August 15, 2020, a turning point: How dangerous is ‘New India’ as PM Modi leads us to the brink?

By embracing a regressive and outdated vision of a Hindu India, India has arrived at a crossroads. A course correction is needed but can we put the brakes on?

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Zafar Agha

There is little doubt that Prime Minister Narendra Modi wants to be the proud builder of a ‘New India’. He speaks of a ‘new’ India at every available opportunity and surpassed himself by comparing August 5 with August 15, 1947 and declaring that the ‘ground breaking’ ceremony of the Ram Temple at Ayodhya on that day was akin to another ‘Independence Day’ of the ‘New India’ of his dreams. August 5, 2019 was when his Government withdrew the special status of J & K and suspended Article 370, a legal challenge to which is still pending before the Supreme Court. This year on the same day he became the first Prime Minister in Independent India to brazenly and openly break away from Constitutional morality while participating in the ceremony in Ayodhya.

The dramatic departure from the Constitution was even more pronounced in the speech that he delivered at Ayodhya when he left nobody in any doubt that his India would be very different from the India dreamt of by Mahatma Gandhi, Nehru and Dr Ambedkar. The vision of an India that he revealed was essentially the vision of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). The same RSS, which collaborated with colonial and foreign rulers, stayed away from the Quit India Movement, opposed the Indian Constitution and for several decades after Independence, refused to accept the national flag.

The Indian tricolour was conceived in 1929 and was adopted in 1930 when Congress gave the call for ‘Sampurna Swaraj’. The then RSS chief Hedgewar however professed the allegiance of the RSS to its own flag, the ‘’Bhagwa Dhwaj”. Again, on July 14th 1947 the then RSS chief Guru Golwalkar addressing RSS volunteers in Nagpur declared: ‘’Ultimately, the entire nation will bow to the ‘Bhagwa Jhanda’. Golwakar mocked at the Indian Constitution, rejected it and declared, “There is nothing worthwhile in the Indian Constitution that Indians could adopt.’’ He praised Manu Smriti and asseted that India could march forward only under “One flag, one leader and one ideology.” Sangh’s vison of India is clearly a majoritarian vision wherein the majority community should have supremacy over everyone else, especially Muslims, who should be treated as second-class citizens.

It is quite evident that Narendra Modi aspires to be remembered as a builder of a ‘Hindu’ Pakistan. Right from his Gujarat days as chief minister, he consciously promoted himself as the Hindu Hriday Samrat. The carefully cultivated image of a Hindu emperor is increasingly pronounced in his words and deeds as the Prime Minister. He also made it clear then that Gujarati Muslims could live only as second-class citizens after the communal carnage in 2002. Implementing the Hindutva agenda has received his top priority since he returned to power in 2019. In the last 12 months or so, his priorities have been to criminalise ‘Triple Talaaq’, scrap Article 370 for J & K, push through the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and rushing ahead with building the Ram temple in Ayodhya.

The last 12 months have thus witnessed the dismantling of the liberal, democratic, modern and plural India that was the cornerstone of the freedom struggle and the Indian Constitution. It was a clear repudiation of communal politics and MA Jinnah’s two-nation theory. The last seven decades saw India taking enormous strides and carve out a niche in the comity of nations. On the other hand, Pakistan disintegrated progressively into a failed state and now one of the most backward of nations.

Evidently, the vision of our founding fathers and the Indian Constitution to keep the nation away from a communal, identity politics, was robust and helped the nation grow as a progressive nation. But Prime Minister Modi’s bid to set the clock back and prove Jinnah right is proving to be regressive and counterproductive. It is a dangerous course for India.

India in the last six years has suffered greatly following Modi brand of majoritarian politics. Indian economy is in dire straits. The nation is grappling with historic levels of unemployment and the COVID pandemic continues to cast its shadow over lives and livelihood of Indian masses. Government revenue, partly because of misplaced policies and partly due to extravagant expenditure in non-priority sectors, has dried up. The Government is trying to bridge increasing fiscal deficit by selling ‘family silver’, Indian public sector units built over the past seven decades. The only coherent philosophy the Indian PM is following is centred around his idea of a new India.

There can be no illusion that India on the eve of its 74th Independence Day is drifting away sharply from its founding fathers and constitutional vision and values. It is a dangerous turn indeed in modern Indian history.

A course correction is necessary to avoid the precipice we are heading to. But the Prime Minister appears determined to lead us to the brink.

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