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Modi’s strongman image losing its lustre

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The head of state showing concerns over deteriorating condition of the country twice is quite unusual especially if he holds a largely ceremonial position.

Because of his stature, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) will not be able to brush aside his views as those of a “Nehruvian” or a “Leftist”, as it has done with regard to the protests by the 40-odd writers who are also upset, like the president, about the signs of intolerance.

The BJP’s other ploy of saying that the vandals are being arrested will not be convincing since, as the Shiv Sena’s acts of criminal intimidation show, a few hours’ detention followed by a release on bail are not a sufficient deterrent.

What is needed if the Narendra Modi government is serious about restoring order is a harsh step against the offenders such as the clamping of sedition charges on Hardik Patel in Gujarat.

Yet, similar threats by saffron storm-troopers, including BJP MP Sakshi Maharaj, who said that unless leaders change their mindset, they can be beaten up “in full public view”, have gone unpunished.

All that the BJP has done is to ask such purveyors of hate in the Hindutva camp to be more restrained. It doesn’t take much political insight to see that such demonstrations of “minimum governance” will do little to bring the law-breakers into line.

The latter are also probably encouraged by the description of the various tragic incidents as “small” by Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) chief Mohan Bhagwat.

It is obvious that the BJP is caught in a bind. It is one thing to use a law redolent of colonial rule against a pesky political adversary, or let the Central Bureau of Investigation lose against an activist like Teesta Setalvad for having stood by the riot victims in 2002, and quite another to discipline the party’s ideological brethren.

Even if the BJP succeeds in reining in the hate-mongers in its own ranks, it is virtually helpless where the rowdies of an ally like the Shiv Sena are concerned.

Although the BJP knows that the Sena’s long-standing tactic of blackening faces will besmirch its own image, Maharashtra’s political arithmetic makes it practically impossible to break the ties with the champions of Marathi manoos, whose leader, Uddhav Thackeray, has insolently pointed out that the Dadri lynching brought more shame to the country than the spraying of ink.

The government cannot be unaware that the disregard for law shown by the worshippers of cows, killers of rationalists, opponents of India-Pakistan cricketing ties and others with such limited, violence-prone agendas will spread the feeling of unease among the average law-abiding citizens and of terror among the minorities.

Moreover, the virtually daily litany of shocking incidents, including the rape of children and burning alive of Dalit infants by upper caste men, will tarnish India’s reputation abroad and make prospective investors think twice before sinking their money into a country where the police appear unable to control the rampaging hoodlums.

There is little doubt that because of these “sad” and “unfortunate” incidents, as Modi said about the Shiv Sena’s hooliganism in Mumbai, his strongman image is losing its lustre.

He had built it up and sustained it within the limited confines of Gujarat, but is evidently unable to do so in the much larger national arena.

His challengers are undoubtedly aware that the geographical spread of their lawlessness – lynchings in UP and Himachal Pradesh, killings of rationalists in Karnataka and Maharashtra, blackening of faces in Mumbai and Delhi – can make the task of imposing order difficult.

As a result, what must be worrying for the prime minister is that his efforts of modernization and economic growth cannot succeed in an atmosphere of tension and uncertainty.

It is not only the prime minister and a small pro-reforms group around him that find the present situation “extremely disturbing”, as Finance Minister Arun Jaitley has said, but large segments of the 31 percent of voters who supported Modi last year are also disheartened by the government’s failures on several fronts – economic and now administrative.

It has to be remembered that a good percentage of these voters are not traditional BJP supporters, but are largely apolitical who have been impressed by Modi’s energy and commitment to development.

But if they see no positive development in the economic and administrative fields in the near future, they will slowly drift away to other parties.

Their first priority will be to see the government crack down on the wild elements so that the confidence of the ordinary people as well as the investors can be restored.

India lost the chance of taking the path of development under Manmohan Singh because of the roadblocks put up by the socialistic inclinations of Congress president Sonia Gandhi.

Now, the pro-Hindu rashtra objectives of the Sangh Parivar extremists and the narrow parochial ambitions of outfits like the Shiv Sena are hampering Modi’s endeavours to move ahead with his pro-market policies.

Needless to say, both these groups have a blinkered outlook which is cut off from the modern world and have no idea of the vision of a 21st century nation which guides Modi.

(Amulya Ganguly, 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)