Desperate times invite desperate remedies.
Narendra Modi has quickly comprehended the moment.
As of old, the Sanatan agenda of forging “Hindu unity” seems suddenly overtaken by a renewed push for caste-based justice to those Hindus who remain deprived of their share of national wealth, the fruit of their labour.
The recent very astute caste-based survey concluded by the Bihar government, not just to determine the relative demographic status of various social formations but also to reveal their relative economic strengths and deprivations has clearly reinforced the truism that all Hindus are not equal, be it in social clout or economic well-being.
The catch 22 that disables desired right-wing majoritarian homogeneity thus visibly resides in the false consciousness of that claim of unity, a reality that the Sanatan leadership is able neither to deny nor to embrace.
In classical Marxist parlance, the concrete yet again trounces the attempted abstract.
So what does the too-clever-by-half numero uno do to counter the telling gulfs between discrete Hindu social groups?
He goes Marxist, not in any considered, classical/ideological way – perish the thought – but in an instantly put-on, bleeding-heart expansiveness, which is tactical/polemical to the finger nail.
Ergo, Shri Modi, “close- bosom friend” (to borrow a phrase from John Keats) of private corporate India, (selectively, as we know) declares in yet another thundering, impromptu flourish at a public rally in poll-bound Chhattisgarh that there is but one caste alone in Bharat, and that comprises “poor” Indians.
(Never mind that he cannily leaves no opportunity to lest us know that he is the first Other Backward Class prime minister of the republic.)
That is not all.
Modi followed up that acknowledgement of Indian poverty with a daring estimate as well: 81 crore Indians (roughly some 60% of the population) fall into the category of the “poor” – a computation that beggars all previous estimates of poverty figures by sundry experts, and rather piquantly endorses the Global Hunger Index determination (2023) which lists India at 111 out of 125!
Modi then, rather thoughtlessly again, went on to declare that he had decided that this only caste, namely, “poor”, Indians, would continue to receive the bounty of free rations for all of five years, clearly assuming that he is set to return to power in 2024.
But here is the funny part: this declaration has embedded in it the further confession that the current poverty rate as now acknowledged by him, is set to remain undiminished over the next five years as well.
Some self-confessed tribute to the governance of the Modi-led right-wing, wouldn’t you say?
And this odd fact should not surprise any.
Whatever be the Indian rate of immiseration, or however shameful our score on the Global Hunger Index, or however thunderous Modi’s noblesse in granting free rations for another five years to some sixty percent Indians, the crude fact is that neither now, nor after 2024, should the ruling party return to state power, is Shri Modi likely to tilt an iota towards economic policies that may systemically alleviate this scrumptious poverty rate.
If anything, we may expect a further worsening as even what is left of national wealth still in public control is set to be passed on to private cronies.
Modi is a flamboyant gamesman, but does it ever behove our popular prime minister to watch the meaning and prospects of his utterances, or to take a mite more seriously the call to square with the people he governs beyond the canny tactical need of the moment?
But, then, there is the well-worn adage: people deserve the government they get.
Badri Raina taught at Delhi University.