In his seventh Independence Day address to the country as the Prime Minister, Narendra Modi hinted at various policies and projects that are either in the works or have been implemented recently. For anyone listening to Modi’s speech, all policies mentioned by him and every single action taken by this government seem to be taking the people of the country in a positive direction, especially helping those who are disenfranchised. However, it is through vague and contradictory language that many extremely dangerous policies are being justified in this speech.
Atma Nirbhar India and Privatisation
Modi’s speech focused on his new ‘campaign’ of Atma Nirbhar India. Although ‘Atma nirbhar’ means self-reliant, these policies are aimed at making the state reliant on private capital, both national and foreign. This is made clear when he says that it’s commendable that there has been an 18% rise in FDI (foreign direct investments). This also means that in this scheme of ‘self-reliance’, foreign capital is welcomed as long as the production takes place within the country. What this flowery language of ‘India’s potential’ hides is that foreign capital is most interested in investing in India due to the cheap prices of labour and resources created by government policies that give a free pass to exploitative labour and land-grabbing by corporates.
Under this ‘campaign’, the Finance Ministry has declared 18 strategic sectors, outside of which all sectors will be completely privatised. In the strategic sectors, the government will start disinvesting and merging PSUs to the point where there will be only 1-4 public companies in each sector. The strategic sectors include banking, insurance, steel, fertiliser, coal, petroleum, defence equipment, power generation, and so on.
In Modi’s speech, he refers especially to the space sector, saying “today, we have opened up our space sector to the private sector. When India’s space sector grows, our neighbours and the world benefits from it too”. Firstly, there is no explanation regarding how exactly we will ‘grow’ when the space sector is privatised. What may grow is the private sector’s profit. While India’s space sector has always had private participation, increased privatisation will have many harms. D. Raghunandan writes that previously most of ISRO’s endeavours have focused on developmental applications over national ego-boosting, but commercial players may not want to invest in application-based endeavours anymore. Further, since most space applications have dual civilian and military functions, private access can have undesirable consequences.
Modi’s speech also refers to ‘self-reliance’ in agriculture, referring to the government recently passing three ordinances regarding agriculture. Modi says in his speech, “India has recently removed all restrictions from the agriculture and farming sector. This will benefit our farmer brothers and sisters immensely”. What he doesn’t mention is that ever since this ordinance has been passed, farmers organizations across the country have categorically rejected it and come out in protest against it. Not only have these ordinances not addressed the distress faced by farmers during the pandemic, but have rather sold their rights to private capital. The ordinances allow anyone to buy and sell agricultural produce, which will lead to big corporates making direct deals with farmers with little bargaining power. They also give legal sanctions to contract farming, which may lead to exploitative, precarious labour, and does not address the existing forms of exploitative contract labour between landless labourers and landlords.
New Education Policy and Digital India
Modi’s speech brought up the NEP saying that it will ‘will shape the India of the 21st century’. The NEP, which uses a lot of buzzwords like ‘inclusion’ and ‘interdisciplinary’ to appear progressive, has been criticised to create increased privatisation and brahminisation of education, and increase inequality of education. This will affect marginalized groups disproportionately since upper-class, upper-caste Indians will opt for private education, while others will be pushed into vocational education, withdrawn from English education, and prepared to go into technical and manual labour. Further, the stress on online education in the NEP has been criticised for not only creating inequality in education due to lack of access to technology but also to increase corporatisation and homogenisation of education and diluting its social character and critical potential.
Similarly, Modi’s speech mentioned that he is launching a ‘National Digital Health Mission’. He says, “Every Indian will get a Health ID card…one Health ID will have the information of every test, every disease, which medicine was prescribed to you by which doctor, what the reports were”. Already in Kashmir, due to the lockdown and internet blockade, many people who had availed of the Ayushman Bharat National Health Insurance, could not access it as it was only accessible through e-cards. In the months before lockdown, the government frequently created internet blockades in areas where state repression or violence was taking place. This digital health card will create an additional form of repression when the State wants to control the people of any area. It will also increase the inaccessibility of healthcare, as the large numbers of people without certain documents or unable to navigate certain bureaucratic procedures are not able to access healthcare.
Modi praised the ‘Covid Warriors’, i.e. healthcare workers, for their sacrifice, likening them to the sacrifice of freedom fighters. He also mentioned how India has achieved the large scale production of PPE kits. However, doctors in public hospitals have time and again said that their so-called ‘sacrifice’ is due to the lack of equipment and protective gear. In a report on August 10, government hospital doctors in Bihar said that the low quality of the PPE kits supplied to them were responsible for many of the deaths of doctors, saying that they were ‘flimsy, badly stitched and felt more like raincoats than protective gear’.
New Journey of Development in Kashmir
The PM said that this has been one year for this ‘new journey of development’ for Kashmir, and one year of rights for the women, Dalits, and refugees in Kashmir. After the abrogation of Section 370 and 35(A) in Kashmir on August 5, 2010, the people of Kashmir have faced immense violations of their human rights with indiscriminate arrests and violence and a complete communication blockade.
The ‘development’ that he speaks of in Kashmir is nowhere to be seen, as education has been shut almost completely for more than a year, and students facing psychological distress. The healthcare system that was already overburdened is now reeling under the pressure of the pandemic, with doctors not being able to access the latest information, the community not being able to educate itself on the disease, lack of communication hindering treatment, and lack of medical equipment. Kashmiri doctors who have spoken up about these issues have been arrested and harassed. The region has suffered losses worth Rs 40,000 Crore, livelihoods have been devastated due to the lockdown, and unemployment has at its highest. None of this is mentioned in the speech.
As for Dalit’s and women’s rights, it is an insidious way of undermining the brutal exploitation of Dalits that takes place under the Indian state, and the lack of women’s safety that is so prevalent that even the Supreme Court is not immune. In fact, in a report on July 22, a Dalit Sarpanch in Kishtwar, Kashmir, resigned after being tortured by an upper-caste BJP leader. Various reports have outlined the human rights violations and violence that Kashmiri women have suffered at the hands of the Indian military.
The PM said about climate change, that it is “of great concern to us, and we are focusing on clean energy and solar power to take us forward and ensure that our per capita carbon foot is reduced”. Recently, the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) proposed the draft Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) notification 2020, which was opposed by people across the country due to its anti-environment agenda.
The draft has exempted 40 kinds of industrial projects from requiring clearance by an expert committee and public consultation. These industries are known to be extremely harmful to the environment, including clay and sand extraction or digging wells or foundations of buildings, production of halogens, chemical fertilisers, acids manufacturing, biomedical waste treatment facilities, highways or expressways, offshore and onshore oil, gas and shale exploration, hydroelectric projects, and so on. The draft also excludes reporting by the public of violations and non-compliance, meaning that communities affected by modernization and development projects will not be able to legally resist them. Three environment advocacy groups that raised concerns about the draft EIA were censored by having their websites blocked as well.
Meanwhile, the government has also privatised the coal sector and will be auctioning almost 40 coal blocks in environmentally valuable and Adivasi populated areas, to private companies, ignoring the opposition of Adivasi groups and state government’s decisions.