Those who wish to undertake a reality check on our nation’s current karmic state may want to search out a little news item that was tucked away on Page 10 of the Times of India a few days ago: a law student at the University of Delhi roughed up a faculty member because he felt the professor was not sufficiently sensitive about the CRPF personnel killed in the Pulwama terror attack.
The student was so worked up at the professor’s “insensitivity” that he “dragged” him to a nearby police station, where, for once, the police sensibly refused to side with a self-appointed arbiter of national sentiments. A small mercy, indeed.
It is difficult to dismiss this fracas as an isolated incident. This is our “new India” in the making.
That a student, aspiring to become a servant of the law, can feel entitled to mete out a punitive response, that too, to a teacher – all presumably in the name of the jawans’ sacrifice – should be taken as an omen of the trouble ahead. The country has to brace itself up to face even uglier consequences of a totalitarian politics that has been in the works these five years. With Pulwama, an inflection point has been reached.
The terrible attack on the CRPF convoy has provided the perfect provocation and the most opportune moment for the Modi regime to unveil its darkest collectivist desires.
“Country is more important than any institution,” declares finance minister Arun Jaitley. Frighteningly straight forward. And, pray, who represents the country? Simple, the incumbent government – and its great helmsman, entitled to maximalist authority and power, adoration and obedience.
To be fair to the Modi arrangement, its overseers are open about their totalitarian project and have been seductively enticing the masses to its collectivist thought processes. And they have reason to be enormously satisfied as the lemmings in the media have been joyfully migrating to its embrace.
It is now easy to decode the emerging desi version of a kind of politics so familiar to Europe in the last century. Of course, we do it with our innovations. In a nutshell, this desi project privileges state over society; government over citizens; army over civilians; national security over civil liberties; authority over individual; majority over minorities; public over private; unity over diversity; the centre over the periphery, and, above all, the alpha-plus Leader over his followers, citizens and institutions. All these ideological assertions have been made every day, albeit in the democratic arena, but always a claim is laid to a moral hegemony for the Modi regime’s actions and inactions. And naturally, it seeks to deny any legitimacy to any notion of democratic opposition, dissent, or resistance.
This totalitarian project boils down to a simple demand: homogenisation, with a clear threat that allegiance would be coerced out of all those who withhold obedience. And equally importantly and ominously, it arrogates to itself the right to cull out pockets of resistance to it – be it a different view or a contrary argument, or an unbowed individual and group.
In day-to-day politics, the totalitarian project is pivoted on the Leader’s unquestioned supremacy; he is entitled to all the adulation, obedience and compliance, and he is above questioning, scrutiny and accountability. Consider how contemptuously a BJP spokesperson dismissed all questions about the prime minister’s schedule at the time of the Pulwama attack: “the nation does not have time for such questions.”
If democratic India suddenly feels stampeded into a bout of illiberalism, it is only because it has refused to take note of the experimentations in this totalitarian project all these five years. The practitioners and promoters of totalitarian politics have been at work for some time. Quietly, violent impulses and bigotry were unleashed throughout the land, provoking our darker sides.
The first major encounter with this kind of totalitarian politics was staged in Dadri in 2015. But because the intimidation and violence was directed at the Muslims, the majority quietly acquiesced in it, without realising that what was being demanded was the right to have a compulsive say in the most private of choices—what can or cannot be consumed in the privacy of one’s home.
The second version saw this defence of the holy cow raised a notch higher: self-styled gau rakshaks felt empowered to go on a rampage and punish and kill anyone suspected of doing any harm to their ‘gau mata’. The majority was incited to believe that the minorities and Dalits who were the victims deserved to be put in their place. To be sure, there were plenty of political and electoral dividends for the BJP. Soon, the largest state in the country came to be governed by a man whose only claim to fame is a propensity for violence in defence of “Hindu interests.”
Then till the other day, the totalitarian project managers were tantalising us with a repeat of its oldest production, a Ram temple at Ayodhya. The “Ramjanambhoomi” cauldron was, once again, put on the front burner. The “bhakts” were all willing to cock a snook at the highest judicial authority in the land; the RSS-VHP bosses berated the judges for not appreciating Hindu sentiments; and, ‘masses’ were mobilised, sadhus and sants enlisted in defence of the majority’s demands over a place of worship. Sangh leaders helpfully whispered that the Modi government might even enact an “ordinance.”
Then came Pulwama, and suddenly, the totalitarian project came alive. We felt ready to beat up every single Kashmiri we could lay our hands on. However, there is a sticky side to this murderous business; it is never easy to calibrate violence. So, when the rites of anti-Kashmiri intimidation threatened to get out of hand, bringing global attention to our ugly habits, it prompted a few words of disapproval from the great Leader himself.
If all this was not enough, we now have the naked advocacy of violence on our television screens, where every night calls and threats are held out to “choose” between India and its presumed enemies. Total, unquestioning obedience is demanded to “India”, total denunciation of Pakistan; and, the smartest of salutes for the brave soldiers.
We may chafe at the cynical political leader firing from the military’s shoulders, but the democratic and liberal forces cannot claim ignorance about the nature of threat to the Republic and its constitutional design. The battle-lines are clearly marked.