‘Re-forming India — The Nation Today’ review: The idea of a ‘New India’

Is our secular and socialist credentials under threat? What is the state of the economy? Are we undergoing a transformation? Experts critically assess the Modi regime

June 01, 2019 05:24 pm | Updated 05:24 pm IST

Professor Niraja Gopal Jayal’s edited book is a fascinating collection of essays in assessing the recent trajectory of the Indian nation-state in an era of economic reforms particularly after the Bharatiya Janata Party-led government came to power in 2014 under the prime ministership of Narendra Modi. While some essays do take note of trends in the pre-Modi years, nonetheless, all of them are focused on governance, development, economy, politics and society that is unfolding in the Modi years.

Fundamental questions

The book is divided into two parts. The first part is concerned with major themes in the area of governance and development, while the second one reflects on politics and society. The tome consists of 32 essays that have been penned by leading experts in their respective fields besides the introduction by the editor of the volume. The fundamental questions that the book asks are the following: Is the Indian nation-state getting transformed in an opposite direction when compared to the original promise of liberal constitutional democracy during the birth of the republic? Are the corrective measures of economic reforms that were started from the early 1990s to address some economic issues been replaced by a dangerous trend of re-forming the very idea of a pluralist and secular India?

The collection of essays have all emphasised that the government under Modi has not been concentrating much on the aspect of reforms. Instead, it has set its priorities that challenge the very foundational ideas of the Indian republic.

In the first part, the essays have covered a wide range of themes from how the Prime Minister’s Office and the NITI Aayog work, the increasing challenges facing the RBI, the failure of demonetisation, the complications of the Goods and Services Tax and the problems it posed for small business, the lack of job creation, the symptoms of impending economic crisis, the slump in the creation of new entrepreneurs, and an examination of the failed promises and claims of the Modi government on corruption, welfare schemes, farm incomes, rural sanitation, and anti-poverty initiatives. Further, the first part also has contributions that analyse the ecological crisis in India, which gets aggravated by specific business policies, the autonomy and accountability of the judiciary, the government’s flawed approach towards Kashmir and the lacklustre performance in foreign policy.

Failed promises

The second part of the book comprises essays that also has a broad spectrum of issues like Ashutosh Varshney’s formulation of Modi’s regime as an emergence of right-wing populism that has some international parallels and the contradictions embedded within the so-called political culture of ‘New India’ as pointed out by Suhas Palshikar.

Like the first part, many essays in the second part chronicle the failed promises of Modi like in the case of the Beti Bachao Beti Padhao scheme, the skills development initiatives, and the smart cities programme along with narrating the dangerous culture of mob lynching, the shrinking space of civil society activism, atrocities against Dalits, the hate campaigns and attacks against Muslims and Christians, the threats to the public university, student politics, free speech and secularism.

Other contributors in this section have dealt with the issues of the changing demographic profile of the Indian population in favour of the youth and their aspirations and frustrations, the changing nature of class and its relationship with culture, work and religion in an era of consumerism, the menace of social media and fake news, the attacks on independent journalism, and the publicity campaigns through advertisements in television, and new media.

The book is a fine balance of some good academic and journalistic prose. All essays are lucidly written and have persuasive arguments for the reader, who wants to have a critical understanding of the Modi-led government. In an era of sycophancy and self-censorship among sections within the academia and the media, this volume is a bold statement against the problems of the Modi government irrespective of its electoral majority. It quite correctly points out the inherent problems of the government, which cannot be simply justified and ignored by electoral results. In this respect, this book is a courageous effort to speak truth to power and is a welcome addition to a growing body of literature in the appraisal of the first majoritarian government in the country.

Re-forming India: The Nation Today ; Edited by Niraja Gopal Jayal, Penguin/ Viking, ₹799.

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