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Government’s Obsession With Image

Government’s Obsession With Image

Suddenly the intellectuals from various walks of life alarmed at the emerging trends in the nation have become villains. 49 of them who had expressed deep concern for hapless citizens killed in lynching have been branded as anti-nationals and peddlers of sedition. They include celebrities like Shyam Benegal, Mani Ratnam, Adoor Gopalakrishnan etc. The penalty for it is life imprisonment, no less. We should rather give them a civilian award for their social sensitivity. But no, according to a judicial magistrate in Muzzafarpur Sadar they are to be tried for treason, the ultimate crime against the state. They are attempting to tarnish the image of India, belittle the great achievements of our distinguished Prime Minister and their open letter to the Prime Minister about mass lynching of cow slaughterers could lead to secessionist movements. And now the RSS chief Mohan Bhagat has diverted attention from lynching itself, labelling it a foreign word. The pitting of the single magistrate’s wisdom against the collective wisdom of the nation’s intellectuals appears highly lopsided. Who cannot read through his unabashed devotion to the PM, compromising his dignity as a member of the judiciary?

The honourable magistrate was responding to a private petition from a notorious mischief monger. One wonders if the magistrate exercised his mind and all his mental faculties in a mindboggling accusation of sedition against the intelligentsia of the nation. India being a constitutional democracy the Supreme Court has vigorously held up citizens’ right to full freedom of expression, expression of their concerns, criticism of the government, expression of dissent etc. The one and only condition is that there should be no violence or incitement to rebellion. The FIR now has been, according to reports, after strong public outcry against it.

Of course, all this is not a bolt from the blue. There were some earlier hints at the direction India is drifting steadily under the saffron rule. We cannot forget the unprecedented and historic press conference given by four eminent Supreme Court judges in January 2018 about dangers to freedom in India. True, their shell shock press conference was also a disapproval of some of the procedures adopted by the then Chief Justice of India, honourable Judge Deepak Misra. Appointments of certain judges whose verdicts were not music to the current dispensation were unduly delayed to convey the displeasure of the government. BJP’s landslide victory in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections was read by the western media as a recipe for disaster for Indian democracy and as preliminaries to a tectonic shift to Hindutuva. It is not that the government is committing all the atrocities against minorities but it tolerates and winks at a political climate in which communal forces target minorities and even honour the attackers in public.

One cannot forget the hard line adopted by the Central government during the catastrophic monsoon floods in Kerala. True the centre sent military personnel, aircrafts, helicopters and the navy to carry out rescue operations from inundated areas. But after the event a bill was routinely sent to the state government to pay for these expenses. The government has money to erect towering statues like that of Patel or sink money in funds-gobbling projects like the bullet train but it demands money for emergency operations. In fact during election campaign time Rahul Gandhi was accused of running away to Wayanad from Amethi as if Kerala was some alien land. Moreover when a foreign country offered help to flood battered Kerala the centre refused to allow it to ‘preserve our self-respect.’ Self-respect is a fine concept as long as it does not touch your kith and kin.

The Prime Minister trumpeted loud his clinching of the highly controversial Rafale deal. But he had drastically reduced the number of fighters ordered and under this smoke screen bought them at a much higher price than quoted earlier. And he fought tooth nail to keep the actual price a secret raising alleged concerns of national security.

There is ample evidence to show that the government is very much concerned simultaneously with a glorious varnished image creation on the one hand and an image demolition on the other hand. Mr. Modi has been projected as the best PM ever and legacy of Nehru savaged. Sardar Patel has been elevated higher than all other Independence era leaders, even literally with the world’s highest statue erected in his honour even at the risk of trumping close friend Trump (pun intended) whose country’s Statue of Liberty has now dwarfed in size. The US President Trump in his enthusiasm and historical ignorance has toasted to Modi as the father of the nation. And this curious indiscretion has been hailed by his domestic political fans that they even question the patriotism of those who frown at this high placed ignorance. The Prime Minister’s stature seems to be gauged by the number of foreign trips. While he is abroad in any country everything is going fine for India with all the media hype but on his touchdown on native soil, the glamour fades on the runway and the aura gives way to sober ground realities.

