From ‘development’ to ‘demolition’: The story of BJP’s shifting goalposts

BJP failed on the side of what it sought to achieve in the economy, it has been quite successful at achieving what it wants on the issue of the social fabric and harmony

From ‘development’ to ‘demolition’: The story of BJP’s shifting goalposts
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Aakar Patel

The two separate terms of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government can also be seen as separate in another way. In the first, there was a desire for economic reform. In the second that desire appears to have gone in favour of something else. Let’s look at the 2014-19 period first.

This is the time in which the prime minister attempted to improve India’s share of manufacturing in Gross Domestic Product. He did it through a programme called ‘Make in India’ (launched on 25 September, 2014).

‘Make in India’ had three objectives. These were to increase manufacturing’s share in GDP from 16% to 25%; secondly, to achieve this by increasing manufacturing growing at 12% per year (compared to GDP growing at 8%); and thirdly to create 10 crore jobs in manufacturing.

The next reform was Demonetisation, aimed at eradicating black money from the economy, with side benefits being an end to counterfeiting and to terrorism. This was announced on 8 November, 2016. The Goods and Services Tax (GST) came the following year, on 1 July, 2017. It was intended to unify India as a market and to bring the states and Union closer together (‘co-operative federalism’ in the words of the prime minister).

The government said it would also improve its standing on global rankings of various sorts, because it was encouraged by India’s shooting up in the World Bank’s Doing Business Index. The Niti Aayog would monitor 32 indices and figure out how to make India’s ranking improve.

What happened on this front has been widely reported but we can summarise it because much of it is data from the government itself. Manufacturing’s share of GDP fell instead of rising, and has gone from 16% to 13% today. Its rate of growth was negative after 2014.

Jobs in manufacturing halved, according to one study by Ashoka University’s Centre for Economic Data and Analysis, from 5 crore to 2.7 crore in 2021. For the first time in independent India, more people went to work in agriculture, where from 14 crore people in 2016, the number went to 15 crore in 2021 and then went up another 1.5 crore by March 2022. Meaning manufacturing jobs went down by 2.3 crore and agricultural jobs went up by 2.5 crore. Agricultural ‘jobs' are often disguised unemployment.

The effects of demonetisation and GST on the economy and on the MSME sector have been written about by me before and there is a chapter on the economy in my last book. The point to note is that GDP growth began to implode sequentially from January 2018 according to government data and by the time the pandemic arrived it was close to zero. In the last two years, India’s economy has grown by about 1.5%.

My sense is that the government and the prime minister particularly lost interest in this after the results became clear. We have seen no big bang announcements or ‘masterstrokes’ on the economy after the election of 2019. The government has taken another track which can be seen from its actions.

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Kashmir lost its constitutional ‘autonomy' (which it never actually had) on 5 August, 2019. The previous month, on 30 July, 2019, triple talaq, which had already been declared invalid by the Supreme Court in August 2017, was criminalised. The Citizenship Amendment Act was passed on 9 December, 2019. On 2 August 2019, the UAPA law was amended to allow the government designate any individual it wanted as a ’terrorist’, even if that person was not a member of a designated terror group.

On 9 November, 2019, the Ayodhya verdict was delivered in favour of the Hindus. In the same period, Uttar Pradesh became the first BJP state, joined this year by Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat and Delhi (whose police force is run by the BJP) to bulldoze homes, mostly Muslim-owned without charge or trial or due process.

In December 2021, Haryana withdrew permission it had given to migrant workers to congregate in a public space for Friday prayers. The ban on hijab was added to a list of bans including on beef, then on selling eggs, on selling meat during Navratri, on Muslim vendors operating near temples or on Hindu festivals.

Attacks on Christians by Hindu mobs led by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and other groups associated with the BJP went up in this period, from 127 in 2014 to 486 in 2021. The attacks were usually in BJP states, including Karnataka.

Seven BJP states in this period criminalised marriage between Muslims and Hindus. These states are Karnataka, Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Haryana and Gujarat. This was not the sort of thing that the BJP government was pushing in the first 2014 term.

It appears to be the case that the BJP has shifted its focus from the economy to its primary social agenda. We do not hear the prime minister speak of improving manufacturing’s share of GDP and we hear nothing about why our labour force participation rate has collapsed and why unemployment has remained at record highs of over 6% since 2019.

The last thing is that while we can conclude that the BJP failed on the side of what it sought to achieve in the economy, it has been quite successful at achieving what it wants on the issue of the social fabric and harmony.

(The author is Chair, Amnesty International India. Views are personal)

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