On November 7, as over 340 BJP leaders from across the country attended their party’s national executive meeting, they could have, just as well, roped in some ideologically compatible poet to recite an epic in praise of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. No one, certainly none in the BJP or its extended Hindu-right ecosystem, would have complained. But then, pretence is a prerequisite in politics, and so, the gathering chose to spend its precious time endorsing a political resolution instead.
The resolution, finalised a day prior, and moved at the national executive by poll-bound Uttar Pradesh’s Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, effectively was, well, an eloquent paean to the many virtues of our “yashasvi pradhan mantri” (exalted prime minister), whose “strong leadership” had not only ushered in an era of “security, peace and prosperity in the country” but also made India a “world leader”.
The political resolution left no doubt that the Congress party, forever ridiculed for the undeniable sycophancy among its ranks for the Nehru-Gandhis, had not just lost its electoral ground to the BJP but also its copyright over obsequiousness towards an individual. And this is no mean feat for the BJP, the self-proclaimed ‘party with a difference’, where the sangathan (organisation) always takes primacy over the vyakti (individual).
The meeting of the national executive – supposedly the BJP’s highest decision-making body – was, in a sense, no different from the meetings of the Congress Working Committee, where irrespective of the Congress’s electoral standing, senior Congress leaders gather to pledge fealty to the Nehru-Gandhis and churn out resolutions that endorse every whim of the ‘high command’.
Any dispassionate analysis of the BJP’s political resolution would make it abundantly clear that its authors had completely glossed over every uncomfortable truth in their bid to project Modi, yet again, as the messiah who had come to deliver India from 70 years of misrule; including the tenure of the party’s first-ever Prime Minister, the late Atal Behari Vajpayee.
Not surprisingly then, as Modi, who was also felicitated at the event by his party men, basked in the flattery, none of the other 341 leaders present – physically or virtually – at the meeting of the BJP’s highest decision-making body said anything contrary.
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It doesn’t take much effort to understand the many fallacies in the political resolution adopted by the BJP’s national executive.
Take, for instance, the thunderous applause Modi received from his colleagues for the five pledges he made at the UN Climate Change Summit (COP26) in Glasgow recently. The prime minister pledged that India, the world’s fourth biggest CO2 emitter, would achieve the net-zero target – become carbon neutral – by 2070 and that by 2030, the country will increase its non-fossil fuel energy capacity to 500 gigawatts (GW) and draw 50 percent of its energy requirement from renewable sources.
Laudable claims, no doubt but compare these with India’s slow progress on the promises made at earlier climate change summits or juxtapose them with ground realities and the charade falls flat. 2070 is a far way off and there’s no way Modi will be held to account if India misses its net-zero target after this 50-year gestation period for his pledge.
However, India looks set to miss even what seemed to be a more realistic milestone it had set earlier for increasing its non-fossil fuel energy capacity to 175 GW by 2022 as, with less than two months to go before 2021 ends, the country’s capacity in this sector remains below 100 GW.
The Modi government’s tall claims of India steadily increasing its carbon sink through a widening forest cover too are based on half-truths and clever chicanery of figures.
The Global Forest Watch, an international collaboration between Google, National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the University of Maryland and the United States Geological Survey claims India lost 18 percent of its primary forests and five percent of its tree cover between 2001 and 2020.
The Indian government’s last survey of forests, published in 2019, claims the country’s forest cover grew by over five percent between 2001 and 2019, despite huge losses in the dense forest category and forest cover in the north-eastern states.
Modi’s recent push for an aggressive National Palm Oil Mission too has riled environmentalists and come at a time when, internationally, climate change commentators have been stridently advocating reduction in palm oil cultivation.
Climate change and environment are, admittedly, complicated subjects and discussions on them, laden with jargon as they are, may make it difficult for common folk to understand the con being pulled on them by political masters. So, consider other issues in the BJP’s political resolution that hit closer home for most Indians or are easier to explain.
Rambunctious plaudits were lavished through the resolution on Modi’s for his “determined and able leadership” and “empathetic” handling of the COVID-19 pandemic and for “creating history” by ensuring that India reached the milestone of vaccinating 100 crore people against the virus in a record 278 days.
For reasons that are obvious, there was no mention of the dead bodies of suspected COVID-19 victims floating in the Ganga or buried in mass graves on the river’s banks, nor was there any reference to the disastrous consequences that the unplanned lockdowns had for migrant labourers or the stern reprimands that the government got from the Supreme Court for on this tragic exodus that unfolded in full public view for weeks across major highways and axis roads throughout the country.
