By Gurbachan Jagat
Our country for the past decade has been caught up in politics of hate and divisiveness, which is gradually sucking the life blood out of it. Borders, both physical and virtual, have come up within the nation-state where none existed — be it Singhu, Tikri, ruling party states versus Oppn-ruled states. It’s a growing list of categories where the underlying theme is one of mistrust and hate. These leaders advocating divisive politics have made us look more like the theocratic state in our neighbourhood
What better place to start than UP to study the politics at play today. It is at the heart of divisive politics and the state which had given solid majorities in the Assembly and Parliament. Yogi as the leader represents the very epitome of this polity. He is an iron-fisted man with his own vision of India who firmly believes that his word is the last word on any subject under the sun and in the furtherance of his project, he is ably assisted by his ‘yuva vahini’ and other similar organisations. The first important experiment was the anti-beef programme which targeted Muslims suspected of killing cows or carrying cows for slaughter, or transporting beef, or storing beef in their homes. Vigilante groups of political storm-troopers who had been recruited, trained and indoctrinated earlier checked vehicles on roads, stopped those with beef and dealt summary “justice”. Even in the face of proper papers, they were not spared. Their belongings were looted and they were lynched in many cases. Reporting to the police only resulted in cases against the complainants. A shroud of fear descended upon the land and travelling at night became hazardous, even for non-Muslims. A plan long in the making had started bearing fruition.
The next items on the agenda were the formation of “anti-Romeo” squads and “love jihad”. The state discovered a great conspiracy hatched by the Muslim youth to entice young Hindu girls in order to forcibly convert and then marry them. Again, the squads were out to teach a lesson to these “criminals”. As this was a “serious matter”, the state stepped in to enact a law to make such acts a crime and stringent punishments were proposed. The popularity of this law soon became visible when states like MP and Gujarat also followed suit, with more waiting to do so. Again, fear engulfed the youth and they went running to the courts for help.
The ruling establishment, which had come to power by propagating divisive politics, continued with this agenda and had little else to offer its electorate in terms of administration, development and fulfilling the basic needs of education, health and security, which happen to be the fundamental duties of the state. A few days ago, I was watching NDTV News 24×7 where a discussion was taking place on the Indian response to the pandemic in general and the reliability of the data being provided by the state and the Central agencies. For a change, the panel consisted of three brilliant professors — Dr Vincent Raj Kumar from Mayo Clinic, Rochester; Dr Menon from Ashoka University and one more whose name I forget. On being pointedly asked regarding the veracity of the data, Dr Vincent answered that the actual figures of the infected and dead were at least double the numbers given and went on to say that some put these at five times higher. He was fully supported by Dr Menon and in a more muted manner by the third panellist (this data has been further supplemented by articles appearing in the western media). This set the tone for the rest of the discussion, which focused on the shortage of vaccines, oxygen, etc. The fact that came out was that the entire health system was in a shambles in the face of the onslaught.
The UP CM’s response to the pandemic was typical of the Indian government’s response at large i.e. a general denial of the severity of the pandemic in UP. The administration even went to the extent of threatening people with registration of cases against anyone who was seen to be maligning the image of the government. However, the numbers began to swell and the health system came under pressure — the response was to fudge the figures. However, the gap between reality and lies was too much and whatever chance of acceptance it had was blown away by the discovery of hundreds of bloated bodies in the Ganga flowing through Bihar and UP. Then hundreds of more bodies buried on the banks of the Ganga were found violated by wild animals. In all the religious practices in India, one common thread is that the dead should be sent off on their final journey with as much dignity as one’s resources permit. The deafening silence of the leadership even after the discovery of the bodies and their subsequent abuse speaks volumes.
NDTV also showed some village dispensaries in the vicinity of Delhi — no doctors, no staff, no equipment, but these were being used as storage for cow dung cakes, dry fodder, etc. The camera moved from village to village but the visuals were the same. If this is the story in the vicinity of Delhi, what must it be like in the rural interior belts. For a moment, the thought came to me that maybe these dispensaries were real and the cow dung and the fodder were raw material for producing new miracle cures (a la baba Ramdev).
Let us now revert to areas of major worldwide concern. Foreign organisations like the ones in America are reporting that India is falling fast in its ranking of freedom to practice religion, freedom of the press and democratic values. The Centre’s answer to this is that these agencies are biased against India and its rapid economic and military rise (I suppose they have an answer to how Bangladesh is now ranked higher on most economic parameters as well). Our country for the past decade has been caught up in politics of hate and divisiveness, which is gradually sucking the life blood out of it. Borders, both physical and virtual, have come up within the nation-state where none existed — Singhu, Tikri, ruling party states versus Opposition-ruled states. It’s a growing list of categories where the underlying theme is one of mistrust and hate. The ruling setup seeks to enforce its will on the entire dominion with an agenda whose misplaced values and ethos of a fundamental theocracy find no traction in the vast majority of this country. India is a union of states, a union whose foundation is ‘unity in diversity’. We are a federal structure, the very division of states on the basis of language was an attempt to keep this diversity secure and alive. Any imposition of a uniform way of life kills the very soul of this nation. Elections, the bedrock of our democracy, are being contested like street battles with muscle, money and foul language, with the ruling party at the Centre leading the charge by deploying its vast resources.
These leaders advocating divisive politics have made us look more like the theocratic state in our neighbourhood and with whom we have fought multiple wars. A state which for the most part has been bankrupt and stricken with internal wars and unrest. A pariah state which we have long looked down upon but which for some reason our leaders seek to emulate now. Are we now going to be governed by a non-scientific approach led by myths and superstition? Our success so far has been the sound foundations laid in the plethora of scientific institutions, both educational and research, by our founding fathers — the IITs, IIMs, AIIMS, PGIs, the multiple universities both at the state and national level. The centres of research were not created overnight but by a continuous effort at nation-building, a nation which in these institutions saw the ‘temples of modern India’, a nation which sought its rightful place at the high table of democracy.
The deeper question is, where will this path lead us as we enter a period of internal conflict? India has always been weakened when divided and as Abraham Lincoln said, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” Today, we are in a deep territorial conflict with China and Pakistan, even Nepal which for the longest time has been our ally is raising disputes. China surrounds us both on land and on our coastline with ports in Sri Lanka, Myanmar and Iran. Afghanistan moves again towards Taliban rule (do remember Kandahar and Kargil the last time round the Taliban were in power. Current media reports are indicating that the Afghan army is surrendering in large numbers to the Taliban). Iran, with whom we had historic links, is estranged and so are Sri Lanka and Myanmar. The die is cast and the pieces move — will India dig deep and find the strength to fight this battle both internal and external? I, for one, believe in the resilience of the common man; he will stand up as we are witnessing in the march of rural India where rural folk have joined hands together in the peaceful farmers’ protest against the farm laws. In the words of Iqbal, ‘Kuch baat hai ki hasti mit-ti nahin hamari, sadiyon raha hai dushman daur-e-zaman hamara Saare’.