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My Wishlist for I.N.D.I.A

Jacob Peenikaparambil Jacob Peenikaparambil
11 Sep 2023

The coming together of 28 opposition parties on the same platform and the progress they have made in their efforts to give a tough fight to Narendra Modi in 2024 has already posed a challenge to the BJP. Till the coming together of the opposition parties, Modi and the BJP were convinced that they would have a cakewalk in the 2024 Lok Sabha elections. The progress the opposition parties have made from Patna to Mumbai via Bangalore gives some hope to those who dream of India remaining truly a democratic country after the 2024 Lok Sabha elections.  

The BJP probably never thought that these many parties, many of which are opponents in some states, will form an alliance, however loose it may appear to be. The reaction of the Prime Minister was reflected in the lacklustre Independence Day speech of the PM and his body language. His assertion that he would be hoisting the tricolour on the Red Fort in 2024 could be an expression of his fear and anxiety. 

The relentless attack on INDIA by the Modi minions and the expressions they have used expose the discomfort of the supporters of the PM. The BJP leaders have dubbed the joint opposition alliance as “Gamandia Alliance formed to promote and protect the interests of families at the helm of their member parties”. Responding to the attack by the BJP, Sharad Pawar, the NCP supremo, said that “Ghamandia” comment for I.N.D.I.A. smacks of BJP’s arrogance.  

The coming together of the opposition parties in itself is a great step in the right direction; but the alliance has to go a long way. The alliance is yet to convince people of its cohesiveness and focus. The 28 parties have their own ideologies, priorities and interests. People are to be convinced that once they are elected, they will work as a team and will focus on governance. Only a common programme with a common vision in response to the challenges faced by India can elicit the confidence and trust of the people.  

Two crucial issues that were postponed at the meetings in Bangalore and Mumbai are seat-sharing among the parties and an alternative narrative and vision for India. A negative approach of defeating Modi cannot win the confidence of the people. Although saving democracy and democratic institutions are very important, what will catch the attention of people will be the bread-and-butter issues. Of course, along with the bread-and-butter issues, there should be an assurance of safeguarding the foundational principles of our Constitution and the democratic institutions. 

The government controlled ‘godi media’ is feeding to the people a rosy picture of the economy and India becoming a Vishwa Guru. Therefore, people are to be made aware of the realities and the multiple failures of the BJP on issues like unemployment, price rise and the skyrocketing inequalities. 

As stated by P Chidambaram in an article published in the Indian Express on Sunday, September 03, 2023, of the G-20 member-countries, India has the lowest income per capita, largest number of poor (230 million), and India ranks 107 out of 123 countries in the Global Hunger Index. The other issues highlighted by Chidambaram are unemployment and poor quality of health care and education for the common people. A large chunk of common people of India are not aware of these facts.  

The unemployment rate is 8.5 percent and the unemployment rate among 15 to 24-year-old youth is 24 percent. The gulf between the rich and the poor is shown by the fact that the bottom 50 per cent of the population earns only 13 per cent of the nation’s income and owns only 3 per cent of the nation’s wealth, whereas the top 10 percent owns almost 77% of the wealth, according to the latest report of Oxfam. 

The pathetic situation of the quality of education in India for the common people is highlighted in the Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) prepared by Pratam NGO. Among children in Class VIII, 30 per cent cannot read a Class II text and 55 percent cannot do simple multiplication and division. The main reason is very low spending by India on education. India spends on education 3 per cent and on health 1.4 per cent of GDP respectively.   

The BJP governments at the centre and in the states are trying to divert the attention of people from the real issues by focusing on emotional issues, particularly issues related to religion and nationalism. Construction of magnificent temples, erection of huge statues, arranging free travel to the Hindu pilgrim centres and many other religion specific projects are taken up by the Central and the BJP state governments to woo the Hindus. Passing controversial laws like abrogation of Article 370 and Citizenship Amendment Act and raking up issues like Uniform Civil Code and changing the name of the country from India to Bharat are other issues on which the BJP tries to polarize the Hindu majority.

