“Change is in the air!”
A retired academic who had his last assignment as VC of a leading university said this to me the other day, while we were discussing the contemporary political scenario. Frankly admitting that he had supported Modi’s candidature then and had even discreetly campaigned for him, during 2014 elections, he said that what a ‘disaster’ it has been these last four and half years to our polity with him at the helm of affairs.
What surprised me more was that he was from Eastern UP and belonged to one of the dominant upper castes in the region.
Interestingly ‘talk of change’ is not limited to the retired academic, this feeling is widespread. Talk to anyone on the street or listen to your fellow passengers on public transport and one can experience the change in the mood of the people.
Question arises why there is this perceptible change in the narrative despite the fact that media has largely - barring some significant exceptions - remained uncritical of the acts of commission and omission of the present dispensation and has opted to become what is derisively called as ‘embedded media’
The book under consideration “Truth in Fetters: Broken Promises and Shattered Unity’ written by renowned writer-activist Ram Puniyani, who has many books to his credit and has been very consistent in raising issues around secular politics, tries to answer this question.
Explaining the background of Modi’s ascent, how he was helped by a section of the Corporate houses and the media which created a ‘blitz in his favour’, how the propaganda of Gujarat Model of development caught the imagination of the people and how he benefitted from the Anna Hazare movement and even the Nirbhaya movement, he underlines how his ‘alluring promises’ - which were revealed to be basically ‘Jumlas’(gimmicks) to quote Amit Shah, President of BJP - helped him win the battle for Delhi and how under him power was increasingly concentrated and how under him benefits of corporates ‘have become synonymous with development’ (page 10). He shares a critical observation, “The lessons of four years of experience of Modi rule is a wake-up call for opposition parties to hang together, else the victim will be the very concept of democracy itself!”(Page 13)
The book divided into eight sections and has thirty chapters is basically a collection of Ram’s articles which have appeared in different publications since ascent of Hindutva Supremacist forces led by Modi, but it does provide an overview of the regime and how it faltered in delivering things despite getting a comfortable majority.
The first section ‘Modi as Chowkidar’ tells how demonetisation ultimately helped the corporate world and unleashed untold miseries on ordinary people, explains how this ‘battle against black money’ as it was projected by Modi and Co. was based on a false premise:
Eighty per cent of the estimated black money is stashed away in overseas tax havens; roughly 15 per cent of such wealth is in the real estate, gold and shares. Its only 5 % of money in the form of currency notes. It is to go after this 5% that 86% currency had been demonetised. (Page 18)
It also exposes how the likes of Nirav Modi - who ran away with Rs 11,300 crores and who was last seen in a group photograph with Modi at Davos, Vijay Mallya, with 9,000 crores of bank dues and Lalit Modi escaped the dragnet of law machinery, thanks to their proximity with the ruling dispensation. This section ends with the poser to the ‘anti-corruption warriors’ like Hazare, Kejriwal who seem to be ‘sleeping when corruption of bigger order is in progress’ (Page 24) and once again brings forth the role of ‘RSS think tank Vivekananda International Centre’ and the full mobilisation planned by the BJP behind the Anna movement which brought it ‘rich political dividends’.
The second section Indian Nation: Freedom Movement basically veers around the belittling of Nehru legacy and creating a false binary between Nehru and Patel. It is a different matter that Patel himself was very clear about it. In fact foreseeing that attempts would be made by interested quarters to drive a wedge between him and Nehru, he himself had categorically stated in Indore on 2 October 1950, just three months before his death:
Our leader is Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru. Bapu appointed him his heir and successor during his lifetime and even declared it. It is the duty of the soldiers of Bapu that they abide by his orders. One who does not accept this order by heart would prove a sinner before god. I am not a disloyal soldier. For me it is unimportant what my place is. I only know that I am at that very place where Bapu asked me to stand.
(Translated from: Pyarelal, Purnahuti, Chaturth Khand, Navjeevan Prakashan, Ahmedabad, p. 465)
Ram also tells that Patel had been very clear about the role of Modi’s ideological parents - Hindu Mahasabha and RSS - in the murder of Gandhi and had said: (Page 32)
“...as (a) result of the activities of these two bodies (the RSS and the Hindu Mahasabha), particularly the former, an atmosphere was created in the country in which such a ghastly tragedy become possible.. The activities of the RSS constituted a clear threat to the existence of the Government and the state.” (https://scroll.in/article/ 685571/four-facts-about-sardar-patel-that-modi-would-find-disappointing)
We can also refer to his speech in Madras (1949), where he underlined how apart from other challenges before the nation the government was dealing with the ‘RSS movement’:
We in the government have been dealing with the RSS movement. They want that Hindu Rajya or Hindu culture should be imposed by force. No government can tolerate this. There are almost as many Muslims in this country as in the part that has been partitioned away. We are not going to drive them away. It would be an evil day if we started that game, in spite of partition and whatever happens. We must understand that they are going to stay here and it is our obligation and our responsibility to make them feel that this is their country.
