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Sunday, July 30, 2017

Modi's India - III

Controlling the mind-space

Under Modi, Battleship Hindutva that includes several organisations led by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh has launched a systematic takeover of India’s institutions. This process is at once obnoxious and abhorrent because in a democracy institutions acquire an identity through a constructed as well as a lived tradition and culture and constantly strive to remain independent of the government of the day.  Battleship Hindutva is attempting to wrest control of national institutions to simultaneously set the agenda and to change the paradigm of national discourse. It has already succeeded in controlling large sections of the media and is working hard to control the academia.

I met a professor of a nationally-reputed university who narrated an alarming incident. This professor had organised a seminar on Babasaheb Ambedkar’s relevance in today’s India. One of the speakers – a Dalit academician – while describing the present political situation turned critical of the present regime. After the seminar concluded, the professor who had organised it was summoned by the Vice Chancellor of the university and summarily told that in future all such seminars would require prior approval by the university and the vice chancellor’s office would vet the list of speakers as well as control their message.

This control is also being extended to the judiciary, which enjoys a reputation of being independent in the public perception. But the most disturbing is the creeping government control over the Indian Armed Forces, which nearly all Indians revere. The deification of the Indian Armed Forces and the Para-Military Forces by the Indian masses abetted by the media is a major concern. This deification has resulted in a consistent and blatant violation of human rights of many Indian citizens such as the people of Kashmir, the North East and the Adivasi (India’s Indigenous people) across India. The Indian and the state governments justify the excesses of the Indian Armed Forces in the name of protecting Indian interests and fighting “terrorism”.

In every which way possible, the present regime is controlling and directing the public discourse and simultaneously doing its best to keep the “Hindu” angry. And this angry “Hindu” is pushing the envelope of what is acceptable. It is no longer about Nehru’s perfidy; that is a given and has become passé. Now, it is banning Urdu words, Tagore and a lot more that has gone into constructing the Indian identity. Words such as sicular and presstitutes are routinely bandied about in the social media especially to describe anyone who so much as squeaks against the prevailing wisdom. And to any outsider, the prevailing wisdom is shockingly at variance with reality.

A friend who was always a right-wing sympathiser, (and there is nothing wrong with being a right-wing sympathiser) has during the last few years (probably after Modi’s ascension) turned into a vociferous advocate of Hindutva. He argued – passionately, too – that Hindutva is secular. When I pointed to a column by Akaar Patel, where he describes Hindutva, my friend nearly jumped from the sofa and shrieked, “Akaar Patel should be shot dead.”  I sat in silence, mentally devising a polite way to abandon the conversation, too dumbstruck at this vehemence and hate. Prior to this rather abrupt declaration, this friend, who is highly educated and affluent, also declared that there is really no point in India being a democracy. Citing China’s example, he said if a dictatorship can lead to faster development and control anti-nationals (he meant Muslims, but didn’t say so), then India should turn into a dictatorship. Incidentally, for the original proponent of Hindutva, Veer Savarkar, the militant ideology was larger than Hinduism. He said, “Hindutva is not a word but a history. Not only a spiritual or religious history…but history in full. Hinduism is only a derivative, a fraction, a part of Hindutva.”

A consistent defence that I heard from all quarters of the Modi regime is that it is making the bureaucracy work more efficiently. There is less corruption and the rule of law apparently seems to prevail more often than not, and this evidently had been sorely lacking for the last few decades. So, even if his regime may on occasions be seen as a bit despotic and authoritarian, it needs to be tolerated as there is no alternative to him. The older generation will remember this argument being bandied about by a cross-section of Indians during Indira Gandhi’s rule and especially during the Emergency (including by those Indians who were opposed to Mrs. Gandhi) in the 1970s. Then the Jan Sangh leadership, which had all been pushed behind bars by Indira, had justifiably termed her fascist. But nobody who supports Modi acknowledges this as a valid comparison.

At present, apparently, a large section of the Indians are enamoured by Modi and are unwilling to take seriously the generally prevailing perception that his regime has directly benefitted certain business houses such as Adani and Ambani. Perhaps the main reason why the Indian public is willing to give a long rope to Modi and his bunch of merry men is that in the previous decade under the Congress regime, corruption has become all pervasive, or at least that’s how the previous regime is remembered. Dr. Manmohan Singh, who should be credited for pulling hundreds of millions of Indians out of stark poverty because of economic liberalisation, is instead often compared to Mahabharata’s Bhishma pitamah, who despite being the elder statesman in Dhritarashtra’s durbar, allowed Draupadi’s molestation.  

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