Slumdog Republic


It was always the worst kept secret in India, but has now finally become official – those who run the Republic of India do not need the Public of India at all. What is worse, they in fact see the latter as a grave threat to their very existence.

All this was amply evident on Republic Day this year, as the Tamil Nadu Chief Minister unfurled the Indian flag at Chennai’s Marina Beach. There was much pomp and showbut a minor detail was somehow missing from the scene– there was no audience.

While the tricolor did flutter prettily in the cool sea breeze to the melody of the national anthem, it did so ‘amidst tight security’and to empty stands.

The absence of people at the ceremony in Chennai had a background to itof course. In the run up to the Republic Day event, for nearly a week,over thirty thousand people had gathered at the same venue to demand the lifting of a ban on the traditional Tamil bull-taming sport of jallikattu.

For a very brief while, it seemed the keepers of the Indian Republic were operating in tune with the country’s enlightened Constitution – that guarantees freedom of assembly, speech and dissent to every citizen.The popular protest challenged the Indian Supreme Court’s verdict on the issue forcing politicians to scramble to bring in new laws to meet their demands.

Protestors expanded their demands beyond restoration of jallikattuto include issues such as the drought in the state, farmer’s suicides and the economic crisis sparked off by Narendra Modi’s foolish demonetization experiment. The Indian mediashowcased the campaign as an example of how mature Indian democracy had become – the crowdswere peaceful and the authorities patient.

In the end it turned out,all this show of democracy was possible only due to a massive ‘intelligence failure’ on part of those in power- they had never expected the Indian people to actually try to exercise their rights. Surprised by an uprising of this scale and intensity,they had no choice except to play along initially.

When the Indian state apparatusfinally woke up, it was perhaps shocked at its own civilized conductwhen faced by the people’s audacity. It did not take long forit to bare its fangs for all to see.

In the early morning hours of 23rd January, local police launched an unprovoked attack on the protestors aimed at dispersing them. Women, children, the elderly – everyone was severely thrashed, dozens of youth arrested and as some video grabs showed, the police even vandalized and set fire to homes of fisher folk who gave shelter to fleeing protestors.

Among the excuses given for all this brutality was that the Indian army needed the venue to prepare for the upcoming Republic Day show! What this confirmed was something many Indians have realized for a long time – the Republic has been hollowed out completely to a point, where the Parade had turned into a Parody and the Ceremony is indeed more important the Constitution itself.

Another excuse authorities trotted out was the crowds had been infiltrated by ‘anti-national’ elements and ‘miscreants’, possibly even by ‘religious extremists’. From the lofty, protected perch India’s political and social elite sit on, these are descriptions that would in fact fit 90% of the country’s population.

Nearly seven decades ago, when India declared itself a Republic and adopted one of the most progressive constitutions anywhere in the world, it was hailed asa huge leap forward for this vast, diverse and desperately poor country. Ruled by warlords, emperors and colonial dictatorships for most of its 5000-year history the granting of fundamental rights to life, liberty and justice was seen as a truly revolutionary concept.

Much of this was possible due to the long history of India’s fight for freedom and democracy against British imperialism as also the visionary leadership of those who discussed, debated and drafted the Indian Constitution. And yet, today it turns out that – for a vast majority of the Indian population – every progressive provision of this grand document remains as dead as the ink it is written with.

For all its claims to being a Republic, the truth is,India today is a land of many monarchs who take turns to come to power and protect each other’s interests at the cost of the Indian people. The villains of the past have morphed into a dozen modern avatars of the feudal lord – as politicians, businessmen, bureaucrats, police and even underworld dons – all suckling at the teats of the public exchequer.

These monarchs need the public as voters to legitimize their rule but the flesh and blood Indian citizen to them is just a rag of tissue paper to be used and thrown away. Once in a while the voter turns citizen and poses a grave danger to the Republic of Indiaby demanding his/her Constitutional rights. The only way to deal with such ‘scum’then is by using the lathi and the gun, while the keepers of the Republic wrap themselves with the national flag and shout ‘Bharat Mata ki Jai’, under armed protection.

Given their deep fear of the ‘unruly masses’, it is not surprising at all that the country’s politicians, together witha bankrupt but ‘patriotic’ media, have foisted ‘national security’ over every other priority in the country. People who have nothing to eat, no roof over their heads and whose children die of treatable diseases are supposed to sacrifice everything for a piece of ice on some remote border.

The annual Republic Day parade in the national capital New Delhi has been dominated by an obscene display of expensive arms, bought with public money for quite some time now. While ostensibly meant to defend the nation- these weapons are in fact intended as a show of power to awe the Indian people themselves into submission. ‘Behave or the Brahmo missile will burn your ass!’

