Skip to main content

Image of Modi as militant modernist is built on a strategy of violence against region’s most vulnerable communities

By Gargi Bhattacharya*
The rise to power of India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi, has been built on a paradigm of development and anti-corruption that has enabled him to develop sustained electoral support among the Indian middle classes and rehabilitate his image as a statesman on the international stage.
But the neoliberal model of development that Modi represents is one that comes at great cost in terms of economic inequality and basic civil rights.
A case-in-point is the infamous demonetisation of 500 and 1000 rupee banknotes last November that rendered 86% of currency notes in circulation invalid and all but wiped out the informal sector.
Markets closed, ATMs ran dry of cash for days, cash withdrawals were regulated with an iron fist and millions of people lined up in queues to deposit useless bank notes comprising their lives’ savings.
More than 100 deaths were reported in three months. People died of heatstroke in the queues, and they died of anxiety – they committed suicide in fear that their hard-earned money was now illegal tender.
Hospitals refused treatment to critical patients, even children, since their families could not pay in cash.
Surgical strike
Paeans were sung in praise of this “surgical strike” against black money. But it became increasingly clear, considering that only 17% of the Indian population own smartphones and only 22% have access to the internet, that only impoverished civilians had fallen victim to the strike.
At the time of this bid to render the Indian economy “cashless” overnight, there were 24.5 million credit cards and 661.8 million debit cards in a population of 1.37 billion. Most Indians do not have access to either. Most small businesses do not have card readers.
It is difficult to determine the rationale behind the move, since 97% of the demonetised cash did go back to the Reserve Bank of India coffers, squashing claims that hoards of black money were lying in rich households.
The concept that black money is actually hard cash, and not electronic, virtual currency or assets, cost millions of poor Indians their livelihoods, with certain sectors debilitated permanently and the middle class losing jobs.
Nobel laureate and economist Amartya Sen called it a “despotic move”, while Prabhat Patnaik, a noted economics scholar, called it “witless” and “anti-people”.
Steve Forbes said the move was “sickening and immoral”. He said: “What India has done is commit a massive theft of people’s property without even the pretence of due process – a shocking move for a democratically elected government.”
Defining development
What, then, in the Indian context, may be defined as development vis-a-vis the world’s largest democracy? Presently celebrated through schemes such as Skill India, Make in India, Smart Cities and Digital India, the government evidently lays claim to the narrative of digital empowerment and social inclusion. But how much of this narrative is real?
This war cry of development was the signature tune of Modi’s previous incarnation as chief minister of Gujarat, where his administration was hailed for its initiation of several successful industrial projects.
However, this image of Modi as the militant modernist, capable of taking the tough decisions and the tougher actions required to drag a state like Gujarat into the 21st century, has long been built on a strategy of violence against the region’s most vulnerable communities.
It is worth noting that, contrary to its image as a now flourishing state, Gujarat has “developed” poorly with regard to indices of health, poverty and education.
As of September last year, Gujarat ranked 14th on the list of states in terms of population percentages below the poverty line, far below Goa, Kerala, Himachal Pradesh or even Jammu and Kashmir. Its performance with regard to illiteracy is almost the same, ranked 12th.
On the other hand, the Modi government’s persecution of minorities is widely documented, most notably for its complicity with the Godhra riots of 2002 when thousands were displaced and persecuted, and hundreds murdered.
US philosopher Martha Nussbaum said of this event that it “was a form of ethnic cleansing, that in many ways it was premeditated, and that it was carried out with the complicity of the state government and officers of the law”.
The riots resulted in at least 2000, mostly Muslim, deaths. Court cases have been pending for more than a decade and half, and as newer verdicts are passed in favour of the state government, a new cry of anger and disbelief rises from minorities.
Ever since Modi’s National Democratic Alliance was voted into government in India, the Gujarat development model has burgeoned into a fully-fledged leviathan – coiling itself around protesting Muslims in Kashmir, around the dissent of Dalit scholars in Delhi and around the struggle of displaced adivasi (tribal groups) in the resource-rich heartlands of the country.
In January, the National Human Rights Commission found 16 tribal women to be prima facie victims of rape and sexual and physical assault by state police personnel in Bastar, Chhattisgarh, a hotbed of armed Maoist insurgency.
The struggles of adivasi in Bastar to resist corporate land grabs recently culminated in the extra-judicial killing of 17 people, including two 15 year-olds. Reprisals are ongoing.
Unravelling discourse
The exhibitionist force of the government in squashing minorities and silencing the dissent of the underprivileged is just the beginning of the unravelling of the development discourse.
In its recent report, An economy for the 99 per cent, Oxfam outlined rising income inequality, with India’s richest 1% holding a huge 58% of the country’s total wealth — higher than the comparable global figure of about 50%.
Just 57 billionaires in India now have the same wealth ($216 billion) as the bottom 70% of the population.
Referring to the Global Wage Report 2016-17 of the International Labour Organisation, Oxfam’s study points out that India suffers from a huge gender pay gap and has one the worst levels of gender-based wage disparity in the world.
Moreover, data from the India Human Development Survey provides great clarity on the nature of employment among different caste groups, with upper castes holding most white-collar jobs and Dalits being unable to open food businesses because of social stigma and “untouchability”.
More than 165 million people in India face caste-based discrimination, exploitation and violence, under a system that has been termed “hidden apartheid” in a report by the International Human Rights Council.
Development, therefore, is a discourse mostly coming apart at the seams at these Foucauldian fringes of the grand narrative that is India. The Indian state, powered by a right-wing autocratic style of leadership, is well on its way to alienating the most underprivileged, oppressed and poor – the citizens in actual need of “development”.
Ironically, India’s development project seems to have less and less space for its minorities, its ethno-religious and racial “others” and its youth, which has taken to pelting stones and hurling slogans instead of wielding books.
Its attack on intellectual institutions and student movements sounds like the dreaded death-knell of democracy in a nation that is home to one-sixth of humanity. Its population is mostly impoverished and under the pall of modern slavery, with 27.8% described as suffering from “severe multidimensional poverty” and 21.2% as “below the poverty line”, according to the UN’s Human Development Report 2016.
“Development” such as this is the beginning of the end of a democracy.
---
*PhD scholar at Jawaharial Nehru University. Source:
https://www.greenleft.org.au/content/india-modi-development-model-anti-poor-anti-minorities

