Libertatem Magazine

A Law Student’s Opinion on Modi Government ‘Threatening Institutional Autonomy’ of CBI and Reserve Bank: Urjit Patel’s Resignation and Governance in Doldrums

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The results of the 11th December, 2018 of the legislative assembly elections are pivotal in highlighting the ‘governance conundrum’ of the incumbent Modi Government. The BJP lost majority of the seats in all the three states of Madhya Pradesh, Chattisgarh and Rajasthan. Its defeat is conclusive in Rajasthan and Chattisgarh, while in Madhya Pradesh its eats are more or less in parity with the Congress. The results would have startled the political pundits especially of Chattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh which are considered to the BJP Bastions and had very weak opposition parties, only until now. The elections are a reflection of the rejection of Centre’s politics and communal politics by the people of the nation. The Centre Government has tried to superimpose its policies not only on its political opponents, but also on ‘statutory independent institutions’. Two examples of this appearing ‘arm-twisting of institutions’ are the RBI and CBI, both of which have lost their independent status essential for the vibrant democracy to thrive under the Modi regime.

CBI ‘Victim of Political Meddling’

The practise of interfering with the Central Bureau of Investigation by the political masters to suit their agenda is an old one. The Supreme Court had called CBI ‘a caged parrot’ years ago for its compromised stance of initiating investigations according to the desires of the ruling government. But the ‘political slugfest’ reached another level when recently the serving CBI Director Alok Verma and his deputy Rakesh Asthana moved to the Apex Court challenging the credentials of each other. The incident erupted when the serving director Alok Verma started an enquiry against his subordinate Rakesh Asthana (Both officers of the IPS). It angered Rakesh Asthana to the extent of moving to the Apex Court against whom Alok Verma also approached the Court. It is an unfortunate event which exposed the mutual strive and ego-clashes between the officers. What was even more regrettable was that the Central Government transferred the serving Director. The complete loss of the ‘integrity and impartiality’ was exposed when the political parties levelled allegations against each other for the favouring the officers of their choice. It is no secret that the CBI starts conducting raid against the leaders of BSP, Congress and SP whenever elections are approaching. The ruling government has made the ‘independence’ of CBI a cruel joke. The main reason behind the politicisation of the officers has been the blatant misuse of the CBI by the ruling BJP government to subdue its opponents, apparently unmatched by any other government in the past. What was even more regrettable was the Finance Minister Arun Jaitley’s hollowed promise of ‘maintaining institutional integrity’ in the entire incident.

The incident has exposed the ugly face of the CBI which is entrusted by crores of the Indians to be the premier investigation agency. With its integrity under a cloud, the major casualty from the incident was been the ‘loss of faith’ by the people of the nation in the independence of the CBI. The excessive misuse of CBI against its political opponents by the ruling government has been the prime cause of this dismal state of affairs.

RBI’s autonomy under Threat

In recent times, many editors and journalists have written about the strained relation between the RBI and Centre Government due to the difference of opinions. While the government dismisses these claims, the tendering of the resignation by the RBI Governor Urjit Patel on 10th December blew away the entire bubble that ‘all is well’ between the government and the RBI. It is to be understood that the Reserve Bank of India is the apex institution responsible for maintaining the monetary stability in the nation. The RBI has been pivotal in ensuring the stability of the economy even in the state of crisis like the 2008 slowdown. Almost all the governments at the Centre have had differences of policies with the RBI, but they have tried to reconcile those amicably. But the Modi government did what could be termed as an ‘extreme step’ in imposing its decisions on the RBI. It threatened to use its power of directing the RBI to comply with its decisions vested under Section 7 of the Reserve Bank of India Act. It might seem an innocuous measure, but this ‘extreme step’ had never been resorted to by any government in the past, not even by the Indira Gandhi’s government who was notorious for its subversion of the ‘independent institutions’.

The Modi government send letters to the RBI threatening to use its power under ‘Section 7’ if the RBI did not comply with its directions. The bone of contention between the RBI and government is the demand of the government for the release of the ‘Reserve Funds’ parked with the RBI. It is pertinent to state that while the government only looks into the political feasibility of its decisions, the RBI is composed of economic experts who can look beyond the veil of populist measures and could access their repercussions. The govt. needs money to finance its ambitious Pradhan Mantri Ayushman Bharat Yojana and its promise of giving 1.5 times MSP to the Farmers for all crops.

Ayushman Bharat Yojana ‘Lofty Promises, Sad Reality’

The Ayushman Bharat Yojana is being termed as the biggest health insurance scheme in the world aimed at providing 10.64 crore families with an insurance cover of ₹ 5 lakh per annum with tertiary care included as well. The problem is that when the Aysuhman Bharat was launched in the September, 2018 is only had a budgetary allocation of ₹1300 crores. But the estimates suggest that it would need at least ₹ 40,000 crores for the Ayushman Bharat to continue till May, 2019 (when the next Lok Sabha elections would take place). Though the Ayushman Bharat might seem a great welfare scheme, its ‘ill-timed launch’ to suit political situation could not be ignored. Many experts have also expressed serious concerns about the efficacy of the scheme due to woefully inadequate health infrastructure in the nation. The benefit of the health insurance would be mopped by the private healthcare institutions at the cost of public money. The paucity of health facility could still leave those covered under the Ayushman Bharat to wait for months to get the required treatment. The skewed ratio between the healthcare facilities available in rural and urban areas is also a serious concern. While 68.8% of the population of the nation (According to Census 2011) resides in rural areas, they only have 31% of the healthcare facilities. The percentage of tertiary care is even more dismal at around 15% only.

