The Modi government is undoubtedly tensed this Budget session. A reason thereof is the nationalism debate has began to backfire against it and may result in putting parliamentarians from the BJP in a spot. But the more pressing cause for concern, hidden from media glare, is that the government continues to be cash-strapped and will soon run out of ways of saving revenue and liquidating state-owned assets.
In what seems to be a desperate attempt to shoot up funds in its kitty, the NDA government has promulgated the Enemy Property (Amendment & Validation) Ordinance, 2016. Bizarre yet an intelligent idea wherein the party in power can veil its exploits to economic glory by bringing back politically controversial legislations, thereby misleading public eye from the real issue.
The Enemy Property ordinance says that the ownership of property registered in the names of those who had left India to settle in ‘enemy’ nations vests with the Government of India, specifically with the office of the Custodian of Enemy Property. This means that from the effective date of 7 January, 2016, the Centre must ensure confiscation of every such property wherein the original owner had accepted citizenship of Pakistan post 1948 and China post 1962. Most importantly, the ordinance also lays out that the law of succession is inapplicable to enemy property.
If this ordinance turns into a law, the government will be held responsible for two outfalls in society. One - snatching away ancestral property from heirs who chose to be ‘loyal’ Indian citizens. Two – reviving the sensitive issue of partition and war with Pakistan, eventually stoking up the question of who is a true nationalist.
Taking a leaf out of Bollywood, real life Saif Ali Khan, the heir of the Pataudi family’s Bhopal properties, may actually go through the emotional turmoil that reel life Shahrukh Khan did in Chak De India as he vacated his home. The label that he was given in the movie- Gaddar!
In playing out such a sensitive discourse, the more pertinent monetary fallout for the government is earning lakhs of crore rupees from selling enemy property once confiscated. According to a Catch News report, Uttar Pradesh has 5,000 enemy properties and Bengal has 2,735, among others in Madhya Pradesh, Punjab and the Hyderabad region.
If the Centre sells them at current market prices, it could raise more than Rs. 1 lakh crore that could virtually write off bad loans accumulated by state-owned banks for over 3 years. But even if it decides to keep them as state property, any earnings from such entities would flow directly into the government’s pockets in huge amounts.
It almost seems like a far-sighted bureaucrat, researching India’s budget woes, worked extra hours to dig out a viable legislation to generate income for the NDA government, even if that means it would negate a 2005 Supreme Court order favouring the successors of enemy property to reclaim their homes.
Going by the trend, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley has been quite conservative in pushing the bar on the government’s giving capacity. News reports suggest that the Modi government has reaped enormously from the steep fall in global oil prices and by not passing on the benefit to consumers – saving an estimated Rs. 3 lakh crore in the last year to be precise. The timing of promulgating the Enemy Property ordinance only illustrates the government’s jugaad ways of accumulating wealth, apart from its ambitious but unrealistic yearly disinvestment targets.
All that this savior of an idea needs is a social media strategist, an unpatriotic nationalist and a celebrity scapegoat like Saif Ali Khan to run the matinee show of divisive rhetoric. What’s more? It serves the best interest of the anti-Pakistan Hindutva agenda and may hit the dart of political correctness unlike the lost battle with the Jawaharlal Nehru University fiasco.
Meanwhile, the Congress party would hesitate to pick a strong side as its government in the past had attempted to pass the Enemy Property legislation in Parliament but found dissent from among its own members, mostly because some of them were heirs to enemy property owned by their ancestors of Pakistani citizenship.
In the middle of all the right-wing extremism of the BJP and the dynastic elitism of the grand old Congress party, the average voter is led from one illusory narrative to another as any government would try its hardest to keep the real motivation of an issue under wraps.