Price of the Modi Years review: Reading the fineprint

In the backdrop of activist-author Aakar Patel’s moving from one court to another, seeking legal remedy against the Central Bureau of Investigation’s lookout notice that prevents him from travelling abroad, his book, Price of the Modi Years, provides an insight into his earlier struggles with central investigation agencies.

In his book, Patel extensively argues that the Narendra Modi government uses provisions under the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act (FCRA) and other laws to target voluntary organisations and civil society activists. Drawing upon his experience of dealing with central agencies in the capacity of being the head of Amnesty India, the author claims that since 2014, the Union government has started a “systematic harassment and persecution of civil society.”

Target of attack

“After accusations that we were violating FCRA in some way (though Amnesty India did not even have an FCRA registration), we were ‘raided’ by the ED [Enforcement Directorate] in October 2018. I was in the office when it happened and was interrogated from around 1.30 in the afternoon to 11 at night. The officers who came were unprofessional and annoyed that we should be working on such issues as Kashmir and justice for the 1984 riots, being a private company (which is how Amnesty India had been registered). And they were indignant that a ‘foreign’ body should ‘interfere’ in India: neither I nor any of the office bearers, directors or any other individuals at Amnesty India were foreigners,” writes the author. “When I asked at one point if our accounts were to be frozen, I was told by one of the officers that ‘goats are not informed if their throats are to be cut’,” Patel adds.

In a chapter titled ‘The Devil’s Workshop’, the author claims that the Modi government had declared war against civil society by claiming to be “a victim of conspiracy by NGOs.”

Given this history, one may be tempted to view the author’s work through the prism of bias. But Patel admits that the Prime Minister enjoys great personal popularity among the masses and could have played a transformational role. “Narendra Modi had the political capital, the adoration of crores and no opposition. He could, if he had had the plan and wanted to, sell and push through transformational change. He had the will, but he had no plan,” notes the author.

Passionately critiquing the Modi regime’s governance, Patel says former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had “accurately predicted” that it would be a “disaster”.

He also dedicates a chapter to the media’s coverage of the Union government and how leading TV channels merely followed government instructions, reportedly given by the Prime Minister’s Office, on key issues such as border hostilities with China.

Brand equity

In ‘Brand versus Product’, Patel points out that Modi as a product doesn’t live up to the brand that was created in the run-up to the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. But to forward this argument, Patel merely summarises the results of as many as 58 global indices — from UNDP’s Human Development Index to Bloomberg COVID Resilience Ranking — rather than basing it on any primary academic research.

Talking about governance, the author not only mentions the Prime Minister’s penchant for acronyms but lists over a 100 of them. If HOPE [Harmony, Opportunity, People’s participation, Equality] describes aims of the Indian Constitution, HELP signifies Hydrocarbon Exploration and Licensing Policy. One may or may not agree with Patel’s conclusions about the Modi years, but none can ignore the meticulous compilation of data sources that the author has used to argue his case.

Price of the Modi Years; Aakar Patel, Westland Books, ₹699.

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Printable version | Jun 8, 2022 12:25:05 pm |