Tuesday, August 21, 2018
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Good and Bad Reforms

By Amit Kushari

The last three years have been quite eventful in India. We had Narendra Modi as the Prime Minister, who had a very keen desire to reform the Indian society in every possible way. Since he had a brute majority in Parliament, he could venture to attempt many things which even great Prime Ministers like Atal Bihari Bajpayee and Narasimha Rao didn’t dare to undertake because they simply did not have enough numbers and had to depend on other parties. Rajiv Gandhi did have the numbers but he did not attempt to bring in uniform civil code or abolish Article 370 and 35A of the constitution. He was not willing to lose Muslim votes; he did not want to lose the support of Kashmiri Muslims without whose blessings and backing he thought the Kashmir issue could not be handled. When the Supreme court gave him a golden opportunity to do some thing good for the Muslim women by granting them the right to get alimony from their ex-husbands, he buckled under the pressure of obscurantist Muslim clerics and Muslim male leaders and passed a law in the Parliament to deny the Muslim women their right to get even a meagre alimony from their husbands, most of whom were wicked men pronouncing triple talaq on their hapless wives. Rajiv Gandhi did nothing to stop Muslim men from marrying four times.

He did nothing when hapless Muslim divorcee women were made to sleep with strangers in the name of a barbaric medieval custom called nikah halala. At that time the whole nation was shamed by Rajiv Gandhi although there is no doubt that he contributed a lot to the digitalisation and modernisation of the Indian economy. We could hardly believe that he was the grandson of Nehru who was a great, great reformer. His grandfather had rescued the Indian society, especially the Hindus, from the clutches of Hindu clerics and bigots. He passed the Hindu Marriage Act in 1956 which gave Hindu women the right to divorce and remarry. Hindu widows could also remarry. A Hindu of any caste could marry another Hindu of any other caste. A Hindu could also marry a non- Hindu under the Special Marriage Act. Even before independence the British had carried out reforms in Hindu society by banning Sati (burning of the widow on her husband’s pyre). After a long time we have found a leader in Narendra Modi who has tried to reform the Muslim society. Since no big reformer, like Raja Ram Mohan Roy, Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar and Jawahar Lal Nehru were born in Muslim society, they continued to live in the dark middle ages. In other Muslim countries, like Turkey, Pakistan and Bangladesh, Muslim customs were amended and even the Muslim Sharaia law for criminal offences were declared illegal. The Muslims did not want their hands and legs to be chopped off, they were not ready to be stoned to death for adultery and rape and so even in India the Sharia law was banned for criminal matters. However, it could not be banned for civil matters. For the first time in history Narendra Modi aided by the Supreme Court could take the first historic step in that direction. As was expected the Muslims raised a hue and cry, especially the males. The Muslim women were apparently happy but they are such an oppressed community that men are sure that the female view will not matter much after the women are exposed to a few rounds of khutbas (religious discourses or pravachans) by maulanas. Many Muslim men are trying to justify their anger by quoting social condition of Hindu women in the 19th or early 20th centuries. Their arguments have no weight because all those old customs have been banned many years ago. Today the law is by the side of the Hindu women and if there is any oppression any where it is a question of only implementation of the law. In the social media angry Muslim men are saying that the PM himself had abandoned his wife at a very young age and therefore he has no right to speak about Muslim women’s emancipation.

PM could not reform the Kashmir situation so far. He could not send back the Kashmiri Pundits honourably to Kashmir. By letting loose the army on the local population this issue cannot be solved. By letting loose the NIA on Hurriyat leaders, hunting for foreign funds, this issue can never be solved. It has to be tackled with gentle care and patient dialogue. The Kashmiri Muslim psyche has always been anti-India. It has been pro Islam, pro Pakistan and pro independence. Kashmiris dream of an independent, Islamic Jammu and Kashmir.

Shri Narendra Modi had attempted some bold reforms on the economic front, unfortunately most of these failed because he did not have good economic advisors. Demonetisation was an unmitigated disaster. Development activities slowed down, business suffered, millions of people lost their jobs, black money was no where in sight. Government tried its best to defend the wrong step taken. The interest rates on savings accounts have been reduced from 4% to 3.5%. The rich who have more than 1 crore will not suffer this reduction. This sounds very strange because usually the government helps the poorer sections. The government has introduced another reform in GST.

The common people are not affected much and the government will get higher taxes. This should be taken as a good reform. However the smaller businessmen appear to be unhappy. Perhaps they were not paying taxes earlier in a proper way. They are the core BJP baniya support group. If they are annoyed this will dent the 24% core BJP support, especially in northern and western India.

There are so many factors involved that it is very difficult to predict at this stage what will be the ultimate impact of the reforms of Narendra Modi and which way the winds will blow in 2019.

(Amit Kushari (IAS, Retd.) is former Financial Commissioner, J&K. Feedback at [email protected] or contact at 09748635185)

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