Those cheering the revival of the Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister’s fortunes in the recent by-election, must concede that, if this is the defeat of the BJP’s ‘Love Jihad’, it is equally the victory of the ‘boys will be boys’ mindset bolstered by Samajwadi Party President Mulayam Singh Yadav at the height of atrocities against girls in the State. This could prove deleterious to women’s safety, especially if the beleaguered police force reads it as a signal to turn a Nelson’s eye to crimes against women.
Secular media may exult at Hindu discomfort over a phenomenon identified by Kerala church leaders, but specific instances have come to light. A sportswoman (gold medalist) who got married under Hindu rites was pressured to convert after alleged physical torture. This is a clear case of marrying under false (Hindu) identity and insulting the religion of the spouse by forcing her to convert. Muslim intellectuals understand this and do not publicly defend such episodes, except on television where anchors encourage them.
There is hysteria against the leaders who oppose non-Hindu youths attending ‘garbha’ dance during the forthcoming Navratras. Perhaps, their language could have been more careful. Still, ‘Garbha’ is not a discotheque (where, incidentally, singles are banned) but a community dance in honour of Devi in her nine manifestations. Until some years ago, people of other faith never attended these functions; should they now wish to, they should come with their families. However, it may be admitted that the Unnao MP crossed the limit when he cast a slur on an entire community; the Prime Minister scuttled this tripe in an interview to CNN.
The by-poll was not a mini-referendum, but a signal about deflated dreams. The Prime Minister’s deft foreign policy move, repairing neglected relation with neighbours and friends, helping craft a new economic order through BRICS, and wooing big ticket investment, will undoubtedly yield dividends in time. But at grassroot level, villages hoping for an end to out-migration; youth aspiring for local jobs and families banking on these youth, feel rudderless.
The interim Budget had no clear economic vision and no big ticket investment, jobs, or hope. There is much continuity with the UPA. Experts have warned of the dangers of collecting biometric data of the citizens. That the system is not foolproof in transferring direct benefits to the poor was exposed in farm loan waivers some years ago, yet, it has been embraced by the new regime. The Jan Dhan Yojana offers medical and insurance cover to the needy and is bringing all into the banking network, but the insistence on linkage to Aadhaar rather than PAN or voter ID is disturbing.
Equally worrying is the attitude to Genetically modified foods. In May 2010, Bill Gates visited India to promote GM seeds, which will give the Western corporates control over agriculture. In Haiti, a people’s movement threw away the free seeds distributed by the GM companies after the catastrophic earthquake; Indian trials, where honest, were quickly suppressed when the results proved disastrous. Now, a regime elected with unprecedented support from farmers, particularly of suicide-prone areas, is flirting with GM crops when it should not entertain them at all.
The message from the by-election is that non-metropolitan India wants job – locally, or nearby. This calls for local investment. This writer has consistently argued that only small and medium enterprises and small traders actually generate employment; big corporates corner bank loans, tax waivers and other benefits and demand ‘next generation reforms’ every six months! No one has explained the gains (if any) to the economy from any previous generation of reforms. A proper audit is in order, especially as defaults by big borrowers from public sector banks increase.
The Prime Minister can break out of this vicious cycle by encouraging modest companies or cooperatives of retired engineers, defence personnel and so on to take up specific tasks of nation building in cooperation with the State Governments. They could be tasked with scientific waste management, power generation from waste, water harvesting structures, innovative solar and wind energy systems etc. Management or monitoring of Government schools could be entrusted to retired teachers and public spirited citizens, in their respective wards. The potential is enormous.
On the flip side, the by-election proves that the BJP cannot do without Mr Narendra Modi and/or Amit Shah, but the Congress can manage without the Gandhi parivar. It bagged seven out of 32 Assembly seats in nine States, but none in Uttar Pradesh, despite the Bahujan Samaj Party staying aloof from the polls. This, to everyone’s surprise, benefitted the Samajwadi Party.
There is a lesson for the BJP and ‘pracharaks’ routinely loaned by the RSS. For decades, a consistent critique about the leadership has been arrogance coupled with despotism and an obdurate refusal to listen to voices outside an undeclared circle. New generation cadres are unwilling to accept this, especially during the parliamentary elections, Shah directly interacted with the district chiefs and party workers. In the recent elections, there was no party general secretary for Uttar Pradesh; candidates were announced just one day before the last day of nominations and selection of candidates was poor; local MPs were ignored; OBC leaders like Ms Uma Bharti were not invited. It was hubris at its worst, and it got its comeuppance.