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India could regain a better image, if PM Modi ...

In fact, what he is suffering from is merely a “mutant” of the Islamophobia that has been sweeping the western world in recent years, aggravated by the Hindutva virus

Wednesday July 14, 2021 11:34 PM, Archbishop Thomas Menamparampil

PM Modi

Have Things Really Changed?

Alexander of Macedonia who defeated Poros near the Jhelum seems to have asked the 6.5’ tall warrior how he wished to be treated. Without a second thought he replied, “Like a king”.

The leaders from Jammu and Kashmir who met the Prime Minister affirmed in the same way their right to be treated as “Citizens of India, who stand by the Constitutions”. Nothing more, nothing less. That is what every Kashmiri expects, as every Dalit, tribal, critic, activist, NGO, or member of any minority community…no matter what language he/she speaks, what diet he keeps, what devotion he cherishes.

He is not to be forced to prove his loyalty to the nation every day in “fear and trembling”… or in the way that any Hindutva-inspired ruffian demands, which often includes a prompt reply to his war-cry “Jai Shri Ram”.

People have lost their lives for failing to satisfy such local anti-socials who had been trained and motivated by leaders at the topmost political levels with the idea of “imposing” the culture of the Dominant Majority on the unwilling. Incidents continue to be reported even from Kashmir and Lakshadweep, and BJP states in general, of atrocities committed by cow vigilantes and Hindu Yuva Vahinis.

Why then did Modiji call for an encounter with the J & K leaders? Has some sort of change come? Has Modiji changed his mind, his style, his goals? Is he admitting his mistakes one by one, noticing that the country is no longer with him? Observers says, even his body language has changed. Definitely, the world opinion with regard to the way he handled the Pandemic must have had a chastening effect. And the humiliating election results must have enabled him to look at himself with the eyes of a non-Hindi belt Indian. Or is he merely smoothening his way towards an arbitrary type of ‘delimitation’ exercise, reorganizing the constituencies in J & K to suit his party and ideology?

Shocking Decisions Lead to Shocking Consequences

Let us be frank, while admitting all the above possibilities, the real reason is just this: the US has given a clear warning. Dean Thompson, Secretary of State South and Central Asia, acting in the name of Joe Biden, has asked India to ensure speedy return to normalcy in Kashmir, the release of prisoners, and restoration of 4G access after 18 months. Just as, when Donald Trump changed his tone, Modiji could release Hydroxychloroquine without any red tape and protocols, when Biden’s message came clear, a change of policy became a necessity. Big talk of solidarity between two democracies is one thing, the real compulsions of the present geopolitical order quite another. Did not the US fleet sail through India’s territorial waters without any prior information just recently? All protests were merely ignored. This, then, is Modiji’s major contribution: he has made of India a “junior” partner in today’s Big Power game, no matter how many joint drills in the Indian seas may be dramatized.

Whatever be the reason, every committed citizen of India rejoices that an effort is being made to reconcile the estranged. Highly respected Kashmiri leaders had been “hounded” and “humiliated”, as Mehbooba Mufti says; put under house-arrest and silenced, during a period of a year and a half. Millions were placed under a ‘political quarantine’ for the same length of time. No compunction, no explanation. How did it all begin? Giddy with the election results of 2019 and guided by the RSS strategists, the newly constituted Government in Delhi stunned the world with an unexpected decision: to send in a million of their best armed men into Kashmir, to change the constitution, undo the political stature of the state, and partition the entire unit in three. Any perceptive interpreter of present disturbing trends in a rapidly changing global scenario immediately understands that ruffling the sentiments of 172.2 million of one’s fellow citizens and alienating 1.8 billion people spread over 50 Muslim countries in the world is not a service to the nation nor to humanity. That is what our Administration chose to do on August 5, 2019.

When Millions were Hurt, the Dominant Rejoiced

If millions felt hurt, also millions felt exultant, ending a constitutional limitation that they considered outdated. As a majoritarian climate had already been stabilizing itself in the country from 2014, leadership in different parties, political commentators, and even critics, were uncertain for a while which side to take. The same thing would happen again after the Ayodhya verdict. What pained a section of Indian society, lifted the majoritarians to unrealistic heights. It was, riding at the crest of that frenzy that the Modi-team passed the Citizens Act, and Amit Shah boasted that the only unfinished task was to vacate PoK and the Aksai Chin area. Pakistan winced. But China did not hesitate; she hit back hard, and 20 of our fighting men lost their lives. Whatever be the denial of the Prime Minister, reports say that the Chinese army had come in 8-10 kilometres beyond the LOC and that we have lost space.

Meantime public anger had risen against the CAA, NRC was widely rejected, and detention camps placed under question. Protests rocked the nation. If Covid had not come to its rescue, the Government could have been driven to helplessness by the mounting resentment. That explains the sudden decision of the Prime Minister to impose a lockdown, to distract people with plate clashing, and charm them with the bhumi pujan in Ayodhya. If, indeed, Modiji is a wizard, it is precisely in distracting people from real issues and from his own blunders. Populism pays in difficult times.

Ignoring Real Issues Leaves Mines Behind to Explode Later

It is often said that we have at last a Prime Minister who gets things done. We agree. Whether he gets the right things done is another matter. One may question, for example, the wisdom of going for demonetisation that impoverished the poor, GST that hit small scale industries and businesses, the Kashmir decision that alienated millions of Muslims, the temple construction that deepened the same resentment, the great dramatics with Trump risking the democratic image of the country, hasty marketing of vaccines and oxygen that left the country unprepared for the second wave. The list can be lengthened, but when we reach the Central Vista we may need to halt for a while to weigh up the matter in context.

