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Modi 2.0: Prime Minister in a hurry

Smita Gupta | Updated on November 23, 2019 Published on November 22, 2019

Step by step Unlike his predecessors, Narendra Modi has emerged as the man in control   -  reuters/ueslei marcelino

Six months into his second term, Narendra Modi has brushed aside legal and constitutional impediments to tackle two of the three contentious items on the Hindutva agenda

Prime Minister Narendra Modi is a busy man these days. He is deftly ticking off items on his “To Do” list. Ayodhya has been dealt with, for the time being, as has Kashmir. What next? Modi 2.0, it appears, is Modi 1.0 — his first five-year stint at the Centre — on steroids.

Temple run | The Supreme Court, after long years of hearings, handed over the disputed site at Ayodhya to Hindus for a Ram temple   -  V_V_KRISHNAN

 

In 2014, Modi used the Hindutva card, but it came packaged in the promise of a clean government, good governance and development. Once he was sworn in as prime minister, he tested the stage: He placed his pawns well on a new chessboard, and strengthened his position. Unlike many of his predecessors in office, he emerged supreme, in total control of everything — from the State’s many institutions, his ministers and the bureaucracy to the very means of communication, ensuring that he received all the credit for any government success.

Simultaneously, a mix of dog-whistle politics, lynching of minorities on suspicions of cow slaughter or so-called love jihad (Hindu-Muslim relationships) — actions that went unpunished — and surgical strikes against Pakistan consolidated the Hindu vote, and helped him win a second term with a bigger mandate.

Little wonder then that six months into his second term, Modi has been able to brush aside a host of legal and constitutional difficulties, and successfully tackle two of the three most contentious items on the Hindutva agenda. Article 370 of the Constitution, which gave India’s only Muslim-majority state a special status, is a thing of the past; and the Supreme Court (SC) has, after years of procrastination, finally pronounced its verdict on the more than century-old Ayodhya issue, handing over the disputed site to Hindus for a Ram temple on the spot where the 16th-century Babri Masjid once stood.

Present imperfect | Article 370 of the Constitution, which that gave India’s only Muslim-majority state a special status, is a thing of the past   -  Sushil Kumar Verma

 

Meanwhile, the Law Commission is working on the third item: A Uniform Civil Code (UCC). But even as government sources suggest that the drafting of the Code is proving to be more difficult than anticipated — as there are many differences not just among different religious communities, but among Hindu sects themselves — Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) appears confident that it will not be long before the UCC is on the statute books.

On terra firma

“In the first term, Modi consolidated his position; in his second term, he is implementing his agenda — Article 370, Ayodhya and now, very soon, the Uniform Civil Code. These constitute the BJP’s version of ‘Roti, Kapda aur Makan’ (Food, Clothes and Housing, an old Congress slogan),” sums up BK Hariprasad, a Congress member of the Rajya Sabha.

There’s more: An Act criminalising instantaneous triple talaq was passed soon after Modi won a second term and was sworn in as the prime minster on May 30. In the current session of Parliament, the government is hoping to push through the controversial Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB), which will help it fulfil its goals in drawing up a National Register of Citizens (NRC). The register, many fear, may discriminate against Muslims. Critics of the government hold that it seeks to establish a majoritarian State, in which minorities, especially Muslims, will be treated as second-class citizens.

The government is unperturbed that a petition is pending in the SC against the unconstitutional manner in which Article 370 was abrogated. Neither is it concerned that the All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) and the Jamiat Ulema e-Hind have announced that they would shortly challenge the Ayodhya decision in court. Criticism of the pending CAB — that the proposed law, in seeking to welcome members of all communities, barring Muslims, from neighbouring countries as citizens, is unconstitutional as it discriminates on the basis of religion — has also left Modi and BJP president Amit Shah unmoved.

What has given the two BJP leaders the conviction that they will be able to overcome all opposition to these acts? After all, even in their first term, the BJP had a full mandate and could have moved on issues such as splitting what was then the state of Jammu and Kashmir into two Union Territories.

