India of 2014 is very different from India of 2017. Its landscape has changed. The key elements of this change need to be understood as we enter the New Year.
First, the supreme arrogance in decision-making. Demonetisation was lauded as a surgical strike to eliminate black money, corruption, fake currency and to give a knockout blow to terrorists. None of this was achieved. There was no remorse shown for lives lost and the misery caused by freezing legitimate earnings of ordinary folk. The same arrogance was reflected in thrusting a flawed multilayered GST to boost India’s GDP. Its disruptive effect, especially in the informal sector, destroyed lives and livelihoods. Small and medium-scale enterprises suffered, some irretrievably, because of a sudden downturn in their fortunes. The GSTN was not in place which also impacted businesses. GDP was in constant decline through several quarters. Its recovery will take time. Yet no remorse shown.
Second, the nature of the political discourse has changed radically. The vitriol that is spewed is embarrassing. Those who seek an inclusive India are termed Pakistanis and anti-national. They are perceived as enemies of change. Non-Hindu festivals are targeted. Anant Hegde, Union minister of state, has given a clarion call for changing the Constitution in tandem with a saffron India. Distancing itself is not enough. In fact, the strategy of the BJP is to keep the embers of the ‘Bhagwa’ agenda burning while strategically keeping such statements at bay. The Prime Minister discovers a nonexistent Congress conspiracy with Pakistan during the course of the Gujarat election, inspired by the presence of Dr Manmohan Singh at an informal dinner. In a desperate attempt to vitiate the environment for electoral gain, a rumour is floated that Ahmed Patel will be the Chief Minister of Gujarat in case Congress comes to power. The statement is attributed to a former Director General of the military establishment in Pakistan.
Third, BJP chief ministers are overzealous in pushing the saffron agenda, rather than concentrating on good governance. Brushing with saffron paint the secretariat building receives more attention than death of children in Gorakhpur or Farrukhabad. These tragedies don’t require urgent attention because of being legacy issues. In Uttar Pradesh, buses, government publications and even school bags are being ‘saffronised’, a fillip to identity politics. In Rajasthan, a migrant labourer from Malda is hacked to death and set on fire, as seen on social media networks. The accused is greeted with slogan-shouting, perhaps, endorsing the possible fate of others who indulge in love jihad. Even the NIA portrays Kerala as a hotbed of love jihad though it finds no evidence of it in a particular case. Such a report filed in the Supreme Court serves the saffron cause. Governors, given an opportunity, remind us constantly of their political affiliation and commitment to the ideology of the RSS.
Bureaucrats who sympathise with this ideology are given key positions in government. Ominous steps are being taken to realise the prophetic words of Golwalkar. Some Vice Chancellors are not shy of openly serving the cause of the Sangh, to the utter consternation of the lay student community. The liberal traditions of university education are slowly being suffocated. The sudden potent presence of ABVP in universities has, in some instances, led to violence. The expansion of their footprint is encouraged with outside support. Girl students are roughed up if they stand for their rights. Learning and academic excellence are lost causes in educational institutions, subject to some exceptions.
Fourth, attempts are on to subvert institutional independence; institutions are required to be cheerleaders in support of the much-touted dynamic leadership of our Prime Minister. Rumours about efforts to subvert judicial processes are rife. Judge Loya trying the case of a fake encounter accused, died, according to the family, in suspicious circumstances. Silence prevails while the family is incommunicado. The judiciary is unmoved. These are ominous signs of a system that seeks control. The Election Commission is showing signs of being transformed into an effete set up. It ignores an obvious violation of the code of conduct when the PM does a roadshow after casting his vote. It also ignores an obvious attempt by the PM using the virgin ride on a newly acquired sea plane as a pretext to cover coastal areas in Gujarat on Election Day. Contrast this with the alacrity with which notice was given by the EC to Rahul Gandhi for interviews that were to be broadcast on the eve of the election. After being targeted for adopting double standards, the notice was later withdrawn.
Fifth, the constant attacks on free speech. Journalists, the most recent victim being Gauri Lankesh, along with uncompromising rationalists are eliminated. People, including political adversaries, are charged with sedition to silence them. Hardik Patel along with some of his staunch supporters are victims of this. Some electronic media channels are the mouthpieces of the government. Some in the print media too are compromised. Without a vigilant media democracy will perish.
This change of landscape has cast a shadow as we welcome 2018. We are fearful of the future but must not give up hope. We must eclipse the past by raising the voice of reason. The nation has witnessed even more challenging moments in its struggle for freedom. Let us make a new beginning when the sun rises on January 1, 2018.
Courtesy: This article is published in DNA on dated 31/12/17
The author is a member of the Rajya Sabha, and a senior Indian National Congress leader. Views expressed are personal.