Modi and Secularism; an oxymoron perhaps?

secularism 2

BJP, the rightists ruling India, have questions to answer. Their poll pitches awed the Indian voter. Their focus on economy, jobs and development infused confidence among voters. Nevertheless, the naysayers were loud, quick to draw parallels between Moditva and Hindutva thus prophesizing a rightwards shift in the national socio-economic strata. Modi’s campaign focused more on the economy than on such religiously divisive issues prompting changes in the BJP’s top brass and its slow estrangement with its ideological mentor, RSS and the Sangh. But after recent incidents, one might be compelled to say that the jury’s still out on Modi and secularism.

It all began with the murder of a Muslim youth in Pune by a right-wing organization. It set off alarm bells in the minds of pseudo-secularists. However one such incident may be regarding as an isolated incident. The government moved forward ignoring this slight hiccup and let the law of the land take its course. This was followed by some controversial remarks regarding Muslims by the RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat in Bhavnagar. He wouldn’t have been so outspoken under a pseudo-secular or for that matter a secular regime.

Perhaps the most important indicator of secularism being a tiny blip on the BJP’s radar was its coining of the term ‘Love-Jihad’. The term’s invention was attributed to BJP MP and campaigner for the by-polls in Uttar Pradesh (UP) Yogi Adityanath and Sakshi Maharaj. Love-Jihad was used to describe Hindu brides who were duped by Muslim grooms on the false pretext of love thereby facilitating their conversion. This was the vilest form of blasphemy. It was based on some isolated incidences and was thus disowned by the top brass soon enough (remember Rajnath Singh expressing no knowledge of the meaning of such a term). The BJP used this term widely in the UP by-polls citing earlier success of religiously divisive statements in the Lok Sabha polls in the state. However, the BJP fought the Lok Sabha polls more on the development plank and they had the Modi agenda to fall back on.

Undoubtedly, the Love-Jihad scheme failed miserably with BJP losing out on most seats that it held before the elections. The results were not a judgment on the central government’s performance as state elections are mostly fought on local issues. The BJP failed miserable as it reverted to its old anti-Muslim stance instead of banking on its reliable development and anti-inflation program. The voter gave the party a much-needed reality check. The BJP must realize sooner rather than later that secularism is the need of the hour and pitting religions against each other must become a thing of the past. The people have understood this. When shall Modi hammer this message home?

Love-Jihad wasn’t the only blot on the BJP’s 100 days. It was followed by Muslims being banned from a garba (folk-dance) venue in Madhya Pradesh. Love-Jihad was again cited as the reason with the party failing to grasp the fact that there is unity in diversity and festivities such as Navratri must not be a religiously restrictive affair. It is shameful that the government lets such leaders of the hook with a slap on the wrist. Lo and behold, we still have Uma Bharti left! Thanks to her wisdom, we are finally close to eradicating floods and god’s wrath on man, like the current one in Kashmir or the previous one in Uttarakhand. Apparently, the Uttarakhand disaster was not only due to rampant deforestation but also due to a much more sinister reason. It was because of unchecked excretion by atheists on river banks. Well this sure posts a challenge for Modi who once said that we must build toilets before temples. While Bharti’s logic and statements aren’t blasphemous, they depict intolerance towards a person’s religious beliefs.

Such incidences, in the early days of an already doubtful government on the secularism front, speak volumes about what’s to come. But what has been striking is Modi’s silence on such issues. His silence only makes his critics grow strong and blame him for condoning the actions of his party-men. Yes, he did talk about Muslims and their patriotism and the delusions of Al-Qaeda about garnering Muslim followers in India in a CNN interview but charity begins at home. To silence his critics, he must ensure that such activities do not take place and the RSS and Sangh take a back seat.

Each year many teenagers run away from home, the chief causes being…..

