Justice Put on Hold

Of Freedom and Farce

Manas Bakshi

The word freedom seems to have assumed many-faceted connotation or implication in contemporary Indian perspective. If liberty or independence from slavery or serfdom of the British Raj means freedom, undoubtedly Indians have had it in 1947. Interestingly also, a socialistic pattern of society within a secular democratic framework was sought at the dawn of independence. Unfortunately, seven decades over, people are still groping in the dark to find out the real meaning of freedom in the context of the grim socio-economic reality as people are confronted with. Because in 1947, India attained only political freedom—not emancipation from economic bondage, social barriers or taboos and religious fundamentalism. Which is why, over the last seven decades, nothing but political hypocrisy tinged with the vaunted cult of 'ism', hyperbolic repetition of rhetoric and ideological jargon have got us enmeshed in the vortex of self-inflicting political games only.

For one thing, freedom cannot be fruitful unless accompanied by security of food, education, job and medical treatment—in a word—security of life. Undeniably, on the economic front, no government since independence has yet been able to deliver on its promise of development. Economic growth at the desired level with social justice has remained a far cry. And the pity is lopsided growth with enormous disparity in income and wealth distribution, social injustice, poverty, illiteracy, malnutrition and unemployment have paved the way for parochial and disruptive politics on the one hand, and have broadened the scope for insurgent and fundamentalist forces to crop up and spread their network menacingly even with support from outside, on the other.

While freedom without social justice and security is just a farce, it lends to another vital question—who enjoys the fruits of freedom today? Certainly, the two sections: one adept in usurping the art of manipulative politics to come and cling to political power and the other representing crony capitalists who are pampering the former to climb the throne with financial aid for purchasing vote and media coverage to the extent it is required. No doubt, it is the freedom they have so far been blessed with to enjoy!

It goes without saying that concentration of wealth in the hands of a few apart, people have also observed how freedom to plunder crores of public money from nationalised banks, and safely flee and settle abroad makes a mockery of the vaunted tag line 'Mera Bharat Mahan'. In fact, Vijay Mallya, Nirav Modi, Mehul Choksi, Lalit Modi and men of their ilk have the freedom to escape whatever be the charges against them. It is a shameful outcome that blatantly defies the prospect of 'Achhe din' promised by Modiji. It is also against this backdrop that the economic situation notwithstanding a rise of 7.3 percent in GDP needs to be viewed—for it is still dismal and causes concern.

The agrarian scenario illustrates the horrible situation India has been in since 1947. Loan waiver or not, there is no sign of revival in the conditions of millions of farmers—let alone the question of their poverty alleviation. Soaring cost of agricultural production, as a sequel to costly HYV seeds and fertiliser, not compensated by remunerative price has culminated in suicidal death of thousands in more states than one. Side by side, farmers' agitation in a number of states has become a regular phenomenon. Can opening one Bansagar Dam Major Canal in Mirzapur in East U.P to facilitate irrigation in a particular area or declaring at the Kisan Kalyan Rally in Midnapore in West Bengal that farmers' earnings from land will be double as the result of his government's farmer friendly stand really serve any purpose? Well, Modiji has the freedom to say so. And they will say it more loudly than ever before because 2019 parliamentary eletion is round the corner.

On the industrial front, no tangible investment in big or heavy industries is in sight. While one after another industry is facing recession—particularly the jute industry, the promise of generating two crore of employment per year has virtually gone with the wind. And the young generation seems fed up with gasping in the digital dreams because nothing real is taking shape; obviously, the middle class is worst hit. Purchasing power of the common man is constantly on the decline. There are several factors. Unbridled rise in the price of petrol and diesel—specially between 16th and 26th May 2018—has cast an overall effect on prices of consumer and durable goods. To odd it further, rate of bank interest on FD and other deposits like MIS in post office, interest on PF and PPF have been drastically slashed over the years in Modiji's tenure. It needs mention that retired people—having no pension benefits and depending solely on their meagre earnings from bank interest or MIS—form the majority section of today's senior citizens. Sorry to say, indirectly it has paved the way for mushrooming and flourish of chit funds offering fabulous rate of interest. And that the end result is robbing the common man off his hard-earned money need not be retold. But who is there to bother about their plight? Certainly not Modiji.

While such is the situation, there is another aspect awaiting severe consequence. The spate of globalisation is quite in evidence, and its focus in a third world country like India is more on ultra-modern way of living. It fosters growth of shopping mall, Multiplex, Disco and Pub befitting the affluents living in high-rise. Despite disparity in income and wealth distribution and deprivation of a vast majority, a section desirous of coping with the lures of modern life-style is falling prey. And to meet the growing demands, covert prostitution has become a middle class syndrome. Life, rolling like a ball, seems to have been subjected to magnum effect knowing not which direction it will follow. Because signs of decadence in social life are also spreading fast. Evidently, while the economic situation is worsening, the socio-political situation is also boiling.

