On the occasion of the National Press Day organised by the Press Council of India in 2013, I, as the Union minister of information and broadcasting, had forewarned the assembled eminences of the media fraternity of the malevolence that lay ahead. I had stated:
“If I were to liberate my thoughts from the seemingly vexed issues that bedevil the media remit and ask a very simple question as to what is the fundamental public interest of our times? The answer can perhaps be articulated in one simple sentence — upholding the constitutional values, which define the very idea of India. As we go about our everyday chores dark clouds of fascism loom ominously over the horizon — a great evil stalks our land. The first casualty of this spectre would be the constriction of liberal spaces, curtailment of creativity and circumscribing the right to challenge the conventional and think of the beaten path. History bears testimony to the harsh reality that evil has always triumphed when good men have chosen to keep quiet and do nothing. When the immediate has taken precedence over imperative! When like Lord Neville Chamberlain we have been naive enough to believe that compromising with the forces of fascism, right reaction and national subversion can buy us the peace of our times. At such crossroads ladies and gentlemen do we today stand!”
A couple of days later, I again articulated my apprehensions this time to the film fraternity and the larger creative community at the International Film Festival 2013 in Goa: “Dark forces of right reaction and national subversion are waiting in the wings and, therefore, for the creative community I would like to reiterate that the price of liberty is eternal vigilance. Do not delude ourselves into subscribing to the optimistic naïveté… that any compromise with the forces of darkness can buy us the peace of our times.”
It is with profound regret and utmost sorrow I write that whatever I prophesied has come true in the past 40 odd months. Right from the word go, an all-out attempt was made by the RSS-BJP combine to change the fundamental basis of this country through coercion and intimidation. Whether it was the appointment of a “Bhakt” to the prestigious film institute in Pune or the appointment of another “Bhakt” to the chairpersonship of Central Board of Film Certification or labelling a university like Jawaharlal Nehru University as a den of anti-national elements no stone has been left unturned to implement a sinister agenda of subverting the liberal and inclusive idea of India across every institution.
With a lady who takes pride in passing of a one-week honorary souvenir from a foreign university as a degree at the helm, the entire human resource development ministry has been subjugated to the machinations of right-wing zealots to rewrite even primary school textbooks with the objective of indoctrinating the coming generations. A warped and bizarre hot mix of social sciences, history and mythology rolled into logic-defying gobbledygook has been cooked and passed off as academic curricula.
In the larger public space, hoodlum armies masquerading as cow vigilantes have been deployed to terrorise, browbeat and bludgeon minorities and progressive forces into submission. The privacy of kitchens, bedrooms and wardrobes was invaded in the name of “sanskars” (cultural values) frightening people into conforming the culinary and even wardrobe choices of the “powers that be”. Had it not been for the prevailing environment perhaps there may not have been a unanimous nine-zero Supreme Court judgment on right to privacy.
A verbal “Molotov cocktail” was designed whose noxious verbiage has been ruthlessly deployed to stamp out any and every alternative voice by labelling criticism of the government as being anti-national, dissent with the BJP/RSS as seditious and any questioning of the national security establishment as treacherous.
A portentous mix of oligarchs, big media houses and fake babas have been employed to continuously sing a raga — that tells people that one nation, one religion, one tax, one führer and only and only one voice is good for them. The rest are better dead.
That is precisely what the national socialist/fascist strategy was in Germany in 1933 after the collapse of the Weimar Republic. The Nazis reserved their most “tender love” for writers, thinkers, artists, painters and other members of the creative community. Holocaust museums in Washington DC, New York, Berlin and Jerusalem have documented those atrocities in poignant detail. A spectre of fear was created across Nazi Germany in the early 1930s characterised by the night of the long knives and “Kristallnacht” — night of the broken glass.
Once the great terror was instilled in the hearts and minds of the populace it was then very easy to pick people up at will and dispose them off. As German priest Martin Niemöller summed up the Holocaust: “First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out — because I was not a socialist. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out — because I was not a trade unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out — because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me — and there was no one left to speak for me.”
A news report buried on the inner pages of a newspaper says it all: “Journalist-activist Gauri Lankesh and Kannada scholar M.M. Kalburgi were killed with the same 7.65 mm country-made pistol, preliminary findings of the Forensic Sciences Laboratory have indicated. ‘Given our wherewithal, we could establish an 80 per cent similarity in the weapon used in the two crimes,’ a source with access to the preliminary report said.” Kalburgi’s murder in Dharwad, Karnataka, on August 30, 2016, was preceded by the slayings of two other rationalists and objectors, Narendra Dabholkar and Govind Pansare. They were not influential in the conventional sense of the term, but their capacity questioned religious stereotypes and vociferously made false gods scramble for shelter.
While it is material to punish those who conspired and specially those who pulled the trigger on Lankesh, it is equally important to fight the atmosphere of hate, dread, evil and terror that emboldens the “intolerant” irrespective of their ideological hue to take the next step that is to eliminate dissent forever by neutralising the dissenter itself. For when a culture of violence pervades the environment, it emboldens all kinds of elements to take the law into their own hands. Right-wing fundamentalism and left-wing extremism are two sides of the same coin.
As Primo Levi, the Italian Jewish writer puts it: “The true crime, the collective, general crime of almost all Germans of that time (i.e. Nazi period) was that of lacking the courage to speak.” It is one thing for politicians, journalists and civil society activists to protest and it is another thing for the silent majority to stand up against the anarchy, let loose in the past three and a quarter years across our great land. You must — before it is too late.