New Delhi: A year ago, on May 30, Narendra Modi got on the saddle – once again – as India’s prime minister. He began his second term in 2019 backed by a single-party majority in the Lok Sabha that equalled the record only of the man he would love to hate – Jawaharlal Nehru.
This May 30, even as the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is in a celebratory mood and is holding ‘virtual rallies’ (due to the partial lockdown) to mark the first anniversary of Modi’s second consecutive term, here is a compilation of 14 photographs as a reminder to the reader of what the country experienced in the last 365 days.
Amidst the talk of a vibrant and self-reliant India by Modi, this selection of images also holds up an important contrast.
Image 1: The people Modi forgot about
This photograph comes at a moment in the life of Rampukar Yadav, a migrant labourer from Bihar, sobbing into the phone by a road in the National Capital on hearing of the death of his son. Yadav was unable to travel back home due to the sudden announcement of a nationwide lockdown by the Modi regime.
With the rising fear of COVID-19 spreading, Modi, without consulting states, announced a complete shutdown of the country at 8 pm on March 24. With the lockdown beginning that midnight itself, common people did not get a chance to return home, leading lakhs of people to get stranded for weeks together.
With an instant loss of job, no surety of food supply and shelter due to the lack of any preparedness for the national lockdown in most states, thousands of poor migrant labourers – a huge unacknowledged contributor to India’s growth story – were left with no option but to walk hundreds of kilometres with their families to reach home. Photos of the burnt feet of those walking barefoot on hot tarred roads have only signified the arduousness of their journey.
Thus far, nearly 400 people have lost their lives due to the lockdown, many of them on India’s streets because of the sordidly planned measure announced by the Modi government.
Image 2: The court’s conscience pricked at last
This image is from a video clip featuring a toddler trying to wake up his mother, who is lying deceased at a railway station in Bihar. The migrant worker’s family was travelling in a special train from Gujarat after the Centre allowed these trains to ferry migrants post lockdown 3.0. She died of extreme heat and lack of food and water, just before the train reached Muzaffarpur.
By pulling her shroud, it was as if the child was trying to wake up the conscience of not just the country’s executive and Prime Minister but also its judiciary, to take note of what the lockdown had unleashed on the country’s have-nots.
By then the Supreme Court had rejected petitions seeking its intervention in the government’s mishandling of the migrant crisis due to the lockdown.
On May 28, calling the video clip of the child “shocking and unfortunate”, the Patna High Court took suo motu cognisance of it, asking the Bihar government for a response by June 3.
Image 3: The power vertical
This photograph was clicked at the Kolkata airport on May 22. Two days after cyclone Amphan ripped through West Bengal, leaving behind considerable damage to its people and property, Modi, at the invitation of the chief minister Mamata Banerjee, broke his confinement due to the lockdown and air dashed to the state slated for assembly polls early next year.
The image stood out for the state’s governor Jagdeep Dhankhar waiting for Modi to disembark – a picture of obedience – while Banerjee was busy perusing papers. The image is not just representative of the BJP and Trinamool Congress’ continuous combat on the ground in a poll-bound state but also of the Modi government’s heightened attempts to intervene in a state’s day to day affairs – typically through a pro-active governor in a non-BJP state – and thereby undermine the country’s federal structure of governance.
Speaking to reporters that day, Banerjee did highlight the point on the need for good Centre-state relations for smooth conduct of administration and development work.
Images 4 and 5: No room for dissent, free speech
This image is of Assam’s peasant leader Akhil Gogoi, with personnel from the National Investigating Agency (NIA). It was because of this image shot at the Delhi airport on December 17, 2019, that Gogoi’s family got to know that he had been whisked away to Delhi by the central agency under the Ministry of Home Affairs for an interrogation.
Gogoi, who led the protest in Assam against the Modi 2.0 government’s move to amend the Citizenship Act, thereby violating the Assam Accord, has since been accused by the government of having ‘Maoist links”. Significantly, NIA didn’t seek permission from the NIA court handling the case in Guwahati to airlift him to Delhi.
This March, the NIA court granted Gogoi bail as the central agency failed to file a chargesheet in the case within the specified period of 90 days. The NIA, however, succeeded in getting an interim stay order on the bail from the Gauhati high court and has sought an extension of another 90 days to file the charge sheet.
On May 26, the NIA carried out a similar operation while whisking away Gautam Navlakha, another activist critical of the Modi government and accused of ‘Maoist links’, to Mumbai. Neither his family nor the NIA Court in Delhi were informed of the move, done at a time when a petition was pending in the Delhi high court on his plea for interim bail due to health reasons.
This image is from February 21, 2020. It features Amulya Leona, a young woman who had taken part at a public event named ‘Save the Constitution’ in Bengaluru where she shouted the slogan ‘Pakistan Zindabad’ – after reportedly mouthing ‘Hindustan Zindabad’ five times.
