The first Parliament session after the 16th general elections ended on its third day. This is probably the shortest session in recent memory. The only agenda was the adoption of the customary motion of thanks to the President for his address to the joint session of Parliament. There was no regular Question Hour in either House, thus, denying Parliament its constitutionally-mandated authority to make the government accountable. No issue of public importance could be raised by the members. There were neither special mentions on burning issues concerning the people nor could anyone call attention motions ie, calling the attention of the government to address important issues of people’s concern be moved. This was, indeed, a session that transacted no other business associated with parliamentary proceedings.
Further, this government has begun to govern through a practice that the BJP had all along opposed — the ‘ordinance raj’. Individual ministers have already raised contentious issues stoking communal polarisation, leading to tensions and clashes like the murder of a young techie in Pune. One minister of state with independent charge, who was the army chief of the country, openly opposed the new army chief-designate who was appointed through proper procedure, rules and regulations. An embarrassed government had to make the defence minister openly negate this in Parliament. Thus began this government’s innings of ‘good governance’.
Normally when a new government assumes office, the President’s address contains the agenda that the new government will seek to undertake to implement in its first year. This address should normally contain, if not a blueprint, at least a roadmap of the policy direction of the new government. Further, normally it was presumed that the President’s address would prioritise the issues that the government considers important.
The President’s speech contained neither a roadmap, forget a blueprint, nor did it detail any priorities. This address was a compilation of the BJP’s election slogans and the rest of the speech was a rehash of its election manifesto. This left the country and the people no wiser than they were.
The government’s real agenda of ‘development’, à la its much-tomtommed ‘Gujarat model’, has now come outside Parliament, when the prime minister spoke of “tough economic decisions” on June 13. He claimed to have “taken over the reins of the country in circumstances when there is nothing left behind by the previous government. They left everything empty”. Therefore, he justified the imposition of further burdens on the people through “stringent measures” for restoring financial discipline. Saying that “for 10 years, the people of this country have not witnessed a working government in Delhi”, he tweeted, in his by now established channel of one-way communication, that the “Time has come to take tough decisions in the interests of the nation”. Is this anyway different from the previous government’s slogans, one that was not ‘working for the last 10 years?’ Former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had asked the people to “tighten their belts”. The result was unbearable inflation, growing unemployment and heaping miseries on the vast majority of our working people. Having reaped the benefit of this people’s discontent during the elections, the BJP is now asking the people to be prepared for a more lethal dose of the same prescription.
Again, the PM did not outline what these “stringent measures” mean. But India Inc, through the media, has been articulating this agenda. Industry associations were quick to demand tax concessions in the name of overcoming the economic slowdown. Now recollect that already the ‘tax foregone’, as informed by the last UPA budget, was a whopping Rs. 5.73 lakh crore. In addition, according to official records, default in direct tax collections amounted to Rs. 5.1 lakh crore. Thus, over Rs. 10 lakh crore of legitimate revenue to the government has already been denied. India Inc cries out for further tax concessions! The last budgetary estimate of our fiscal deficit was Rs. 5.20 lakh crore. The tax concessions given so far would wipe out this entire deficit and leave handsome surpluses in the hands of the government for much-needed infrastructure development. This, in turn, would have generated new employment boosting domestic demand serving as the sustainable impetus for manufacturing and industrial growth.
Given the active role in strongly financing this BJP election campaign, unprecedented in the history of Indian democracy, the assessments of India Inc would be closer to what the government’s policies might be rather than people’s hopes and expectations. The 15 tough steps that the PM is likely to announce include the phasing out of subsidy on diesel; monthly increase of LPG and kerosene prices; scaling down of the food security and fertiliser subsidy, significant amendments to make land acquisition easier; shrinking the MGNREGA; labour reforms to enact ‘hire and fire’; increase railway fares and lower food subsidy by reducing the rate of raising minimum support prices. The classic recipe for profit maximisation by imposing burdens on the people!
Alarmingly, there is a new surge for the complete privatisation of the public sector. Cries are getting louder asking the prime minister/Union finance minister not to do this piecemeal but “tackle them all in one go by enacting a new omnibus law giving the government the right to disinvest by executive action, overriding existing laws”. To overcome the lack of a majority in the Rajya Sabha, the PM is being advised “You can convene a joint session to pass it”. Dangerous portents reminding us of Mussolini’s infamous definition of fascism —“fusion of corporates with governance”.
The BJP’s election slogans of ‘development’ and ‘good governance’ are, thus unfolding. It appears that soon all of us would be asking the prime minister and this government to return our earlier days instead of imposing new unbearable burdens — “hamaare ache din laotavo”!
Sitaram Yechury is CPI(M) Politburo member and Rajya Sabha MP
The views expressed by the author are personal