There is a remarkable consistency in the way Narendra Modi has been conducting his politics in the last 18 years in his role as Gujarat Chief Minister and India’s Prime Minister. And ironically enough, there seems uncanny consistency in the Opposition in all these years to oppose him.
This was quite clear when Finance Minister Piyush Goyal came out with an interim budget that promised to turn India into USD 10 trillion economy by the end of 2030. Of course, this may sound a tall order from a government which is all set to face the general election three months down the line. Similarly, the promise to take India in a league of a developed nation by making equitable, transparent, just and affluent society in next decades may seem prima-facie absurd. Who sustains in Indian democracy for so long?
But those who know Modi’s stint in Gujarat would hardly be surprised by the optimistic projection of the future. Recall 2002, a year after Godhara and post-Godhara killings, Modi went to the polls with the promise of holding Vibrant Gujarat fare in 2003. Not only this, he outlined a roadmap for Gujarat’s development for the next decade much to the Opposition’s amusement.
Similarly in 2007 assembly polls when he was ranged against Patidars and RSS-backed Bharatiya Kisan Sangh for making farmers pay for use charges after power reforms, he refused to change the tack under pressure. When cautioned about the possibility of an adverse fallout, he nonchalantly told his officials, “You do what is right without bothering about elections”.
Of course, Modi knows it too well that politics is also a mind game. And he knows that in this game, semantics are no less important than substance. In his tenure in Gujarat, he personified optimism and developmental politics in order to co-opt with the rising neo-middle class. He shunned the language of cynical pessimism in face of a stiff opposition which was always overzealous to run down his government. In the process, they ended up being projected as critics of Gujarat’s glory and enabled Modi to project them as “anti-Gujarati”.
Now you can see a replica of Gujarat politics at the national scenario. Look at the manner in which Union Finance Minister Piyush Goyal outlined the country’s financial health until 2030. For those keen to hear about the immediate future, he assured that within two years, the cases for scrutiny in the income tax would be dealt through the interface of technology with no human interaction. Of course, for a large section of genuine taxpayers in business and industry, Goyal’s words are music to ears. If such a situation materializes, it will put an effective end to corruption from one of the most corrupt part of the government.
Similarly, the government’s decision to provide Rs 6000 annually to farmers owning less than 2 hectares of land would cover nearly 90 per cent of the farming community in the country. Of course, the amount is not meant for their sustenance but is an encouragement to inculcate banking habits. At the same time, the entire exercise would also update and digitize land records across the country and carry out correct census of land-owning farmers in India. As of now, there are many gaps in the digitization of land records and accuracy about land-ownership pattern.
In Modi’s scheme, nothing comes free. And close scrutiny of the proposals would make it clear that pension for workers of the unorganised sector that constitute nearly 94 per cent of the workforce would get the benefit after a nominal contribution. Of course, the scheme is intended to encourage workers of the unorganized sector to have a stake in their future planning. Far from promising a freebie, it is a nudge to an aspirational class to realize their dreams and secure their future. Time and again, Modi has shown unflinching faith in the innate ability of a burgeoning neo-middle class to rise above the poverty line by the dint of their labour and enterprise.
Close scrutiny of Modi’s governance style in Gandhinagar and Delhi, therefore, displays a remarkable similarity. Through the agency of government, he has been providing a push to neo-middle class and invoking their pride to push aside poverty and ignore the rhetoric that glamourizes poverty. Short of saying “banish poverty” he has been egging on this section for years on end to come out of the rut and trust their own wisdom and enterprise.
In this context, Goyal’s budget has once again reaffirmed that Modi is determined to go to the polls with an optimistic dream of building India a developed nation. Contrast this with the cynical projection of the Opposition as the country on the brinks of chaos and ruined economy under Modi’s watch, you will find consistency in the Opposition’s approach too since Gujarat days.
-Ajay Singh, Editorial Director, Governance Now