There was no mention of the countless deaths of COVID-19 patients for want of oxygen cylinders or life-saving drugs, nor of the ghastly scenes of dead bodies piling up at crematoriums and the denial of dignity to COVID-19 patients even in death.
If it wasn’t so downright cruel, perhaps, some comic relief could have been found in the claims made in the resolution about Modi’s “prompt and rigorous” economic interventions ensuring creation of new employment avenues during the COVID-19 pandemic. The resolution says the Modi government’s “prompt decisions” on the economy ensured employment generation and that “those who once sought jobs were now giving jobs”.
The authors of the resolution either slept through most part of the past year or suffer from acute amnesia. Month after month, with a brief break in September, India’s unemployment rates have been worsening. Though last month had begun with a marginal rise in the employment rate, at 38.5 percent, compared to September’s 37.9 percent, the month had ended with this figure tanking again to 37.3 percent.
Further, as per the Modi government’s own estimates for October, 3.7 million people were added to India’s burgeoning population of the unemployed, taking the unemployment rate to 7.8 percent in October compared to 6.9 percent of September.
Just weeks ago, India witnessed the brouhaha over the Modi government stoutly rejected the latest Global Hunger Index ranking which placed India at 101 out of 116 countries, behind Pakistan and Bangladesh. Though the Modi government trashed the GHI ranking on grounds that its calculation was flawed, response to an RTI query filed with the Union ministry of Women and Child Development raked up a new storm as the ministry conceded that over 33 lakh children in India are malnourished and over than half of them fall in the severely malnourished category.
Official data from the Modi government’s Poshan Tracker also punctures the BJP’s ‘no one left hungry in the country’ claims as it shows a massive surge in the number of India’s severely malnourished children in the past year alone – from 9.27 lakh in November 2020 to 17.76 lakh in October 2021.
Arguably the most revolting claim in the resolution is that Modi has “done more for the farmers and the agriculture sector in seven years than was done in the past 70 years”.
This at a time when protests by farmers against three contentious farm laws has entered its second year and, as per unofficial estimates, over 400 peasants have lost their lives during what is clearly independent India’s longest running agitation by the farmers against any central legislation.
Forget any effort towards rapprochement; the resolution doesn’t even have single word of sympathy for the agitating farmers.
Finally, let us examine what the resolution says on the one thing that Modi’s BJP is, seemingly, most formidable at – elections. If the common folk, BJP voters included, expected some honest soul searching here, the resolution was a big let down.
The national executive was meeting just days after results for by-elections to 29 assembly seats and three Lok Sabha seats across the country were announced. Of these, the BJP won just seven assembly seats and a lone Lok Sabha bypoll. Its biggest setbacks came in Himachal – the home state of BJP national president JP Nadda – where the BJP lost all three assembly bypolls and the Mandi Lok Sabha seat to the Congress, just a year before the state is scheduled for general elections.
Though the party maintained its hold on all bypoll-bound seats in Assam, it lost more ground in Bengal where, despite a vitriolic electoral blitzkrieg, it had failed to trounce Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress earlier this year.
In fact, since Modi’s return to power, with an increased mandate, in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, the BJP’s electoral performance in state polls has been slipping consistently. It lost its governments in Jharkhand and Maharashtra last year and managed to return to power in Haryana only through a post-poll alliance with Dushyant Chautala’s JJP.
The BJP failed to win Delhi. In Madhya Pradesh, a state it had lost in the 2018 polls, the BJP returned to power last March, but only because it harnessed the Congress’s infighting between Kamal Nath and Jyotiraditya Scindia to its advantage, by engineering defections of Scindia and the Congress MLAs loyal to him.
Yet, despite the lacklustre electoral performance in the states and bypolls, the BJP was in a self-congratulatory mode at the national executive – patting itself on the back for its “shaandar vijay” (brilliant victory) and hailing Modi’s leadership.
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In his valedictory address, Modi typically sniped at family-run parties and emphasised that the lack of dynastic politics is what differentiates the BJP from its political rivals; never mind that the BJP’s ranks have, in the Modi-era, being swelling with dynasts – both in-house and those poached from other parties, the Congress in particular.
There is no dearth of uncomfortable home truths for the BJP to confront. The message from the BJP national executive, though, is that the party is either unwilling to acknowledge the many flaws in its government or too scared to tell its leader that things have really gone awry.