In his election campaign last year, Modi promised “acchhe din” (better times) for the people of India.  What is the evidence one year later? No doubt, better days have arrived for some, mainly the corporate cronies who were beneficiaries of the so-called Gujarat model of development. In this model, public assets and properties, land, water, power and so on, were essentially privatized at low cost and handed over to Friends of Modi (FOM) to make handsome profits – all in the name of development.  This model is now sought to be applied to the whole of India.


The most egregious effort in this direction is the Land Acquisition Bill, by which peasants’ lands will be made available to FOM through government collusion.  The process was started by the British colonial rulers in 1894; it was sought to be reformed by the previous UPA regime which put numerous safeguards on the acquisition process through clauses related to majority consent of the local community, environmental clearance and so on. But as soon as Modi came to power, his government’s priority was to dilute or delete all the safeguards to allow the FOM to loot the peasantry; all in the name of development, of course.  For the time being, however, this land grab has been stalled legislatively since the BJP does not have the required majority in the Upper House, but it is trying to push it through in a completely undemocratic fashion through Ordinances.  So much for the “acchhe din” of the rural population.


But it is worse for those unfortunates below the poverty line consisting of the landless poor and similar deprived sectors.  One of the achievements of the previous regime was the rural employment guarantee act, the MGNREGA, by which the poorest of the poor were guaranteed a minimum level of employment and wage.  The BJP government is attacking this by depriving the scheme of funds from the centre hoping to starve it while paying occasional lip service to its objectives.


In other moves to benefit the FOM, environmental regulations, particularly those relating to rights of tribal populations  under the Forest Rights Act, are being literally trashed by giving routine clearances to hugely destructive extractive projects in coal and other mining sectors.  Protests against this by various NGOs are being met by depriving the NGOs and their employees of their rights; Greenpeace, India has had its clearances revoked and its workers silenced; and other NGOs are facing numerous restrictions on their ability to function. Anyone who dares to question substantively what the government is doing is met with the heavy hand of repression as evidenced by the vengeful campaign of the Gujarat government against Teesta Setalvad’s organization, whose only fault was to highlight the crimes committed in the 2002 pogrom in that state. No “acchhe din” for them.


From the rural sector and the environment, we can move to culture and education. In the cultural areas, the wilder, fringe elements of Hindutva have been given a free hand to polarize the country.  The likes of Sakshi Maharaj and similar elements have been given a free hand to indulge in the most hateful rhetoric against minorities. Ghar Wapasi, Love Jihad and similar campaigns are allowed to go on with a wink and a nod from the government as have actual physical attacks against minority religious institutions, especially churches.  It is in education, however, that the regressive impacts are likely to be longer-lasting.  A nonentity and an ignoramus was given charge of the HRD portfolio. Smriti Irani’s baneful influence is now being felt in the universities, the IITs, and in other prestigious institutions like the ICHR where an RSS functionary, with no academic credentials, has been handed the reins.  We carry an article by the distinguished academic Ramchandra Guha in this issue that details the disastrous consequences of the regime’s policies in the sphere of education.


During the Anna Hazare agitation, the BJP had been most vociferous in criticizing the UPA regime calling for the establishment of a Lokpal with vast powers. A year has passed and there is no Lokpal.  Clearly, Modi wants no dilution of his powers.  The BJP regime has also not bothered to appoint a Chief Information Commissioner to uphold the Right to Information Act; in fact, a host of bureaucrats at various levels are now busily delaying and denying the rights of the people under RTI.


Meanwhile, Modi is busy spending more of his time out of the country making numerous foreign trips as befits a leader whose most enthusiastic support is among a very loud and affluent section of the Indian diaspora. It is obviously “acchhe din” for him and his entourage.

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