If there is one truth we ought to have learnt over the past seven years or so, it is that there is nothing inevitable about the India story. The economy has taken a hit from misguided policymaking; allegations of corruption and cronyism abound; our image as a ‘country unsafe for women’ has taken strong roots globally, and our reputation as a society growing increasingly hostile to minorities seems to be growing.
Domestically, the erosion of trust is so severe everything from electronic voting machines to mundane national accounts, and from higher education to defence deals, are under a cloud of suspicion. Hang on, though. In post-truth India, all of this can be fixed. Inconvenient GDP figures, crime rates, malnutrition figures, acts of corruption – all of these can be revised, reversed, or rejected as the narrative demands. The government can continue to stand defiant as it counters every criticism with libellous charges, and every challenge with manipulation – a fake graph here, a doctored image there…
For a long time now, the ruling party and their supporters have also been hiding behind the excuse that there have been previous instances when the economy was mismanaged, democracy was trampled, and human rights were violated; that the state has previously abetted violence against minorities. It is impossible to miss the active encouragement provided to murderers, rapists and lynch-mobs, and the blatant politics of communal polarisation. Those in power today are firmly anti-progress, who seek refuge in the conversations about gotra while practising a politics based primarily on feeding people’s insecurities and fanning baseless prejudices. ‘Vikas’ is now an after-thought. But because more elections have been won than they have been lost, they seek to acquire a cover of impunity for all of these shenanigans. And such is their impunity that even the lives of policemen are no longer safe.
Globally, however, the enthusiasm for India has dimmed, irrespective of what a globe-trotting Prime Minister Modi and his entourage may want to convey. Our foreign policy, which should be founded on the basis of a robust economy, is now limited to photo-ops and Yoga meets. The charge of cronyism against this government is so well-established that nearly every foreign trip Modi has taken has yielded rich dividends for a handful of his friends (his real ‘mitr’, and not the voting public as Modi would have us believe).
Recently, the outgoing Chief Election Commissioner lamented that he gained no traction in his efforts to engage the government in reviewing the opaque electoral bonds. It is indeed a great travesty that the BJP which always talks about its anti-corruption credentials indulges in such obvious deception. Supreme Court judges, retired and active, have spoken out in no unclear terms about the blatant attempts to ‘remote-control’ the judiciary. How much longer will dissenting voices continue to be marginalised?
Probably the greatest threat to our country is the now-established view that majoritarian opinion should prevail over rule of law. Those who argued, for example, that the Supreme Court verdict on Sabarimala is a mistake were basically saying that the top court of this country should not deliver verdicts that offend the religious sentiments of the majority community. One can be sure that the same logic will be used to counter the Supreme Court if it delivers an unfavourable verdict on Ayodhya. It is by no means, bizarre to suggest that those drunk on majoritarian power just do not believe in the ‘rule of law’ or in India being a constitutional republic.
The fundamental contradictions between the lofty ideals prescribed by our Constitution and majoritarian public opinion will ensure that these fissures will continue to exist, and will continuously be exploited for political gains by the likes of the Sangh Parivar. And therein lies the real problem. We must not fall into the trap of justifying divisive political agendas peddled by influential leaders with unaccounted-for resources as a reflection of public opinion. The media has become a willing accomplice in this effort.
We have arrived at a juncture in our journey as a constitutional republic where the illegal demolition of Babri Masjid can be justified by citing the list of temples plundered by Mahmud of Ghazni. A Sabarimala, Ram Mandir or Triple Talaq isn’t the real issue – these are just proxies for the larger battle for legitimacy of ideas. The idea of India, as we knew it, was that of a plural, tolerant and culturally diverse people. This majoritarian version, sometimes referred to as New India, seeks to subvert this entirely, by spawning an elaborate eco-system of falsehoods.
They need to be stopped, and the opposition cannot just be electoral.