Life can be a tough proposition for a multitude of reasons. They may not always be justifiable nor can they be swept under the rug. Leading a life devoid of difficulties renders a person incapable of achieving the humongous success we all desire. Neither do we choose the family we’re born into nor the circumstances that we are brought up in. However, that said, the choices we make are our own and that’s what defines and shapes our individuality.

A teenager garners the constant need of approval from peers and is normally on a rebellious streak. Their self-confidence is always through the roof while their self-esteem is often determined by others. This age is a solid age of inflexion or transition from childhood to adulthood wherein a teenager always feels like running away from reality instead of tackling it head on. This age opens the Pandora’s Box of fears and conflicts which leads to a high degree of pessimism and fuels suicidal tendencies among some. Often, many choose the path of running away. This may be because of a total disregard of reality, the fear of expectations weighing down upon them or in search of greener pastures. This is not an exhaustive list but represents the principal reasons why a teenager has the sudden urge to run away from his home, parents and life.

Failures have been known to stir up such thoughts among teenagers. The thought of failing at something shudders most of us. However, one must realize that success and failure are two sides of the same coin and one must learn, to quote Rudyard Kipling,

“To treat these imposters just the same…”

The fear of failures arises due to the expectations weighing down upon the individual. A parent may unknowingly impose such a burden upon a child leading to fear of failure. Such expectations are not uncommon from peers as well. Failure, leading to loss of face among the society, is enough to haunt the weak-hearted. Every individual has a different, albeit specific, coping mechanism. For a veteran of failures, it’s another feather on the cap but for a successful individual, it may be a grave nightmare. It all boils down to a person’s limits. What one requires is a basic understanding that failure is a part and parcel of life and it is not worth sacrificing and endangering the lives of oneself and others included.

It is understood by most adults that life is no bed of roses. It has its own ups and downs, crests and troughs. But understanding and more so, accepting this reality can be a challenge. Another prominent reason for teenagers abandoning their home is the absence of a hospitable and conducive environment. As stated before, we cannot choose where or how we are born, it’s just something we all must deal with and learn to live with. For some, it’s harder than others. Imagine and abusive environment, ruled by poverty and violence, stinking of gambling and alcohol and simultaneously giving rise to domestic violence. Can a teenager possible deal with all of these at once? We all have heard cases of alcoholic fathers indulging in the vilest form of abuse and violence. How long can one tolerate such torture? Once a child enters mid-late teens, he/she realizes that running away will be their only option. These runaways are escaping their realities although, there’s nothing wrong with this. There is no shame whatsoever in escaping a downtrodden fortune for a hopefully pleasant future.

The world is ripe with examples of individuals never being in sync. Conflicts among parents and their kids is a principal reason for the presence of runaways. Perhaps all of us have had fights or skirmishes with our parents due to a clash of ideologies and the egotistical nature of humans at large. Parents want what they think is best for the child and for the child to avoid making the same mistakes they did. Teenagers, on the other hand, are explorers and always search for new identities. Conflicts may be as simple as subject/stream selection in high school or as complex as spouse selection, evident largely in India. Parents seldom approve of a child’s choices, assuming that the child (who is also a teenager) is incapable of making sound choices. Such conflicts can give rise to animosity and feelings of ill-will. This encourages the young adults to run away from their home to exercise their rights and to live a life based on their own set of rules and principles.

We almost always assume that the reasons for running away are mostly pessimistic and result due to conflicts and lack of communication. However, a major portion of teens also run away in search of greener pastures. With the advent of television and worldwide media, exposure to extravagance and hope is just a few buttons away. Teenagers in dirt-poor regions often have high hopes and dream big. In India, we see teenagers from even the remotest corner of the country flock to metropolises like Mumbai to earn the big bucks. Mumbai has always fuelled dreams of teenagers of making it big in the Bollywood. Even the industry today is filled with such real-life examples, Shah Rukh Khan being one of them.