An average citizen is happy to have new Parliament House if it has been found necessary. But its timeliness is the question, when millions of citizens have been affected by Covid-19, lakhs have died, unemployment has risen sky high, the GDP has sunk 7.3%, and the uncertainty about a third and fourth wave still remains. The technocrats worry about the monumentality of the Parliament House and the profits they can make, society about its affordability and its opportuneness at a moment when people are dying in large numbers. It is said that the Pharaohs of Egypt calculated the cost of a Pyramid not in terms of how much money it would cost, but how many lives will be required. The value of a slave was estimated by the length of time he would be in good shape for work. If this form of insensitivity to an individual slave was humiliating, the glory of the empire and the pride of the Emperor amply compensated. Such was the thought of the imperial elite. Are we returning to those days?

Emperor of the Elite

Moreover, many see a measure of contradiction in the very image of a new Parliament House built by a Government that rules by Ordinances, that gives the least importance to parliamentary discussions and debates, gets things done through crude majority ignoring diversity of opinions, reducing the exalted body to the status of a rubber-stamp institution, and runs a system that could be called a “cheerleader democracy”. In effect, it is going to be a monument to an authoritarian leader. It amounts to the “embalming” of democracy, according the Shiv Visvanathan. Is the Central Vista going to be a Central Deception, ask many. The promoters of the project will do well not only to get the work completed according to schedule, but the idea accepted by the public and the modifications they suggest integrated, lest it turns out to be a monument to folly. For we are going to go through hard times for a long while.

There were periods in recent history when India made considerable progress. For example, Seema Chishti says, between 2006 and 2016 India lifted 271 million out of poverty. But since then, we have not been so fortunate. According to Pew Research, the very poor, living below $2 per day, doubled to 134 million in recent years. In fact, during the Covid period, 57% the world’s poor increase was in India, and similarly 59.3% of the middle class decline. So, India has ended up as the land of the “mass poor” under the BJP rule. Relief measures, of course, were adopted for the rich. The bank write-offs of Rs. 1.53 lakh crores, for example, benefitted the richest few. Over 836 million may still be called marginalised. Recently the representatives of small scale and medium enterprises complained to the Prime Minister about the huge price rise in raw materials like steel, iron ore, aluminium, copper, plastics, paper, and chemicals. There was no response. As Advani said, his vocation is to be an “event manager”, not problem solver… to be a populist not a performer.

Outsourcing Unfairness and Obeying an Extra-Constitutional Authority

Today’s Indian scenario is full of contradictions. Pragya Singh Thakur, who generously offered Yoga training on International Yoga Day, has allegedly been connected with the Malegaon blasts. Swami Ramdev, who teaches Yoga for wellbeing, has appropriated thousands of acres of tribal land in Assam where many tribals themselves do not have land. Similarly, there is a certain amount of unease when Modiji says, “Yoga gives a ray of hope”. It was when he was taking lessons on “Yoga for Peace” that cow vigilantes were beating up Muslims and Dalits and even taking their lives.

On the anniversary of Indira Gandhi’s Declaration of Emergency, when Modiji alleged that the Congress had trampled over democratic ethos, there was agreement, but also hesitation. Who is teaching that chapter of Indian history? Is he someone who has lengthened his own version of Emergency over 7 years (which Randeep Surjewala calls “Modi-gency”)? Is he someone who knows how “outsource” unfairness and violence to anti-social elements to assert a Hindu Rashtra social order? Is he someone who has placed himself under extra-constitutional authorities like the VHP-RSS when appointing incompetent persons to staff the administrative machinery of the country, and seeking to weaken constitutional guarantees to minorities and the weaker sections?

Pawan Khera asks why the RSS is not registered, its members remain unknown, its income tax details not available? Why are they collecting money for the Temple from 1999, and not showing their accounts? Why are they limiting their devotion only to cow-caste-cash and temple, and not opening out to genuine Sanatana Dharma?

Let Us Return to Sober Thinking

In spite of all these, things can turn for the better. The Kashmir-related conversion may only be the beginning. Attention may be turned to the farmers. Critics may be set free. After all, Modiji has remained optimistic in the face of severe criticism. Though the Muslim world has been offended, he has not alienated the Chinese. He has retained the general confidence of the West, despite minor hitches. In fact, what he is suffering from is merely a “mutant” of the Islamophobia that has been sweeping the western world in recent years, aggravated by the Hindutva virus. If someone could administer him a few dozes of healthy secular thinking and social concern, India could regain a better image. In fact, Pandit Nehru, whatever his limitations, remained open to the secular West, the religious-minded Islamic world, the socialist Eastern Bloc, and the anxieties of the developing nations in the Third World. Modiji could learn from his elder, though at present he considers him a foe, for his own benefit and for the nation. Sober thinking saves.

Whether Joe Biden inspired Modiji’s Kashmir-conversion or not, Xi Jinping seems to have changed a bit with Biden on the scene. He gave the world a pleasant surprise when recently he said: one needs to be “humble and modest; lovable, credible and respectable”. Is this the same Xi who generally fulminated against the US in the strongest terms? I do not want to argue that it was Joe Biden’s indirect message to China that made Xi soften his tone. Joe had said that G7 would be ready take on China if situation demanded. A measured warning invites a measured reply. Xi thought it wiser to shift to China’s ancient diplomacy of “friendship-and-gifts”.

Even volatile people can return to sober thinking from time to time. Sober thinking spreads sober thinking among colleagues. Putin argued recently that Xi and Modi were capable leaders and could easily settle their differences. He also expressed a desire to continue his dialogue with Joe Biden. Yes, a conversion is possible. Conversation is possible in every direction, a change of mind can take place.

In the same way, a populist can turn into a performer, and a confrontation can end in willingness for sturdy collaboration!

[The above article is first published by IndianCurrents.org. Views expressed are author's own.]

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