Comments

TRENDING

#MeToo moment in Hyderabad Urdu varsity? Two girl students seek action against authorities

Counterview Desk
Has the #MeToo movement reached Maulana Azad National Urdu University (MAANU)? It would seem so if a recent letter by newly-appointed chancellor Firoz Bakht Ahmed to MAANU vice-chancellor Dr Aslam Parvaiz is any indication. Seeking reinstatement of two girl victims of “sexual harassment and humiliation”, the letter specifically names head of the department of the Media Centre for Journalism, suspecting, the problem could be much deeper.
Text of the letter: It is a matter of utmost perturbation for me to receive the two representations from the girls studying in the MCJ (Media Center for Journalism) regarding their sexual and subsequently, mental and social harassment at the hands of Prof Ehtesham Ahmad Khan, the HOD, MCJ.
We do not know, how many girls have been exploited by him and preferred to be silent for saving their family’s honour; however, there are two brave girls who stood to the depraved advances and misuse by Prof Ehtesham and came up with written complai…

"Ineligible" funding of Sardar Statue in Gujarat: CAG tells Central PSUs, it's not a heritage CSR activity

By Our Representative
The Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India, in its recent report on Central Public Sector Enterprises (CPSE), has qualified public sector undertakings’ (PSUs') funding the 182-metre world’s highest Sardar Statue, currently being constructed in the Narmada river downstream of the Sardar Sarovar dam as an “ineligible” corporate social responsibility (CSR) activity.

Gujarat BJP MLAs, youth leader "incited" attack on North Indians: Cong releases video

Counterview Desk
Senior Gujarat Congress leader Shaktisinh Gohil, currently in charge of Bihar and national spokesperson, All-India Congress Committee, has sent a legal notice to chief minister Vijay Rupani threatening criminal case and civil defamation suit for accusing him with "baseless statement" that he was responsible for attacks on north Indians in Gujarat.

29th "NRC-related" suicide in Assam, as Nirod Baran Das takes his life by hanging on a fan

By Our Representative
Reporting 29th case of National Register of Citizens (NRC)-driven suicide in Assam, one of India’s human rights campaign sites has said that, on October 20, tragedy struck Kharupetia town in Darrang district of Assam, when a retired school teacher and advocate Nirod Baran Das “took his life by hanging himself to a fan in his home.” The report adds, “The NRC process has so far claimed over two dozen such lives in the past four months alone.”

"Highly irregular" for PSUs to fund Sardar Statue under Corporate Social Responsibility

Counterview Desk
In a letter to I Srinivas, secretary, Ministry of Corporate Affairs, Government of India, former secretary (economic affairs), Ministry of Finance, EAS Sarma, has raised questions on the funding of the Sardar Patel statue in South Gujarat by Central Public Sector Undertaking (CPSUs) relying on the Comptroller and Auditor General report (No 18/2018).

Murder of Tamil Nadu teenage Dalit girl: "Stoic silence" despite #MeToo movement

Counterview Desk
Brinelle D'souza, who is with the Centre for Health and Mental Health, School of Social Work, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai, has prepared a strong statement to protest the brutal murder of 13-year-old Rajalakshmi. "Other than a few media reports, this gruesome killing has not caught national attention despite a very vibrant #MeToo campaign currently underway", regrets D'souza.

Post-MJ Akbar resignation: #MeToo movement and fears of backlash

By Sheshu Babu*
For the last few days, #MeToo movement has picked up momentum and many women are coming out with horrific tales of severe harassment in their past lives. They are not afraid anymore to expose famous persons including those at ministerial levels. As a senior journalist Neeraja Chowdhury opined (“An exit, a beginning”, October 18, 2018, indianexpress.com), "The #MeToo revelations are like the eruption of a volcano which was imminent, given the journey working women have covered. It was not easy to make public what they had gone through,and take on powerful men.”

Bank account frozen, raid on Amnesty office: Govt of India "treating" human rights NGOs like criminal enterprises

By Abhirr VP*
Amnesty India’s bank accounts have been frozen by the Enforcement Directorate, effectively stopping its work. Amnesty India is thus the latest target of the government’s assault on civil society in the country. The accounts of Greenpeace India were frozen earlier this month.

World Bank clarifies: Its 26th rank to India not for universal access to power but for ease of doing business

By Our Representative
In a major embarrassment to the Government of India, the World Bank has reportedly clarified that it has not ranked India 26th out of 130 countries for providing power to its population. The top international banker’s clarification comes following Union Power Minister Piyush Goyal’s claim that India has “improved to 26 position from 99” in access to electricity in just one year.

60 ex-civil servants seek release of CAG reports on Rafale, demonetisation before 2019 polls

Counterview Desk
As many as 60 retired civil servants have asked President Ram Nath Kovind to expedite the release of Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) reports on demonetisation and the Rafale deal. The letter, signed mainly by former Indian Administrative Service, Indian Foreign Service and Indian Police Service officers, regrets that the status of the audit is "unclear”. According to them, “An impression is gaining ground that CAG is deliberately delaying its audit reports on demonetisation and Rafale deal till after the May 2019 elections so as not to embarrass the present government”.