Perhaps most teenagers, who run away from home for a better standard of living fail miserably but none achieved more success that the Honorable Prime Minister himself, Narendra Modi. Modi ran away from home, deserting his family in his pre-teens. His fascination with the RSS had begun quite early while his poverty and his non-consensual child marriage didn’t help either. Modi ran away from home to follow his dream of becoming an RSS pracharak only to end up being the Prime Minister. His family was quite poor and he worked at his father’s tea stall. His humble origins are no secret. A major reason for this bold step by him was perhaps being married, against his will, at a tender age. He is the best example of what drives teens away from home, symbolizing conflict and high hopes among today’s teens as well.

The biggest blame that one can put on for runaways is on nobody but the teenagers themselves. Of course, parents play a major role in bringing about inhospitable condition and conflicts but at the end of the day, it’s the teenagers who must become more and more accommodating as one cannot be treated like a child forever and growing up isn’t a choice. Failures and conflicts are an integral part of life and bouncing back from them is the key. Perhaps the most justifiable reason for such escapism is the search for a better life. Successes may be few, failures many but only those who persevere may be able to seize the day.

Religion has lost its significance in the life of a modern man.

After centuries of being dominated by a never-before seen entity, mankind finally had the courage to free itself from the chains for the first time during The Renaissance. A simple shift in the subject of paintings and sculptures was evidence enough for the clergy to swing into action. Scores of people renounced the church; hundreds gave up the divisive Hinduism for Buddhism. A glaring defect was visible in religions worldwide, that of division.

Such incidences have shaped the modern man. Atheists and agnostics occupy a major chunk of society today. No longer are Sunday masses, daily prayers or visiting churches, temples, mosques etc., important to the society. The average age of a nun in the US is sixty-nine. 3200 parishes in the US still yearn for a priest. Science had begun to fill the void left by religion centuries ago. No longer does the modern man require the hand of an unseen entity over his head. So how did such a massive shift take place in our minds? Restrictive mindsets of the ‘god-men’ had left mankind averse to the discoveries and inventions that surrounded it. The chain finally broke.

The major reason for mankind abandoning religion today is the restrictions it imposes on our lives. Scientists of the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries were ostracized by the society due to the church’s command. It set us back by centuries. Mankind was always sceptic, had the knack for great scientific discoveries but how can one forget what happened to Galileo. Imagine if religion dominated the world today! Due to the rising populations, genetically mutated (GM) crops have become a reality. Their high yield has brought about a Green Revolution to feed India’s hungry. If our political class was ruled by religion, would such an invention and its implementation have taken place? Artificial insemination has taken over today to provide eternal happiness to impotent couples. No longer does western society frown upon gays. If we were dominated by religion, would such freedoms have been available to us?

Indians have been known to spend vast amounts on their gods and temples. Why are temples in South India loaded with gold? Does the lord need this gold to show off? Why are golden crowns and thrones built for idol worship? Instead, donating such amounts to orphanages, educational institutes, cancer research etc. can assure us of a better future. In the name of religion, we spend millions on idol worship; shouldn’t we wisely spend it for someone who needs it? Liters and liters of milk is offered to Lord Shiva, can you not feed it to the hungry mendicant outside the temple gates? The truth is, we spend fortunes on such useless idol worship when we can actually make a change with this money. Tycoons and business magnates like Warren Buffest, Bill Gates, NR Narayana Murthy, Azim Premji etc. have understood this. They do not spend on churches and temples but on troubled humans. This is true religion.

Religion has also lost its significance, owing to the presence of unnecessary elements or ‘god-men’ of the society. Religion is run like a business by these modern day gurus and babas. Sathya Sai Baba’s death brought to the fore discussions about the wealth he amassed. Who knows what Baba Ramdev has stashed away? Why do vile creatures like Swami Nithyanand and Asaram Bapu exist? These men have cleverly manipulated their audiences and ruled over them. Such god-men have tarnished the name of mankind and have driven away throngs from the bosom of religion. Such vile creatures and ‘tantrics’ are still prevalent, engaging in sacrifices and driving people away from modern day science. No longer should religion be significant for us, when such men exist.

