Wednesday September 19, 2018
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‘BJP divisive impulses are test of India’s plurality’

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The 12 per cent increase in the BJP’s vote share at the national level between 2009, when it secured 18.8 per cent, and 2014, when this rose to 31, showed that a fairly large section of those who did not constitute the party’s traditional support base had voted for it. The reason for their support is known– Narendra Modi’s promise of rapid economic growth.

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Two questions are relevant here; one is how many of those who chose the BJP, probably for the first time, have remained with it? the other is whether the party’s traditional supporters, who seemingly have less interest in the economy and development than in a pro-Hindu outlook, are influencing the party’s agenda.

According to a recent survey, Modi’s approval rating remains high. However, it is a curious feature of present-day politics that support for the Prime Minister cannot ipso facto be equated with support for his party. This strange outlook of the voters was highlighted by the Delhi assembly elections where the BJP was badly mauled.

But, otherwise, the party was able to hold its own in states like Maharashtra, Haryana and Jharkhand and even made inroads in Jammu and Kashmir. The outcome of the civic elections in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Karnataka has also underlined the BJP’s continuing influence.

Although the party appears to be well-entrenched, there is at least a section of its non-traditional supporters who may have become uneasy about some aspects of the government’s policies.

To be fair, such disillusionment is normal in any democracy where no ruling party can boast of cent per cent support. Even then, there are bound to be some in the party’s 12 per cent ‘extra’ supporters who are currently engaged in mental balancing acts between the government’s positive and negative features.

While they will be hoping that it will pursue the promised economic reforms, they will also wonder whether an increasingly prosperous India will not also harbour intolerant sectarian elements.

What is more, these may not be driven by anti-Muslim sentiments alone as at the time of the BJP’s emergence from the margins of politics to centre-stage in the 1990s, but by attitudes involving minorities other than the Muslims which can also open up a divide between sections of the Hindus themselves, such as between vegetarians and non-vegetarians.

It is not surprising that Mumbai, with its cosmopolitan mix of communities, should be a focal point of such competitive parochialism and varying dietary preferences with the compulsively vegetarian Jains being sought to be placated with a ban on the consumption of meat during one of their festivals and a counter move by the Shiv Sena and Navnirman Sena to oppose the prohibition.

The controversy has been largely defused by a judicial directive allowing the sale of meat. But what the uproar has shown is how the BJP’s record can be hit by the various divisive impulses which are coming to the fore.

Mercifully, the apprehensions of communal acrimony have subsided because the government has apparently compelled the saffron hotheads to cool down. The attacks on churches have stopped though not the killing of rationalists.

But other issues which should have been allowed to remain very much in the background have raised their heads. Vegetarianism is one of them and the promotion of Hindi another. An RSS mouthpiece, Panchjanya, has argued that English should be ‘chased away’ and Hindi encouraged ‘to become an organ of Bharat’s self-respect, progress and pride’.

Although the Panchjanya remembers the anti-Hindi agitation of the 1960s in Tamil Nadu, which made Jawaharlal Nehru say English will remain one of the official languages as long as the non-Hindi speakers want it, the magazine tries to circumvent the episode by saying that ‘conspiracies were hatched to organize other Indian languages against Hindi’ without advancing any credible evidence of such sinister plots.

Probably, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) will ask the newly-appointed saffron apparatchiki in the Indian Council of Historical Research to unearth such proof. As a member of the Hindutva lobby has noted in the context of the saying that history is written by victors, ‘the so-called Hindu Right is the victor and a history will get a new coat of paint and varnish and also numerous designer alterations’.

If such observations are regarded as not representative of official views, this cannot be said of union Culture Minister Mahesh Sharma’s statements on imposing a ban on the sale of meat during the nine-day Navratri festival, making Hindi compulsory in schools and including Ramayana and Mahabharata in the school curriculum, but not the Bible and Quran since these do not reflect India’s ‘soul’.
His most quotable quote, however, was the observation that the former president, APJ Abdul Kalam, was a nationalist “despite being a Muslim”.

