An ocean divides the commitments Narendra Modi made, both before his resounding Lok Sabha victory and after becoming prime minister in May 2014, and what he has delivered. His promised Acche Din (Good Times) has turned out to be a bad ‘Jumla” that haunts him as well his party; what he has delivered can be called ‘Bure Din’ (bad days). Yet the BJP expects to rule without a break for at least half a century!
Forget the failures on the economic front which have been enumerated by a large number of economists, just consider the atmosphere of fear and hatred that the present government has created. An air of fear is no sign of the good times; it is in bad times that you cannot express your thoughts if they are critical of the rulers. Writer Shanta Gokhale has spoken of India becoming ‘a republic of fear’ for thinkers and writers who make democracy vibrant and lively.
Shanta Gokhale’s words should be weighed in the background of an observation made some time ago by historian Ramchandra Guha that the present government was the most ‘anti-intellectual’ ever. Modi had used ‘Harvard’ to mock his predecessor. That was part of a disturbing pattern of recent years: Ruling party leading the way to an all-time low in political discourse.
In BJP’s lexicon dissent and disagreement is expressed only by ‘anti-nationals’ and ‘Urban Naxals’ (urban insurgents) whose rightful place is in jail
A few months ago, the TV channel NDTV, one of the very few that questions the government, had examined more than 1000 speeches made by political figures during the last four years. It found a 500 per cent rise in hate speeches—the catalysts for the atmosphere of fear. The ruling party members were the major contributors.
In BJP’s lexicon dissent and disagreement is expressed only by ‘anti-nationals’ and ‘Urban Naxals’ (urban insurgents) whose rightful place is in jail. The ‘anti-nationals’ acts include the way people lead their personal lives, what they eat, whom they befriend etc. Looking at the hectic speed with which a personality cult is being built around the prime minister it should surprise no one if ‘Hail Modi’ becomes a compulsory form of greeting. You cannot miss the visage of Modi wherever you go—roads, offices, petrol pumps etc. Radio stations and TV channels have taken upon themselves the task of protecting the government from the simmering discontent among the people.
Word has gone round that criticism may be tolerated if does not mention by name the prime minister and his side kick, Amit Shah, the BJP president
An important plank on which the BJP had won the last parliamentary poll was the promise to ensure women’s safety. ‘Beto Bachao, Beti Padhao’ (save the girl child, educate her) was among the early slogans of the government. The campaign for saving the ‘Beti’ began in Haryana, now notorious for rape cases.
The hollowness of the ‘Beti Bachao’ slogan has been exposed thoroughly. The government comes out with astonishing explanations, like ‘rape cannot be prevented’ and one leading light of the ruling party was quoted as saying that even god will not be able to stop that crime. ‘Acche Din’ does not mean women—from school-going girls to elderly ones—living in constant fear.
Word has gone round that criticism may be tolerated if does not mention by name the prime minister and his side kick, Amit Shah, the BJP president. Two senior anchors of a Hindi TV channel had to quit their job for flouting this cardinal principle enunciated by the Modi regime. ‘Constructive criticism’ is said to be o.k., but it rules out any critical review of government failures. Questioning the government is called ‘politicisation’. It is baffling that most media houses and publications have abandoned their traditional job of scrutinising the functioning of the government.
Even the most repressive regime will find it difficult to stifle the freedom of thought in the minds of the people. Modi’s gift of the gab would not be able to work in 2019. That is why a publicity blitz, with focus on Modi, has been launched on an unprecedented level. An average yearly expenditure of Rs 1000 crore is incurred on advertisements released by the government—to select media outlets. Modi stares at you from nearly everywhere and there is no escaping from his ‘Mann ki Baat’ which will surely be drowned by the ‘Janata ki Baat’.
Religion- and caste-based hatred has spread like an epidemic. Mob lynching is the new ‘normal’ and tacitly accepted as the best way of teaching lessons to wayward citizens who are unwilling to conform to the code and the diktat of the ruling party or its affiliates. No commiseration for the victims or their families—a tradition that goes back to Gujarat 2002 and the over 100 deaths in queues outside banks during the demonetization days in 2016.
The common citizen is being told that the Modi government should be given an indefinite ‘extension’ to deal with problems like corruption, unemployment, rising prices, terrorism etc when in 2014 votes were sought on the basis of fixing everything in less than five years. None of the time line that Modi had mentioned in his pre-poll and later speeches has been met while he creates a myth around himself with the help of distorted and false information and facts. He had offered even his neck for chopping if he failed to meet the deadlines he had set!
Whataboutery is the handy weapon to ward off criticism. Blame the Congress for everything and the party is creating ‘hurdles’ by questioning the government of saintly figures.