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Year To Year

Year To Year

Years come and go like the leaves of a tree. The whole world is getting ready to say goodbye to the year 2018 and usher in the New Year. The first pictures of the celebrations come from Sydney in Australia where tens of thousands of people assemble to see the fireworks.

I always wondered why Sydney, not any other place in the world. This is because the pictures arrive from there before the front and back pages of the newspapers in India are put to bed.

It is the season of hope, of the good tidings. The Christmas season is the most beautiful, though, for those who do not have proper winter clothes and heating systems at home, it is a period of horror. Maximum deaths occur during this period.

That is why the emphasis is on giving gifts. Santa Claus has no connection with Nativity but he brings with him gifts for children. The idea is to enable those who cannot celebrate Christmas, celebrate it with joy and even abandon.

Alas, we do not live in a society where everyone is equal to everyone else. In signs of rising income inequality, India’s richest 1 per cent now hold a huge 58 per cent of the country’s total wealth – higher than the global figure of about 50 per cent, a new study showed.

The concentration of wealth in the hands of a few intensified since 2014 when the Narendra Modi government came to power. There is nothing surprising in this, as India was never a poor country. 

It was its wealth, concentrated in the hands of a few and in institutions like the Somnath temple, that attracted hordes of invaders. This does not bode well for a democracy.

For much of this month, the discussion on the social media was on the lavish manner in which Mukesh Ambani got his daughter married off. The Prime Minister made his presence felt at another lavish reception a film actor hosted in a seven-star hotel in Delhi.

One may ask, does it matter how much money someone like Ambani and Priyanka spend as long as it is legitimate? Yes, it matters because in India no industrialist has made money without fooling the government of scarce natural resources.

For instance, curtains might have come down on Tata’s Nano car but Tata is left with thousands of acres of land, it can put to real estate uses. The ubiquitous Ambassador car of the Hindustan Motors might have become a thing of the past but it left Birlas with thousands of acres of prime land.

Inequalities breed violence. The other day a group of young men attacked a prayer hall in Maharashtra where some Christians were celebrating Christmas. Many of them are admitted to the hospital with broken skulls and pierced bodies.

None of them would ever be booked. Instead, cases would be filed against those celebrating Christmas. That is what had happened last year at Satna in Madhya Pradesh. The year 2018 has been a bad year, especially for the minorities. It is risky for Muslims in North India to rear cows. Nobody knows when they can be attacked for alleged cow slaughter. In Bulandshahr, the body parts of a cow were found in a forest area. It is now a common practice for farmers to dump their unproductive cows in forests and on roads. The cow might have died of natural causes but it provoked a mob to attack and kill a police inspector.

As I write this, reports have come of how mercilessly he was attacked and killed. Yet, the real accused are absconding. Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath paid greater attention to hunting down the Muslims who allegedly killed the cow. Tens of thousands of Muslims who were depending on their cows to make a living have been deprived of their livelihood. The ban on cow slaughter has hit the leather industry depriving thousands of their jobs.

For the rich, of course, such brands of shoes as Gucci are available in the market. They do not even have to go to the market, for they can order it from their homes and companies like Amazon and Flipkart will deliver it. Winston Churchill had allegedly predicted that Indians would tax even the air they breathe. Though such a tax has not so far been enforced, a company in Himachal Pradesh has started marketing fresh air in cylinders to those who can afford it. In a city like Delhi, machines that reportedly clean the air are sold like hot cakes while the poor and the ordinary have to breathe the heavily polluted air.

Huge sums of money are spent on cleaning rivers like the Yamuna and the Ganga. Actually, there is no need to clean the rivers. All that needs to be done is to stop dumping waste in the rivers. Billions of rupees are spent to attract the largest number of pilgrims to the Kumbha Mela at Allahabad, which recently underwent a renaming. Colourful billboards and hoardings are found all over the country, including at the airports. People have been going to Allahabad since time immemorial. I do not know why they should be invited to the place. I can understand the government making toilet arrangements for them lest they should pollute the Ganga but why should it gloat over the number?

The priorities seem to be wrong. When a journalist in the Northeast questioned the rationale of the celebration of the birth anniversary of the Rani of Jhansi, he was put behind bars for a whole year. The highest court of the land has said that privacy is the right of every citizen but that did not prevent the government from empowering police agencies like the Delhi Police to check even the computer of a person. If you download something freely available on the Internet into your computer, you can be punished. It reminded the people of the situation as described in George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four.

