Call it vandalism or hooliganism or a conspiracy by the Opposition, but the anger we see is real

At the end of eight years, with two years to the next general election, India stands substantially worse off than it was when Modi rode to power promising development for all, writes Ranjona Banerji

Agnipath Protests (NH Photo by Vipin)
Agnipath Protests (NH Photo by Vipin)

Ranjona Banerji

What does one call the extreme level of anger that we’ve seen this week? It is real anger. It is also certainly vandalism, hooliganism and all of that. But if the week before we saw several commentators deeply upset by the reaction of Muslims to the abuse of their Prophet and the usual double standards, we see a much more muted criticism now.

Islamophobia apart, there is another reason for this relative disparate reaction.

It is because the anger to the Modi government’s army recruitment scheme is real. Trains have been set ablaze. BJP offices have been attacked and burnt. Young men have run through the streets of several states, screaming with rage against the administration and the Prime Minister himself.

The police and local administrations obviously have not reacted with the same viciousness as they did against protesting Muslims and no homes have been bulldozed as yet. This is not to suggest that the police reaction in some states has not been brutal and that the usual methods of controlling crowds, colonial-style, have not been used.

It is a question of relativity and also, perhaps, shock.

India’s farmers, for instance, also sat in protest against Modi government policy but their protest was peaceful. It was the state which unleashed violence on them. They sat on the roads outside Delhi for a year. And eventually a sulking, angry Narendra Modi, took back his farm laws. The BJP then went on to emphatically win a few state elections. The farmers it seemed had little impact on the fortunes of Modi and the BJP.

What’s happening now? Why no adulation by these young men of Bihar, UP, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Telangana and even Uttarakhand (where protests are peaceful, but where the army is a massive employer)?

Forget adulation, how about this burning rage?

For the past eight years, Modi and his government have got away with disaster upon disaster. Do we really need to list them?

At the end of eight years, with two years to the next general election, India stands substantially worse off than it was when Modi rode to power promising development for all.

And now, off the back of a devastating pandemic, comes this new scheme. With the Modi government’s signature top-down omniscient benevolence, people were supposed to unquestioningly bow down in adoring obedience. If Modi has done this, surely it is for everyone’s benefit?

And yet.

There is severe unemployment. Millions of women have fallen off the job market. For many young men, getting into the Armed Forces, through recruitment rallies, is serious business for which they train for years. For their hard work, they not only become jawans, they are assured of pension and benefits. The new four-year contract scheme does away with all that. Many military veterans are severely opposed to this Agneepath scheme.

And more important, the rampaging young men are not buying the benevolent paternalistic dictator-knows-all approach. They know what they have trained for, they know what this new scheme will not give them.

Modi and his deputy Amit Shah are nowhere to be seen. Or rather, Modi is to be seen waving at crowds, doing pujas and inaugurating temples. He is nowhere on this issue. It is beneath him. He is instead signalling to his core followers that he has gone where it matters most: temples and Hindu rituals. Plus, assembly elections in Gujarat later this year. Did I not mention that?

So far, Modi has not been made to take responsibility for any of his actions. He, the BJP and the overarching presence of the RSS have worked on distractions, intimidation and used the usual toxic cocktail of religious hatred to keep the benefits of power close at hand.

A recent report by human rights activists in the US have examined closely how the RSS has spread in the USA and how they have collected money there to fund activities here. This is of course over and above the massive monetary advantages the BJP has accrued through its electoral bond funding schemes.

What we have had so far under Modi is a dictatorship using democracy as a vehicle. This is not exclusive to India. The arrant misuse of democracy has been a 21st century speciality of politicians who crave dictator status.

The anger however is so far not dissipating despite the usual Modi tricks. The few government functionaries who have been made into Defend Modi Forces are scrambling ineffectually. It could be that some of the rage is compounded by the general feeling of despair after years of misrule.

I would not venture further than that into speculation.

But such blatant, reckless violence against a Modi idea, that so closely follows an odd BJP capitulation to Islamic nations, and just after the Modi administration stamped down hard on Muslims... Something to think about surely?

( The writer is an independent commentator. Views are personal)

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