Updated: March 21, 2021 10:48:15 am
The Modi government doesn’t betray surprises whenever it unleashes policies, executes decisions, and passes laws. Latest in the news is privatisation of banks, selling of public sector enterprises, lateral entry in bureaucracy sans reservation, and rising fuel prices.
In 2019, the NDA government announced the merger of 27 public sector banks into 12. Of these, two are now proposed to be sold to private owners, and the rest will face the same fate. To denounce the Government of India’s decision to privatise two major public sector banks, 1 million bankers hit the streets on March 15-16 to register their protest against this decision. The bankers who came on the streets are most likely the ones who might have stood by the government during the demonetisation and pandemic crisis. This group usually falls into the middle-class gentry. Now when they are protesting for the reasons that affect them, it should invite us to think how the middle class is put under the grind at the cost of promoting a handful of private individuals.
If at all this move is a test for the government, then the middle class, which is high on nationalism, Hindu-Muslim-Dalit canard, and berating of civil rights activists, is now becoming the next insurgent group against the state. If the trend of protest is taken into account, then certainly the bank strikers should fall into the category of anti-nationals.
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Public sector companies
There are more than 270 public sector undertakings in India. Of these, the government is in the process of selling Bharat Petroleum Corporation Limited (BPCL) and Shipping Corporation of India (SCI), among a host of other cash cows.
The government’s disinvestment/privatisation push is based on the rationale of bad performance by these PSUs and therefore, they need private sector support to survive. The government and its neoliberal crony handlers through their media misinform the public about the inevitability of private sector’s involvement, thus creating a no-option zone. If a company is not working, the street wisdom suggests replacing the corrupted management with competent staff, pump in some cash until it comes back to life.
The Atmanirbhar Bharat’s Public Sector Enterprises policy seeks to privatise or merge existing PSUs in strategic sectors. By the time we close 2021, Air India will be completely owned by the private sector.
The selling out of government protected companies is an assault on India’s welfare regime. One by one, the government will most likely implement these without much protest on the streets, because it has learned the statecraft of creating diversions with issues surrounding empty emotions and fake nationalism.
The private sector world over had wreaked havoc. That is why people across the world are on the streets to push back the greedy individuals who want monopoly over the important shared resources of the public.
Lateral entry in bureaucracy
The lateral entry into bureaucracy is an anti-reservation, anti-constitution and anti-SC, ST, OBC policy. Getting help from outside the bureaucracy is certainly a welcome move. However, manning these coveted positions with people from particular castes and ideology smells of danger. By putting their people in key positions — director and joint secretary — the Modi government, it seems, is all set to fully control all arms of the government, leaving absolutely no chance for dissent.
The Union minister of DoPT Jitendra Singh had already clarified back in 2019 that lateral entry would carry no reservations. The government ducked this responsibility by not doing cluster appointments; instead, they hired through single-post cadre appointments. In the initial list of appointments, there are no candidates from the SC, ST, and OBC communities. And the appointments done only by interviews remain questionable.
How is this going to impact the policy process in the country? Let me share two anecdotes. Three years ago, when I visited the Government of India’s Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment’s office to follow up on the approval letter of a candidate who was selected three months ago, I was received with casteist slurs by a staffer at the ministry who said, “You all come here to claim as if everything is free for you.”
The same happened during the BJP’s government in Maharashtra for a scholarship for SC candidates. If these experiences are any indication, then one can safely assume how perilous such lateral entry appointments are going to be for the SC, ST, OBC communities.
Rising prices of fuels
It is an undisputed factoid that rising prices impact everyone across class hierarchy. However, the victims of these pernicious decisions are the middle and lower-middle class who heavily rely on energy for their everyday subsistence. The poor are out of the equation due to prices.
Another, unsurprising news that made waves recently amidst the privatisation pushback was Gautam Adani beating Amazon co-founder Jeff Bezos, and Tesla founder Elon Musk to become the biggest wealth creator of the pandemic year, adding 16.2 billion dollars to his net worth.
If Mr Modi is genuine in his interest towards the social diversities of India, he needs to work in their favor and demonstrate that he is there for them. World over, the government is critically scrutinised and if things go in the pace as they are now, one might fear this vibrant democracy created by everyone will be shunned as a hostile state. We do not want to witness another failed state in India that will punish hardworking and hopeful younger generations. Threats and intimidation are not new for the Indian youth; they will continue to protest.
This column first appeared in the print edition on March 21, 2021 under the title ‘When the Centre’s policies don’t hold’.
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