Of Dharma and Artha

Vol – XLIX No. 22, May 31, 2014

Gujarat 2002, India 2014: numbers seem to sanctify. Well, Gujarat 2002 did give the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) an absolute majority in Gujarat and ever since the rule of law has been on trial and found wanting. Manipulation of the investigations and legal machinery has made sure that the charges of gross criminal misconduct against the most powerful politicians in office would not even be allowed to come to trial. Now the most powerful of these politicians, Narendra Modi will soon, once more, be sworn into office, this time at the centre, with an oath to safeguard the Indian Constitution, including the goal of a “secular” republic that is enshrined in the Preamble, and, of course, the “Fundamental Duties” to “develop the scientific temper, humanism and the spirit of inquiry and reform”. Will he then, having taken such an oath, help subvert these provisions, just like the previous incumbent, A B Vajpayee, did, especially in the realms of home, education and culture?

The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and Vishwa Hindu Parishad, who played a key role in the electoral victory of the BJP candidates, seem to have receded into the background for now. Varanasi, however, remains an important part of Hindutva’s symbolic narrative; who knows when the demand for the reinstatement of the icon of Vishwanath in the Gyanvapi mosque will return? They may once again manufacture “evidence” just like they came up with the archaeological “evidence” that the Babri masjid was built on the ruins of a Ram temple in Ayodhya.

After the BJP-led government consolidated itself following the 1999 elections, appointments of intellectuals close to the RSS to head institutions like the Indian Council of Historical Research and the Indian Council of Social Science Research began. The then union minister of human resource development, Murli Manohar Joshi, consulted the RSS’s then organising secretary, K Sudarshan on most issues. Key RSS-affiliated intellectuals were placed at the helm of the Indian Institute of Advanced Study, the University Grants Commission, the National Council of Educational Research and Training, the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts, and the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library. There were changes in the syllabus of primary and secondary schools, the works of important historians like Romila Thapar, R S Sharma and Bipan Chandra were removed from the list of school textbooks, authors such as Sumit Sarkar and K N Panikkar were harassed, and even death threats were sent to historian D N Jha for his researches that drew on ancient texts to show that beef was then part of the Indian diet. All these were the outcome of the BJP’s cultural and educational policies.

The BJP’s money has beaten the Congress’s money in the elections to India’s 16th Lok Sabha. It is now reasonable to expect that big business, which made available most of the money, will influence policy. The Vajpayee government did not go by the RSS’s then economic nationalism for it could not but be swayed by the sections of big business that had financed the BJP’s electoral campaign. So the Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority Bill to allow the entry of big business, including multinationals, into the insurance business was brought in, and the ceiling on the proportion of foreign direct investment (FDI) in the paid-up capital of drugs and pharmaceuticals and a whole lot of other business sectors was relaxed, quantitative restrictions on the import of consumer goods were removed and a drastic reduction of customs duties on their import followed, all these despite RSS and Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh objections. So also now, the privatisation of public enterprises, the handing over of public sector banks to private managements after recapitalisation and, writing-off of their non-performing assets, a drastic reduction of food, fuel and fertiliser subsidies, a further raising of the caps on FDI – all part of big business’ demands – seem to be on the anvil.

Apprehensions are being expressed in progressive circles as to the fate of the Forest Rights Act, the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee (MGNREG) Act, the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013 (LARR), and the National Food Security Act, 2013. The kulaks had been complaining to the then union agriculture minister, Sharad Pawar, that the stipulation of payment of theminimum wage in the MGNREG works had led to a rise in the agricultural wage rate, and thereby affected the very viability of their agricultural operations, and he wanted to please this constituency but was apparently not allowed to do so. Big business had been complaining that the LARR will lead to inordinate delays and huge increases in the capital cost of infrastructural and industrial projects as a result of a three-to-four-fold increase in the cost of land, which would, it claimed, render the projects economically unviable, but the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government had ignored their grievance. Attacks on the food security law have been vicious, especially by the votaries of fiscal conservatism (the “Treasury View”). Big money and the votaries of neo-liberalism had been immensely disappointed with the UPA government for bringing in these Acts, but now, with the BJP in power, they expect significant amendments to these laws or the rules governing them to be brought in.

Narendra Modi is, after all, beholden to both the RSS and big business – dharma and artha (the latter, the desire to accumulate material wealth). So it will all depend on how the RSS, the self-anointed spiritual counsellor of the rashtra, preserves the dharma even as it accommodates the artha. The king, in its view, must be guided by the raj guru in the preservation of the ideology of Hindutva nationalism.


Read mor ehere – http://www.epw.in/editorials/dharma-and-artha.html