'Sarkari' Truth can neither salvage the Monsoon session nor the country
Denials from 'very few died' to 'nobody died due to shortage of medical oxygen' and the Government's refusal to deny that it never bought or used Pegasus spyware have hijacked the monsoon session
The first day of the much awaited monsoon session reminded me of an old Sanskrit phrase, “Prathame grasey Makshikapatah”, A fly in your very first morsel ! " or a fly in the ointment.
A detailed report surfaced on how since 2018 the Pegasus spyware imported from Israel, may have been used to snoop on various people and people’s representatives in India and elsewhere. The Opposition alleged that this was a case of illegal State surveillance and breach of citizens’ privacy. The spyware, they said was originally developed to keep an eye on terrorist activities and was not to be sold to non governmental players.
It is a serious charge and the government as was expected, hotly denied it, though it has, to date not denied categorically that it had neither bought nor ever used it. The case merits attention since the list of the snooped upon includes major leaders of the Opposition, even a few of the ministers from the cabinet and their close aides, a former election commissioner, a well known political strategist, a few media men and women known to be critical of the present government, some social activists and hold your breath, even a virologist !
In the face of such overwhelming pressure from the global media and India’s Opposition parties on the government, it is too much to expect that the monsoon session of the Parliament can have calm and rational debates on issues like the pandemic’s impact, the new farm policies, rising unemployment , petrol price rise and food inflation.
The NDA won two successive elections largely based on a two point agenda . One : that dynastic politics was the root of all misery and two: that there was widespread corruption within the government . Using great oratorical skills and considerable funds it managed to sell the two ideas to the voters in 2014, and again (with a fresh green sprinkling of Nation’s- security- was- threatened but a quick-surgical strike-saved it) in 2019.
But as the Hindi saying goes Sub Din hote na ek samaaanaa, all days are not the same. 2021 began with a humiliating defeat for this formula . Mamata Banerjee proved to be a quick learner and effectively used Bangla to appeal to Bengali voters not to vote for a Party that was coming from the West with a Hindi-Hindu-Hindustan vision that would be a threat to their regional identity. The cat calls or wolf whistles of Didi O Didi, and Jai Shri Ram drove the voters further away. It was a big self goal.
The next unexpected blow was the terrible second wave of Covid . The Ministers and the Babus, long subjugated into meekly carrying out orders from,”above”, seemed to have lost the art of thinking on their feet. While the government denied the quoted death figures, a spate of photographs showing long queues at crematoriums and perfunctory burials on the banks of the Ganga surfaced in global media and went viral. The threatening tone of ubiquitous political discourse unleashed helped black out much from India’s mainstream media, but social media coupled with personal experiences of a million families made such unwritten codes of censorship irrelevant.
It is for this reason that the common man on the street is not buying the argument that allegations of targeted surveillance is an international conspiracy against the NDA government. India is unlike many other democracies where if a scandal of this size surfaces the leadership either proves conclusively that it is right, or just resigns. The Party then chooses another leader for the remaining term and work carries on.
The crisis our leadership faces is deep and clear. Movements like the Rath Yatra of Advani have withered away and already the new Trust formed to supervise the Ram temple building is riddled with allegations of corruption. Branches like the Swadeshi Jagran Manch linked with the rise of the Hindu identity have become irrelevant as privatization is unleashed upon the PSUs. Gujrati solidarity crafted in two decades around the money ethic has created a permanent and widening breach within the nation as the rest of the country withers away. And last but not the least India is progressively falling behind China in terms of both arms and technology as well as trade partnerships with the West.
Still India is a country that worships Avataras , where an ageing king Yayati, refuses to yield the throne to his young son and depart as expected, to the forest. Age in India, has long blocked a natural transfer of power between generations. Even powerful Satraps like Yogi needs an Avatara to guide their electoral Rath. Ah, the central irony of the lives of those who mocked a youthful Rajiv or later Rahul leading the Congress!
The crisis facing Mr Modi’s Imperium is both domestic and international. The monsoon session has begun under conditions of great human misery, material want and hopelessness.
Gone are the days when scandals broke in the backwaters of a hill state where a brick fell out in an ex minister’s home revealing a stash of cash stowed within. Or a senior police officer was captured on CCTV cameras brandishing a revolver and planting a stolen car in a VIP area. Despite the government’s contempt and arrogance vis a vis the media that continued to demand answers, often risking their own freedom, privilege of the governing elite is now a cursed chalice.
So long as the foundations of governments lie in animal fear of reprisals, free Vaccine Melas and feed the poor schemes will remain just artificial lungs hooked up to a vastly enfeebled, fast depleting organism. The hook up may keep it from disintegrating for a few years but what India needs urgently is a mass detoxification of majoritarianism and a collective and unfettered journey into the universe of digital information.
(Mrinal Pande is Group Editorial Advisor of National Herald)