And at the time when the Central government is boastfully bragging about the success story of GST—its collection having crossed the Rs 1 lakh crore mark in April, 2018, Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen cavils at the claim to economic growth as a Quantum jump in the wrong direction since 2014. We are getting backwards in the fastest growing economy" (TOI 9.7.18). He has also observed that the government had defected from issues of inequalities, caste system, scheduled tribe and Dalit misery. While celebrating the anniversary of GST on 1st July 2018, was Modiji that much concerned about the extent the middle and small traders have been hit by GST? How many have benefited from GST and demonetisation is not known but undeniably, both the measures have cast a negative impact on the informal unorganised sector. Similarly, unknown is how far his government has been able to ferret out black money but the flow of fake notes continues to paralyse our economy as before. While mocking Modiji as 'campaign PM', Andhra Pradesh CM, N Chandrababu Naidu raises the same question—"Has anyone benefited from initiatives like make in India and startup India? Instead, the banking sector has got hit, and the country's economy is in doldrums. Modi said he would bring black money stashed abroad back into the country, but instead what we are seeing today is people escaping from the country after cheating banks to the tune of thousands of crores". (TOI 28.5.18)

Not only that. Modiji has, from the very beginning, been harping on 'Swach Bharat' and 'Sauchagar'. But do they have a 'Swach' or clean image any more? Has it not been tarnished by a handful of politically powerful miscreants' unbriddled freedom to plunder and escape while some others enjoy freedom to exploit millions below the poverty line? What purpose will a concrete Sauchagar serve if pangs of empty stomach persist?

Modiji may feel good practising Yoga, and the leader of the opposition may feel good winking at someone while bringing a no-confidence motion in parliament but have the countrymen at large any reason to feel like that when poverty, unemployment, subjugation of child labour, women trafficking and rape, deprivation of the backward class including the Dalits haunting the country for decades are assuming now alarming proportions?

It may be recalled that Modiji had given a clarion call—'Beti Bachao, Beti Parao' but who is there to ensure the security of her life? Who will save her from being a victim of dowry death or gang rape and murder often in the news? No doubt there has been remarkable public outrage over the Kathua or Unnao rapes but sadly enough, there are instances galore of such relentless atrocities on women in BJP ruled as also other states. What is more, in a survey conducted by the Thomson Reuters Foundation, Delhi has been named as "the worst megacity in the world for sexual violence against women" (TOI 16.10.17). It is indeed ridiculous that, besides the ignoble criminals, some corrupt political personalities too have been stigmatized for raping. And in such nefarious act, while the ruling BJP seems to have failed to rein in its own partymen—one such accused being Kuldeep Singh Sengar—Union Minister of State for labour and employment Mr. Santosh Gangwar has opined that incidents of rape are "unfortunate but cannot be stopped sometimes" and "one or two such incidents in a big country like India should not be hyped so much'. (TOI 13.4.18) Really funny! Maybe it is his freedom of speech.

What is more deplorable is that even after seven decades of independence, religious fundamentalism has remained a big threat. The act of communal polarisation is taking the country aback. If religion is a way of life, let it remain restricted to its ardent followers only in dedicated pursuit—either indoor or in places of prayers and not used as a tool far dividing people to fulfil some sinister motives. Why will one have to prove or justify his faith in a particular religion by inciting violence as is being done by the Al Kaeda or ISIS? True, India was divided on the basis of religion but independent India avowed a secular democracy. While allegedly, BJP, RSS and VHP combine are destined towards polarising people on religious lines, exploiting the minority sentiment has also become a sine qua non of promoting vote bank politics. Majority of our countrymen swear by peaceful coexistence, and one or two sporadic incidents of communal clash is often exaggerated as part of manipulative politicking to draw political mileage.

It is not only a shame but a blacksopt on our identity that we have not yet been able to shun the path of violence on issues of religion, caste and creed. But the root cause is illiteracy, and it is as much menacing as poverty and superstition continuing for decades. For instance, caste politics of Bihar or killing of women in parts of rural West Bengal on the ground of suspect witch is still in evidence. On the other hand, there are concerted efforts—no doubt politically motivated—to harp on the word 'minority'. Is justified to call the Muslims a minority community when it comprises over 30% of the population? Rather, the Muslims are very much part and parcel of our socio-economic mainstream. Again, if the Muslims are called minority still today, what about the Jains, Anglo-Indians, Parsi or Armeniant? In fact, it was rightly observed by Najma Heptulla madam in May 2014 as the then minority affairs minister in the BJP cabinet that "Muslims are not minorities" but the "Parsis are". (TOI 28.5.14) And it should be realised that the responsibility to maintain communal harmony is binding on both the communities, the Hindus and the Muslims, failing which might cater to some vested interests glued to commercial purpose, politics of appeasement or political gains for the moment but, in the long run, will add fuel to the flame of communalism endangering national security already threatened with separatist movements in Kashmir.

Autumn Number 2018
Vol. 51, No.14 - 17, Oct 7 - Nov 3, 2018