In early 2011, when Aadhaar was being launched in the states, then Gujarat CM Narendra Modi had refused to let the identification system roll out in his state. Gujarat had its own citizens’ documentation system, he had said. Over the next two years, the BJP spared no effort to play down the UPA government’s pet project, and never shied of taking digs at its frontman Nandan Nilekani. Aadhaar was an exercise in futility, it had then said, and if it came to power, it would give preference to the “more logical and robust” National Population Register (NPR).
Two months into the national government, in a clear departure from that vocal rebuff, the BJP-led government has given a clear indication that Aadhaar will continue. Why, it is even giving the project more funds. Surprised? Actually, there are numerous issues (see graphic) where Narendra Modi’s government has reneged from the party’s old stand and election-time promises. The long list of U-turns includes issues like the N-liability bill, opening up the insurance sector, unearthing black money in Swiss banks and removing subsidy on diesel.
Indeed, that’s why many wryly say the NDA government thus far continues to follow the policies of its predecessor, the UPA government. “There is absolutely no difference between the BJP and the Congress as far as major policy is concerned,” says CPI(M) leader Nilotpal Basu. The most blatant of the U-turns has been that on the much- debated Henderson Brooks report on the India-China war of 1962. Parts of it had been recently posted online by Australian journalist Neville Maxwell, access to which was blocked by the UPA. As late as in March, then LoP in the Rajya Sabha Arun Jaitley had strongly argued on his blog that the report be declassified. But recently, Jaitley, now defence and finance minister, stated in Parliament that the Brooks report was a top secret document and disclosure of any information from it would not be in the national interest. His earlier blog post suddenly can’t be accessed.
Even on the black money issue, the government’s present position is a major deviation from its earlier stand. After being extremely vocal about fishing out Indians with money stashed away in Swiss bank accounts, it is now saying that there is no list of Indians with money there and has exhorted the departments concerned to look for black money within India instead.
“UID is no longer a local initiative. It has global interests. The WB puts UID rider on developing country projects now.”
Usha Ramanathan, Legal expert
Obviously, this volte-face has irked many, especially after the strong position the BJP took on these issues. Whether this was because of political compulsions or due to a vacuous line on policy within government is being debated by experts. “When in opposition, you take an extreme position without thinking about the INS and outs of an issue,” says Arun Kumar, professor of economics at Jawaharlal Nehru University, and an expert on the black economy. “This is what the BJP did—it took a position and used the public dissatisfaction against the government to their advantage,” he adds. Obviously the policy status quo from a party that came to power on a promise of total change, and achhe din, has not gone down too well with the electorate, especially moves like increasing railway fares and continuing with the monthly diesel price increase policy, both perceived as anti-common man.
What has surprised many experts is that this comes despite the NDA’s huge mandate which can ensure a fast passage of any legislation they introduce. Says economist Narendar Pani, “What is surprising is the government has gone with UPA polices even when there is no compulsion to do so.” This proves, he says, that “the bulk of what they were saying was election campaign compulsions. They may not have been opposed to the issues at all”.
Take, for instance, the BJP’s stated position against any further opening up of the insurance sector to foreign direct investment. Even late last year, they had reasserted this but the government has increased the FDI limit from 26 to 49 per cent, a move the UPA had been talking about. Or the BJP’s stated stand against FDI in multi-brand retail and its promise to reverse the UPA policy when in power. That too hasn’t happened.
Obviously, the Congress and the UPA are pleased. Says former UPA minister Manish Tewari, “It only goes on to substantiate the fact that they were only interested in riding the rhetorical horse, fully knowing what the UPA did was in national interest.”
The government’s defence obviously would be that it has been in power for just two months and that much of its policies and promises are yet to be fulfilled. That may be so. After 10 years in opposition, the party may be still searching for the right talent pool. But there’s no denying a tinge of disappointment that the BJP’s actions belie the huge mandate it got. For now, it looks like more old wine in a new bottle.
Why The BJP Government Looks Like UPA-3
- Then: BJP states opposed GST on issues like revenue-sharing on petroleum and liquor; ditto for VAT
- Now: Has set a fresh, urgent deadline for GST implementation. Also supporting VAT now.
- Then: Clamoured for making public the list of people who had stashed money in Swiss banks
- Now: Says there is no such list of people with Swiss bank accounts. To look for black money within India now.
Opening up Insurance
- Then: Even as late as August 2013, the BJP opposed further opening up of insurance
- Now: Has approved increase in FDI in insurance from 26% to 49%
- Then: Opposed and said it was a futile exercise. Said it should be merged with NPR.
- Now: Has allowed Aadhaar to continue, is giving it more funds. Will link it to new services.
Henderson Brooks Report
- Then: Rajya Sabha LoP Arun Jaitley made a strong pitch for declassifiying the report on the 1962 India-China war
- Now: Defence minister Jaitley says the report’s release or disclosure would not be in national interest
- Then: Opposed the monthly increase in diesel prices on the grounds that it will impact Railways, farmers
- Now: Has continued the policy set by the UPA government
Nuclear Liability Bill
- Then: Was instrumental in pushing a very high liability for N-suppliers, which nixed all progress in N-projects
- Now: Liability ‘cap’ expected to see renegotiations during Modi’s US visit in Sept. N-suppliers want a lower cap.
FDI in Multi-Brand Retail
- Then: Strongly opposed it and said that when in power, they will reverse policy
- Now: Quiet on policy reversal though asserting its opposition. Has further opened up single brand retail.