India at a Crossroad!
Status Quo Versus Hindutwa?

Bibekananda Ray

The 17th Lok Sabha poll results will not be known before 23rd May 2019, guesses, forecasts and opinion polls etc. are abounding but are not unanimous. Stray shadows on the radar from the first five phases until 6th May indicate leads by the BJP or the Congress (I) but neither will be able to form the government all alone but have to walk on crutch of other parties to take oath in Rashtrapati Bhavan. The Mahajot (‘United India’) of other parties, spearheaded by Mamata Banerjee, C B Naidu, Sharad Pawar and Akhilesh Jadav now looks amorphous and will crystallise, if only together they come near the magic figure. With support of 19 allies, the BJP can cross the magic figure of 272; so can the Congress with its former UPA allies and Trinamool Congress which may win in 30-35 seats.

Although a hangover from mankind’s primitive days, wars and battles continue to play decisive roles in solving disputes. Throughout history, these clinched issues, ended dilemmas, or charted out new paths from a crossroad; e. g., the Trojan, Kurukshetra and two World wars achieved when talks failed.  Elections in democratic countries are deemed unarmed wars that lead to fresh mandates of people as to their rulers. In free India, general elections of 1952, 1977 and 1984 played such decisive roles and gave the country fresh blood, as it were. The ongoing Lok Sabha poll to end on 19th May is such a war to chart a path from a crossroad, whether India should remain a secular democracy, or move toward becoming a Hindu hegemony where people of other faiths will be second-class citizens. As the ruling NDA-II regime, led by the BJP announces ‘nationalism’ as its motto in the next incarnation, the Hindutwa vision of Veer Savarkar looms brighter but if the Congress with its former UPA allies or the Mahajot (Grand Alliance’) of other parties dislodges the BJP, India will maintain status quo, i.e., remain a secular democracy. Judging from their styles in the outgoing regime, Narendra Modi and Amit Shah will bulldoze all opposition in and outside their party to implement Hindu chauvinism. Boiled down, this is a war between two conflicting visions about India.

The shape of things to come in either case has been outlined by leaders of over 50 parties who fielded candidates in their pre-poll campaigns. The Congress (I) President, Rahul Gandhi has been alleging, for more than a year, a huge corruption, secretly committed by Mr. Modi using his personal equation with the French government to make his business friend, Anil Ambani’s fledgling company, Reliance Aviation, an ‘offset partner’ of Dassault Aviation in the nearly 59 thousand crore rupee deal (more than half of which has been paid) to acquire 32 Rafale fighter jets for the IAF and thereby make Mr. Ambani richer by 30 thousand crore rupees. After a lot of clever twists, turns and denials by the BJP government in an affidavit to the Supreme Court (but never by Mr. Modi), the charge of corruption in a joint PIL by a Delhi lawyer, a renowned scribe and BJP’s former finance minister in Vajpayee cabinet is now being heard in the Supreme Court. If it is proved someday, it will be the world’s biggest scam involving a Prime Minister. When Mr. Modi took the nickname of Chowkidar (guard), demeaning Prime Minister’s dignity in his recurrent resolve to root out corruption, Mr. Gandhi coined a slogan, Bharat ka Chowkidaar chor hai (“India’s guard is a thief”)  and bandied it all over the country, like the opposition slogan in 1989 about his father, “Gali gali mein shor hai, Rajiv Gandhi chor hai” (In every lane, people are yelling, Rajiv Gandhi is a thief”). He has levelled many other charges at Mr. Modi’s door, like failure to create two crore jobs per year, to credit 15 lakh rupees in every citizen’s bank account out of retrieved black money etc. the BJP administration’s ‘intolerance’ of freedom of expression and persecution of critics, and lynching and killing Muslims for selling sick and old cattle and eating beef etc. He and sister Priyanka accuse Mr. Modi of messing with autonomous institutions like the CBI, the RBI, the CAG, and the NSO etc. and making the PMO omnipotent. Since his RSS days from 1970, Mr. Modi has been openly maligning the Congress and the Gandhi family with half-true and fictitious charges, stooping low, even to the extent of questioning Rahul’s gotra and citizenship and dubbing him ‘son of a ‘No. 1 corrupt father’. He mocks dynastic succession, as if Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi were unworthy to be Prime Ministers.  

