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ZOYA HASAN | 2 JUNE, 2016

The Politics of Exclusion


There is a very distinct and recognizable change in the general tenure of public discourse. Unlike in the past, it is much more informed by divisive and communal rather than a liberal, secular ethos. I need not list some of incidents in the past two three years, which in a certain sense signaled the politics of division and polarisation. Most importantly, the lynching of Mohammad Akhlaq in Dadri, the stalking of divisivations like beef ban or the recent “Bharat Mata Ki Jai” controversy -- insisting that if you don't say “Bharat Mata Ki Jai” you may face exile, and before that, most significantly, the killing of rationalists.

These are really striking attempts to polarise and divide the society and of course the recent bogus sedition case against a bunch of JNU students which was used to launch a nationwide campaign of hyper nationalism to create the perception of an enemy within, so that whoever is dissenting will be declared anti nationalist. All of this is happening at a time when the Modi government -- in the assessment of many of us -- has not really been able to deliver on the economic front. This is the time when they are trying to find ways to aggravate polarisation in a bid to change the country's secular character over democratic rights .

In short, overall I think the last two years have been marked by the worst communal polarisation -- not necessarily worst communal violence but worst communal polarisation -- after 1992, which includes the intimidation of minorities and public intellectuals. All of this has happened largely because the BJP won an absolute majority which seems to have given a licence to its affiliates so to speak or to the RSS combine to push its majoritarian programme and the agenda, as was stated, is the polarisation of society along lines of religion.

This has been polarised through a politics of fear and also because the government refuses to take action against the perpetrators of this kind of politics. In other words, all of this has clearly enhanced the fears of religious minorities about living under the BJP regime which is enjoying a majority of its own. What we have witnessed is a rise of social tension involving a whole range of groups -- not just Hindu and Muslim -- but clearly the differences and conflicts between caste, between communities and also above all between classes.

This brings me to a point which is economic exclusion. It is an important dimension and a consequence of polarisation of society between privileged and underprivileged or between the privileged and marginalised .

Since the Modi government came to power there has been a lot of talk by policy makers associated with the present ruling dispensations about ensuring inclusion given -- what then seemed to be a compelling slogan in 2014 election -- it was 'Sabka Saath Sabka Vikaas'. Before the NDA, the UPA government had also talked a great deal about inclusive growth and infact inclusive growth was the headline of the UPA's five year plans especially the 12th five year plan. Now the interesting thing is that the NDA government has abolished the Planning Commission; it has abolished the National Development Council and yet it wants to jump on the inclusive bandwagon so its various policies and programmes generally come with the tag ‘inclusive’ but despite all this talk of inclusion or ‘sabka saath’, the evidence (and infact there is a recent report done by Centre for Equity Studies which provides very compelling evidence) of the intensification of inequalities and lack of inclusion in terms of economic and social outcomes is compelling. Not surprisingly, those who suffer from these exclusions tend to come from communities that are historically disadvantaged by gender, caste, religion and age and they face multiple forms of exclusions.

Historically, successive government of the center as also in the states -- talking about the government of last three or four decades -- have unveiled a range of welfare initiatives, public distribution schemes, to ensure nutritional securities and subsidise food grains, targeted anti poverty programmes, unemployment benefits, public pensions, policy intervention in the field of health and education. Significantly the agenda of the present government is not known for the concern of poor or dispossessed. I think the present government does not really have a welfare policy beyond catchy slogans like ‘swachh bharat’, smart cities, smart India, Skill india.

None of these really add up to the welfare policy or the policies that will be effective in achieving the goals of social security. For example the Finance Minister in his february 2016 budget speech spoke about the social sector being the most important pillar of the economy and he mentioned education, health and sanitation as the key areas of social sector development. However social sector was defined essentially in terms of universal subsidies, health insurance, dialysis scheme and skill development. Now infact the ministry of finance's own graphic of the social sector seems to reduce social sector to these few items.

When the UPA government was routed in the 2014 Lok Sabha election and of course the Congress has been routed ever since in almost all the state assembly elections in the last two years. But when the Congress led UPA was routed in 2014 elections it led many commentators to speculate about the future of the right based welfare acts which were landmark acts being passed by the previous government. Now in the past two years these right based programmes have been the subject of much political contention or much political difference in the public arena.

Now at the end of two years and in the context of these speculations, I think the trend of these two years reveal cross cutting tendencies. On the one hand it is true that social sector schemes have not disappeared. On the other hand, this government is unmindful, even of its legal obligations under these schemes leave alone strengthening the welfare system.

The budget of both 2015 and 2016 of this government offers very little by way of a vision or by way of expenditure for the development of social policy in India. For the most part, the government attitude has been dismissive of the new welfare regimes put in place by the previous government. No where is it more evident than the government’s ill treatment of NREGA that the Prime Minister himself called a monument of sixty years of failure of the previous government and the government had attempted several dilution as it took over the office restricting NREGA to the poorest district, reducing the wage component and introducing greater rigidity in the kind of work that could be taken up and as a result instead of extending NREGA, it is all set to contract .

Likewise the National Food Security Act which was passed just a few months before the UPA left office -- which has really not been rolled out or implemented and that is in addition to the dismissive attitude of the present government . The biggest indication of the government attitude was dismantling important safeguards in the Land Acquisition Act by means of ordinance to facilitate easy acquisition of the agricultural land that was clearly a case of corporate capture.

More recently, before the present assembly elections where BJP won one single state that is Assam, but with the defeat in Bihar and Delhi, this government did come under some pressure to backtrack on its right wing corporate policies by emphasizing on welfare schemes to repair and change its image of a pro rich government. It did introduce some policies, but interestingly, the policies such as they are, were distinguished by two features. One, there is a distinct preference for enactment of some sort of social policy from above. What is very striking -- as in contrast with the previous -- is that there is no civil society consultation and participation in the policy making process. The second one -- and I find it again very striking -- is that the social sector schemes that are proposed by this government in last few months demands investment not so much from the state but from the proposed beneficiaries.

Because of the change of regime there seems to be a change in the orientation and functioning of the state as one and the possibilities which is now evident that state will not be a neutral arbitrator which ever way we look at it. The state -- under the present dispensation -- is not a supra social entity for society acting as a whole. Indeed for many of us, the Indian state appears to be biased, working for the rich classes and sadly siding with the religious majority community. The fact is that there is an evident and apparent majority bias or a bias in the favour of the majority community in functioning of the state.

(This is the text of a presentation made by ZOYA HASAN at the “Idea of India” conclave on “Two Years Of PM Modi: State Of The Nation.” It has been transcribed by Sagar Mahindra).

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