It is not a coincidence that today India– despite its great poverty and deprivation – has become the world’s 3rd largest military force and the 4th largest spender on defense, surpassing countries like Russia and Saudi Arabia[1]. India now also has the world’s largest paramilitary force, which in size is almost the same as the entire Indian army. In 2016 the Indian defense budget, at US$51 billion formed over 17 per cent of the total central government expenditure for the yearin sharp contrast to just 1.62 percent allocated for health[2] and 4 percent for education[3].

India is also, for many years, the world’s largest market for imported arms. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, India accounted for14% of the global imports of weapons in the 2011-2015 timeframe, three times greater than those of China and Pakistan in the same period. India has spent over $120 billion on arms acquisitions over the last 15 years[4].

What are the implications of this splurging of scarce national resources for the day-to-day security of ‘India’ – a euphemism for the country’s nationalelite?The answer is probably quite well known but worth reiterating – more hunger, death and misery for the masses.

India has over one-third of the poorest people in the world,who live with little access to basic infrastructure. Officially, 76 million people or roughly 6 percent of India’s population does not have access to safe drinking water[5] but the numbers are likely to be several times more. And according to the 2011 Census of India over 49.8% or almost half the Indian population did not have access to toilets.

India also has the world’s largest number of children suffering from malnutrition.According to estimates made by the FAO there were over 194 million undernourished people in India in 2014-16, the world’s largest number and representing almost a quarter of the globe’s undernourished population.

All this translates into a horrendous burden of disease. In 2016, out of an estimated 10.4 million new TB cases worldwide in 2015, India accounted for 2.8 million.In 2010, it was estimated[6]350,000 pneumonia deaths occurred in children younger than 5 years in India, whilediarrhea kills an estimated 300,000 children each year[7]. Just road accidents kill around 200,000 Indians annually but nobody really cares as protecting ‘India’ is far more important than saving Indians.

In the meanwhile a few Indian business families have amassed phenomenal wealth at the expense of the entire nation.A recent report by Oxfam International on global income inequality says 57 billionaires in the country have the same amount of wealth as the bottom 70%[8]. The top 1 per cent of the Indian population owns 58.4 per cent of India’s total wealth. The only country with a worse record is Russia.

There is no doubt at all the Indian ruling elites are converting the country into a full-fledged police state precisely to maintain these inequalities and keep citizens in perpetual poverty. And as public opposition to government policies rises so does the money and powers allocated to the men in uniform. The Indian ruling class have become Slum Lords and India has become, what can only be called a Slumdog Republic.

So how would have Dr B.R.Ambedkar, the architect of the Indian Constitution orM.K.Gandhi, who led the Indian freedom movement, responded to the current situation?

Given the complete deviation from Constitutional values and objectives as well as the prevailing ethos of the elites brazenly looting the nation, both Ambedkar and Gandhi would have both, surelycalled for nothing short of a popular rebellion to reestablish democracy in its true sense.

While Ambedkar frowned upon both ‘bloody revolution’ as well as the ‘grammar of anarchy’ he found in even non-violent agitations, he also was a staunch proponent of using democratic rights to transform social realities. As he once said, ‘We are having this liberty (provided in the Constitution) in order to reform our social system, which is full of inequality, discrimination and other things, which conflict with our fundamental rights.”

Gandhi was skeptical about the idea of ‘rights’ and preferred to use the term ‘duties’, which he urged everyone to carry out irrespective of where they were placed in society. At the same time he also pointed out that if the rulers failed to carry out their responsibilities then it was the duty of the citizen to oppose them in a non-violent manner.

Gandhi,who was the original ‘grammarian of anarchy’ that Ambedkar referred to, would have perhaps enthusiastically supported a nation-wide movement of civil disobedience against those who run the Indian Republic today.

Despite their differences in approach, the ‘madness’ and ‘anarchy’ of public protests, to both Gandhi and Ambedkar, would have appeared preferable to the ‘grammar of unjust stability’ any day. What the country needs today is a combination of both perspectives to uphold the Indian Constitution while dismantling through mass action every barrier to its implementation.

It is only then that a beginning can be made towards liberation of a billion plus people of this country who are held hostage by India’s corporate and feudal monarchies, with the collusion of Indian military and police.

Satya Sagar is a journalist and public health workerwho can be contacted at [email protected]





[5]Caught short How a lack of toilets and clean water contributes to malnutrition. Water Aid. June 2016.

[6]Farooqui H, Jit M, Heymann DL, Zodpey S. Burden of Severe Pneumonia, Pneumococcal Pneumonia and Pneumonia Deaths in Indian States: Modelling Based Estimates. Hill PC, ed. PLoS ONE. 2015;10(6):e0129191. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0129191.

[7] Million Death Study Collaborators. Bassani DG, Kumar R, Awasthi S, Morris SK, Paul VK, et al. Causes of neonatal and child mortality in India: A nationally representative mortality survey. Lancet. 2010;376:1853–60.



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