To these have been added the Congress ‘s manifesto, released on 3rd April 2019. It consulted a number of renowned economists and corporate leaders to prepare it, wherein some unfulfilled tasks in the previous Congress regime, led by Dr. Man Mohan Singh (2004-2014), like Women’s Reservation Bill  have also been included., The Congress, or Congress-led government will set up new ministries of industry services & employment, fisheries & welfare and water  , fill up four lakh vacancies in the government, public sector units and the judiciary, in collaboration with the States create ten lakh ‘Seva Mitra’ positions to accelerate employment, reserve one-third seats in Parliament and State legislators as well as in the Central government for women, including in para-military forces. Of a plethora of other promises significant are the NYAY to guarantee minimum income for the poorest one-fifth of all households by cash credit of 72 thousand rupees per annum  in women’s accounts, reverse reduced expenditure on defence, pass laws to protect personal data, provide access to high-quality affordable internet, pass separate budget, and set up a commission, for agriculture, amend the Constitution to make Supreme Court a Constitutional forum, set up new appeal courts, make judicial appointments through the NJAC, treat air pollution as a national public health hazard, double government spending on health care, create a national election fund (to which anybody can contribute), enhance grant on education, abolish fees for qualifying tests etc. upgrade ‘100 days’ work’ under the MGNREGA-3, make the entire school education free and compulsory, create more night-shelters and public toilets for women, guarantee artistic freedom, pass anti-discrimination law in respect of religion, caste, gender and language bias, set up new investment banks, for long-term credit, legalise lateral entries for armed forces personnel in civil services, release all remand and undertrial prisoners, in custody from three to seven years, replace Essential Commodities Act, amend anti-defection law and the Aadhar Act and launch a Nirmal Bharat Abhijaan, replacing  Mr. Modi’s Swachha Bharat Abhijaan. It will also scrap electoral bonds scheme, abolish the Niti Ayog, revive Planning Commission, withdraw Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, the trans-gender bill and angel-tax, abolish the pre-Independence law of sedition, amend the AFSPA, re-establish Ministry of Overseas Indians and restore special category status to north-eastern States. On agriculture, it has promised an exclusively kisan (farmer) budget and making non-payment of farm loans into a civil offence rather than a criminal one. The party envisages creating a more liberal political order with checks on State power, abolishing the British-era sedition law, reviewing the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), holding police and restricting the use of Aadhaar cards etc. NYAY will eventually recharge the economy by multiplier effect and amount to ‘remonetisation’ of what Mr. Modi ‘demonetised’ unwisely, Mr. Gandhi added.       

Mr. Modi and the BJP envisage building a ‘nationalist New India’; he has not quite spelt it but probably means a modern India at par with developed countries of the west and the east, where there will be no poverty and illiteracy. His recipe for removing poverty that came too late in his regime, is a ludicrous yearly grant of 12,000 rupees to every poor family, which in current high-price economy is a peanut. He adopted no new scheme to remove illiteracy beyond those launched by the Congress during 2004-2014, e.g., Sarba Siksha Abhijaan. In fact, he seldom mentions illiteracy as one of India’s nagging problems. In his ‘New India’, youngsters will be educated in science & technology and skilled in IT, the subcontinent will have silken-smooth highways, skyscrapers, high-speed trains, advanced health care and more education infrastructures etc, as one sees in picture postcards of foreign destinations. This India will not have vestiges of ancient India, for which India is venerated abroad; he does not envisage any upgradation of the people’s mind and spirit except soaking them in Hindutwa. His India will obviously a Hindu-majority India (“where Muslims are tolerated, as an RSS chief once remarked), akin to Ram Rajya and so on. In his hurricane campaigns, he aggrandised himself as the nation’s Chowkidar, trashing a Prime Minister’s dignity and swore to blow hot on the corrupt, although he did little new exposure in five years. He made much of petty and dubious military successes by making three ‘surgical strikes’ by the IAF and posed as the country’s defender. Lal Bahadur Shastri and Indira Gandhi won two full-scale wars with Pakistan in 1965 and 1971 but did not do any tom-tom to the electorate. Military veterans complained to the President and approached the Election commission for breach of code of conduct but in India equality before law is still a mirage.

Economists of India and abroad are not buying his and Arun Jaitley’s claim that economy is booming. On 25th April, Amartya Sen in a newspaper article accused Mr. Modi-led second BJP government of ‘abysmal performance’, much worse than the previous Congress regime. The economy slipped from the path of growth, making job-seeking by poor people “much harder”; unemployment peaked in last five years to a 45-year high. Caste conflicts increased and Dalits’ and tribals’ freedom was curbed.  The country regressed in healthcare too, even at primary level.  The leaders made the country “much more divisive” along communal lines and rendered the lives of Muslims precarious, enhanced bureaucratization of academic institutions, suppressed freedom of expression and put behind bars some dissenting intelligentsia under the archaic sedition law. Kaushik Bose of the World Bank was critical of Mr. Modi’s flagship fiats like demonetization and the GST.

As the poll was more than halfway through, another renowned economist, former Congress Prime Minister, Dr. Man Mohan Singh exposed Mr. Modi on 5th May. In an interview to PTI, he said, Mr. Modi’s five years have been ‘most traumatic and devastating for India’s youths, farmers, traders and every democratic institution” and therefore, “should be shown the exit door” There was no wave for him this time and the people would vote him out. He did not understand ‘inclusive growth’ and people are fed up with his “daily rhetoric and cosmetic change”. He alleged, Mr. Modi dealt with Pakistan in a ‘slipshod ‘manner, marred y a series of flipflops- from going to Pakistan uninvited to inviting the ISI (Pak intelligence agency) to Pathankot airbase in connection with a terrorist attack. Pulwama mayhem occurred owing to ‘gross intelligence failure’ when he was attending a shooting in Jim Corbett Park. His government’s record on national security has been ‘dismal’; terror attacks in J & K went up by 176% and ceasefire violations were up by 1000% in past five years. He said, the BJP has become synonymous with hate and division, with Mr. Modi indulging in “illusion and boastful self-aggrandisement”. He alleged that BJP top brass colluded with Nirav Modi and Vijay Mallya to defraud banks and flee. He charged Mr. Modi with a despotic bent of mind, posing as possessing ‘a monolith of knowledge’, capable of solving problems of 125 crore people which is impossible. His foreign policy lacks ‘a mature comprehension of diplomacy’, he added.

