Wooing votes in elections, Modi promised “good times”. In his speech in Parliament in reply to the Presidential Address, he declared that the “Government’s work should be to listen to the poor, to work for the poor and live for them.” But Modi has not taken long to change his tune.
In a recent speech, he warned that “hard times” lay ahead since he would have to take “tough economic decisions” in the “larger interest of the nation”, even if it cost him popular support. Inevitably, the “tough decisions” are those that will impose fresh burdens on India’s poor, rather than curtail the privileges and profits of corporations.
Modi, whose election campaign had promised an end to price rise, has announced a whopping 14% hike in passenger rail fares. Meanwhile, in what is clearly a ‘pilot project’ to ‘reform’ labour laws, the BJP’s Rajasthan Government has ushered in several erosions of the labour laws, which were on the ‘wish-list’ of corporations. On the count of price rise and weakening of the rights of workers, then, the Modi Government is intensifying the very attacks on the people that had generated people’s anger against the Congress Government.
With Modi in the PM seat, the Gujarat Chief Minister only had to express her wish to raise the height of the Sardar Sarovar Dam by 17 metres, for the Narmada Control Authority to grant it. The same day, the Gujarat CM did ‘puja’ to initiate the fresh construction. This, despite the fact that the project is yet to comply with a range of obligations mandated by the Supreme Court – including full rehabilitation for those already affected, clearance by the Grievance Redressal Authority in MP and Maharashtra, and safeguard measures such as command area development and catchment area treatment. People’s movements have risen up in protest against the decision, pointing out that 2.5 lakh people would find their land and livelihood deluged.
Meanwhile, the Intelligence Bureau has come out with a blueprint to stream-roll struggles to pave the way for big projects, defying environmental and safety regulations and people’s rights over land, forests and water. In a report submitted to the PM, the IB has accused a range of people’s movements of being ‘foreign-funded NGOs that stall development projects’. This report repeats some of the canards spread by the previous UPA-II Government against the anti-nuclear struggle at Koodankulam, while also lifting words and ideas unchanged from a 2006 speech by Modi.
The strategy is to brand people’s movements raising environmental and livelihood concerns as ‘anti-national’, just as the Sangh Parivar has always branded those raising concerns for civil liberties and rights as ‘anti-national’. The Manmohan Government, together with BJP-led state Governments, had already been united in waging a war on adivasi people on the pretext of combating Maoism, with the real goal of paving the way for corporate plunder. The same strategy is now getting a boost and an expansion under Modi.
The Modi Government isn’t alone in seeking to brand people’s movement activists as a threat to the nation’s security and development. Reports prepared at the behest of the defence establishments of the imperialist US and UK have similarly sought to brand all activists with ‘anti-capitalist’ or anti-inequality and anti-imperialist agendas, as well as poor, immigrant and minority communities, as potentially ‘extremist’.
The script of the Modi Government’s brand of governance is before us. The promise of “good times” will come true for big corporations, and the hardships imposed on the poor will be justified in the name of “larger interests of the nation” – and all those who resist the plunder of the country’s resources or the robbing of people’s land and livelihoods will be branded as “foreign-funded anti-nationals.” And make no mistake, the same big corporations, domestic or foreign, have been among the biggest funders of the most extravagant ‘Modi for PM’ election campaign that India has just witnessed.
People’s movements will not be silenced by such intimidation though. They will continue to expose the Government’s policies promoting corporate plunder and yawning inequality, and serving imperialism, as the real ‘anti-national’ agenda. And the best way to serve the country will be to defend its natural resources and environmental fabric and the rights and livelihood of its people.