June 19, 2016

India: Modi talks of samvedana (sensitivity) . . . His party has other plans in UP

The Times of India

Modi talks of samvedana. His party has other plans in UP

June 19, 2016, 12:00 am IST Abheek Barman in Folk Theorem | Edit Page, India | TOI

On Thursday, June 16, Uttar Pradesh BJP MLA Sangeet Som said he would organise a march — padayatra — to reassure people that the state “would not turn into Kashmir.” The implication was obvious.
For those who came in late, here’s the backdrop to Som’s activism. Last week, Hukum Singh, who won a seat in Parliament from Kairana, UP, for the BJP in 2014, created a flap. He claimed 346 Hindu families had left this town because of ‘persecution’ by Muslims.

Media soon showed this claim was bogus: among the people on Singh’s list, many had died of natural causes, most had migrated for better opportunities, jobs and schooling elsewhere. Hukum Singh was asked why he had forgotten to list Muslim families who had also left town. A slightly contrite Singh then said his list wasn’t about Hindus and Muslims, but the menace of extortion. That claim, too, doesn’t stand up to scrutiny: on Wednesday, TOI cited reports by district officials and police records that say only three families left Kairana fearing extortion.

At first glance, this looks like a farrago of half-truths and lies, but there’s a pattern to it.

Kairana is a part of Shamli district, which borders Muzaffarnagar. Between August and September 2013, around six months before Lok Sabha elections, both were rocked by riots. Victims: 52 Muslims, 10 Hindus dead; over 50,000 driven out of home. Hukum Singh was accused of rioting; Sangeet Som was principal accused.

The UP BJP believes its Lok Sabha sweep — 71 of 80 seats — was due to what we politely call ‘polarization’. Once again, elections are due in UP next summer. The flare-up in Kairana bears an uncanny resemblance to events of 2013 in Muzaffarnagar and Shamli. The BJP believes the formula that won it 2014 can be repeated in 2017.

See the pattern?

But here’s the biggest contradiction: this sabre-rattling crashes headlong into another BJP narrative, laid down by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who has cultivated the image of a statesman overseas.

Modi addressed the BJP’s national executive — around 200 top leaders — in Allahabad recently. There, he took the high road of development. He said power was about great responsibility to get things done.

And indeed, there’s much on the table. For six months, November 2015 to April 2016, industrial production has shrunk every month, bar February this year. India’s economy is largely driven by investment. When investment grows, demand for capital goods soars. When this shrinks, it’s an ominous portent. For the last six months capital goods has fallen; in April by a horrifying 26%.
Memories of muzaffarnagar: Recent events in Kairana bear an uncanny resemblance to what transpired in 2013

Memories of muzaffarnagar: Recent events in Kairana bear an uncanny resemblance to what transpired in 2013

Exports have shrunk, for the 18th month in a row, as have imports, showing India losing market share overseas and a lack of appetite for imported stuff — machinery to macaroni — at home. Services comprise over half our economy now. This slowed to a six-month low in May, the latest numbers.

A growing economy needs to move things around. The real heavy lifting of stuff like fertilizer, coal, cement and iron ore is done on railways. Analysts look at rail freight figures to judge which way the economy’s core is, well, moving. Compared to a year ago, rail freight growth shrank 13.5%, an all-time low. The biggest falls were in fertilizer, coal and cement.

After two years of drought, monsoons — which impact around 600 million livelihoods in our vast hinterland — are again patchy. I bought onion a couple of months ago at Rs 40 per kg. Today, it’s around Rs 100. I know now why consumer inflation has flared up.

Yet, official statisticians put up heroic numbers at which the economy is supposed to be galloping. Taking their cue, Moody’s — remember those guys who rated junk US subprime bonds as excellent? — says India will grow 7.5% this year. Well, good luck.
But Modi must be sensing something of what the rest of India is feeling. Which probably explains why he felt compelled to tell his colleagues to pull themselves — and the economy — up by their bootstraps. He spoke about seven cardinal values party leaders and workers should follow. Among those, he listed saiyam (restraint), samvedana (sensitivity) and samvad (dialogue).

These are laudable sentiments, if only the rest of the party were to listen. Modi talks of development and sensitivity. Sangeet Som, Hukum Singh and others light communal fires in UP.

Clearly, there are two parallel narratives in the BJP today. These two stories, it hopes, will converge at the ballot box in UP next summer. But, as Euclid of Alexandria taught us in geometry, parallel lines never meet, except at infinity — which is impossible to grasp.