the Prime Minister without adequate preparation, also turned to be the biggest failure of his government. The cruelty it was for a vast segment of poor and low income groups would not be forgiven when they go to the polling booths next year.
The Modi government has now clearly moved into populist mode and all its policies and laws are sought to be marketed as promoting social justice while the poor are invoked in every speech of the Prime Minister. The structural reforms which IMF and RBI have called for as prerequisites for the economy to attain 7.5 to 8 per cent in the medium term stand as good as deferred till after next year’s elections. (IPA Service)
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