Every political party, be it in power or seeking it, makes promises to people, but does not keep all; that’s all in the game. Narendra Modi, leading the BJP brigade in 2014, was no exception; his pre-poll promises were such alluring baits that some 38.5% of the electorate swallowed them and elected candidates of the BJP and its allies to a landslide win in 282 seats against the Congress’s mere 44. Mr. Modi, then Chief Minister of Gujarat, was chosen by the party to lead its crusade against the Congress in 2014 poll. Joining the RSS in 1971, he rose through the ranks of this ‘world’s largest voluntary religious organisation’ having about 50 thousand shakhas across India, he took forward the saffron surge, exploiting anti-Congress and anti-Muslim sentiments of the people from the 1980’s when the BJP swept to power at the Centre. Through an extraordinary media blitz, he held aloft carrots to people; he was, as Sonia Gandhi said, “a merchant of dreams”. He told his mother while seeking blessings after his fantastic win, “Achhe Din Aayega!”, i.e. “Better days are coming!”, which his critics are questioning and mocking him about. Aachhe Din might have come to the corporate world which he enriched and to the denizens of ‘India’ but has eluded those of Bharat. Whosoever leads the next government in New Delhi will leave many promises unfulfilled. What matters is the protection and continuance of India’s secular, democratic fabric which is threatened by Mr. Modi and Mr. Shah and could be in peril if they returned.

The foreign media too are critical of Mr. Modi’s performance. A scribe writing in the South China Morning Post, Gigi Choy rued that Mr. Modi “entirely neglected” the agrarian economy, despite being a Gandhian. He alleges that his government “is continually whipping up jingoistic passion” against Pakistan which is not “an existential threat to India”; Pakistan, he adds, is little more than a strategic challenge or geopolitical footnote” A veteran columnist in the Hongkong daily, Richard Heydarian “ warns against continuity of Modi”, citing two dictators- of the Philippines and Indonesia “who came to power through the promise of wholesale transformation of their societies”. New York Times wrote on 4th May that some 13 crore “young people will once again mostly back Mr. Modi but conversations with them suggest they have some reservations. High unemployment, the spread of Hindu nationalism and a spike in hate crimes against Muslims are among the issues on the minds of newly eligible voters. Activists and analysts say, India is more divided today than when Mr. Modi was elected; …. Over the past five years, his bloc, the Bharatiya Janata Party, or B.J.P., has been spreading an us-versus-them philosophy in a country already riven by dangerous divisions. The Hindu right has never been more enfranchised at every level of government …. India’s minorities say they feel increasingly afraid. If Mr. Modi wins again, experts expect the country’s religious divisions to widen. If the leading opposition party, the Indian National Congress, wins, some hope that minorities will be better protected”.

If the NDA-II is routed on 23rd May, the Congress-led UPA-III or the Mahajot of 20-odd parties may come to power in Delhi. Rahul Gandhi stands a fair chance of becoming the Prime Minister. Since 2014, when he first led the Congress in that year’s Lok Sabha poll, a lay perception about Rahul Gandhi has been that he was rather young, immature and inexperienced. The fact is, he will be 59, next month; although people of north India affectionately call him Pappu (a child). His sister, Priyanka refuted other canards about him; in an election meeting in Thiruvananthapuram, she said, Rahul studied in a British university, worked for a while in the UK, has deep knowledge of ancient Hindu texts, is a ‘black belt’, a mountaineer, a trained pilot, an ace diver and a rock climber and not a British citizen.  The masses who are disappointed and disillusioned about him and peeved over ‘intolerance’, saffronisation of history and text books, lynching and killing of Muslims for beef-eating etc. erosion of freedom of expression and at the “Big Brother Watching” syndrome in Modi regime will heave a sigh of relief and welcome an alternative regime whose motto, as Rahul Gandhi put it, will be “Love, not hatred”.

All said and done, these are transient vote-bank visions of small men who have no insight into India’s soul. It requires a Rabindranath to chalk out an abiding and soulful vision of India:
“Where the mind is without fear and/the head is held high ;/ Where knowledge is free;/Where the world has not been broken/ up into fragments by narrow domestic walls; /Where words come out from the/ depth of truth;/ Where tireless striving stretches its/ arms towards perfection;/ Where the clear stream of reason has/ not lost its way into the dreary desert/ sand of dead habit;/ Where the mind is led forward by thee into ever-widening thought and/ action; Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake. ”

The writer held senior positions in Government of India media until retirement in 2001.

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May 11, 2019

Bibekananda Ray

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