What is image and what tarnishes it?

Central to this discourse is the concept of image, what it means and what tarnishes it. Which has primacy, the image and appearance or the reality that it represents? What is genuine reputation and what is make-believe? What if there is a big gap between the image and the reality? What if what is projected abroad through hard propaganda and showmanship takes a hard hit from less palatable facts about the nation?

Some pretentious buildings have a great façade but behind the façade there could be just a simple tiled roof. Touched up photos are more glamorous than the originals. Can one then use a touched up photo for his passport? In the Johari Window of human personality paradigm there is an area known as the façade or area which the individual hides from others. This is known to be a handicap for healthy psychological growth. It would be good to know what lies behind this façade.

Which tarnishes the nation’s image more, the open and worrisome cow vigilantes lynching or a call for protection of the demonized? What image is projected when Christian prayer assemblies are attacked and vandalized with the bogus allegation of conversion? A minister asserts that minorities’ rights are constitutionally protected but the government winks when they are trampled underfoot and is brash enough to declare India as heaven for minorities.

Open Defecation Free

No doubt the government has done considerable good work in promoting toilets for all but that is no reason for making unfounded and preposterous claims such as declaring India defecation free. This claim is known to be a vast exaggeration by all and we have a long way to go with regard to sanitation. From 2017 every five days a sanitation worker is killed either while cleaning sewers or septic tanks. Manual scavenging, though banned, still goes on in some parts of the country. Even the pay and use toilets on some highways are in a deplorable and most unhygienic condition, causing even nausea to tourists. The government accuses the opposition and social activists of false propaganda. But the government’s false propaganda is far more massive, impactful and resource rich than anybody else’s. According to the administration Kashmir is a paradise after revocation of article 370, but it is a heavily guarded fortress where people have no net or cell phone connection as of Oct 10, and are intimidated in their movements by presence of stern army personnel.

According to government propaganda currency demonetisation was a big boon for the economy, Indian banks are perfectly safe despite huge PNB and Rs 4,400 crore PMB bank loan scams, we have a roaring economy though unemployment is at its highest level.

There is a word very similar to defecation and it is defection. Both are equally odious but while one is banned with good reason the other is becoming all the more nastier and uglier. This is not of course the trademark of the BJP alone but in the present political situation the lion’s share goes to the ruling party. So many defections have been engineered to the BJP in Karnataka and other places. Horse trading to the tune of tons of crores is involved in this. But the public have no right to information about all this though NGOs must account to the last pie their expenses. Why is there only banning of religious conversions with drastic penalties while for political conversions promise of ministerial berths and tons of money are the essential inducements. Is there no betrayal here of the electorate who elected the legislators on another party symbol?

There is no RTI rights here. Politicians are super citizens, a class apart, accountable to no one for five years.

A Second Quit India Movement needed

We demanded from the British to quit India and return to their land and they finally relented. But we still keep part of their colonial legacy which is utterly opposed to democratic set-up. And that is the Sedition Law, something absolutely essential for an occupying power since there is always danger of rebellion from the ruled. Understandably by this sedition law any dissent, any demonstration, any cartoon or caricature of the rulers, any criticism of the government, anything that lowers the name of the government, anything that can show it in poor light are banned. There has been a sharp rise in slapping sedition cases on government critics and social activists under the present government. Dissent and divergence of views are essential to democracy and means to prevent elected governments from becoming autocratic. Isn’t it strange that what was necessary for an imperial power to keep its authority is zealously maintained by a democratic government which must hold power only at the will and pleasure of the electorate? As this Sedition Law is often applied to hound opposition parties and critics of the government it is imperative that it is thrown out lock, stock and barrel back to British shores.

(Published on 21st October 2019, Volume XXXI, Issue 43)