india independence day

I have recently been reading and re-reading some of the important works which attempt to understand the various strands that make up the tangled strands of present-day India. In my day to day work too I have been encountering facets of the Indian state and its institutions as encountered by the women especially those marginalised in society. Their access to justice and rights, and how the state responds; the way the media and civil society have been working on these and related issues; conversations with thinkers – my consciousness has been alive to all these factors as well.

One of the books I have been reading is Post-Hindu India by Kancha Ilaiah, written in 2009 in which he predicts – “[H]induism would die much before the other religions exhaust their potential to influence the masses”. He adds, “Hindu scholars never realized that the Indian Dalit-Bahujan masses, who constitute a great majority of the national population, are slowly but surely moving away from Hindu spiritual fascism”.

I reflected on the fact that just five years after the publication of this book, far from dying, the Hindutva forces captured the central government with just 31% of the total vote, and at the end of another five, had come back to power for a second term with a relatively small increase to 37% of the total vote. There has been a rise in street level communal temperature with public lynchings of poor unarmed working class Muslims by mobs mostly comprising of young males radicalized into violent anti-Muslim sentiment, mostly in the northern cow-belt. The gruesome violence is multiplied many-fold by the rapid dissemination of viral videos of these killings across the country, normalizing the violence and desensitizing the people to such gratuitous violence, and underlining the fact that there is little to pay for the perpetrators, who enjoy impunity for their actions from a complaisant state and law-and-order machinery.

There are increasing atrocities against Dalits, especially Women and girls, with the Unnao case being still fresh in public memory. Crimes against women in general too are rising, along with various kinds of caste atrocities.

The Northeastern states, including those with significant tribal and Christian populations, are ruled by BJP governments. Goa, another state with significant Christian population, also gave a majority to a non-BJP government but by buying out the MLAs, the BJP purchased power from the elected representatives and is presently in power there as well. In Karnataka as well, which had the first BJP-led state government in South India, they were able to suborn the loyalty of 17 MLAs and wangle their way into power in the state with a wafer-thin majority.

The “suspension” of Art 370 affirming the special status of Kashmir, the over 60 – day lockdown of internet and the claims of ‘normalcy’ despite a citizens boycott of schools, markets, and offices – all appear to show a confident government with a supreme disregard of the norms of governance or even international public opinion. At the same time, the implementation of the National register of Citizens in Assam, the holding of a large number of residents in detention centres, and the list itself which after revision found almost 20 million persons were “non-citizens” with no clarity on what happens to these people now that they are illegal residents – all these also find almost no outrage from public or media or effort by any responsible member of the government to address the negative public relations outcomes of these policies.

The present PM, with a larger-than-life image built by purchasing media time, fake news, and hype, travels to every international conclave possible and has high-profile meetings with the presidents of the US and China, addresses the UNSC, and generally behaves like a Head of State, PM, Foreign Minister, and Commerce and Trade Minister all rolled into one. He “endorses” the President of the USA in his bid for re-election ad a huge “Howdy, Modi” event for PIOs in the US. All this while his Home Minister travels across the country micromanaging state-level elections to ensure that victory ensues to the BJP and its allies. The opposition parties, whether of the state or at national level, appear to be moribund and have almost no counter, as far as media statements or street-level protests against the governments go.

All of the foregoing indicates that the hindutva forces are firmly in the saddle and  hardly makes a picture of Hindus losing the plot, right?

Yes, if we go by the impressions given by the media and public pronouncements by the government’s spokespersons.

But what of these facts, also reported by the media at the same time, but not given much importance?

Was the electoral outcome really the will of the people or was it won with the perpetration of a massive fraud by the switching of EVMs? If not, why did the election commission not put up the actual figures of votes on its website which still showed provisional figures for several months (till recently) after the government took over?

Falling GDP estimates including by the World Bank; economists and statisticians of international repute sign a statement asking for the independence of data by researchers (including the latest Nobel laureate economist couple); thousands of Indians and their supporters agitating outside the venue of the Howdy modi event at Houston; India falling steeply in the latest World Hunger rankings ( below even Nepal and Bangladesh, at 102 out of 117 countries, the one doing worse than India are mostly impoverished African countries); the formal banking system has lost multiple billions of rupees under the watch of this government, and most of the beneficiaries of the loan write-offs have been linked to BJP supporters and politicians.

And the much-touted lucrative deals for Indian industry are actually designed to benefit either the crony capitalists who are part of the PM’s entourage when he goes abroad, or actually benefit the host country, such as the deal he signed with the energy majors in the US which will create jobs for Americans  as well as very big economic losses for India. The Rafale deal was another such blunder, apart from being a public exposure of how deficient in ethics and technical skill are  the decision-making processes in defence purchases in India, one of the world’s largest markets for defence hardware. That this poses a huge danger to our security is a concern that no one seems to take into account.

The epic bungle of the demonetization brought the informal sector, which employs 93% of the population, to its knees and saw the loss of dozens of lives; the practical collapse of the PMC bank which was headed by a relative of a BJP politician has already taken two lives in the last two days, depite efforts by the RBI to soften the blow for the common savings account holder. The high GST rates and its complicated reporting structure has taken its toll on several sectors, notably the automobile sector which saw shrinkage of about 25% in the last year. All these factors, on the back of a shrinking global economy, untimely rains and flooding in various parts of the country causing loss of lives and property and distress on a large scale have contributed to much hardship for the common citizen and long-term economic distress and recession.

The shocking violence by marauding groups affiliated to the Sangh parivar – associated with the hardline Hindutva RSS ideology, spread countrywide by whatsapp video, may have at first caused shock and awe, but also cause widespread revulsion and loss of support as the victims are visibly quite helpless and poor.

