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Opinion

April 6, 2018

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Waiting for 2019

General elections in India are still a year away. Yet, given the state of the nation today, the electorate cannot wait to throw out the current dispensation that came promising ‘ache din’ (good times), not to mention tall claims like 2 crore jobs, bullet trains, Rs15 lakh in every bank account and, above all, good governance.

With disasters mounting on every front, that talk of ‘ache din’ sounds like a bad joke today. Indeed, the joke is on us – the people of India. Forget good governance and endless dreams of emerging as the next great power, ordinary Indians should thank their lucky stars if they manage to survive another day or week under this regime unscathed.

The economy is in a mess. Yet the bulls of Bombay Sensex continue to gallop and the rich get richer. However, markets won’t tell you how many million small and medium businesses and jobs have been claimed by the spectacular disaster called demonetisation or the mindboggling chaos that followed it in the name of GST.

If the systematic crackdown on the meat and leather industry in the name of the cow has deprived millions of livelihood in Uttar Pradesh, the twin disasters of demonetisation and GST have broken the back of indigenous industries like the famous weavers of Benares, the locksmiths of Aligarh and the skilled artisans of Moradabad’s metal industries.

Incidentally, the majority of those working in these traditional industries happen to be Muslims who form 20 percent of UP’s 200-million population. In any other country, these artisans with their amazing skills, passed down over the centuries, would be protected and treated as the nation’s pride. In India, they are on the verge of extinction after decades of exploitation and discrimination. And it’s not just artisans; driven to desperation by bad loans and disastrous government policies, thousands of farmers have killed themselves.

In many ways, UP is a microcosm of the nation, reflecting what has gone wrong with the dream that the BJP and Narendra Modi sold to India with a flourish. The dream has turned sour.

Considering the massive electoral mandate and popular support that Modi enjoyed when he swept to power in the summer of 2014, the crushing disappointment and disenchantment of the faithful – the middle classes, upper castes and corporates who constitute the BJP’s core support base – is understandable.

Truth be told, the country has offered Modi and company a long, long rope. Despite the shocking ineptitude and mismanagement that has been witnessed on virtually every front, it has taken a long time for India to fall out of love with the aggressive, glib-talking salesman that Modi is and see the reality of his phoney, substandard product.

The BJP’s core supporters did not mind it awfully when saffron thugs started showing Muslims that ‘Hindu raj is finally here’ after what Modi calls ‘1200 years of slavery’. It was time to teach them who the boss is! So lynching a Muslim here, burning a mosque there is fine as long these ‘incidents’ do not affect markets, businesses and overall governance.

The tide began to change when the BJP’s traditional supporters began to feel the heat with the economy struggling and businesses disappearing. After the tall claims of ‘na khaunga, na khane dunga’ (Neither will I be corrupt nor will I allow corruption) and allowing Robber barons like Lalit Modi and Vijay Mallya to escape came the rude shock of the Rs12,000 crore Punjab National Bank scam involving the PM’s pals from the blessed land of opportunity called Gujarat.

The fact that Nirav Modi dined and photographed himself with ‘Narendra bhai’ as a member of the Indian delegation at the World Economic Forum in Davos just before decamping with the booty has left a lingering distaste in the mouth for many.

The disasters of the recent CBSE paper leaks and the government’s pathetic response to the multiple crises in the educational sector in a country whose majority is predominantly young may turn out to be the last straw for these sections.

It’s not just the middle classes who are far from pleased with the way things have turned out under the current order. From suicidal farmers to agitating Dalits, and protesting students and journalists to distressed minorities, every section of society is up in arms. Even the senior-most judges of the Supreme Court have taken to streets to vent their frustration over the disturbing state of affairs of the nation, including the judiciary after the BJP’s successful bid to infiltrate it with its divisive mindset and chosen few.

The massive Dalit uprising this week (April 2) across India that the BJP tried to sabotage was unprecedented in many ways, exposing the reality of Hindutva’s Dalit outreach and so-called social engineering. It was the strongest rejection of the elaborate charade the casteist Parivar has presided over in the name of ‘rising India’ absurdly portraying itself as a champion and sympathiser of the community oppressed and terrorised for thousands of years. The Dalits, long used as cannon fodder in Hindutva violence targeting Muslims, cannot wait to teach the saffron party a lesson – like other sections of Indian society.

The mood of the nation is far from sanguine. But you do not get that impression if you were to tune in to ‘Mann ki Baat’ (heart to heart), the prime minister’s monthly radio address to the nation, which talks about everything under the sun – including how to beat the stress of exams! – except the pressing issues and concerns facing the nation.

Writing in The Wire, veteran journalist Harish Khare notes that the Dalit uprising was a rejection of “New India” and its cultivated social prejudices. “The Dalits are not alone in feeling left behind. The bandh simply confirmed the rumours that buyers’ regret has long set in among vast segments of the Indian electorate. The promises and probabilities of 2014 have given way to a feeling of disappointment and disenchantment, a sense of being taken for a ride.

“The hard-core of the Modi constituency – the middle classes and the corporate honchos – have been given every reason to infer that the strongman who so extravagantly promised stability and social harmony has failed to provide either. At the end of his fourth year in office, most segments of Indian society have a reason to be unhappy, angry and emotionally exhausted; we stand depleted of all our collective nobility and goodness. If the gathering disappointment has acquired an angry edge it is because everyone is wisening up to the squalidness of the ‘New India’.”

Khare points out that if the middle classes are today alarmed at the spectre of disorder and anarchy lurking around the corner, they know that it is they who cheered as the BJP government endorsed and even legitimised the use of violence in pursuit of a partisan political agenda.

Remember the virtual ‘guard of honour’ Modi’s Culture Minister Mahesh Sharma offered to the killer of Mohammed Akhlaq, the first victim of the cow brigade? It’s because of this wilful blindness of those at the top that such blatant crimes against Muslims and Dalits have not just continued but have acquired a life of their own. Indeed, as things turn from bad to worse on all fronts, expect more religious riots – as witnessed this past week in Bengal, Bihar and UP – and other such stunts. As India hurls itself towards 2019, the only option before the BJP is to do what it does best: stir the communal cauldron more vigorously than ever before.

The writer is an independent writer and former newspaper editor.

Email: [email protected]

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