The last couple of weeks have been somewhat crazy for me, see-sawing between hope and despair. I ran into a friend, an ardent supporter of Narendra Modi, with whom I had stopped conversing in the past few years, particularly on politics because we could not speak without ending up in bitter fights over the state of the nation. The last conversation we had was over the beef ban and the lynchings of Muslims that had followed all across the country.
Neither of us was ever a beef eater but, five years ago, while my blood boiled as I found her unmoved over the lynchings, this week, she volunteered, “I am not really against anyone’s lifestyle habits. They can wear whatever they want, burqua or bikini, eat whatever they like. But when others impose their views upon me... that’s what I don’t like!”
My heart rose in hope as I thought her previous liberalism was asserting itself. “That's what we have been saying all these years, no?” I replied. “Why should anyone be identified by what they wear or what they eat? Don’t you think Muslims have been crushed enough by the Modi government?”
That’s when my heart sank back into despair, for she replied sharply, Not enough by far! He should have done more. This is not what I voted for. Why is he mollycoddling so many of them, like Arif Mohamnad Khan?”
Given that Khan has been bristling at some hard questions being asked to him by the media, I began to wonder whether he is quite aware of the abyss that he is helping the Modi government to lead his fellow Muslims into. But while the foolishness of sarkari Muslims is quite another story, I was cautiously hopeful when a particular news channel hitherto in ecstacies about cow dung and cow urine, got down to practice some hard journalism and expose the involvement of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad in the violence on the campus of the Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi last fortnight.
But then the events that followed entangled both hope and despair – Amazon, despite India's mismanagement of its economy, announced a one million US Dollar investment in small businesses in the country. Now it is these small businesses that had suffered excruciatingly the after-effects of demonetisation three years ago. So, one would have hoped the government would welcome its CEO Jeff Bezos with open arms.
But, despairingly, Union Commerce Minister Piyush Goyal, once again proved rather a witling – remember he had confused Newton with Einstein, a basic difference known to even primary school students? – by snubbing Bezos. But it was uplifting to note that Amazon paid him no heed – dangerous for a government when it is not taken seriously - and wrote an open letter to India reinforcing its determination to stay on track despite the snub by the government.
It was also very encouraging to note that Washington Post, invested in by Bezos, in turn snubbed the government which had demanded curtailment of reportage of the truth as a quid pro quo for allowing investment in India. Ultimately, Goyal had to backtrack. But disappointment remained supreme when more than one leading politician with a top line education in the US could do nothing to widen the intellectual horizons of our country.
Like Subramanian Swamy, the biggest disappointment of all. Swamy, a former faculty at Harvard University, who seemed the only hope this government had of pulling back a tanking economy from the doldrums, had been relentlessly targeting finance ministers, the late Arun Jaitley and present incumbent Nirmala Sitharaman for being clueless about their jobs. For all my dislike of his extreme bigotry, I had been taken in by his rhetoric and wondered if Modi could not make an exception of his age limit and appoint the 80-year old as finance minister in the interest of the nation’s economy.
But now he seems to think that a picture of the Goddess Laxmi on our currency notes will do more for the economy than any expert management. If that is the opinion of a self-proclaimed economist like him, I wonder where others with less knowledge entrusted with the job will lead the country to.
But my greatest hope and disappointment has been with the entrepreneurs of this country. There were a couple of them who reacted spontaneously to the violence on JNU and condemned it in unequivocal terms. But before one could begin to believe that the community was beginning to distinguish between good and evil, up came Ratan Tata with a completely misplaced statement that Modi and Shah had a vision for this country.
What vision? A vision of bigotry, majoritarian fascist violence as has been unleashed on minorities particularly in Uttar Pradesh? Now it is obvious that Tata is battling hard to save his companies from his previous protègè Cyrus Mistry whose case was recently upheld by a tribunal. But that Ratan Tata would be so openly sycophantic of a fascist regime when he has enough education to distinguish right from wrong has been particularly unnerving.
Tata has not been mentioned in the same breath as Adanis and Ambanis in the past years but small and medium entrepreneurs in Gujarat during Modi's stint as chief minister of the state hated the Tatas equally for being part of the league that had cornered all favours and deprived them of many facilities.
Tata is proving exactly like the many famous industrial names in Hitler's Germany who cared only about personal profits and not about the nation and its people. But those companies lived in a different era and did not have the benefit of a previous example. Tata has no such excuse and therefore has no redeeming feature to fall back on.
However, I believe those students, youth and other members of civil society, including Muslims, who have shed their fear of this government and have taken it on in no uncertain terms, will continue to stand as the eternal torch bearers of this country.
My bigoted friend might still hold her paranoia about the minorities, but she too does recognise you cannot impose yourself upon others. That opens a small window of light in this dark era. I live in the hope that window will open wider and envelop more and more bigots and sycophants.
Sooner rather than later.
(The views expressed are the author’s own)