Nagpur: Almost a year after he won the Lok Sabha election, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has achieved the impossible: he has given us another year of UPA. From Congress mukt (free) Bharat in 2014, we now have a Congress yukt (containing) government.
Spot the difference between MMS (Manmohan Sarkar) and NMS (Narendra Modi Sarkar).
- Foreign Direct Investment in Retail: approved by UPA-2, opposed by the BJP, cleared by the Modi government.
- Goods and Services Tax (GST) Bill, favoured by UPA, blocked by BJP-led states, now being steered by Modi.
- Nuclear Power Treaty: Midwifed by MMS, delivered by NMS…
Add to these the decision to raise FDI in private insurance (UPA), the land swap treaty with Bangladesh, promise of increased allocation to MNREGA and we have a pretty picture of a government that has been loyal to the UPA past.
Some of Modi’s U-turns to UPA have been embarrassingly opportunistic. On September 20, 2012, the BJP enforced a Bharat Bandh to protest FDI in retail; its leader Nitin Gadkari shared the stage with the Left and Samajwadi leaders to label the bill as anti-farmer. A few weeks later, the then leader of the opposition in the Lok Sabha, Sushma Swaraj, moved a motion against FDI.
In politics too, like in cinema, motion se hi emotion, so Swaraj turned it on in the Parliament. “Will Wal-mart care about the poor farmer’s sister’s wedding? Will it send his children to school? Will it notice his tear and hunger?” she said in a melodramatic speech laced with filmy dialogue.
In 2013, on becoming chief minister of Rajasthan, Vasundhara Raje matched Sushma’s thunder with fierce action. Like the Arvind Kejriwal government in Delhi, Raje banned FDI in retail in Rajasthan, forcing some of the existing players to shut shop and go back home.
And, now it has somersaulted back into 2012. On Wednesday, the Modi cabinet decided to stick to UPA’s decision of allowing foreigners to invest 51 per cent in multi-brand retail.
So, will Wal-mart now help the bechara kisan get his sister married and children educated? No.
“As a party, we are opposed to that change and our stand remains the same. This was a law enacted by Parliament where it was not backed by the BJP. However, this has become a law and making any change in law would send a negative signal to foreign investors who expect continuity in the economic regime,” BJP spokesperson GVL Narasimha Rao explained the latest volte-face.
Rao’s argument is rooted in irony. If the BJP were really sentimental about the past, concerned about continuity, cared about laws passed by the Parliament, it wouldn’t have turned the UPA’s Land Acquisition Bill—which, unlike FDI in retail, was backed by the BJP—into a fresh political and legislative issue.
Incidentally, the land acquisition bill is another pointer to how the Congress is still dictating the agenda even after being reduced to two digits in the Parliament. While Modi has been able to get some of the laws originally proposed by the UPA cleared by the Parliament, he has not moved much with some of his own innovations and ideas.
In the case of UPA laws, the BJP was against it before it was for it. In the case of BJP promises, it was for it before it was against it. It is all so terribly confusing.
When it celebrates a year of Modi, sarkar, the BJP will list its social security schemes–the Pradhan Mantri Yojanas- as its achievements. But, in a scathing critique of the schemes—accident insurance, life insurance and pension plan — all of them have an element of fraud and are old (UPA) wine in new (Modi) bottles.
In spite of their bitter rivalry, there has been very little to separate between the Congress and the BJP, when they are in power. The formula for both of them has been same: while in opposition oppose, when in government support.
The Congress doublespeak is apparent in its tactics on the GST bill. After trying for several years to get the new proposals implemented, it is now creating roadblocks in the Parliament. Even in the past, it has made many about turns on policy decisions, depending upon which benches its MPs occupy in the Lok Sabha.
Moral of the story: The more the things change, more they remain the same.
This is not to say that Modi hasn’t done anything in the past year that’s different from the UPA raj. He has travelled tirelessly in the past 12 months, visited 16 countries, showcased India’s investment potential and strengthened bilateral ties and trade with many countries. During the UPA government, foreign diplomacy was largely ignored and very little effort was made to aggressively pursue foreign investments.
But, how much of this frenzied focus on foreign visits has helped India? The dollar, as people are pointing out on twitter in a caustic reminder of another Modi jumla, is on an escalator and the Rupee is on ventilator. The GDP numbers, after some jugglery, haven’t moved from wherever they were earlier.
Perhaps Modi needs more time. And things will change after another year of UPA sarkar, or whatever it is called under Modi.