Some decades ago, on the eve of the 1991 general election, posters came up in different parts of the country, reading: “40 saal banam chaar mahine — faisla aapke haath” (40 years versus four months: The verdict is in your hands). Issued by accidental Prime Minister Chandra Shekhar’s political outfit, it sought to compare his government’s non-existent achievements (barring the mortgaging of gold, if that can be called an achievement) with successive Congress governments.
The comparison was laughable since the maverick pseudo-socialist had very little to show in the brief tenure bestowed upon him by Rajiv Gandhi, who cruelly used him purely to remove V.P. Singh from office. It is far too early to compare Congress governments of yore with Narendra Modi’s BJP regime. First, Modi has been in office for 31 months, although his clear majority in the Lok Sabha will ensure he completes his full five-year term. The time for comparison will come two years down the line.
Second, achievements of the Modi government must be seen in continuum to Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s six years in office. That too was a BJP-led government and the first non-Congress regime that completed its full term. The principle milestones of Vajpayee’s regime were, first, the launch of the ambitious highway development project linking the country’s four metros and another road-building programme to connect villages with a population of 1,000-plus to the nearest highway. Second, by undertaking an expanded nuclear programme, symbolised by the Pokharan blasts of May 1998, the first BJP government put Indira Gandhi’s half-hearted 1974 nuclear implosions to shade. Modi has pushed the envelope further on both counts. Highway construction is proceeding at a rapid pace while India’s missile programme, with satellite development projects, places the country in the big league.
Locating spellbinding achievements of the Congress era is actually a difficult proposition. The country faced near-famine conditions in the 1960s, thanks to Jawaharlal Nehru’s blind faith in the Soviet model of industrialisation, to the detriment of agriculture. Only the Green Revolution of the late ’60s pulled India out of the abyss. But the Indian farmer remained dependent on the monsoon’s vagaries, with little economic security.
Although bank nationalisation in 1969 freed agriculturists from usurious money-lenders, the Congress never conceived a scheme to insure farm incomes. The Modi government’s Fasal Bima Yojana (crop insurance scheme) finally secured farmers against periodic crop failures.
Barring bank nationalisation, it is difficult to think of any grand, game-changing scheme initiated by the Congress. After all, it was a status quoist organisation backed by rich farmers and big industrialists. Indira Gandhi may have tried to project the image of being a messiah of the poor but the slogan of Garibi Hatao remained just that — a slogan.
The BJP, however, has slowly developed a social base very different from the Congress’s upper caste plus minorities. The BJP has systematically weaned away upper castes and assiduously built a backbone of empowered Other Backward Class (OBC) sections in the post-Mandal era. Hindutva may still be the party’s ideological mainstay (which presages the party’s rejection by minorities by and large), but the BJP’s social phalanx today is much more inclusive than the Congress’s.
The Modi government’s successful social engineering is steadily altering the composition of India’s ruling groups. This perhaps is the most significant difference the Modi regime has brought so far. The Congress is paying a heavy price for not fostering an OBC leadership, despite post-Green Revolution and post-Mandal economic and political power in rural India tilting heavily in favour of OBCs. If the BJP continues to promote this section, it’ll bring about a tectonic shift in power equations in India. Other OBC-dominated parties, like Mulayam Singh’s and Lalu Prasad’s, failed to develop a pan-OBC character, remaining confined to certain pockets.
Alongside this, the Modi government is systematically promoting post-modern neo-capitalism by economic integration through digital technology — the biggest takeaway of the demonetisation gambit. Overnight, it’s catapulted India into the digital age, a big jump from the induction of computerisation by Rajiv Gandhi. When demonetisation is evaluated some years down the line, it’ll be clear Narendra Modi integrated cities with towns, salaried middle classes with upwardly mobile rural communities and engendered a national market (with the forthcoming GST), which neither the British, nor the Congress had the vision or wherewithal to accomplish.
Another major break with the past is young India’s changing mindset. Young people no longer hanker after government jobs; an entrepreneurial mindset is taking over. The era of doles, which peaked during Indira Gandhi’s years and was continued by her Congress successors, is slowly ebbing away. A fundamental restructuring of the Indian mind is taking place. Discomfited left-liberals of the JNU variety may denounce this as right-wing and ultra-nationalist — but the change is irreversible.
The politics of hand-holding, practiced by the Congress, with its post-colonial variant of mai-baap sarkar, is over. Modi has fostered the age of the confident Indian cutting across economic and social strata. Having ruptured the lethargic legacy of the past 60 years, this is the fundamental difference Modi is making, creating a new fabric of Indian politics and society.