In three years of Mr Modi’s rule, the government has managed to obfuscate India’s constitutional guarantees.
To believe or not to believe, that is the question. As we celebrate three years of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government, we are told that life is beautiful. We are doing fabulously, corruption has been eradicated, reforms have made everyone’s life so much better, we now live in a clean and captivating Swachh Bharat, Sundar Bharat, we have jobs, food and economic growth, we are charging forth creating more wealth and everyone from farmers to industrialists have reason to cheer. Mr Modi is our Maximum Leader, we hear, who has put India decisively on the path to glory. He is also firmly on the side of the poor and downtrodden, and is working towards development for all: Sabka saath, sabka vikas.
Meanwhile, every single day you see stuff in the news that makes you catch your breath and wonder what happened to your country. Lynching seems to have become acceptable. Majoritarian vigilantism has government sanction. Mob justice is a way of life. The police watches silently as citizens are killed. Institutions are losing their independence. History is brazenly being rewritten. Democratic freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution are scornfully cast aside.
Even the last pillars of democracy are under threat. Justice is not always blind, nor is it always just, now that it has started to ask the victims and the perpetrators to mutually work out a solution in some politically charged cases. And the voting mechanism, which carries the nuts and bolts of democracy on its shoulders, is being challenged as well. Only the fact that the Election Commission has invited displeased political parties for a hackathon — challenging them to show how EVMs can be tampered with — reminds us that we are in India, where we have the right to ask questions and be treated with respect.
In three years of Mr Modi’s rule, the government has managed to obfuscate India’s constitutional guarantees. And confused by glowing reviews by a careful media, we fail to see that we are on our way to replacing the inclusive, pluralistic, rational Indian nationalism promised by the Constitution with an exclusive, divisive, faith-based Hindu nationalism that flies in the face of almost everything that our Constitution ensures.
Now suddenly we are not Indians, defined by our nationality, with the same set of rights but Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Sikhs and others, we are dalits or OBCs or upper castes, we are women or men, and our rights seem to vary accordingly.
In these three years, we have started to believe that our private life is not private. That it is okay for the government to suddenly scrap our currency notes. And to tell us how much of our own money we can spend in a day, or in a week. And to tell us that the voluntary Aadhaar card is now mandatory. That you will not get what is your right without it, that your child will not get her/his mid-day meal in school without it. So you must have the Aadhaar card, which will be linked to everything and the government and its friends will have all your personal data, and so will any hacker in our hacker-friendly government systems.
We have started to believe that we can go out and meddle in other people’s private affairs. We can beat them up or kill them if we think they eat beef. We can lynch any cattle trader because the cow is our mother. We can lynch a Muslim for allowing another Muslim to elope with a Hindu girl. We can drag a man out of his home and beat him up for having an affair with a Hindu girl. We can lynch anybody based on rumours — cow-thief, beef-eater, child-snatcher, rapist, whatever. Because it doesn’t matter whether you are right or wrong, you know you can do it and you have the support of the government. Gau rakshaks, anti-Romeo squads and the Hindu Yuva Vahini are just the most prominent of the vigilante groups. The victims are almost always Muslims and dalits. But once horrific violence becomes acceptable, anyone unprotected can be killed. Like last week three Hindus travelling through Jharkhand’s East Singhbhum district were lynched by a mob of desperate tribals egged on by a cold-blooded rumour machine.
In these three years we have learnt that it is possible to ignore the secular principles of our pluralistic country and make a vigilante leader known for his anti-Muslim views the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, the state particularly vulnerable to Hindu-Muslim riots and the home of the Babri Masjid/Ram Janmabhoomi. Yogi Adityanath, the saffron-clad founder of the violence-prone Hindu Yuva Vahini, is the militant Hindutva leader who had declared that he would not stop till he turns not just UP but India into a Hindu rashtra.
Which may not be too far away. Now we have a bill in Parliament that seeks to make the Bhagavad Gita a compulsory text in schools. We inaugurate a seminar in a Central government institute with Hindu yagnas. We muzzle free thought in universities. We change textbooks to create a Hindu history. We belittle great Muslim rulers and try to wipe out the contribution of Muslims to the country. We rename monuments and streets, like renaming Delhi’s Aurangzeb Road as APJ Abdul Kalam Road.
We learn that the Taj Mahal was actually Tejo Mahalaya, a Hindu temple, and that the Qutub Minar was really Vishnu Stambh, a Hindu structure. We also learn that airplanes and test-tube babies were made in ancient Hindu India. Our PM tells a gathering of doctors that Lord Ganesh proves that “there must have been some plastic surgeon at that time who got an elephant’s head on the body of a human being and began the practice of plastic surgery”.
As faith takes over reason, and violent, instant justice attempts to become the law of the land, we move away from the country of our forefathers. As the scientific temperament — with its belief in logic, tolerance, receptivity to new ideas and freedom of thought — gives way to muscle-flexing majoritarianism, Indian nationalism gives way to Hindu nationalism.
In three years under the Maximum Leader, we have learnt to keep our heads low and our eyes away from trouble. And we are learning to move away from the land of the Buddha and Nanak, of Kabir and Basavanna, the land of Gandhi, Tagore, Nehru and Ambedkar. Learning to move away from the motherland once watered by the clear stream of reason, where every Indian citizen could fearlessly speak his mind, and hold his head high.