And to the huge detriment of India’s image as being a traditionally warm and welcoming country, the demonizing of people fleeing violence, discrimination and poverty and looking for opportunities to work and get a better life for themselves and their children, we have the horror of the making of citizen registers, disenfranchising almost 20 million and putting thousands into detention camps. And this not only in the remote hilly borders of Assam but soon to be seen in a few kilometers outside Bangalore, with Karnataka being only the second state to set up such detention camps. BJP MPs from Karnataka were among the first to demand such camps and they have quickly been set up in a matter of months. The human tragedies resulting from such detention camps will soon begin to blight our land as well.

I was on Times Now a few weeks ago and called the Kashmir imbroglio and the communications lockdown a public relations disaster which was uncharacteristic of the way this government has managed its image so far. Indeed the claims of normalcy were finally belied by the government’s own newspaper ads calling on the citizens of Kashmir to give up their boycott of schools, public transport and markets. It was yet another proof of the old adage that one cannot fool all the people all the time.

Therefore, far from being self-assured and confident, this government appears to be insecure and fearful of public opinion, trying its best to put a positive face on all its bunglings with the economy, its handling of highly sensitive national and international issues.

When he sits and negotiates with world leaders like President Xi of China, an engineer and a postgraduate in Law, or Trump, who has decades of business experience as well as three generations of family business behind him, what skills does our PM bring to the table? Where exactly lie his professional skills?   “Powerful oratory”? Histrionics? Quick-Change artistry? What else?

Who are the talents he has in his talent pool? Two of the most experienced and qualified parliamentarians in his cabinet  (Arun Jaitley and Sushma Swaraj) were lost to untimely deaths due to cancer, as was Ananth Kumar, another notable leader from Karnataka. Raghuram Rajan, one of the best economists in the world who headed the RBI left before his term when the government changed, and his successor too returned to his previous job despite being handpicked for the job. And following the government’s decision on Kashmir, at least two young IAS officers resigned as they felt they could not be a part of a government that runs counter to constitutional values.

The judiciary, far from being an upholder of the rights of the citizen and holding the government accountable to the law, has been seen to be willing to pander to the smallest whim of the government or even saffronised sections who file frivolous cases against social activists or active citizens to intimidate them, perhaps cowed down by the fate of Judge Loya, who died a suspicious  death just as he was hearing a case against the present Home Minister, who appears to double up as a judge when he pronounces that the actions of an opposition politician  who was found to be dealing with a persons  wanted for terror activities as “treason” even before the matter comes to court. Will a judge dare to differ with this “legal” opinion?  There was also the absurdity of a magistrate accepting a petition  against 49 eminent citizens who wrote to the PM asking him to address the issue of the mob lynchings of Muslims, to charge them with sedition, and asking for an FIR to be filed against them! After several weeks of counter protests in support of the 49 citizens, with over 150,000 people supporting them, came the order to withdraw the FIR and the charge of sedition.

Mohan Bhagwat, the leader of the RSS, the real power behing the BJP,  has in his latest annual Vijayadashami speech –( akin to the ‘state of the nation’ speech given by Presidents in the US) spent a good deal of time basically defending the government and  its policies. He also referred to the lynchings in a somewhat tangential manner, saying the term was of western origin and referred to an incident in the Bible where Jesus defends a woman who was about to be lynched by a mob. His point was that it was unacceptable to take the law into one’s hands, and that the rule of law had to prevail. The duty of any Hindu would be to defend and protect anyone being unjustly targeted. He also gave a spin to the question “who is a Hindu?” He said that anyone who lives in India are Hindus, but conceding that some may not like to call themselves Hindus he said the term Bharatiya is also acceptable to the RSS as an identity. He acknowledged that there are all forms of faith traditions including monotheistic, polytheistic and even atheistic, in India and said that all forms of faith are a part of the diversity that is India.  Is this a way to acknowledge that the long-standing motto of the RSS – One faith, one Nation is not a tenable option in such a diverse society as India?

So what do we then conclude from this roundup of the quality of governance and leadership in the Hindutva forces which have the reins of power in their hands?

Is this a confident and bold set of leaders who have a clear vision of leadership and the future and a firm grip on the economy and the law and order situation in the country?

Or is this a government which is low on talent, lacking in leadership and depending on fear, bribery and intimidation to run the government on a day-to-day basis, with its denizens all trying their best to get their hands on some aspect of power and control in the government and its institutions?

We have seen the work of the Hindutva government and we are must admit that we – and a large part of the world with us – are not impressed. Perhaps the beginning of the end for this ideology and its votaries is approaching. It may explain why Mohan Bhagwat warned about two somewhat obscure points – one, that foreign (Chinese) companies were investing in strategic Indian ones, and the need for better security for the islands in India, like the Andamans. There is a sense of foreboding about the role of China with reference to India in the future. Something that Kancha Ilaiah refers to in his book as well.

Is this a moment when the fascist tendencies of the present government will rear their heads and swamp us?

I think that what they started with Kashmir, and the bind they now find themselves in, having lost the sympathies of the locals as well as the thinking citizens and in the international sphere, will make them realize how sticky their wicket is right now, with public perception clearly against them. The celebratory mood of people who wanted to marry a fair Kashmiri girl and buy a plot of land in Kashmir is long gone. How they will deal with a sullen populace and win back a fragile trust is a challenge which could well cost them very dear.

  Cynthia Stephen is an Independent Journalist and Social Policy Analyst



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One Comment

  1. Tigiripalli Krishna Kanth says:

    Hope you to see some more write up by admonishing others to Organize and offer resistance to all these stupidities of sanghis.

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