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India in 2017: Almost Orwellian

Anand Sahay is a senior journalist based in Delhi.
Published : Jun 5, 2017, 12:48 am IST
Updated : Jun 5, 2017, 12:48 am IST

The worship here is strictly of the nirakaar, the formless God.

George Orwell (Photo: AP)
 George Orwell (Photo: AP)

Many call it a “selfie” government, the chief protagonist clicking his own pictures, an act made easy by modern technology, in a project of driven self-projection — one day standing on a remote road in the far border region, another at the country’s highest railway tunnel, in order to surreptitiously claim authorship of vital infrastructure projects that were more than halfway up before he arrived on the scene.

But such a description is casual; it is a serious under-representation of the reality of our times, of the period in which India is being turned into cuckoo land, of a day when people are being suckered. They are being threatened by malevolent mobs and divided on lines of religion and caste, they are being impoverished but, for all that, they are led to believe that the authority on-high is their supreme benefactor — that he is on their side.

Through crafty speechifying, the poor are led to think Robin Hood has already robbed the rich to bring moneys to shower them with gifts. The rich — not just business and industry but also prosperous professionals — are being persuaded that market-oriented reforms have arrived and their businesses, indeed their country, will thrive, and go one notch up any moment. Life has been contrived to make them live in hope. People haven’t caught on that they are standing on one platform while the train is leaving from another.

They are still to figure out that the government which runs on acronyms — the latest being MODI, which is short for Making of Developed India — is actually an advertising agency that sells images, cleverly-written lines effortlessly delivered and dreams of postponed greatness, which demand sacrifices in the present to ensure that Big Brother can be made to stay put on the pedestal, otherwise all bets are off.

“It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen,” wrote Eric Blair, better known as George Orwell, in 1984. For us this is close to the bone.  

Those who live in India in the present day will instantly recognise their own everyday reality in this, a state of being which arises from the marked difference between what the government says and does, and what is. The worship here is strictly of the nirakaar, the formless God. Those who sell the illusions know full well these will never take a concrete shape and form in the lives of the people. Wishes are not horses, and elephants will never fly. Quite simple.

We may be living in an India that is comprehensively Orwellian, and not know it. There is “doublespeak” — knowingly employing false play on words such as “surgical strike” to lull us into complacence that “the nation’s enemies” have been dispatched — accompanied by the image of a conquering Lord Ram on stage in Lucknow with a bow and arrow, with the monkey-brigade dancing attendance.

And then there is “newspeak”— the high velocity propaganda (on television) carried out less by the official Doordarshan than the private channels falling at the feet of the government lest the Enforcement Directorate or the CBI come knocking on their door, as they do with leaders of the Opposition parties these days. India has transmuted into a unique democracy where doublespeak and newspeak are the order of the day.

It is a curious coincidence. Nineteen Eighty-Four took three years to write and was published in London on 8 June (of 1949). Right now, as we approach that very date, our rulers are in a celebration mode hyping up their three years in office — as though they had completed 30 years. Kim II Sung’s successors do that sort of thing in North Korea — make a dark spot look bright, and through trickery make anything half-bright appear dazzling. Anyone you meet even in the BJP will agree, except on oath.

Three years are a long time in politics. But the pall of immorality in public affairs and decrepit public ethics began to hang a long time ago, although no one was calling it out. The bubble could burst now, with the government’s own data — recently released — showing quite convincingly that all this time we have been sold a dummy.

We are quite decidedly not the fastest growing large economy in the world, a claim that was growing tiresome with each passing day when each of us living in the real world knew this couldn’t possibly be the case. The growth rate in the first three months of the present year — which captured the data right after the official end of demonetisation, undertaken to end black money — has shown how bankrupt the official policies have been.

The figures are the worst since the present lot assumed office. And if we take the “value added” figures — which is GDP tabulated in terms of goods and services made available — for the past year, then we have slipped to five per cent plus rate of growth for the economy, a steep fall of more than two per cent. This is if we take 2011 as the base year, when the economy was in decline. This government did not wish to be judged by the yardstick of its predecessor and an earlier base year, which would have been more difficult to live up to.

Going by the earlier norm, the Narendra Modi government may have produced a growth rate below four per cent, exposing its dissimulation of three years and the use of Orwellian methods to supply a rosy, flimsy narrative. In layman’s terms, on account of faulty policies, jobs have been lost, capacities are languishing and businesses are not investing. Nor are they likely to in the foreseeable future, compounding the agony. The economy has shrunk.

What’s grown exponentially is cow vigilantism, exhortation of nationalism, loudspeakers declaring the Opposition parties corrupt and morally bankrupt, and militarist sabre-rattling because the government has no idea how to employ politics to seek a peaceful resolution of difficult issues.

If matters are not set right, we are staring at a political abyss, not just an economic one. The dalits are not impressed with the government kowtowing to win their votes through symbolic gestures like creating an “Ambedkar pilgrimage circuit”, and are in rebellion. The Muslims are chafing. The backward Patels of Gujarat are on the warpath. This will happen when coercion is the mantra of governance.

Tags: modi government, lord ram, surgical strike