Carrying on from where the culture minister had left off, Home Minister Rajnath Singh has ordered that all files should be signed in Hindi.

It is yet to be seen whether these diktats are floaters intended to test the public mood. But the non-saffron supporters of Modi cannot but be concerned about the articulations of important people in the government which contravene the country’s pluralist norms.

(Amulya Ganguli, IANS )

 

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Fall Of The Currency And Increase In Oil Prices: India ‘s Turmoil

The falling rupee has given a boost to some of India’s most lucrative exports, such as software services and pharmaceuticals, which add up to billions of dollars.

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India
Rajesh Kumar, left, shares a ride to work with another employee, Dilip Swain, right, as higher petrol prices in India begin to be felt in people's pocketbooks.VOA

The fall of the currency of India to record lows and rising global oil prices have raised worries that the world’s fastest growing economy faces headwinds that could hurt the fortunes of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s party in next year’s general elections.

From people filling fuel at gas stations to thousands of students heading out to study overseas, the impact of the slumping rupee is sparking discontent.

Having plunged by about 12 percent against the dollar this year, the rupee is one of Asia’s worst faring currencies, and as in other countries, the slide has accelerated since the crash of the Turkish lira.

“The reasons are global. We must bear in mind that in last few months, dollar has strengthened against almost every currency,” said Finance Minister Arun Jaitley recently as he tried to send out reassuring signals that India’s economy is on track.

India
The rupee has plunged by about 12 percent this year raising fears of spiraling inflation. VOA

The rupee’s sharp depreciation comes at a time when the economy had recovered from a slowdown and surged to a two-year high in the quarter that ended in June. Forecasts put growth for this year at 7.5 percent.

Economy will slow

But economists warn this momentum will be difficult to sustain as the tumbling rupee, along with rising crude oil prices, takes a toll on growth. India, the world’s third largest oil importer, gets almost 80 percent of its fuel needs overseas.

“The government needs to mellow down on growth aspirations,” said N.R. Bhanumurthy, economist with the National Institute of Public Finance and Policy. “The growth needs to come down to a little less than 7 percent.”

Even as the government faces the prospect of a slowing economy, it is under pressure to lower taxes on gas and diesel to bring down the sharp rise in prices. Fuel is one of the most heavily taxed items in India, with rates as high as nearly 50 percent. Prices vary from state to state, but they have gone up by about 14 percent this year.

Hoping to cash in on the growing disaffection over the surge in fuel prices and the sliding rupee, opposition parties led nationwide protests that shutdown offices and schools in several cities this week.

India
Discontent with spiraling fuel prices poses a challenge to Prime Minister Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party ahead of general elections next year. VOA

The government dismissed the protests, saying that although people faced momentary difficulties, they understood they were because of factors beyond its control.

Political analysts are not so sure, pointing out that fuel prices are a politically sensitive issue in India and usually result in a spike in inflation.

“Anger is rising, there is resentment,” said Satish Misra at the Observer Research Foundation, warning the ruling party will face a backlash “Obviously that is going to have a negative impact on the electoral fortunes of the Bharatiya Janata Party, there is no doubt about that.”

Warnings from economists

Among those who are upset with the high fuel prices is Rajesh Kumar, who commutes 30 kilometers to the advertising agency where he works. Hit by the higher prices that eat into his income, he has started sharing the ride with another employee.

India
Narendra Modi. Wikimedia Commons

“I have given up the idea of buying another car,” he said despondently. “I will not be able to afford the cost of running it.”

Economists however have warned the government against giving in to populist pressures ahead of a series of state polls later this year and general elections around April next year. They say lowering taxes on fuel or taking measures to prop up the currency will strain the country’s finances and hurt the economy in the long run.

Also Read: Diverse Gathering To Be Addressed This World BioFuel Day: PM Narendra Modi

“One needs to be more careful and vigilant,” Bhanumurthy said. “It is easy for India to stay with low growth than experiencing the high deficit.”

But there is also some good news for the Indian economy. The falling rupee has given a boost to some of India’s most lucrative exports, such as software services and pharmaceuticals, which add up to billions of dollars. (VOA)