Disappearing Middle Class

It now appears that there is no immediate possibility of drastic reversal in central policy matters—it is not on the agenda of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). But at least in one area they look more tougher than their predecessor—it is anti-state violence. While Irom Sharmila Chanu, the longest and lone hunger-striker against state violence emotionally appealed to the newly elected Prime Minister Narendra Modi, to repeal the draconian Armed Forces Special Power Act (AFSPA), Modi’s Home Minister Rajnath Singh said the other day that his ministry was drawing up a comprehensive integrated action plan to deal with the problems of terrorism, naxalism and separatism. Throughout their opposition days it was the patent allegation of BJP that Congress was soft on ‘terrorists’ and ‘left-wing extremists’. So they celebrated the occasion of Afzal Guru’s illegal hanging which they believed could have been executed much earlier. They didn’t bother about legal niceties though their jubilation bordered on fascistic perversion. For them terrorists, naxalites or maoists and separatists are in the same boat, albeit maoists never raised any anti-national slogans.

For one thing Congress was no less harsh in dealing with maoists, ‘terrorists’ and the separatists of North East. But BJP being the face of ultra patriotism whatever it means, wants more extra-judicial killings, false encounters and perpetration of army atrocities against ordinary people of Jammu and Kashmir and North East. They are against seeking an amicable solution to the crisis; what all they want is more fire-power to subjugate the unwilling people. But historical problems coupled with territorial disputes and a lack of mutual trust over the decades have caused the deadlock in J&K as also in NE in the first place.

Nobody really knows the exact number of ‘terrorists’, ‘left-wing extremists’ and ‘separatists’ languishing in different jails. And Indian jails are living hells where innocent people, aggrieved people, are being de-humanised day in and day out, just for demanding democratic rights, otherwise guaranteed in the Constitution. No country in the world can boast of such a huge prison population. Those who are passing their miserable days as under-trial prisoners in hundreds of what they euphemistically call correctional homes across the country don’t know when they will be released. The presidential address to the joint houses of parliament on June 9, simply evaded the issue—there was not a word or two about the general amnesty. On the contrary President Pranab Mukherjee didn’t fail to reiterate the oft-repeated official jargon that there would be zero tolerance towards terrorism, extremism, riots and crime. In other words he too was echoing Rajnath Singh.

Riot victims of Gujarat and Uttar Pradesh know it better how rioters are being punished! For months they live in make-shift camps in sub-human conditions at the mercy of the administration and the very people who indulged in rioting. As for crime and punishment, hardened criminals—murderers, rapists, arsonists—with right connections in the corridors of power, always laugh the last laugh, mocking at Mukherjee’s speech. Their zero tolerance to ‘extremism’ means any voice of dissent having potential to acquire mass upheaval and endanger the status quo will be silenced by brute force.

Political compulsions seem to have made the Modis to talk turkey in the post-poll scenario as their party ideologues are making noises about terrorism, not cross-border terrorism. In other words jihadists based in Pakistan and Kashmir don’t figure prominently in their scheme of things. Instead they are emphasising more on home-grown terrorism. They are always in favour of tough measures against naxalities as if the Congress Party’s ‘Operation Green Hunt’ was a soft measure.

If anything Rajnath was actually sending message to the corporate lobby with the purpose of unveiling their roadmap to expedite some controversial projects that were shelved, particularly in Central India, for violent campaigns by the maoists. The mining czars are restless, they demand their pound of flesh. It remains to be seen when they launch their own version of ‘Green Hunt’ in the jungles of Central India.

Insurgency in the North East is now six decades old. New Delhi’s policy has alienated a large segment of ethnic population for long as if they are unwanted in the so-called mainstream. Their voice in parliament is not audiable because of poor numerical representation. Nor are they welcome guests in India’s unequally developed job market as the recent incidents of violent attacks on North Eastern students and job seekers in Delhi and Bangalore showed.

For all practical purposes North East is an ethnic cauldron—it has been so since the days of Raj. Gradual erosion of ethnic way of life owing to economic and cultural aggression by the people from the rest of India, has not really created new social and economic space to accommodate the aspirants of the rising middle class. So long as they feel isolated and remain marginalised—and the army is the root cause of isolation and marginalisation—violent protests are bound to surface in one form or another. Descendants of old generations are denied to live a new kind of life they see all around.

It may not take much time for the Rajnaths to script a new version of ‘Green Hunt’ because for them the tribal ground reality in Central India and elsewhere is the same as it was before their coming to power at the centre.

Vol. 46, No. 51, Jun 29 - Jul 5, 2014