Raza Mir


The Modi government declared June 21 “World Yoga Day,” and while steady pressure from secular elements in civil society forced it off its initial plan to make it mandatory for government employees, it has plans to make yoga compulsory for police officers and paramilitary forces in the near future. Several low-grade assaults on plural culture have marked the Modi era. These include the beef ban enacted in Maharashtra in April 2015, the reiteration by the RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat of the tired trope that “all Indians are Hindus”, the escalation of ghar vapsi programs aimed at coercive conversion of indigent minorities, scare tactics against inter-religious marriages by labeling them love jihad, and the imputation that the Indian population can be divided into the binary between Ramzada and haramzada made by a minister. These acts of menace have been supported by low-level riots such as the arson attack on five churches in New Delhi in December 2014, the burning down of Muslim homes and shops in the Trilokpuri locality of eastern New Delhi in October 2014, or the May 2015 act of burning down 150 homes belonging to Muslims in Ballabhgarh, Haryana. The strategy appears to be one of minimizing loss of life while maximizing loss of property, so as to stay below the radar of the global press. All these diverse data points intensify the feeling that the cultural nationalist strand of the BJP (led often by the RSS) has begun to flex its muscles.


Of course, the converse of this is the resurgence of an anti-minority and anti-Dalit sentiment within society, which is enacted in the economic realm. Anecdotal issues emerge, from Muslims being shut out of rental spaces and job interviews in Gujarat and Maharashtra to the exclusion of Dalit suppliers from dairy cooperatives in Mehsana. The Adivasis have seen their homelands imperiled; principally by the government’s decision to relax environmental clearance requirements for land acquisition, and the removal of several strictures from the Forest Rights Act and Forest Conservation Act.


What has kept the government afloat in the past year has been the reduction of global oil prices that benefited the Indian exchequer enormously. When the Modi government was elected, the price of crude oil was $110 per barrel. By December 2014, it had dropped to $50 a barrel. This was a major windfall; as one of the largest importers of world oil, India benefited substantially. It is estimated that each decrease in the oil price by US$1 results in a corresponding reduction of 4000 crore rupees in the Indian the government’s oil import bill. In other words, the drop in oil prices produced an unexpected windfall of around $30b for India, which was a whopping 1.5% of the entire economy. Unfortunately, this government has squandered much of that; Arun Jaitley’s March 2015 budget provided a 5% cut in corporate income tax and the abolition of the wealth tax. In other words, we have passed on much of the relief from the oil bill to the corporate sector and the super-rich. It is worth mentioning that the corporate sector had explicitly bankrolled Modi’s election campaign in early 2014, and the quid pro quo was bound to be enacted sooner or later.


One of the attributes of ultra-nationalist governments is that they whip out their cultural agenda when the going gets tough. To that extent, we have seen that the cultural front is relatively quieter than the left had feared in May 2014. But the signs are ominous. Despite the relative easy time the government is having at economic end, we see signs that the Modi government is prepared with its cultural cards, and will play them with impunity when their ability to govern is questioned. That is when the going will get tougher for the country’s minorities, and also its progressives. Because the left always faces the brunt of illiberalism when the right wing makes its move. Yoga, beef, and love jihad are mere canaries in that cage.

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