However, one might argue that it’s the belief of Karma, the presence of an entity that analyses our annual report card has kept crime in check. If we were not faced with the fear of almighty, we would become as uncivilized as we were in the Stone Age. Therefore, we have this ultimate pressure to remain model human beings and stay in the almighty’s good books. Or we shall descend into anarchy and chaos.

But, this desire to please our God has led to the pogroms and riots. Humans engage in killings of each other (especially those of other religions) to please their Gods. Persecution of Jews, Jihad against America, 2002 Godhra riots are a handful of examples of what we can do in the name of religion. Religions have played divide and rule throughout our existence and pitted us against each other. We are divided because we are Hindus, Muslims, Jews and Christians, not because we are Indians, Pakistanis, Israelis or Americans. We kill, rape and mutilate our brethren in order to prove the superiority of our religion.

If one still believes that religion has done more good than harm, he/she is free to study the numerous riots that happen in India. How devious politicians and god-men convince us that a person with a different religion must die is beyond me. It’s better to have no faith rather than having a faith which kills each other. At the end of the day, one may find the atheists’ stand being vindicated as one examines the evidence. Lets disown Gods and embrace humanity, give up superstition and embrace skepticism.

Where are the “Acche Din” you ask?

Acche din

 

The media has been abuzz about the completion of 100 days of the Modi government. Why this topic has been trending and raising a few eyebrows is beyond me. The work of no government can be effectively judged in a span so short. For 100 days is barely enough time for the ministers to get in their groove and absorb their responsibilities. However, that said, this phase does give us a slight peek into what the next years of this government are like. One must understand that the burden of responsibilities on this government as huge, given the massive mandate it received and its accession based on its much-touted development agenda. The reversal of a dismal economy and a pessimistic populace requires much effort, dedication and most importantly time. As it has been generating a lot of buzz, I thought I’d throw in my 2 cents.

 

THE POSITIVES

As the Modi Sarkaar settles in, it has been credited with raising hopes of a cynical market and urban middle-class. It is credited with reviving the slumping Sensex. Indians believe more in “Sensex ooncha rahe hamara” rather than “Jhanda ooncha rahe hamara”.

The Foreign Policy

By inviting the SAARC heads for his swearing-in, Modi created history and set the ball rolling on India’s engagement with its immediate neighbors. The crucial part was the attendance of the Pakistani PM, Nawaz Sharif. His engagement with Modi was seen by many as a new chapter in Indo-Pak ties. However, this was short-lived as months later; the government cancelled the foreign secretary talks due to be held in Islamabad amid meetings of the Pakistani ambassador with Kashmiri separatists. India took a bold step, the consequences of which may or may not be dire. It showed the government as one that was strong on Pakistan, a much-lacking quality of the previous regime. How would Pakistan have responded if India would have held meeting with Baloch separatists? Just because something had not been reprimanded for more than two decades doesn’t mean it’s justifiable.

Modi then proceeded to visit Nepal, the first Prime Minister in 17 years to do so, signifying the importance he attaches to the mountain nation. The visit was successful too, with the government extending a greater credit line than before. This was followed by a visit to Bhutan, an all-weather ally of India. Both these nations are strategically located and their importance to India cannot be emphasized against a looming Chinese threat. India must show that it is no longer the Big Brother. Lastly, Modi topped off his foreign policy successes with a visit to Japan, meeting Abe, who broke protocol to meet Modi in Kyoto. Modi and Abe share a significant personal relationship, the result of which was the $35 billion that Japan will invest in India over the next 5 years. The external affair minister, Sushma Swaraj has been keeping busy too, visiting the strategically important Vietnam in the South China Sea.

