What! we never said that…10 controversies and U-turns

By Upmanyu Trivedi, Kirtika Suneja and Saket Sundria

NEW DELHI: Narendra Modi-led Bharatiya Janata Party stormed to power last year with a high-decibel campaign that relied heavily on acerbic criticism of everything that the United Progressive Alliance government was doing. A year into power, the BJP government has its share of controversies and U-turns too.

While on its part, the government has tried to size up the Reserve Bank of India and refused to make public the list of illegal foreign account holders, many Sangh Parivar affiliates have stoked religious fervour with programmes such as ghar wapsi. Some of Modi’s ministers have also added fuel to fire by making discomforting comments about minorities.

Following are a few controversies and U-turns from Modi’s first year in power:

Black money

It was one of BJP’s key poll agenda. Promises were made to bring back India’s wealth stashed abroad within 100 days after it assumes power and to make public the names of people with illegal accounts abroad. A year later the government has not made much headway in bringing back any money and has also been unable to make the list of people with illegal accounts public.

Bangladesh land swap law

In 2011 and 2013, the BJP said it will not support any legislation with Bangladesh that will mean loss of territory for India. UPA’s every effort to get the law ratified failed. In power, the BJP became magnanimous. The NDA government got the bill passed this month, with no change. For a change BJP credited the Manmohan Singh government.

Netaji files

The BJP was very vocal in demanding declassification of files related to Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose’s disappearance 70 year ago. It even made it a poll plank citing “larger public interest”. In saddle, the BJP sees reason in not disclosing these files. The excuses even sound similar to UPA’s — hamper relations with other reasons…

Nuclear deal

In 2007, after the UPA government pushed through the civil nuclear treaty with the US, the BJP said it will renegotiate the deal if it comes to power. In power, the Modi government conveniently forgot the stand and went a step ahead and ratified an additional protocol under the pact allowing greater access to its civilian atomic facilities.

Sizing RBI

The Budget for 2015-16 had stumped many with proposal to set up the Public Debt Management Agency and remove the regulation of government securities market from RBI’s purview. The issue was not so much about merits of these proposals but about taking RBI into confidence on such far-reaching changes. The government later threw another surprise by abruptly withdrawing both the proposals at the last minute fuelling rumour mills again.

Modi’s suit that didn’t suit

Hosting US President Barack Obama in January, Modi sported a pinstripe suit monogrammed with his name and hell broke lose on social media. Critiques termed him as “narcissist and megalomaniac”. Soon, the suit was auctioned for over 40 mln rupees and money was to be used for welfare schemes. Critiques, still not happy, said auction was damage control exercise.

Taxing issue of mat on FIIs

“Tax terrorism,” a word coined by Arun Jaitley during his days in opposition came back to haunt him after he became the finance minister. Despite his repeated assurances on tax certainty and no new cases of retrospective taxation, Foreign Institutional Investors were left spooked when tax department raise minimum alternate tax demands retrospectively on foreign investors.

Religion and the State

Ghar Wapasi, Love Jihad, attacks on churches, prescriptions for number of children Hindu women should rear, beef bans and frequent calls from BJP politicians to go to Pakistan if anyone disagrees with their views, have also marked Modi government’s first year. What is even more intriguing is Modi’s silence on the statements, except for broader comments such as “sabka sath sabka vikas” have not helped allay the apprehensions of minorities.

Domestic issues on Foreign Soil

Modi has come under criticism from opposition and foreign policy observers alike for breaching the informal protocol of not raising domestic political issues on foreign soil. On his trips to the US, Australia, Canada, Germany, Japan and recently Shanghai, Modi had an event planned for addressing non-resident Indians and his speeches appeared targeted more for domestic audience. He spoke of “mess left behind”, “work not done in past 30 years” and of scams in past. This evoked sharp criticism.

Social workers anti-national?

Unexplained urgency in arresting activist Teesta Seetalvad in alleged funds misappropriation case, Intelligence Bureau stopping Greenpeace activist from travelling abroad, choking foreign funds for several NGOs, and Modi himself calling public interest litigation lawyers as “five star activists” drew sharp criticism from several quarters in India and abroad. Commentators saw government’s paranoia from voices of dissent.

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