Make no mistake. Over the last nine years, we Indians have been living through the darkest time by far in the history of our 76-year-old nation. And things are going to get darker and uglier before they get better. In fact, as our 80th Independence Day looms behind the 76th, let’s be absolutely clear that by the time things ‘get better’ — meaning the lives of ordinary people living in our chunk of the subcontinent reaching some state of long-term, peaceful happiness — our country and society may have taken even more horrendous amounts of damage.
When the elected leader of a democracy stands up to speak before the elected legislature of another democracy, the assumption is that she or he is speaking on behalf of the entire population of the country. When the visiting leader then proceeds to verbally push nearly 15% of his populace into the garbage bin of false history it should be a matter of dismay, if not for the hosts then certainly for his fellow citizens. In June, Narendra Modi, the current prime minister of the Republic of India, stood before the US Congress and claimed that we Indians are celebrating 76 years of independence from a thousand years of foreign rule. Purloining credit for an independence struggle and the great achievements of the trickiest first thirty years (towards both of which his controlling organisation, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, provided only slimy obstacles) in one stroke, Modi tried to nullify the greatest ever anti-colonial movement and turn the complex history of a millennium into a simplistic majoritarian propaganda one-liner. According to Modi’s formulation, all the Hindu kings with Muslim generals, all the Muslim kings with Hindu generals, all the different dynasties of rulers of different religious faith who were born here and died here, all the administrations that made the subcontinent one of the wealthiest regions in the world, were all ‘foreign’ and no different from the British and their rapaciously exploitative colonial rule.
This would be risible, but the laughter gets chopped off for the same reason the buffoonish demagoguery of Adolf Hitler was ultimately horrifying. Modi’s idea of ‘freedom’ and ‘independence’ means that under his rule the ethnic majority of a state is free to grab guns from police stations and turn them on a minority population; Modi’s idea of a ‘New India’ means that the second-largest religious group in a supposedly secular, religio-neutral democracy now lives under increasing fear as more and more innocent people get murdered for no crime other than being Muslim; Modi’s idea of ‘beti bachao’ means taking an age to speak up on a horrifically recorded gang-rape and then to use that speech solely for political equivocation and whataboutery; the BJP-RSS’s idea of ma-behno ka samman, of respecting mothers and sisters, is the early release and the congratulatory garlanding of those convicted of another gang-rape of a Muslim woman and multiple murders of her family in Modi’s Gujarat; the BJP leaders’ alligator-pranams to statues of M.K. Gandhi and Sardar Patel mean that their party members can proclaim that Nathuram Godse was a patriot even as they pump proverbial bullets into effigies of Gandhi and vandalise everything that Patel so painstakingly put together.
It would be bad enough if religious discrimination was the only example of the ruling regime’s anti-India operations but we know that vicious and ruthless people can rarely contain those traits to just one area of their activities. We know that people who have embarked on a power-grabbing project need to activate allied dishonesties and ancillary lies in all the zones they can reach. Therefore, we have the gutting of any institution producing genuine, independent figures or statistics in economics, in critical health surveys, in ecological assessments; and we have the sabotaging of our educational and scientific institutions, with the teaching of modern, rational knowledge often being replaced by pseudo-religious claptrap. These are things that damage all Indians, no matter what their religion.
In terms of administration, we have the quantum enlargement of the bad tendencies of previous governments, a situation where every single Central law enforcement agency is now absurdly compromised, completely tainted by the dirty agenda of the politicians who give them orders. The Narcotics Control Bureau deploys its resources towards hounding and arresting a young woman actor and the teenage son of a megastar in Bombay, while saying nothing about the huge drug haul found in an inconveniently-owned port. The ace finance sleuths of the Enforcement Directorate chase after alleged and unspecified violations by reputed human rights NGOs and leading international news organisations while proven major absconders like Vijay Mallya, Mehul Choksi, Nirav M*** and Lalit M*** remain at large in salubrious sanctuaries in other parts of the world. As for the Central Bureau of Investigation, what can one say about the heroes of our dear CBI except that they now resemble clownish, fast-motion lethels being sent hither and thither by a malevolent zamindar? There is a joke making the rounds, a joke that would work equally well in any tinpot, despotic pseudo-democracy: on a given day, how does a CBI officer know whose file he has to open and whose dossier he has to ‘misplace’? Simple — he checks the morning news to see which of the suspects have defected to the ruling party.
But again, when you look at the concerns with the electoral bonds’ deep denting of the level playing field in elections and the almost complete enslavement of the country’s mainstream media, it is the laughter that gets put into the back of the safe. Joe Biden and Antony Blinken can cynically pump up Narendra Modi all they want to serve what they see as American interests. Emmanuel Macron can garland Modi with the Grand Cross of the Légion d’Honneur in order to support France’s military aviation industry but history will deem it to be a Légion d’Horreur and some future Banksy will replace Macron’s face with Leonid Brezhnev’s and Modi's with Erich Honecker’s. As we Indians approach the darkest anniversary of our badly-damaged Independence, we have to be clear that we will need to continue our own fight for liberty, equality and fraternity, continue our own battle for the right of each of our citizens to pursue happiness.