The year began with four senior judges of the Supreme Court addressing a Press conference questioning the system of allotment of cases followed by the then Chief Justice. It had a salutary effect on the system of the deliverance of justice. It is a different matter that some of the top public officials involved in encounter cases escaped scot-free. In the latest verdict on a Gujarat case, the judge lamented that he could not punish the accused because there was no “proof” against them. One has to presume that the victims killed themselves. Yet, there is considerable gloating over the punishment of one Sajjan Kumar involved in the 1984 pogrom. Allowance is not given to the fact that those who rioted against the Sikhs included the so-called nationalists who later brought down the Ayodhya shrine.

In a blatant case of misleading the court, the government obtained a verdict in favour of the deal for some French aircraft. Ninety press conferences were held on one day to tom-tom the achievement. It is surprising that the apex court does even condemn what was done to the judges. Enormous sums of money were spent on Swatch Bharat Abhiyan but as a report showed, India has still the world’s largest number of people defecating in the open. What Modi does not understand is that it is not the lack of toilet that forces the people to defecate in the open. It is the lack of education and the lack of awareness about the harmful effects of open defecation.

Again, priorities are wrong. Billions and billions of rupees are being spent on the Ahmedabad-Mumbai bullet train project. To be economical, the fare will have to be more than the airfare between the two cities, defeating the very purpose of the train. It will end up like the airport metro service in Delhi which does not attract passengers despite reducing the fare. As I write this, news has come that the Cabinet has approved sending three men to space at a cost of Rs 10,000 crore.

All the countries which have successfully carried out such manned space missions had addressed some of the primary concerns of the people like jobs and shelter. It is no big deal to send a man to space but it is a big deal to provide jobs to everyone who needs it. A lot was heard about the Skill India Mission. One can go around and find that the hype created over it was misleading. Our artisans remain as unskilled as they were. Instead, what the young men and women need are opportunities to excel in their chosen fields. The government’s duty is to provide education for which the spending on education has to increase to 15 per cent of the GDP from 3 per cent as of now.

India has state of the art hospitals in the private sector but the primary health care centres have been dysfunctional. What they need is not medical insurance but affordable, if not free, Medicare not in cities but in the villages they live. Instead, tongue-twisting Sanskrit words are chosen to name new medical programmes. People need treatment, not prime ministerial promises. The year saw Kerala’s fish workers coming to the rescue of thousands of people trapped in their homes because of the unprecedented flood in August. Everyone joined hands to fight the natural calamity. If the casualty rate was low, it was because of the timely intervention of various agencies. The state set a good example to the whole world but this did not please some who cooked up the Sabarimala issue to fish in troubled water.

One does not know what would happen if a woman in the 10-50 age group enters the temple. Will there be bloodshed? The Ayyappa Jyoti reminded the nation of the processions in which bricks were once carried to Ayodhya to build the temple. The attempt is the same — generate communal passions to get votes. The latest elections in four states have proved that Modi is not invincible. It was proved earlier in Delhi, Punjab and Bihar. 

Modi had an excellent opportunity to redeem his promises like good governance but he squandered it. His demonetisation was a foolish step. There is not a single agency which has not been tampered with. The CBI is in a state of disrepair.  For once a historian has been placed at the head of the Reserve Bank when economists found that the RBI was the best place to fly away from. I understand that efforts are on to announce some plans like disbursal of unemployment allowance to get votes. The people know how much of the Rs 15 lakh each was promised reached their bank accounts. Modi is vulnerable. If the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party join hands in UP, the BJP would lose power at the Centre. All the wealth it has amassed will not be sufficient to balance the loss of votes in UP.

Modi is no longer an asset to the BJP but his advantage is that there is no one to challenge him. Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley do not have the political stature. As regards Raj Nath Singh, he had to seek the permission of Modi to appoint a personal secretary. The whipping of passions over Ayodhya did not pay dividends in Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh . An overwhelming majority of the people in India want peace and tranquillity, not the murder of innocent people at the hands of gau rakshaks.

If Modi and Co. realise this, it would be good for the nation. Of course, it is for the people to decide whether they should have the likes of Yogi Adityanath to rule the country. Let us hope that they would be more discerning while choosing their representatives in the next election. I wish all my readers a very happy and prosperous New Year. Let’s remember that nobody is stronger than all of us.

( ajphilip@gmail.com)

(Published on 31th December 2018, Volume XXX, Issue 01)