Nation waits to see the PM walk the talk 

PM Modi had a historic mandate to usher in change, unite the nation and take it towards economic growth. But sadly, his rule of six years has split the nation’s heart and embittered minds

PM Modi (Photo Courtesy: Twitter/@ANI)
PM Modi (Photo Courtesy: Twitter/@ANI)
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Purushottam Agrawal

A birthday is a day when we take stock of things. The sum total of our assessment decides whether it should be a day of celebrations or a day set aside for mourning. Howsoever fleetingly, we do take stock of the present and the future, if not the past. So how do things look on 15th of August, 2020? I recall in his first address to the nation as Prime Minister of India from the ramparts of the Red Fort, Narendra Modi had spoken of putting a moratorium on all past disputes and internal bickerings, and instead strive together as a nation and focus on integrated development.

What has happened though in the last six years? And what is happening all around us even as I write these lines? Has there been an end to baseless talk about nothing having been achieved in the past 70 years? No, the silly denigration of the past six and a half decades as the root cause of all present ills continues. That a nation that had everything stacked against it as a young democracy, tackled everything from a terrible man made famine followed by the Partition and a flood of displaced refugees, regular floods and droughts, so well and within three decades went on to build up a large buffer stock of grain, is not a small matter.

It was during this period also that India first began to be noticed as one of the rising power hubs in Asia. But arrogantly dismissive talk of India’s achievements in the past six decades actually smacks of a shameful lack of both education and imagination and of course grace and gratitude for the builders of this great nation.

And what did we, the people of India, see after that holy exhortation for solidarity and forgetting old disputes and starting afresh? A witch hunt of extraordinary proportions and overnight demonetisation of India’s currency, that drove the nation into a hole it is yet to emerge from. The economy had been messed up completely before the global epidemic has created conditions, we never thought we’d be facing after seven decades of Independence.

For the first time the country faces the phenomenon of negative growth. Trade is almost at a standstill. And jobs are disappearing at an alarming rate. At the border China has entered our territory in Ladakh forcibly and occupied a portion. The Prime Minister first announced that there was no forced entry nor was any part of our land occupied by the PLA. But despite the government assuring the Parliament that peace talks are on and China would soon retract its claim, a report contradicting this suddenly surfaced on the official site of the Ministry of Defence and was removed as it went viral on social media. The excuse given is that India did not wish to share delicate information about our defence preparedness with the enemy countries.

Preparedness? A total Lockdown to prevent the spread of COVID-19 was announced, like the demonetisation, a mere four hours prior to its becoming effective. As businesses shut down and factories stopped work, overnight millions of migrant workers living in rented hovels and shanty towns within our mega cities were rendered jobless and most of them had no choice but to go back to their native villages, many of them on foot. Then a host of totemic announcements began to rain upon us. To ward off the evil Coronavirus, we were asked to stand on our balconies and clap, to beat pots and pans, light lamps at a given hour or eat Papadams.

The Hon Minister who suggested the last measure has currently tested positive for COVID-19, as also the Home Minister and the chief priests at many temples. But there is no stopping the efforts to topple state governments being ruled by parties in the opposition. TV news channels are the great public opinion makers now. And what are their major headlines today? Not about the steadily declining economy, nor the Big Bully at our borders staring our forces down, or the floods ravaging states from Bihar to Kerala in the midst of the pandemic.

The prime time is devoted to discussions and brief clips about how a certain popular film actor may have been driven to suicide by a demonic woman who practised black magic. Or how Amitabh Bachchan’s grand-daughter addressed her online teacher with a ‘Good morning Ma’am’. Then came the Bhoomi Poojan at Ayodhya as COVID ravaged the plains of UP. The way the whole dramatic ritual was choreographed and projected on our screens, removed the dividing line between holy channels like Astha and hard news.

A flailing system looks for scapegoats. To the ruling dispensation the blame for most ills rests on Nehru, Rahul Gandhi and the opposition. We have never lived through such times. In 1962 Pt Nehru apologised to Parliament for his government’s inability to gauge the mind of the aggressor China. People and Parliament both respected him for his forthrightness and humble acceptance of blame for India losing to China and asking his dear friend and trusted colleague, the Defence Minister Krishna Menon to put in his papers.

In the 60s, when there was a food shortage Shastri Ji similarly rose to the occasion and urged the nation to fast on Mondays to save food for the poorest and urged India towards the Green revolution that flowered during his successor Indira Gandhi’s term as PM. One can quote dozens of refreshing examples of exemplary leadership shown by leaders during the much-maligned Congress Rule. The fact is Mr. Modi had a historic mandate to usher in change, to unite the nation and take it further on the path to glory and economic rejuvenation.

But sadly, his rule of six years has split the nation’s heart and embittered minds. Everything is now viewed through the lens of the Ruling Party or the Opposition. The dreams for a holistic future seem to have evaporated and politics has been reduced to settling scores and avenging perceived slights in the past.

A democracy is not a numbers game. It is created and run by popular will and institutions that represent the peoples’ will. These institutions have always helped keep a certain balance of power between the government and the opposition. If democracy is to be saved and expanded and made meaningful once again, if the marginalised groups’ faith in the Indian State is to be retained, we must ask questions. Not only of the government, but also to our own selves. And those questions must not be limited any more to those sixty-five years but also to the past six years.

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