The government should have first invested funds to build health infrastructure before launching the Ayushman Bharat. But the Modi government’s only concern is to win the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. Ayushman Bharat could further its apparent image of being ‘pro-poor’. The reality is that while many AIIMS like institutions under the Pradhan Mantri Swasthaya Suranksha Yojana (PMSSY) have been proposed by the Modi government, the work on the ground level is very disappointing. A case in point is the AIIMS Bilaspur to be situated in Himachal Pradesh. While the idea between specialised tertiary care facilities to be available in hilly states like HP appears noble, the truth is that the constructions are going on ‘snail’s pace’. This project was launched under the ‘phase 3’ of the PMSSY, the projects under phase 1 and 2 are also not completed. The sad part is that the budgetary support for the institutions have reduced drastically in 2018. Out of the total demand of ₹8398 crores, the budget 2018-19 has only allotted ₹ 3825 crores which would further delay the completion of the institutions. With only 45% of the funds needed for the scheme, the award of institutions under PMSSY has only become a tool for political mileage for the govt. with utter disregard for the healthcare facilities in remote and hilly areas of the nation.

Agrarian Distress and Promise of 1.5 times MSP

The need of the ‘Reserve Funds’ for the Centre Govt. and its pursuant threatening the RBI to use its power under the Section 7 of the RBI act is the promise of giving 1.5 times the MSP to the farmers for all crops. The provision is vital to fulfil the goal of Modi govt. to ‘double the farmers’ income by 2022’. But the reality is again poles apart from the promised one. For the govt. to double the income of the farmers by 2022, the agricultural sector must grow at around 12% for the remaining period (2019-22), but it is only able to grow at around 5%. The sad truth of widespread agrarian distress in the nation and the suicides of the farmers must haunt the conscience of every India. The recent case of Maharastra where a farmer who invested ₹ 2 lakhs in onion crop and got only ₹ 6 in return is an apt example of the non-remunerative nature of Indian Agriculture. The Modi govt. schemes like e-NAM (Electronic National Agricultural Market), Mega Food Park Scheme, etc. have been virtual non-starters. The failure of the govt. to cater to the plight of poor farmers have also contributed to its defeat in the Rajasthan, MP and Chattisgarh elections. There are also wide discrepancies in govt.’s 1.5 times MSP and those suggested by the MS Swaminathan Report. The absence of timely procurement of the crops by the govt. forces the farmers to resort to distress sales at paltry prices.

RBI’s Autonomy must be protected

The resignation of the RBI governor Urjit Patel due to pressure mounted by the Modi govt. for releasing the ‘Reserve Funds’ to finance its polls promises is an unfortunate incident. In the history of the RBI, never had been a governor forced to resign mid-term. But the political interference by the govt. even to the extent of threatening the independence of the RBI has led to the Governor to take this extreme step. The relations between the previous RBI governor Raghuram Rajan and Modi govt. have also not been cordial to say the least. Raghuram Rajan had warned the govt. to not extend the MUDRA loans without collateral security or they could lead to the creation of NPAs for the economy. The fact that the Startup India program has been a cropper in spite of huge govt. advertisement points out to the economic wisdom of the previous governor. He had rightly cautioned the govt. against irrational MUDRA Yojana, but the govt. did not listen. He had also termed the demonetisation an unsuccessful measure. The truth is that the demonetisation was a failure to a large extent was even though it increase the tax base, the ‘black money’ was never found. With around 99.3% of the cash being returned to the system, the govt.’s claims of ₹ 4 lakh crore black money in the system was utterly exposed. While it hit the daily wage earners, small industries and farmers hard; the rich were able to make their black money ‘white’ through the networks of unscrupulous CAs and lawyers. The shoddy implementation of the scheme by the govt. and its inability in stopping the CAs and lawyers had been the demonetisation’s nemesis. The failure of demonetisation has also led to the govt. forcing the RBI to release the Reserve Funds. The RBI is wise in its approach and had refused to release the funds owing to the fall in the rupee prices against the dollar because of the surge in international oil prices and the withdrawal of foreign investments from India due to rise in interest rates in the USA. The resignation of Urjit Patel was exposed the malicious intent of the Modi govt. to subvert the independence of institutions like RBI for its myopic political gains.  It is high time for the public opinion to be mounted against the hegemony of the Modi govt. and to protect the integrity of national institutions.

