Democratic dissent has come to be renamed treason
The year that has begun might well turn out to be the most momentous in the memory of our lives, or in the memory of the lives of most of us. How many of us are still around, after all, who were alive and aware in 1947? Or in 1950? We, as we are today, began in 1947. And then, in 1950, we agreed upon the fundamentals of who we would be and how we would go about being so — we gave unto ourselves our Constitution.
Its letter and spirit have never come under such rampant and consistent assault as during the years that Narendra Modi assumed the reins of government and Amit Shah the reins of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party. The lines between government and party, loyalty to nation and loyalty to person, have been sought to be cynically obliterated during this time, and a new ultra-aggressive, right-wing monotheism spurred. Democratic dissent has come to be renamed treason.
What could have been a greater assault on our collective beliefs than the arrival of a dispensation that proactively, though quasi-covertly, promoted the apparatchik and aspiration of Hindu rashtra, the very antithesis of what we, the people of India that is Bharat, had set out to be, not a glowing contrast to Mohammed Ali Jinnah’s Pakistan but a humungous, and more menacing, doppelgänger of his idea? Under Modi and Shah, the antithesis of the constitutional Idea of India was promoted apace.
Nathuram Godse, the murderer of Mahatma Gandhi, was gleefully deified. Godse was sought to be resurrected as an iconoclastic hero of New India by a horde that believed the arrival of the Modi-Shah regime had relieved it of the shame of Godse worship. Shah was diabolically inventive in his summation of Gandhi. He labelled him, “chatur baniya”.
Jawaharlal Nehru, verily the architect of modern India, the most complex but most stable of post-colonial democracies, was consciously undermined and damned, his legacy lavished with unsavoury and mostly untrue puffery. Nehru, in the lexicon of the ‘Rediscovery of New India’, was born in a brothel and died of syphilis, having spent most of the intervening period playing playboy. Many of those who authored or endorse the scurrilous New India Nehru biography are followed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on social media. Look up the list of those that this prime minister also follows and you shall be in possession of a proper rogues’ gallery.
These last few years have seen the inspired, and paid, eruption of a toxic propaganda machine that specializes in inventing lies and farming out disinformation that is of both Nazi and Soviet grade. This machine is helmed by the likes of Amit Malviya, chief of BJP’s IT cell, whose daily dabbling in fakery is legion. Such that he often snares senior ministers into endorsing his false claims and embarrasses them into having to publicly revise and recant. But Malviya and his troll cohort, installed and encouraged by the Modi-Shah tandem, have proceeded regardless; unashamed and persuaded, in goblian fashion, that their diabolical litany of lies and falsification will eventually rule public perception. In another time, the likes of Malviya and his paid media galley-gangs would have been consigned to the coolers for what they daily do, but not under the benevolent Modi-Shah aegis. Cut. Paste. Concoct. Manufacture. Repeat the lie. Ridicule the truth. That’s been the credo of the ruling dispensation, fired by innumerable social media engines. For many of which the anthem is ‘Go to Pakistan!’
Never have Indians been so vigorously invited to go to Pakistan. Any Indian that dissented or disagreed with the rulers during the last few years — and mind you, no more than 30-something per cent of Indians voted for these rulers in 2014 — was, at some point, referred on a febrile forefinger pointed towards Pakistan by the hypernationalist proprietors of Hindu rashtra.
Our countrymen have been publicly thrashed and lynched on suspicion of consuming cows or doing commerce with them, both age-old Indian practices. These killers have been celebrated as heroes, their victims often photographed as trophies. Being Dalit has often been no less a crime; they’ve been goaded into suicide, chased, tied, whipped, interned, slaughtered. Students have been besmirched by dirty-tricks propagandists and persecuted for employing what rights the Constitution gives them. The minorities have been stereotyped and lumped as a bad-news creed deserving of exclusion and worse. The arrowhead of prejudice has very often been the prime minister himself, spinning metaphors of fracture — paanch-pachees, shamshaan-kabristaan. He installed a leader accused of grievous sectarian wrongdoing as chief executive of India’s most populous state. That man was then given the added title of roving ambassador of hate and chauvinism. One after the other, persons convicted or charged with heinous crimes were bailed out or plain let off, as if a majoritarian amnesty had been unveiled. The citizenry, on the other hand, found itself repeatedly eroded of its rights to privacy — Aadhaar regulations forced down its throat, sweeping directives issued on Big Brother snooping.
In mercilessly pellet-ridden Kashmir, a young man was hog-tied to the bonnet of an army jeep and driven around as human shield; the atrocity came to be officially lauded as a smart, even brave, act. The army brass itself came to be encouraged by the Establishment to intervene in the political discourse as never before. Driven to desperation by covert executive interference, judges of the Supreme Court staged an unprecedented show to express their grouse and apprehensions. The Central Bureau of Investigation came to be so riddled with governmental intrusion and manipulation that its top bosses duelled in the open. The CBI chief was dismissed; he went to court challenging his ouster and making serious allegations against the government he served. Another institution recurrently riven and shaken was the Reserve Bank of India. One governor did not wait on expectations of another term; his successor quit in a huff over mounting disagreements with the government and a board probably packed over his wishes. The unravelling wages of demonetization weighed heavy on the bank and the millions it serves. These were also times in which Indians had rights to their own banked earnings severely curtailed. It was little comfort that during the same period, abstractedly huge sackfuls of taxpayer cash were siphoned off by buccaneers that chief government actors once patronized.
None of the above-mentioned is fake news, although there has been plenty of it served out recently. Maharana Pratap defeated Akbar at Haldighati, for instance, and tea was brewed on noxious emissions off the gutters.
But the above-mentioned do make a few reasons why the year just begun could become the most momentous one in the memory of our lives, this way or that. This year is election year and we get to make a choice.
It had been suggested, not entirely in jest, that this being the writing day of the turn of the year, I could write about hangovers; this turned out to be just that — a note on a twisting hangover.