Modi Game Plan versus People's Agenda
by Dipankar Bhattacharya

The last parliament session of Modi 2.0 ended on 10 February with the adoption of a self-congratulatory resolution by the regime for the construction of the Ram Mandir in Ayodhya. The Yogi Adityanath government in Uttar Pradesh had already adopted a similar resolution in the UP Assembly on 5 February congratulating both Modi and Yogi for the construction of temple. Yogi Adityanath is of course not content with just claiming credit for Ayodhya, with support from the judiciary his government is now focused on the next Sangh battlegrounds of Kashi and Mathura. Drawing an analogy with Mahabharata, Yogi said Krishna had demanded five villages for the Pandavas while he was demanding only three places! In the name of just three places, this is a loaded warning by the state to the people to accept Sangh-BJP claims about every disputed place of worship or risk a veritable Mahabharata-like war.

These resolutions and rhetorical salvos should of course be seen in conjunction with events and signals on the ground. Uttarakhand Assembly just passed a highly draconian and regressive piece of legislation in the name of uniform civil code. Amit Shah has announced the enforcement of the discriminatory Citizenship Amendment Act before the forthcoming elections. And in utter disregard of the rule of law and judicial restrictions and safeguards, Muslim houses and shops, mosques and madrasas continue to be targeted and demolished by bulldozers in state after BJP-ruled state and by the Home Ministry controlled Delhi Police, who are illegally destroying yet more centuries-old heritage monuments. In Haldwani of Uttarakhand this demolition drive gave rise to an outburst of people's anger and now, using this mass outburst as an excuse, the government has unleashed an indiscriminate campaign of terror and repression. Tension also gripped Bareilly of Uttar Pradesh following police highhandedness in response to the 'jail bharo' call against the Varanasi Court order permitting puja in Gyanvapi mosque.

In Sandeshkhali of West Bengal, which is currently in the news over allegations of rampant sexual harassment of rural women by local leaders of TMC, the BJP is desperately trying to give it a communal colour by presenting it as a case of sexual exploitation of Hindu women by TMC-backed powerful Muslim men. In a very provocative address to the media, Union minister for women and child welfare Smriti Irani has even alleged a Hindu genocide in West Bengal. The indications are very clear: now that Modi's so-called 'guarantees' sound increasingly hollow, the BJP is desperate to push the country into another round of communal polarisation and violence as its most tested and trusted electoral strategy.

Relentless attack on the opposition constitutes another key component of the BJP's election strategy. The party's desperate design to grab power in Bihar and Jharkhand ahead of the 2024 elections has however not had full success. Even after the arrest of Hemant Soren, the JMM backed by the Congress, CPI(ML) and RJD has succeeded in sustaining its government with veteran JMM leader Champai Soren as the new CM. In Bihar even with Nitish Kumar's widely condemned political somersault, the BJP has had a tough time proving majority on the floor of the Assembly. It took massive political machinations, administrative foul play and police intervention, in order to compel three RJD MLAs to switch over to the NDA camp and prop up the Nitish Kumar government.

Following its weaponisation of central agencies like ED, CBI and IT department, the Modi government has now even turned India's highest civilian honour Bharat Ratna into a tool of political transaction. The conferment of Bharat Ratna on Karpoori Thakur was used as a convenient screen for Nitish Kumar's somersault. Likewise, conferment of Bharat Ratna on former PM and towering farmers’ leader Chaudhary Charan Singh has been used to seal the deal with Charan Singh’s grandson and Rashtriya Lok Dal president Jayant Chaudhary. Advani and Narasimha Rao have also been chosen for the honour to satisfy traditional supporters of the BJP and the Congress. Agricultural scientist M.S. Swaminathan, best known among farmers for recommending a remunerative support price by adding a 50% margin over and above the investment expenditure, has also been awarded Bharat Ratna even as the government goes all out with obstacles and repression to stop farmers from coming to Delhi to raise their demands.

The main declared purpose of the parliament session was of course the interim budget with a full budget to follow after the Lok Sabha elections. The interim budget reinforced the declining trend in social welfare and public service expenditure and the policy of robbing the poor to reward the rich. To divert the people's attention away from the current state of misery, the finance minister presented a so-called 'white paper' on the economic mismanagement of the UPA government which exited office way back in 2014! The idea is to distract the people either with the past or with the empty claim of making India a developed country by 2047 just when the people demand answers and accountability for the present crisis.

The people of India have had enough of these false claims and empty promises. Soaring prices, falling income and vanishing jobs are the burning issues that are subjecting the overwhelming majority of Indians to tremendous economic hardship. It is reassuring to see the people stick to their demands defying the deceitful propaganda blitzkrieg of the government, the ever-escalating hatemongering, and the political betrayal by sections of leaders and parties of the opposition. The joint call for industrial and rural strike on 16 February by farmers' organisations and trade unions, the growing mobilisation of young India for quality education and secure jobs, the continuing agitation by government employees for restoration of the Old Pension Scheme, the demand for caste census and effective, expanded reservation - let us strengthen these campaigns on the ground to set the people's agenda for the 2024 elections.

Modi Game Plan versus People's Agenda