The police in that BJP state soon took her into custody and charged her of sedition besides clamping other sections of IPC – even though India has not declared the neighbouring country as an enemy country. In a Facebook update, Amulya, on February 16, had however written, “Be it any country, Zindabad to all nations”.
Soon after Amulya’s arrest, her family was hounded by right wing groups.
This image of Amulya is demonstrative of dozens of cases filed against common citizens, including journalists and activists, under Section 121A (sedition) in various BJP states for making a statement, either in public or on social media , either against the concerned chief minister or the Prime Minister or his policies.
Images 6 and 7: Citizens, standing up for their constitution
The image from the anti-CAA protest at Delhi’s Shaheen Bagh is a reminder of Muslim women organising themselves, perhaps for the first time in independent India, to take on a central government for a political cause suspected to be aimed at marginalising their community further.
Challenging their popular perception of being voiceless women under burqas, they became fiery citizens demanding their right to be counted as equals – not relenting to pressure from the administration and police.
The Shaheen Bagh protest helped the Muslim women of northern India to organise themselves like never before during the first year of Modi 2.0.
This image is demonstrative of the huge protests that Assam saw against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act this past December.
Effigies of Prime Minister Modi were burnt at several places, and slogans were shouted against him, which signified an important shift in the public image of Modi in the state. Modi went from the one who the local BJP had promised would “pack off illegal Bangladeshis bag and baggage” in 2014, and who would be the protector of the Assamese ‘jati mati bheti’ (community, resources and identity) in 2016, to the one ushering in ‘illegal Hindu Bangladeshis’ to the state to create a vote bank in his second avatar as the prime minister.
Those killed in alleged police firing have been declared swahid (martyrs) by All Assam Students Union (AASU).
Image 8: Trouble on a new border
This image is from India-Nepal border, showing a team of Nepal’s Armed Police Force deployed by its government at the border point of Lipulekh on May 16 in reaction to India inaugurating a link road through a stretch that Nepal claims to be its territory.
Border tensions with China over territorial claims had been occurring from time to time but firming up of lines between Nepal and India, to the extent of deploying armed forces and airing confrontational statements on both sides, is perhaps a new low that India has noted with its friendly neighbour, and the only Hindu nation, during the first year of Modi 2.0.
Images 9 and 10: Delhi burns for the first time since 1984
This image on the left is of a boy mourning the loss of his father at the riots that Delhi witnessed after the horrendous anti-Sikh riots of 1984. The one on the right attracted massive international attention as the signifier of what was unfolding on India’s capital at a time when US president and Modi were “discussing geo-politics and lunched in another part of the city”.
Plumes of dark air went up into the skies as hundreds of houses were being looted and burnt, markets turned into ashes, people killed and maimed, homes and businesses lost.
The role of Delhi Police, controlled by the Modi government, came under severe scrutiny in the national and international media. Police faced criticism for its failure to control the violence in the National Capital – and also being partisan in its probe into the cases. While the police is going about arresting those protesting against the CAA, it is yet to take action against BJP MLA Kapil Mishra for reportedly delivering a communal speech just before the riots broke out.
Image 11: Kashmir ‘integrated’, and locked down and blockaded
With the stripping down of the special constitutional status of Jammu and Kashmir during the Modi 2.0., the state saw a yet another chapter in its tumultuous history.
From a state, it was reduced to a union territory and divided into two parts. The people of the Valley, since August 2019, have been kept under lockdown.
Those protesting the shutdown were put behind bars, including three former chief ministers. Dozens of people have also been lodged in jails in Uttar Pradesh, reminding one of the Indira Gandhi regime’s similar action on those supportive of Assam’s anti-foreigner agitation of 1979-1985.
Image 12 and 13: Goli maaro … Guns drawn in Delhi
The image on the left is of a young man brandishing a country-made pistol at those protesting near the Jamia Millia Islamia University of Delhi against the CAA and the Modi government’s plan to start the process of compiling a nationwide National Register of Citizens (NRC), in the presence of police.
The image on the right is of another young man, also brandishing a country-made pistol, this time at Delhi Police personnel during the Delhi riots in the Maujpur area.
The two images that unfolded on the streets of the country’s capital during the first year of the Modi 2.0 government shocked the nation.
Not by coincidence, a junior minister in the Modi government, Anurag Thakur, had led a meeting of BJP supporters in the shouting of the inflammatory slogan, ‘Shoot the traitors’.
Image 14: Celebrating Ambedkar, jailing Ambedkarites
As the nation observed the 129th birth anniversary of B.R. Ambedkar, the father of the Indian constitution, on April 14, a black flag was hoisted outside the Ambedkar Bhavan in Mumbai, his residence.
That day, Dalit activist-academic and Babasaheb’s grandson-in-law, Anand Teltumbde, set out of that house to surrender to the NIA in the Bhima Koregaon violence case as per a court order.
Many on social media pointed out the irony of Modi paying homage to Ambedkar that day while his family member was being taken into custody for dissent in a “false case”.