There are three things that everyone agrees upon instantly—first, it’s too hot to sit outside on Marine Drive and so we settle in the air-conditioned section with a view of the Arabian Sea; second, on the feverish rate of Modi government’s big announcements and finally that one year is too early to judge how damaging or uplifting the Modi government will turn out to be.
“The market is definitely bullish but the industry is watching. India’s market cap increased by 1.6 times in the last 12 months, outperforming its emerging market (EM) peers except China. In the last 12 months, world market cap increased by US $8.5 trillion, of which India contributed 4 per cent. FIIs invested $18.1 bn in FY’15, higher than the $13.7 bn in FY’14. FIIs’ share in India is at all-time high of 51 per cent,” says Nimish Ashar, an independent financial advisor, cautioning about a weak monsoon and pending bills, such as the ones on black money and land acquisition, in Parliament.
The sentiment strengthens when it comes to economy and foreign policy. Manjeet Kripalani has no hesitation in saying that it was a “great year” for them, a foreign policy research organisation. “Finally, we have a PM who speaks as equals to China. We are not spectators anymore. We are not even in the ringside seats. We are in the arena. It will take some time for the effect of these decisions to show.”
Some pointed out the absence of Sushma Swaraj and Manohar Parrikar on these trips and absence of the PM in the country. It met with a retort about the absence of Rahul Gandhi. Fortunately, there was no mention of the famous Barrack speech but, yes, Sardesai did wonder where the money from the auction of monogrammed suit went.
“Outlays for NREGA are down, new regulaions are coming to usurp forest lands; 32% of cultivable land will go if industrial corridors come.”
Dr Ashok Dhawle
While things look fantastic outside the border, the happiness quotient progressively goes down, even within the business community. It isn’t as hunky dory among the real estate industry, which is yet to get industry status and is the raw nerve for Mumbai’s rich and poor. “We see no change, things are as it is. Only the prices have gone up in the past 20 years. The only way costs can come down is if projects move faster,” says Ashutosh Abhyankar, adding that to 18,000 cessed buildings in Mumbai there are just 200 development projects. He quickly adds, “The PM should first solve the BJP-Sena problem at the state level,” indicating how serious is the intertwining of state and Centre.
Sonal, the voice of the youth (a major support base for Modi), echoes that saying neither corruption nor time taken for proposals has come down. “We were happy that finally here is a PM who connects with the youth,” as she smiles at the gasps about Modi’s hyperactive social media presence from the older members. “But all the talk about e-governance, I don’t know what is happening. Instead see what they did with Net Neutrality, they published names of people who had written to them. And many of my friends have told me that it is becoming harder to do business here,” she adds referring to the BJP-Sena tussle at state level.
An animated give-and-take about industrial corridors, farmers’ consent, compensation for the land, SEZs that remain unused and people’s struggles in getting the earlier Land Acquisition Act are narrated. Mumbai’s pet peeve, the Rent Control Act, has Nimish and Ashutosh talk about their own grievances as owners getting Rs 50 in rent but Pankaj is quick to point that the difference between families living in 3,000 sq feet houses on Marine Drive for Rs 500 and families living in single tenements needs to be made before anything is repealed. Affordable housing may have been one of the many things the BJP government promised, in Mumbai it is a festering wound for all. Pankaj Joshi has several facts on hand, on how in the past three days six government notifications pertaining to converting agricultural land into just land for development. “Are we going to eat built-up space? Successive governments have thrived on this new currency of FSI. The decisions are alienating a large chunk of people,” he says.
Things take a downward spiral as issues like beef ban, farmers’ suicides, malnutrition, legislation for marital rape, appointment of CBFC chief etc come tumbling out. “I hold no brief for the Congress but in the past year not only have things not improved but have deteriorated in the rural areas,” says Dr Ashok Dhawle, who is to participate in a rally of 25,000 tribals across the state to protest the Land Acquisition Act and non-implementation of the Forest Rights Act. “The Modi government has reduced the outlay for NREGA. Instead of implementation of FRA, they are bringing in new regulations to usurp forest lands; 32 per cent of cultivable land will go if industrial corridors come up. Meanwhile, farmer suicides are increasing by the day.”
Ready with the hard facts, Dr Dhawle says, “They want to split the people on religious grounds to weaken dissent. This is a very well-orchestrated RSS plan. Achche din have come for the RSS and no one else. The changes at iconic institutions like ICHR, ICSSR are very dangerous.”
“Everything is run from the PMO. A mediocre filmmaker like Pahlaj Nihalani gets to be Censor Board chief for making up a poll slogan.”
Sardesai speaks of her ongoing fight about the appointment of CBFC chief Pahlaj Nihalani. “Everything is run from the PMO. How else would a mediocre filmmaker like him be appointed? It’s only a reward for coming up with the slogan, ‘Har har Modi ghar ghar Modi’.” Dolphy D’Souza asks about how long a centralised (control freak may be?) system can work. “More than 1,000 attacks on Christians, big and small, have taken place in the past one year. Dissent is the hallmark of any democracy and already we have to call this government a government of bans. Ban on beef, ban on books, ban on certain NGOs.” Sardesai speaks about how farmers have been further pushed into misery because of the ban on beef. “Earlier, farmers could give their cattle away. People don’t understand that the shoes they wear and bags they carry are all made from the hides of cows.” Dolphy asks, “All poor people eat beef. Can any poor person now afford to buy pulses?”
Although everyone agrees on poverty and plight of the poor, a sharp disconnect about priorities for the rural, urban, rich and poor becomes more apparent as the evening progresses. “There are hundreds of NPAs, but has any industrialist committed suicide for non-payment of loans?” “You get luxury items at zero per cent interest but a farmer often pays as high as 60 per cent interest to a private moneylender”, are some of the statements being bandied about.
Despite agreement on the need for a corruption-free government, there is little connect over how to become a free-and-fair society. As we move into the sun to pose before the iconic skyline of the city, everyone says they need to know more about the other, cards are exchanged, promises to keep in touch are made. As pictures are shot, a chaiwala hovers around us so we buy the Rs 5 chai and help him make a living by being an illegal hawker on Marine Drive. Dolphy’s words linger a bit longer, “This is a government for haves and not have-nots. Revolutions happen when the have-nots are ignored. When 60 per cent of the population can’t afford a single meal a day, it’s a frightening thought.”