"Padmaavat" Undoes The Red Carpet Modi Just Promised The World

Published: January 24, 2018 20:52 IST
So Prime Minister Narendra Modi has promised the world that the red carpet is being rolled out for anyone wanting to invest in India. And he has promised that the red tape associated with India will go. But if any foreign investor were to arrive in India today wouldn't they ask themselves should they be investing in a country where people are rioting, burning buses and forcing businesses to close - all because of a film!

To see the uncontrolled hooliganism that has taken over Gurugram (Gurgaon for those still unaccustomed to this name), parts of Rajasthan and Gujarat, three BJP-run domains, and three very popular destinations for industry, any businessmen, foreign or otherwise, would ask searching questions before putting their money into these states. They would ask why the government was unable to maintain law and order. And the simple answer would be that the violence is being led by the Karni Sena which is being permitted to call the shots - none of the governments running these states want to act as governments.
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A school bus carrying students was attacked in Gurugram by a mob protesting "Padmaavat"

The fact that BJP state governments first opposed the screening of "Padmaavat" on ideological grounds (or mythological grounds) and then by claiming, including in the Supreme Court, that they would not be able to handle law and order only supports the argument that they are unwilling to do their job. And if they are unwilling to do their job in this case, what about the next instance? It should be plain to any business person that the very lumpen elements that are rioting just now over something they haven't even seen could easily turn and start rioting outside factories, fanned by disgruntled elements over any minor issue.

Nor would the investor find any succor in the stance of the union government which has remained completely silent on this issue. And that is not surprising. Seldom does this government directly on indirectly criticize what can be termed as Hindu fanaticism or extremism. The regular murder of people ostensibly because they were slaughtering or carrying cows to slaughter has only obliquely been criticised. Modi has made a few comments on this in his speeches, but there have been no clear orders to state governments to stamp out this lawlessness.
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Groups like Karni Sena have vowed to block Padmaavat at all costs, in defiance of Supreme Court orders

There is an inherent contradiction in the way the BJP deals with issues. As the central government, it tries hard to project India as a modern, growing economy (to become the third-largest by 2025, according to the Finance Minister) and an open society encouraging foreign investment and business in part by trying to reform institutions for the sake of doing business. And to a large extent, there have been improvements and easing of the way business is done, perhaps not as much as people may have wanted, but something is happening.

On the flip side, as a political party, the BJP wants to sweep elections, eliminate the Congress, and establish itself as the dominant political party in the country for the foreseeable future. There, it returns to its very Hindu roots and its baser instincts. Here, in the political cauldron that is India, pushing Hindutva is the agenda. So everything from rampant communalism and banning cow slaughter to encouraging mythology over science is used to power the Hinduvta engine. And who can blame them? The BJP clearly found that using Hindutva was a political strategy that bore fruit, consolidating Hindu voters to overpower the Congress. The BJP has no need to pander to minorities as long as it keeps the Hindutva fires burning.
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Violence and arson have been reported from parts of Haryana, Gujarat, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh

And it is this agenda in a year crowded with elections that the BJP is loath to in anyway disturb, lest it hurt their base. In states like Rajasthan, where the BJP government is facing a recharged Congress, this "Padmaavat" controversy is a God-send for them to show their support for "Rajput values". Strangely enough, Rajasthan was also one of the more progressive states in terms of attracting industry by easing labour norms and other problematic industrial licensing issues. But after this non-stop agitation about a film, why would business want to come to Rajasthan? And that's true of a tourist as well - why lose a couple of days of your holiday because of something like this?

India may be a big market with great potential, but there are other markets with better infrastructure and a better-educated work force that also come with fewer chances of getting caught in a riot over some non-issue or being gored by a bull (as happened to Argentinian tourist in Jaipur). Let's get real - when the same states that are building the freight corridor can't govern, then money will go where money is wanted and money is safe.

(Ishwari Bajpai is Senior Advisor at NDTV.)

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of NDTV and NDTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.

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