(Excerpts from Sardar Patel’s address in Madras, 1949, taken from: S. Irfan Habib (ed.), Indian Nationalism: The Essential Writings, Aleph Book Company; see: Book Extract, “Sardar Patel on RSS and the perils of imposing Hindu Rajya”, https://www.dailyo.in.)
The denigration of Nehru and glorification of Patel serves another dubious purpose for the Hindutva brigade. ‘As BJP’s ideological camp did not participate in the freedom movement, they do need an icon that was part of the freedom movement. This is why they want to iconise Sardar Patel’ (Page 32)
The third section titled ‘Hindu Nationalist Agenda’ deals with different themes ranging from the ‘Puzzle of RSS role in freedom movement’, attempts to ‘Change Constitution’ or questioning the idea of secularism, ‘RSS agenda in Education’ and how with ascent of BJP not only ‘Scientific Temper has taken a hit’ but also one is witnessing ‘Death of Dissent’
No doubt much has been written about RSS’s non-participation in the freedom struggle or their Supremo’s instructions to cadres to keep themselves away from it (Page 42-43); what is less discussed is how Atal Bihari Vajpayee behaved during freedom struggle and how he had issued a ‘confessional statement in the court’ (Page 43) when he was arrested in the ‘Bateshwar incident’ which also helped him released from jail.
In the chapter ‘Gita, a Scripture, not National Book’ Ram discusses attempts by the BJP to elevate it to a book of philosophy rather than a religious scriptures, and explains how ‘Dharma spoken of in Gita is essentially Varnashram Dharma, which is a graded hierarchy, which is against the spirit of Indian Constitution’ and tells ‘State sponsoring a (Gita) festival is a violation of secular ethos. (Page 64) He also discusses how Ambedkar viewed Gita in his work ‘Philosophy of Hinduism’ and said ‘Bhagwat Gita is a Manusmriti in Nutshell’.
The section ‘History as Divisive Tool’ through various debates which have taken centrestage during these last four years - around Taj Mahal, film Padmavat or Tipu Sultan etc. - underlines how ‘With the Hindu Nationalist BJP in the seat of power, an exercise in history re-writing is being undertaken on lines parallel to what was done in Pakistan’ (Page 79) whereas the section ‘The Communal Agenda’ taking up issues of killing of Afrazul Khan by Shambhu Lal Raigar, lynching for cow, opposition to organising Christmas fest etc. discusses the growing communalisation of the polity and society.
“What has changed during last few years in the understanding of the likes of Shambhu and killer of Akhlaq, Pehlu, Junaid or floggers of Una, is that they feel empowered due to the utterances from those in power. The subtle message percolated down is that it’s their government and they can get away with heinous crimes. When Central ministers come and put tricolour on the body of the accused of the murder of Akhlaq, what message will go down? (Page 105)
The last section focusses on the ‘Vilification of the Congress’ and the issue of ‘Left and Electoral Alliances’. Underlining the difficulties to ‘walk on the path of secularism’ in our country which has suffered the impact of ‘divide and rule’ policy, author makes an important point which needs further elaboration. According to him: (Page 150)
The present criticism of the Congress, it being called a Muslim party, it being called against Hindu interests, seems to be a continuation of the arguments which began with Hindu communalists in 1880s, via the articulations of Hindu Mahasabha-RSS-Godse, which have become intensified during the last couple of decades.
Underlining the ‘strength of Hindu nationalist politics’ (Page 152) which broadly involved ‘consistent work of spreading ideology through RSS shakhas’ and the ‘state patronage of its activities’ and how the intensity of Hindutva has gone up during last four years which has inflicted severe damage ‘on the roots of democracy’ the author appeals to a section of the left that it should shun its old understanding vis-à-vis BJP and try to weave ‘broader alliances to save democracy’.
A major strength of the book is the way it takes us to a tour of the last four years and explains how Modi magic slowly unravelled before us; it has its own weaknesses as well. It does not deal with what experts say ‘growing isolation of the Modi regime’ even from its close neighbours (https://www.telegraphindia.com/opinion/india-s-isolation-from-its-neighbours-is-senseless/cid/1671904?ref=opinion_opinion-page), the way its policies have shifted vis-à-vis its ‘arch rival’ Pakistan or how even close neighbours like Sri Lanka are forced to say that RAW is planning to assassinate its President. (https://thewire.in/south-asia/media-reports-of-sirisena-claiming-raw-plot-to-assassinate-him-prompt-a-flurry-of-statements)
Like all such collection of articles - which although give a flavour of the actual debates taking place around particular events - this also suffers from a contemporaneity of sorts. One also wishes that the proof reading of the manuscript should have been more elegant to avoid some errors.
Truth In Fetters: Broken Promises, Shattered Unity
Media House, Delhi, Price 250(Published on 29th October 2018, Volume XXX, Issue 44)