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Taking Stock: Major Policy Initiatives of the Modi Government

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In the last few months, we have been so blinded by the blaring media publicity tarnishing the image of the current government – highlighting issues like JNU, Rohith Vemula and secularism and nationalism – that we have failed to notice the substantive policy measures that this government has got underway. In this comment, we propose to take stock of all these policy measures.

The governance approach of this government is clear-cut. It has identified four main areas of thrust – foreign policy, national and internal security, social sector and the environment. Foreign policy is an area where the government has always held forte easily and has expanded its engagement by adopting a unique, nuanced approach towards Pakistan recently. Paradoxically, all political parties adopted hardliner positions – even though on issues like JNU, they took an anti-national stand – with Kejriwal even venturing to say that Modi had insulted Bharat Mata by allowing the Joint Investigation Team (JIT) from Pakistan access to Indian airbase in the Pathankot probe. This proves their double standards on issues like nationalism, exposing their politics of convenience.

Even though the outcome of the JIT visit was fruitless, with Pakistan turning its back on us, as usual, what needs to be highlighted is that it was the government’s approach and the mature signal it sent out that mattered – with Pakistan, the outcomes have always been fruitless, so what is the harm in changing our approach?

This brings us to how seriously this government is taking domestic security. Besides hardening its position on Bangladeshi immigration, the government has implemented a slew of policy measures, the most prominent ones revolving around mapping people’s identities and criminal affiliations closely. The Home Ministry conducted this exercise in J&K recently, where the J&K police was conducting a survey seeking personal details, such as specific details of married daughters and sectoral affiliations within a religious community, to gauge ties with militant groups, being conducted exclusively in the Kashmir region of the state and monitored by the Indian army, with the aim of providing a separate 10-digit number to the Kashmir residents, independent of the Aadhar number.

In a related nation-wide measure, the government has started the preparation of the National Sex Offenders Registry under the Crime and Criminal Tracking Network System (CCTNS), due to be released in 2017, of all the individuals charge-sheeted for various sexual offences against women. This is a landmark measure which was already long implemented in countries like the USA and the UK.

The idea of National Sex Offenders Registry was proposed in the aftermath of the ‘Nirbhaya’ gang-rape case (Source: Zee Media Bureau 2015) and was revived in the year 2015 by the Ministry of Home Affairs. In December 2015, the Ministry released a draft note for consultation which proposed to include individuals charge-sheeted for all cognizable and non-cognizable sexual offences under a sex offender register. Furthermore, the Minister for Women and Child Development (WCD) also suggested that offenders be included on the register irrespective of age and that even a 10 year old juvenile, “should have to report to the police where he is, and a watch should be kept on him for the rest of his life. He should report to the police every month, he should be required to say where he is working, where he is traveling.”

The only argument against these proposals is that they are seen by social activists as constituting a violation of the Fundamental Rights of individuals and also violation of the Rights of a Child. However, the fact that the registry will be available in open access will act as a major deterrent in dealing with crimes against women. In terms of monitoring, it has already been proposed that local police officers will remain informed about the movements of the charge-sheeted. And there is also a proposal to shield the identity of the minors charge-sheeted.

With the Juvenile Justice Bill now in place and the rising crimes committed by minors, the sex offenders registry will actually create conditions where, due to monitoring and deterrence, the potential accused juveniles might be spared the fate of going to dark reform-houses and undergoing the tortures of the modern prison system. It is a right corrective measure.

As far as corrective measures go, the greatest degree of restructuring has been done by government in the social and environmental sectors – particularly in education, healthcare and climate change. In education, the government has faced the maximum number of challenges – the JNU controversy, the Rohith Vemula suicide at the University of Hyderabad, the decision to withdraw the non-NET fellowship, the decision to bring in credit based course system, to re-orient education to include more from Hindu cultural history and the signing of a WTO agreement to allow private players in higher education. Since last year, there have been maximum number of student protests against the HRD Minister, Smriti Irani.

What the vested intellectual interests wanted was basically for the old, subsidized and inefficient education system to continue and preach the old Leftist, anti-Hindu values that it has always stood for. In JNU too, the support for terrorists was nothing new. The campus has been famous for such politics since the last 6 decades. The protestors – from JNU, Hyderabad, DU and Allahabad, who have now joined various political parties like the SP and CPI (M) – represent a force that opposes new changes. In the name of protecting secularism and democracy, these youth are actually protecting the old political interests.

They represent a minor community based on fleeting interests, paying lip service to big words – throw them freebies and they become quiet. Just like Ms. Irani did recently when she took the decision to scrap NET as a compulsory employment criterion.

The picture in the health sector is much more complex. While the government started with the ambition to implement the National Health Policy. The policy has been stuck in a frozen mode since October last year, because NITI Aayog is putting pressure to give more power to private insurance companies, while the government is looking at giving the public more benefits. The extremes of both approaches would be harmful. For, globally, health has become a sector that is now beyond repair. It is rife with the maximum degree of internal corruption and decay and institutional efforts of this government, while appreciated in sending out a strong signal to the world, will not do much to reverse the decline. What healthcare requires is a fundamental treatment of the psychology of corruption that has permeated every level, instead of more futile expenditure and investment in infrastructure, which will only worsen the problem.

The best efforts of the government have been in the field of environment. India is about to ratify COP 21 on April 22nd, 2016, and it has taken a variety of initiatives in the field of climate change. Based on the global political compulsions, India will try to ensure that it is able to protect its interests in the field of solar energy after losing the dispute settlement case against US at WTO. Modi also has an ambitious energy policy and is ruthlessly combining the development (via coal use) and climate protection agenda. The government has tackled all the obstructionist NGOs and is instead itself overtaking the entire environmental agenda.

All these measures – spanning all sectors – show that the approach of the government is ruthless in achieving its objectives. These issues – not based on political gossip – are often glossed over by the media, which simply wants victims to bash. Yet they count in the progress report of a government. That is why even though the BJP may be facing challenges, but, as even critics admit, Modi’s image remains untarnished. Instead of being dictated by experts, this government has reposed more faith in what is perceived to be intuitively correct, even though it may go against the complicated technical arguments of the expert advisors.

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