Geopolitical Notes From India
M D Nalapat
PRIME Minister Modi has given pride of place to MPs from the Hindi-speaking states in the Union Council of Ministers. This was because of the fact that the bulk of the MPs elected from the BJP were from the Hindi-speaking states. In 1977, these states overwhelmingly voted against the Congress Party led by Indira Gandhi. The second PM from the Nehru family (and India’s only woman Prime Minister) was the role model for Sonia Gandhi, who recently handed over the Presidentship of the Congress Party to her only son, Rahul Gandhi. In 2014, she followed in the footsteps of Indira Gandhi in a manner that was hardly welcome, which was to witness the Hindi-speaking states vote overwhelmingly against her party, exactly as they had in 1977.
Morarji Desai, who was chosen as Prime Minister by the ideologue of the anti-Indira movement, Jayaprakash Narayan, could not last three years in the job, although his overall performance on the job was superb. Economic growth got boosted and inflation reduced, but such successes had little effect on leaders such as Charan Singh, who every day was scheming to take over Desai’s job. Finally, a palace coup fuelled by MPs from the Hindi belt forced Desai to quit, thereby resulting in political instability until Prime Minister P V Narasimha Rao managed to win over enough MPs to ensure a majority for his 1992-96 government. Although Rao came to office because of the support extended by Sonia Gandhi, she very soon turned against him, encouraged by those within the Congress Party who hated Rao, such as Arjun Singh and N D Tiwari, both from the Hindi belt. They formed a breakaway party with Sonia Gandhi’s not very hidden blessings, a development that caused the Congress Party to be defeated in 1996. These anti-Rao politicians were completely opposed to Narasimha Rao’s economic reforms, and it must be assumed that their hostility to economic reform was shared by Sonia Gandhi, else why would she have supported them in their revolt against Rao, albeit behind the scenes?
Modi chose Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh as his constituency, letting go of Vadodara in Gujarat. And from May 26, 2014 onwards, he and BJP President Amit Shah have sought to champion Hindi over English. More than in any previous government, the use of English in government has diminished while that of Hindi has grown. As a consequence, most of the top posts in the administrative structure have gone to Hindi-speaking bureaucrats. Modi uses Hindi (and Gujarati) as the medium through which he conducts the administration, and this places a handicap on officers from East and South India, few of whom are proficient in Hindi, the favourite language of such giants of Indian politics as Mahatma Gandhi and Ram Manohar Lohia. Standards have been tweaked in examinations and selection boards so as to make it easier for Hindi-speaking candidates to do even better than they have in the past.
And although there is a rising demand among the poor to be taught English, the language has been discouraged in an effort to speed up the use of Hindi. Several schemes have been announced for Hindi-speaking states,given the fact that it is crucial for the BJP to secure a good performance in these states in the 2019 Parliamentary polls. Interestingly, from being portrayed as “pro-business” while he was Chief Minister of Gujarat, Modi is now being seen as a “friend of the poor”. His rhetoric has ceased to be business friendly, and has instead been filled with warnings that businesspersons will come under the scrutiny of the investigative authorities. The Income-tax Department, the Enforcement Directorate (ED),the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and other police organisations are these days as powerful as they were during the period when Indira Gandhi was Prime Minister.
Modi secured for his party a majority in the 2014 polls because of the overwhelming support he received from the middle class, which in India comprises over 200 million. They voted for Modi in the expectation that he would lower taxes and regulations. Instead, donning his “friend of the poor” avatar, Prime Minister Modi has increased taxes in each of the budgets that have been presented by Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, who along with BJP President Amit Shah forms the inner ring of Team Modi. Far from taking action against members of the Union Council of Ministers under Manmohan Singh, Modi has spared them. A couple of days ago, a CBI court found Dayanidhi and Kalanidhi Maran not guilty in a case that had been brought against them of misusing state telecom network for personal gain. Some months previously, entire set of those accused of corruption in 2G telecom scandal were similarly found to be free of guilty by another CBI court.
The Modi government has in effect given its predecessors a clean chit, even though it had won the elections on the plank of making them pay for the corruption of the Manmohan Singh decade. The BJP leadership seems to have convinced itself that it is an inevitability that it will win the next elections. However, voters in the biggest Hindi-speaking states of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar have delivered a shock defeat to the BJP, choosing instead regional parties which had previously been shunned by them. The UP, Rajasthan (where too the BJP lost) and Bihar by-elections verdicts show that the mood in the Hindi belt is now more sullen than is safe for the BJP.
—The writer is Vice-Chair, Manipal Advanced Research Group, UNESCO Peace Chair & Professor of Geopolitics, Manipal University, Haryana State, India.