As Prakakala Prabhakar said in interview, the BJP under Narendra Modi is making normal abnormal and abnormal normal. For example, hosting G-20 meeting is a routine event that all member countries get in turn as the Chair of the G-20 goes by rotation. India was the Chair in 2003 and is the Chair in 2023. India will be the Chair again in 2043. But the Modi government propagates it as an extraordinary event and an international recognition of the achievements India made under the Modi regime. At the same time, lynching, call for genocide, bulldozing houses of the accused in a case etc. are abnormal in any society; but the Modi government has made them normal. 

The latest controversy is using the term “President of Bharat” instead of “President of India” in an invitation in English sent out from Rashtrapati Bhavan to a G20 summit dinner hosted at the Rashtrapati Bhavan. The topmost leader of RSS, Mohan Bhagwat, who was speaking at an event organized by Sakal Jain Samaj in Guwahati on September 3 said, “Our country has been known as 'Bharat' for ages. Whatever may be the language, the name remains the same. We don't have to think about whether anyone outside will understand this or not”. As the BJP has not much to showcase as its achievements during the last nine years, it may come up with many more surprises like this.  

Against this backdrop, the INDIA front has to focus on the issues that affect people and present its narrative accordingly. The alliance should not fall into the traps that the BJP may invent in course of time. The top priorities of INDIA alliance could be the following: 

•    Employment generation through the promotion of Medium, Small and Micro Enterprises (MSMEs) as a solution to the soaring unemployment. The alliance has many brilliant economists whose creative ideas are to be channelled to design economic policies and programmes that will focus on employment generation and GDP growth. In the absence of growth, the government will have no resources for spending on education, health care and other welfare programmes. 

•     Another focus area could be skill training and skill upgradation to make the 12 to 15 million young people who join the workforce every year in India, as a large chunk of them are not employable. 

•    The BJP failed to give sufficient attention to the farming sector and problems faced by the farmers. Its efforts to reform the agricultural sector through the three controversial farm laws floundered. Indian agriculture on which 58% of the population depends for their livelihood needs special attention. Economic programmes of the INDIA alliance have to include innovative proposals to reform the agricultural sector. 

•     As human resource development plays a crucial role in the development of any country, improving the quality of education and health care by allocating more funds to these two sectors should be one of the top priorities of India Alliance. Years ago, the Kothari Commission had recommended spending 6% of the GDP on education. 

•    As India is drifting towards a majoritarian totalitarian state, including measures to protect secular democracy, the Constitution and democratic institutions should be another important priority of the INDIA alliance. Checks and balances given in the Constitution are to be strengthened so that no government in future should trample with them. 

•    In the context of Parliament and legislative Assemblies becoming rubber stamps, especially in the BJP-ruled states, systems and processes are to be put in place for passing legislation after thorough scrutiny and debate. 

•    The agenda of INDIA alliance should include measures to stop “bulldozer justice”, encounter killings, lynching and hate crimes, and to ensure rule of law. 

•    Steps are needed to ensure the autonomy and non-partisan functioning of Judiciary, Election Commission, Controller and Auditor General, Human Rights Commission, Information Commission, Women’s Commission etc. They should not degenerate into mere arms of the executive. 

•    Another area that needs the attention of the INDIA alliance is putting in place effective measures to prevent the misuse of investigating agencies and they becoming law unto themselves. 

•    Repealing the draconian UAPA (Unlawful Activities Prevention Act) and Sedition Law and amendments to the laws that severely restrict freedom of expression should also be part of the agenda of the INDIA alliance. 

In 2019 the BJP got 37% of votes and the remaining vote share went to the opposition parties. If the opposition parties come together, it is not necessary that they would get the remaining 63% votes.  People’s choice depends upon the cohesion and strength of the alliance and the relevance and viability of the agenda it puts forward before the people of India. In an atmosphere where a large section of people is brainwashed with a particular ideology and has become blind devotees of the present dispensation, the INDIA alliance has a challenging task to win the trust of the people of India. 

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