 

Economic Impact

The markets have been shedding their slump ever since January, when Modi featured as the favorite in the opinion polls. Without a doubt, one can say that business confidence is returning and the government has begun working proactively towards promoting and sustaining a 6-7% GDP growth in the coming years. While luck has been on Modi’s side, evident in the declining crude oil prices(which will help in keeping the fiscal deficit down) and a laudable GDP growth (solely due to the re-infused business confidence), the government must realize that it doesn’t take time for luck to run out as Chidambaram learned the hard way. The GDP growth can also be contributed by the rapid rate of clearances of the stalled investments projects by the government. The RBI governor Rajan himself suggested that one must not expect big-bang reforms from the government. Even the budget, termed as boring, was the first budget of the government and we must cut them some slack.

However, the budget was commendable for the FDI in defense and insurance, pegged at 49%. The government has also shown its willingness to curtail the fiscal deficit by promoting austerity and scrapping ministries and the Group of Ministers (GoM) and the Empowered Group of Ministers (EGoM). It has begun digitizing the application procedures for environmental clearances and has suggested a complete digitization to cut corruption, promote transparency and speed up clearances. Modi has outlined his dream of making India a manufacturing hub by hammering home the message of “Make in India” during his Independence Day speech. The outdated Planning Commission has been scrapped and shall be replaced by a think-tank. This shows that the government is heading towards decentralization, an important aspect of growth for this large country. This decision also promotes competition among states to attain a greater share in Central Funds.

Petrol prices have fallen thrice since the government took over and diesel is heading towards deregulation and scrapping of subsidy, another factor which shall help contain the fiscal deficit. The SIT set up for recovery of black money has been making consistent progress, unlike what happened during the previous government. The Supreme Court has praised the work of this SIT, which suggests complete backing of the government for the SIT. Despite what anyone says, the government’s decision to block a WTO trade deal in favor of its farmers must be hailed as it is important for the government to remember that it is first and foremost a welfare state and in its hurry to appear business-friendly must not compromise on the subsidies which are essential for the farm sector. The Modi government is seen largely as an anti-populist government however one must not forget that India is still home to a large number or poor who require nurture and help from the government.

 

MODIfied Plans

Congress leaders were quick to criticize the government for the Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojana (PMJDY), the government’s financial inclusion scheme. Congress suggested that opening bank accounts for the poor was its idea and the BJP has no ideas of its own. The financial inclusion scheme wherein, 75 million unbanked families will be provided with 2 bank accounts each, comprising of overdraft facility (on a conditional basis), debit card facility and free accidental insurance is a highly innovative and beneficial idea, the credit for which must go to the Congress. But Modi has shown in his first 100 days what the Congress government couldn’t in 10 years, intent. In India, everyone has ideas but implementation is the key. Under Modi, the bureaucracy has already left its lackadaisical attitude. Work begins at time in cleaner offices. This shows intent to implement such schemes and work for the development of the poor which the Congress has failed to do ever since Indira Gandhi’s “Garibi Hatao” campaign. However, the Modi government’s successes must be analyzed over time and we must wait to see the impact this has on the ones who actually need it.

Other big-bang schemes include the announcement of a bullet train between Ahmedabad and Mumbai, for which the government shall approach Japan or China. Such vision was lacking under the previous UPA government. Modi also unveiled his Model Village idea during the Independence Day Speech, wherein all parliamentarians will be asked to pick a village and equip it with the most sophisticated infrastructure to set an example for other villages in the vicinity. This is similar to an idea he implemented in Gujarat during his early days as the Chief Minister, wherein he promoted intense competition among villages for greater grants. The governments idea of 100 smart cities is taking shape, as can be seen in my own city with posters highlighting the scheme’s benefits. The government’s pilot project to secure a tie-up between Flipkart and weavers in UP shows its far-sightedness and emphasizes its intent for public welfare. Under this project, weavers will bypass the middlemen and directly sell to Flipkart which shall sell this output throughout the country. His “Swach Bharat Yojana” talks about building toilets for girls in schools throughout the country. Such a sensitive issue was raked up by Modi during his Independence Day Speech. He also reprimanded the parents of males who commit serious rape crimes unlike other politicians who blame the victims. Favoritism in government decisions is down as shown in a recent survey, India improving its position from 94 to 49. The government has planned to repeal archaic laws in the country and a committee has already been set up for this purpose.

