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Can gap between Modi’s vision and Hindu hyper-nationalists be bridged?

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Narendra Modi is probably learning the veracity of Stalin’s insightful aphorism that while one death is a tragedy, a million is a statistic. In a country which has seen innumerable communal riots over the decades, and a 25 percent rise in inter-faith violence since Modi came to power, the furore over the death of one Muslim in a village near Delhi must be something of a puzzle and also hugely disconcerting for the government because it cannot quite anticipate what the fallout will be over a period of time.

Its concerns must be all the greater because the incident persuaded President Pranab Mukherjee to deviate from a written script at a Rashtrapati Bhavan function and call for preserving the nation’s “core” values. The president’s appeal made the prime minister break what the New York Times once called his “dangerous silence” on the attacks on minorities and urge Hindus and Muslims to fight poverty and not one another.

Evidently, the murderous attack on a Muslim family by a saffron mob on the suspicion that they were eating beef has alerted the prime minister about the growing level of intolerance in the saffron camp. For Modi, the tragedy could not have occurred at a worse time, for it has taken much of the sheen off his recent foreign trip. Even German chancellor Angela Merkel’s visit to India was overshadowed by the murder.

What the centre and the BJP may feel uneasy about is that even as they issue the routine condemnations, they will be largely unable to brush aside the primary motive for the murder since cow slaughter has always had great emotional appeal for the saffron brotherhood.

As a result, the Hindu chauvinists will be forever on the lookout for any provocation in their eyes as can be seen from the manhandling of an MLA by the BJP legislators inside the Jammu and Kashmir assembly for holding a beef party and the burning of a truck carrying cows and the assault on a Muslim youth who was in the truck in Uttar Pradesh.

These acts of violence show that for all of Modi’s efforts, the communal situation will continue to simmer. Moreover, the government’s difficulty will be in failing to sell the idea of the “holy cow” without being seen as oddballs in today’s world by the beef-eating foreign investors.

It was easier for the Hindutva lobby to accuse Muslims of invasion, rape, pillage and desecration of temples in medieval times, and then link them with today’s jehadis in order to buttress its essentially anti-Muslim worldview.

But it is difficult to justify the killing of a Muslim for allegedly eating beef. Hence the widespread criticism in the international media of this “accident”, as Union Minister of State for Culture Mahesh Sharma called it.

In the last few days, therefore, much of the favourable impression which Modi succeeded in creating about himself abroad with his dress sense, eloquence and tears for his mother has been largely negated by the rage expressed by saffronites against beef-eaters.

Coupled with the suspected involvement of the Hindu Right in the killing of rationalists, the anti-beef agitation will make the task of governance all the more difficult.

Arguably, the realization in the government that the depredations of the Hindu fundamentalists will have an adverse impact on foreign investment will persuade it to rein them in.

But it will not be easy to bridge the gap between Modi’s vision of a 21st century India – a digitalized nation, smart cities, bullet trains – and the desire of the Hindu hyper-nationalists to impose their culinary fads on the country.

Admittedly, the BJP has become a lot more sober than the time when it moved from the margins of politics to centre-stage in the 1990s with its call for demolishing mosques, or the “ocular” provocations, to quote LK Advani, the party’s fiery rath yatri (chariot rider) of the time.

Stints in power at the centre and in some of the states have made it aware of the “idea” of India, or the Nehruvian concept of a nation with a composite culture, incorporating the multihued strands of the religions of all those who live in the country – Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Jains, Parsis and others. However, this sophisticated view is apparently confined to a thin layer of those in the BJP’s upper echelons while the vast majority in the party and in the Sangh parivar subscribes to the concept of Hindu rashtra (nation), where the minorities will be second class citizens.

Modi has been successful so far in preventing a major communal outbreak that was anticipated by the Congress’s Mani Shankar Aiyar, who said that he was waiting for the Godhra or Gujarat “moment” which would set the ball rolling for Modi’s downfall.

The latest incident, however, poses a real challenge to the prime minister because it relates to the issue of cow slaughter which is probably even more sensitive to the saffron crowd than the “ocular” provocations. Yet, he has no option but to douse the flames since the success or failure of his “Make in India” project based on foreign investment depends on his fire-fighting abilities directed against sections of his own party and ‘parivar’.

(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)