“One needs more than a mandate (to implement such decisions). Modi wanted to stabilise his hold over governance and all arms of government first,” a senior member of the BJP’s national executive says, explaining the leadership’s confidence boost in 2019. “If things got out of hand at any point, he wanted to be sure that he would have the right kind of administrative mechanism to control the situation.”

Then and now

There are, clearly, differences between 2014, when Modi dislodged the Congress, and 2019, when he effortlessly swept to power. For one, in his first term, then minister Arun Jaitley was a troubleshooter and a mediator on many fronts. Jaitley as a senior lawyer had strong links in the SC, and, as a senior MP, cultivated cross-party friendships, a member of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the BJP’s parent body, points out. Modi, he adds, was also not sure how much investigative agencies would cooperate with him.

“Today, after his second consecutive victory and larger mandate, Modi is even stronger and everything now is in his control,” he says. He stresses that dissidents in the party — who often spoke out against him during his first term — have all been ousted. “There isn’t even a Shatrughan Sinha, Yashwant Sinha or an Arun Shourie left. Thanks to the Ayodhya verdict, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad [an occasional detractor] is finished and the RSS leadership has been told to lie low.”

Clearly, Modi does not want to be seen dragging his feet in his second term. At a bureaucrats’ meeting in New Delhi recently, he ticked the officers off for “ruining” his first five years. “I won’t let you spoil the coming five years,” he said.

“This government is in a hurry to fulfil the Hindutva agenda and it feels this is its opportunity because it is in a majority, the Opposition is in a shambles and Muslims, by and large dejected and despondent, will not challenge the government,” says senior Congressman and former central minister Aslam Sher Khan. “It is very apparent that in its second term, the BJP government is very swiftly fulfilling the RSS agenda — abrogation of Article 370, the Triple Talaq Act, the NRC and the judgment on Babri Masjid.”

The Opposition, indeed, is in a state of disrepair. The relentless damning of Jawaharlal Nehru, his brand of inclusive politics and secularism — a campaign that began in Modi’s first term — has helped isolate the Gandhis as descendants of Nehru and members of a privileged dynasty. The anti-Nehru plank has also helped create a cultural divide between the English-educated, largely metro-dwelling upper classes and the rest of India. This, analysts believe, explains why even in the aftermath of demonetisation in 2016, the poor supported the BJP, for they felt that while they had suffered because of the ban on high currency notes, the rich had lost much more.

In an article titled ‘Muslim exclusion in Modi’s de facto Hindu Rashtra’ in The Caravan, political scientist Christophe Jaffrelot talks of the concept of “ethnic democracy” that is “the product of ethnic nationalism, a majoritarian ideology that implies a strong sense of belonging and often one of superiority. This identity is ... premised on the rejection of minorities, generally perceived as threats to the survival and integrity of the ethnic nation”.

“Ethnic democracy implies two-tiered citizenship, the majority enjoying more rights than the minority, both de jure and de facto.” India under Narendra Modi, Jaffrelot writes, has moved to this model over the last five years.

The impact of the fear that spread among Muslims after incidents of lynching in the country post-2014 is now being felt. There are no demonstrations on the streets, or sharp comments. They are too scared to protest in public, and fear that they neither have a Muslim leadership nor an Opposition to look to for support.

The situation is such that “Hindus and Muslims are no longer talking to each other in New India”, holds the BJP’s Swapan Dasgupta, currently a Rajya Sabha MP. “Narendra Modi achieved what was thought to be near-impossible: winning an outright majority for the BJP without any worthwhile Muslim support [in 2014]... In 2019, Modi repeated this feat even more emphatically with Hindu consolidation being secured through the invocation of nationalism,” Dasgupta says in a recent article.

The “swiftness of the government action” in Kashmir left the Muslim leadership convinced that its “larger political status in India was being renegotiated”. Many of the fears in the Muslim community were “overstated”, he adds.

“But the fears, however misplaced, are nevertheless real; and secondly, the Muslim stakes in the political power structure are more tenuous than ever before. It is the second issue that needs addressing,” he writes.

Indeed, an India where its largest minority faces political irrelevance cannot be the India envisaged by its Constitution makers.

Smita Gupta is senior fellow at The Hindu Centre for Politics and Public Policy

Published on November 22, 2019
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