Modi plans to create a digital highway, thereby promoting internet connectivity even in the remotest villages. This is one of his pet projects, inspired by Vajpayee’s pet project, National Highways.

At the end of the day, the government must be praised for pushing through these reforms, not to forget its amendment of the Juvenile Justice Act to deter crimes among teenagers in the 16-18 year age bracket. The government has gone ahead with a controversial albeit important measure of overhauling the appointment of Judges, a much needed reform as suggested by numerous legal experts. The government has gone ahead with it though serious doubts were raised by certain individuals regarding the process undermining the independence of the Judiciary.

 

SCOPE FOR IMPROVEMENT

While the government has achieved remarkable progress in multiple fields, it still lags behind on key issues. The most formidable attack of the Narendra Modi government stems from its proximity to the Sangh Parivaar and RSS, its ideological mentors and far-right organizations. Sangh Parivaar and RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat alongwith BJP MP Yogi Adityanath have been spewing venom against minorities while subsequently promoting the ideas of a Hindu nation amid no attempt by Modi to counter them. Such incidents confirm the fear of the minorities, secularists and the pseudo-secularists that Moditva runs parallel to Hindutva. While it is praiseworthy that Modi called for a moratorium on riots during his Independence Day Speech, his actions have not suggested this. The government must be more proactive and sensitive towards such issues so as to deter the alienation of a largely moderate Muslim population. Aggravation of Muslims is one mistake India cannot afford at this after calls by Al-Qaeda to open a branch which shall concentrate on the Indian subcontinent. Efforts must be targeted towards inclusive development rather than issues like Love Jihad.

Another urgent issue which must be targeted by this government is that of women safety. A lot of hue and cry followed the 16th December gangrape after which the government woke up from its slumber. This government must make ample efforts as soon as possible to deter crimes against women. The government would have set a right example by not giving Mr. Nihalchand a post in the government as long as a pending case of rape against him is disposed of. Though he is innocent until proven guilty, the government can do without unnecessary controversies.

The pomp with which the government announced the Ganga clean-up project was followed by sharp criticism from the Supreme Court. The government appeared quite weak as it conceded against the demands of UPSC aspirants and scrapped the mandatory English section from the CSAT exams. It has still to reduce the bottlenecks in transport of coal across the country so as to tide over a serious power crisis. It must also avoid any further controversy by stirring up the issue of Article 370 for the time being as the valley is already a sensitive region without such controversies.

On the economic front, though the government has appeared hands-on, there are some areas wherein there is scope for improvement. The decision on implementing Goods and Services Tax (GST) a nationwide tax is languishing. The government also appears to be losing the fight on inflation, mainly due to a haphazard monsoon. It must not forget that onion prices can make or break a government, which the Gandhi parivaar learned the hard way.

 

CONCLUSION

One must always remember that only 100 days have passed since the government took over. Retrospectively speaking, it has performed much better in these 100 days than what the UPA could have done. The aim must be to keep the momentum, announce big-bang reforms, reduce red-tape, ease environmental norms for businesses while not compromising on a healthy environment, increase indigenous defense production, restart infrastructure projects, reduce poverty, reduce imports of essential commodities, subjugate corruption, promote secularism and so on and so forth.

While the 100 days provide a good outward showing, implementation will be the key. The government must not lose steam midway and aim for higher growth over the next five years, a pragmatic expectation considering its mandate. It must not be disconcerted by the by-polls results in various states as most of these were for the legislative assembly and Indians have been known to vote differently in state and central elections. It takes away many positives from its time while some lessons have yet to be learned. Let’s hope Modi lives up to his expectations and the ‘Acche Din’ will finally fall upon us!