Misplaced Priorities of the Government

The priorities of the govt. is utterly misplaced. While the entire focus is on highway development, the ‘gains of development’ is not reaching the common man. The fact that expensive project like bullet train (₹64,000 crores) have been preferred against the improvement of railway safety for the passengers is shocking. With around 1.3 lakh people (including railway crossings) being killed in railway related accidents in the past 10 years reveal the seriousness of the govt. for the safety of the people. The recent tragedy of Amritsar Dusshera day when more than 60 people were mauled to death by a speeding train is very depressing. It is ironic that on one hand, the rich in India would afford the best bullet train technology in the world; and on the other hand, the poor would be felt to die in train accidents. The lack of ‘moral responsibility’ in the Modi govt. for the safety of rail passengers and those crossing railway tracks is dreadful. Another area where the present govt. was failed miserably is that of women safety. Recently, India has been termed as the most unsafe nation for the women in the survey of the Thomson Reuters Foundation. The fact that in the past year, the govt. was unable to utilise the ‘Nirbhaya Fund’ of ₹1000 crore corpus which lapsed is sickening. The govt. has failed to improve the safety of the women. The issue does not feature in the priorities of the govt. as women is not a consolidated vote-bank.

Falsely appropriating legacy and Selective Historic Discourse

The Modi govt. has tried to redefine the political discourse by trying to appropriate the political legacy of other only in namesake. The attempts to idealise Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel and Shubash Chandra Bose, are aimed only to garner political mileage. While the govt. spend ₹ 2900 crore for the ‘Statue of Unity’, it would have been better had more time been spent on pondering over the ideals of Sardar Patel as well. The Iron Man of India stood for the unity of India and assured the states of their ‘federal autonomy’. The hasty dissolution of the J&K assembly by the governor Satya Pal Malik at the instance of Modi Govt. without giving the opposition a chance to prove majority reveals the total disregard of the Modi Govt. in federal unity of the states. The attempts have also been made to appropriate the legacy of Shri Atal Bihari Vajpayee by the BJP govt. It would be pertinent to point out that while Atal Ji in 1996 resigned on losing the ‘vote of confidence’ by one vote, the present BJP regime tried to manipulate the opposition MLAs in an attempted ‘horse-trading’ to form govt. in the Karnataka Assembly elections. The govt. also politicised the ‘last rites’ of the former PM by organising the Atal Asthi Kalash Yatra to garner popularity for the BJP. The legacy of freedom fighters have also been selectively adopted by the govt. It is sad that the revolutionaries like Bhagat Singh, Chandra Shekhar Azad, Ram Prasad Bismil, Ashfaqullah Khan, etc. who made supreme sacrifice for the noble cause of India’s Independence struggle do not even get mentioned.      

Another pernicious attempt is to create cleavages between the electorate on the basis of religion. The BJP leaders particularly Yogi Adityanath have been falsely maligning the legacy of the Mughal rulers. He is totally unaware of the Ganga-Jamuni Thezeeb (Composite culture of Mughal period). A sterling example is the celebration of Diwali as ‘Jashan-e-Charagaun’ by the last Mughal ruler Bahadur Shah Zafar in the city of Delhi. The cultural unity ensured that the Mughal ruler (though ruler only in the name) lit earthen pots on the banks of river Yamuna for the festival of Diwali. The pots were made Hindu potters, cotton for the wicks was given by Sikh merchants and the Muslims gave the oil for the lamps. It was a great example of the nation’s cultural richness and unity of the people. But total the discourse is only about changing names of city (Pragraj for Allahabad, Karnavati for Ahmedabad), cow-vigilantism and dividing the people on the basis of religion. The recent Bulandshar incident reveals the ‘Frankenstein’ of gau-rakshaks who killed a Police Officer in broad daylight. The mob-violence resulting in the death of Sub Inspector Subodh Kumar is in league with the killing of Akbar Khan and Dadri lynching by the right-wing Hindu mob. It depicts the total ‘failure of governance’ in the state of Uttar Pradesh where even the police officers are not safe. The connivance of the ruling govt. and right-wing organisations in cow-violence is exposed. The mob violence is a distinct feature in the BJP ruled states in the recent past. The examples like Jat violence and Dera Sacha Sauda supporters in Haryana, Dadri and Bulandshar lynching in UP and attacks on meat traders in Rajasthan reveal the inability of the states in protecting their citizens. It was revealed that those wanting ‘Ram Mandir’ to be garner political votes also have governance to be ‘Ram Bharose’ (at the mercy of God) only.

The Road to Redemption…..

The political hegemony of the Modi Govt. has subverted the independence of institutions like CBI and RBI. The arrogance of the govt. has rightly been rejected by the people resulting in electoral defeats in Rajasthan and Chattisgarh. The need is to rise above the Hindu-Muslim politics and cater to the issues of farmer distress, women safety and unemployment. The govt. must cultivate respect for the statutory institutions. The resignation of Urjit Patel must be perceived as a clarion call for the civil society, media and academicians to highlight the hegemony of Modi govt. in front of the people of the nation. If the right balance between the institutional integrity and national policies is maintained by the govt., only then the vibrancy of democracy be ensured in India.

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