It is customary to greet people on the New Year wishing that the coming year would be better than one that has gone by. However, Lord Tennyson's invocation of "Ringing out the old, ringing in the new" does not evoke either merriment or gaiety this year. This is because the Narendra Modi government has now begun to dangerously enlarge its agenda that threatens both secularism and democracy - the foundation of our Republic.
The authoritarian tendency of resorting to the 'ordinance raj' is the case in point. During these six months of the Modi government, already four ordinances have been promulgated, including the recent ones - increasing the foreign capital ceiling in the insurance sector and permitting the government to retain "discretionary powers" in coal mining allocations. One of the earlier ones was for appointing Prime Minister Narendra Modi's 'chosen one' as the PMO's principal secretary.
Union finance minister Arun Jaitley justifies this 'ordinance raj' thus: "The ordinance demonstrates the firm commitment and determination of the government to reforms. It also announces to the rest of the world, including investors, that this country can no longer wait even if one of the Houses waits indefinitely to take up its own agenda." During the last 10 years, the Left was joined by the BJP in vociferously opposing such 'ordinance raj'. UPA 2 had issued 25 ordinances in five years. On this, in 2013, Jaitley, then the Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha, had said: "An Ordinance under Article 123 is issued when issues of extreme urgency arise and cannot await a forthcoming Parliament session. The matter must be of such urgency between the date of issuance of the ordinance and Parliament session that it is difficult to wait for that period… This is a gross abuse of the ordinance issuing power." The Modi government has promulgated these ordinances the day after Parliament adjourned sine die.
In order to appease the domestic corporates and international finance capital, the Modi government is seeking to implement further economic reforms to permit them to maximise their profit generation by further exploiting the Indian people and resources by bypassing parliamentary procedures. It was the same BJP that shouted from the rooftops against the 'ordinance raj' earlier. This is a shameless volte-face.
Modi's election campaign fed the people with a heady mix of slogans heralding an El Dorado - prosperity for all with flowing rivers of milk and honey. Such hot air balloons were released in the air. Like all hot air balloons, such illusions are either punctured or have simply vanished in the skies. The economy has worsened and the absolute amount of cultivated land declined this season, meaning large-scale rural displacement and distress migration to the cities. The Index of Industrial Production has declined, meaning job losses, adding to the ranks of our huge unemployed. Despite the massive decline in international oil prices, neither has the consumer benefited nor has our trade deficit improved. The government's revenue collections have sharply declined, meaning even the meagre funds meant for welfare programmes like the rural employment guarantee, etc, would be massively cut. Even RBI governor Raghuram Rajan has warned that the economy cannot see a "comeback" unless domestic demand rises significantly. On the contrary, the people's purchasing power is contracting sharply.
In order to divert the growing popular discontent, communal polarisation is being sharpened. Despite the prime minister's brief intervention in Parliament on a minister of state's obnoxious remarks earlier, the RSS/BJP spokesmen, at the highest level, continue to make provocative statements, sharpening communal polarisation across the country. Both RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat (in Kolkata) and BJP president Amit Shah (in Kerala) pledged to continue their campaign of religious 'reconversion'.
The BJP today holds the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha as being responsible for the disruptions. It forgets that the Rajya Sabha passed 12 Bills in the winter session. During this severe winter, it prevented the eviction of lakhs of people living in unauthorised slums in the Capital on the last day of this session. It also discharged its constitutional obligation in returning the Appropriation Bill in the midst of this turmoil, proving its credentials in upholding our parliamentary democracy. It is the government's obduracy in not promising to take action against its MPs, ministers and spokesmen who, in the pursuit of the RSS/BJP's real Hindutva agenda, provoked this turmoil. Blaming the Opposition is a classic case of the pot calling the kettle black.
Once again, all the secular forces in the country were challenged by these RSS leaders to support an anti-conversion Bill in Parliament. There is, simply, no need for any new legislation or law on this score. Both the Constitution and the Indian Penal Code have sufficient provisions to define forcible conversions as a crime, a violation of the law, and, hence, punishable.
Those who violate both the constitutional guarantees and the Indian Penal Code, particularly elected BJP ministers and MPs, must be punished for their crimes. The prime minister refused to give any such assurance on the floor of the House. This is what has caused the disruptions in the Rajya Sabha.
The authoritarian trend of ruling through ordinances undermines the very essence of our parliamentary democracy. Such authoritarianism resulting in a centralised accumulation of authority in the Central government negates the fundamental feature of our Constitution, ie federalism. But it facilitates the effective implementation of the Hindutva agenda, whose aim is to transform our secular democratic Republic into the RSS vision of a rabidly intolerant fascistic 'Hindu Rashtra'.
With this, the dangers before our secular democratic Republic and our people multiply. It is no longer only a combination of rabid communal polarisation joining with the aggressive pursuit of neo-liberal economic reforms. These two are now combined with growing authoritarian trends like the resorting to the 'ordinance raj'.
This has to be foiled for the sake of India that is Bharat.
(Sitaram Yechury is CPI(M) Politburo member and Rajya Sabha MP. The views expressed by the author are personal)