Outlining the root cause of protests laced with religious metaphors and the anti-establishment ambitions of the people behind it.
By Subh Kirti and Manish Barma
Delhi witnessed vicious rioting during the state visit of the US President. The capital had been on communal tenterhooks in the wake of violent anti-CAA stir and volatile protest nodes like Shaheen Bagh. This article seeks to outline the root cause of protests laced with religious metaphors and the anti-establishment ambitions of the people behind it. The authors have two central arguments. First, is the use of dissent as a propaganda tool to block India’s humanitarian assistance to the persecuted minorities in its neighbourhood; this being spearheaded by an intellectual ecosystem that has been rendered powerless after the change of guard at the Centre and that would like to portray the new Indian establishment as an oppressor. The second is the attempt of the divisive forces to disrupt the resurgence of the Indian economy after massive reform measures (GST being one of the reforms), ensuring that investors feel jittery and benefits do not reach people as promised.
In the Name of Dissent
By now the pattern is clear – if you want to be the next big ‘rebel’ and ‘progressive’ in town all you have to do is rant against the current elected government of India. Unfortunately, this has led to trivialization of the citizen’s crucial right to protest. The increasing falsification and questioning of hitherto established notions of propriety, secularism, harmony, history among others has turned a certain ecosystem - comprising individuals from various streams - desperate and malicious. In the present context, while disapproval of the Citizenship Amendment Act is acceptable, the situation becomes volatile when the disapproving groups start spinning conspiracy theories, fanning communal fears and create radicalized sanctuaries like ‘Shaheen Bagh’. The result is the deadly spill-over that Delhi witnessed. Deliberately ignoring facts of the Act, attempts have been made over the past three months to fan insecurity, particularly among the Muslim community.
Deb (2019) states that in 2003, Manmohan Singh, as a Congress member of the Rajya Sabha, had specifically asked the then deputy Prime Minister LK Advani to amend the law to grant citizenship to Bangladeshis from minority communities who had taken refuge in India due to religious persecution. In 2012, Prakash Karat, as general secretary of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) had demanded the same from Singh, who was then prime minister. The mere absence of a particular community from an act of Parliament cannot be religious exclusion, particularly when the act is as narrow and specific in scope as the CAA 2019. Religion can not a tool of exclusion, but it shall, if circumstances prevail, be a tool of inclusive policy regimes.
At a time when Delhi was battling violence and bloodshed, none of the two above-mentioned veterans (one being a former PM) spoke to assuage the unfounded fears among a section of Muslims.
Such calculated silence is symptomatic of the selective consciousness of ‘liberals’. It also typifies a decadent collective of Left leaning ‘intellectuals’ whose entire career and recognition in academics is usually based on false epistemology and unscientific scholarship which has a significant imprint in our curriculum today. They have used the garb of ‘criticality’ and ‘rationality’ to stoke a dangerous fire around simple legislations like the CAA, the National Register of Citizens and the National Population Register. Most stark in this turn of events is the fact that the logical and meticulous approach of deliberation is not an option favoured by the said intellectual community aided by prominent opposition parties and influential personalities.
Essential and Structural Policy Shifts
The recent data by the government and agencies like the World Bank have shown an observable slowdown in the economy, particularly in the automobile and real estate sectors. With the GDP falling to a 6 year low of 4.5% it is also important to note that such a cyclical slowdown is denotative of what Mahindra & Mahindra group chairman, Anand Mahindra termed as the ‘detoxification’ of the Indian economy at the recently held World Economic Forum at Davos, Scotland. The following points will further bolster this argument.
1) Decentralization and Fiscal empowerment of states: The abolition of the Planning Commission signalled the fulfilment of India’s ideological flexibility in economic thinking, away from the Centre led planning of the Nehruvian era towards a combination of both state and market-oriented approach of development. The Planning Commission had created inflexible national schemes, which required states to implement them by setting aside a significant share of funds. With the dismantling of the institution, the states are now left with more discretion over how to use their funds. The government also accepted a proposal of the Finance Commission to give state governments 42% of central tax receipts, up from 32% (Kapoor and Yadav 2019).
2) The biggest tax reform in Indian history came with the implementation of the goods and services tax (GST), after well over a decade in the offing. Of all the benefits associated with the new tax system like that of elimination of check posts at state borders, where lorries transporting goods typically used to languish for hours and credible improvements in the ‘Ease of doing business’ index, few have noticed a tectonic change which is brewing in the MSME sector. Until GST, small and medium sized businesses, owners or manufacturers had to take care of different taxes and had to run to various departments to fulfil all the tax-related documentations. Some filed different taxes biannually, annually, half-yearly, etc. The more the departments, the more is the harassment and incentives for corruption. Under the previous taxation system, the total tax levied by the central and the state governments went up to 32%, but with the implementation of GST, the business owners have to pay a much lower tax of around 18 percent.
It needs to be kept in mind that majority of India’s workforce are in the informal sector and MSMEs who are now systematically being brought under social security net by the government.
Throwing more light on this, Patnia (2018) states that ‘more and more businesses moving in the formal economy is evident from the significant increase in the GST taxpayer base. Moving to the formal economy will bring in more visibility and hence more opportunities for MSMEs. For instance, new GST registrations have also increased MSMEs credit uptake.
Recent data by the Purchasing Managers Index (PMI) shows growth is at its fastest pace in the past 11 months. Another data from CMIE shows that new projects have risen 37 percent in the quarter that ended in December compared to previous 3 quarters and stalled projects are down by a whopping 81 percent. Both the PMI and CMIE (Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy) are very comprehensive indicators of our country’s economic trends.
The above mentioned steps also portend that India is finally making the right socio-economic and political policies and actions which had eluded her for decades. In light of an enhanced economic performance of the Indian economy in future and strong decision making on the foreign policy front, there is a handsome chance of new cartels of enemies being activated both within and outside of the state. Theoretically, this is not something which shall work as a deterrent for the Indian government, but practically it has all the ingredients to deter foreign investment in India. It is argued hence the landmark advances made by the present government have rattled those who might see lesser and lesser share for their crony practices in the new and improved financial structure of the country.
What the Future Holds
An increasing trend is discernible today. Destabilizing forces and an entrenched ecosystem of influential people are attempting to constantly keep the nation in a state of anxiety and hysteria by feeding false information, fear psychosis and propaganda. By preventing critical reasoning and obfuscating, manipulating facts and ground realities, they are targeting our citizens, particularly the young population who are constantly made to feel like victims. The Indian State along with stakeholders must wake up to this new wave of ‘Asymmetric Warfare’. Consolidating on the hitherto achieved success on the socio-economic front, dealing firmly with a new breed of divisive and manipulative activists masquerading as protestors and coalescing ideas derived from a wide spectrum of professions such as bureaucracy, media, academia, industry, civil society etc., into a determined and directed effort shall be instrumental in overcoming this.
(Subh Kirti is PhD Research Scholar, School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University; Manish Barma s PhD Research Scholar, Centre for European Studies, SIS)