This Government finds it easier to erase history than script it

For this government, Jallianwala Bagh is just an amusement park, perhaps to be "monetised" at some future date and which serves no further electoral purpose, writes former bureaucrat Avay Shukla

Construction near India Gate for Central Vista
Construction near India Gate for Central Vista
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Avay Shukla

History and literature rarely get it wrong. Didn't the poet say “If demonetisation comes, can monetisation be far behind?"

Ms Sitharaman has proved him right with her just launched NMP or National Monetisation Pipeline, barely five years after the National Demonetisation Pipedream, which turned out to be more of a nightmare than a dream. This one won't fare much better and, given the inept handling of disinvestment so far (including Air- India), is all set to be another man-made calamity.

But then it was never really intended to monetise, its purpose is to monopolise, thereby making a few of the Godfather's cronies even richer. It could more appropriately have been titled National Monopolisation Pipeline. But I am not on the economics of the programme today- that is better left to Mr Chidambaram and Kaushik Basu. I am struck today by the psychology and pathology that lurks behind such thinking.

The NMP is not a one-off, and should be seen as the latest manifestation of a mental disease, just as Covid is only the latest of a long string of coronas. The condition is now endemic among the top BJP/ RSS leadership. It springs from the insecurity, over weening rodomontade, and the narcissistic self-glorification instincts of one individual. It began as paranoia but has now assumed the proportions of a psychotic disconnect from reality.

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To the extent that the NMP privatises a huge chunk of the public infrastructure painstakingly built over the last 75 years- railways, ports, airports, godowns, mines, pipelines, stadiums- it is only the latest attempt to rewrite history and to redact the contributions of past governments to the country's development. It should surprise no one, because this exercise has been going on for the last seven years, but it's only now that the dots are connecting themselves. Here are some instances leading up to this destruction:

* Renaming the Planning Commission as the NITI Ayog. It has served no purpose and achieved nothing but has severed one important link in the chain of federalism.

* Replacing the National Relief Fund with PMCARES. This is not just empty vainglory but a cunning strategem to avoid any audit of donations, voluntary or coerced.

* Doing away with the special status/ statehood of Jammu and Kasmir, something which all previous governments (including Mr. Vajpayee's) had preserved even through the most difficult times. This will now come to haunt Mr. Modi with the Taliban making clear its intentions about J&K, but the country's larger interests be damned: it's more important to win Uttar Pradesh in 2022.

* Renaming towns and cities simply to remove inherited legacies and create another historical black-out.

* Vandalising the very heart of Delhi to obliterate its very essence- 4.58 lakh sq. meters of it- something even the Mughals had not attempted on this scale. The Central Vista project shall permanently demolish or make dysfunctional some of our most iconic structures, and (more importantly for the BJP) the nation's memories that are associated with them: Parliament, National Museum, Indira Gandhi Centre for Arts, National Archives (Annexe), Vigyan Bhavan, Krishi Bhavan, Nirman Bhavan, Shastri Bhavan, Udyog Bhavan. They are an affront to the new leadership because they are reminders of how little this party had contributed to the freedom and development of a modern India, and so they have to go.

* The shocking and infantile omitting of Nehru's name by the ICHR from the poster meant to commemorate India's 75th year of independence, while the names and images of all others are there. This is almost an ethnic cleansing of the Nehru name and legacy.

* The renovation of Mahatma Gandhi's internationally famous Sabarmati Ashram, without even a cursory consultation with its trustees, employees and residents. This will destroy forever the simplicity and solemnity of the place, which was in fact the true reflection of the Mahatma's values and beliefs. But these are of no further value to this government, what they need is his name and a makeover by a favourite architect.

* The Disneyfication of Jalianwalla Bagh, inspite of the protests of historians, scholars, relatives of the shot freedom fighters and even an outraged global community. This is a place where death came to thousands of innocents and deserves to be remembered as such, preserved as a frozen moment in time so that the nation never ever forgets its gory legacy: the narrow lane through which the soldiers marched with their machine guns, the bullet holes on the walls, the well of death, the blood stains everywhere.

* Just about every welfare/ social programme introduced by previous governments has been renamed to break their connect with the past. Shashi Tharoor, MP, had, in 2017, come out with a list of 19 such programmes of the UPA (out of 23) which the BJP has appropriated but rechristened in true cuckoo fashion.

They include: Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan (renamed as Swacch Bharat Mission), National Manufacturing Policy (Make in India). National Skill Development Programme (Skill India), Free LPG connections to BPL families (Prime Minister's Ujjwala Yojana), National E-Governance Plan (Digital India), Basic Savings Bank Deposit Account (Jan Dhan Yojana). This is not even old wine in new bottles, but old wine in old bottles with only the label changed. The list must be even longer now.

* Revising the syllabus of colleges and schools under the New Education Policy to delete references to inconvenient truths like federalism, secularism, citizenship etc. because they don't suit the BJP's ideological narrative. Rest assured, however, that these are only stop- gap measures till the time the party has the majority to amend the Constitution and get rid of these irritants permanently.


* The attempt to fundamentally alter the character of India's premier civil services- the All-India Services. Structured painstakingly by Sardar Patel and Nehru to bind the Union and the states and to maintain a balance of power between them, Mr. Modi is hell bent on obliterating their federal component; their objective selection process is being compromised by lateral entries; the members of these services themselves are being intimidated into being disloyal to the states. This "steel frame" is perhaps the most visible and influential reminder of the nation building work done by the Congress after Independence, and therefore must be demolished.

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The genesis of the RSS / BJP's insecurity with the past lies in the fact that history has not been kind to them, and with good reason, and therefore must be rewritten, or at least redacted (like the CAG report on Rafael!).

Dr. Parakala Prabhakar in one of his weekly videos has brilliantly explained why Nehru is both a threat and a necessity for the BJP, it needs him even as it seeks to destroy him. The BJP, according to Dr. Prabhakar, needs Nehru so that it can blame him for its own failures and incompetence; but it also needs to destroy him so that it can erase from public memory his contributions to a modern India, and also hide their own absence from India's freedom movement. It's a schizophrenic state of mind.

The sickness begins when you conflate an idea with the leader, as Tarun Tejpal points out in his recent essay on Animal Farm: the leader is now a living embodiment, and he alone represents the idea. "And the idea that is now the leader is the statue, is the building, is the road, is the hospital, is the airport. In his name do a thousand flowers bloom." There can be no place for anyone else or any other idea. This is grandiosity, paranoia and insecurity combined, but it is not statesmanship.

Greatness requires a dream, not a grudge; it needs a vision for the future, not a wallowing in the past; it is based on creation, not destruction.

But these are distinctions which the Supreme Leader is perhaps incapable of understanding.

(The writer is a retired IAS officer and an avid blogger. This first appeared in his blogpost)

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