For the last column of the year, allow me to take some liberties with the format of this column, and present some thoughts and observations on 2018, even as it steadily sets like a swollen sun over the horizon.
* Don’t know about you, but the question on many people’s minds, and certainly on mine, is whether 2018 will come to be seen as the year when the Narendra Modi legend – furbished by a multi-crore public relations machinery, bolstered by a fawning media, furthered by jumla artistry – is finally beginning to unravel?
* Do the Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh verdicts represent a tipping point in India’s election history or is this just a minor blowback against the BJP that is now steering the Congress party boat onward, filling its passengers with hope?
* Don’t know about you, but while the Pakoda Model of Growth did not exactly capture people’s imagination in 2018, retrofitting the GDP back series needs to be recognised as a giant leap in the government’s grasp of the new discipline of ‘quantum economics’.
* Don’t know about you, but if the choice of the 1984-tainted Kamal Nath as Madhya Pradesh chief minister is anything to go by, being out of office has not meant that the Congress party has lost its old knack for making spectacular misjudgements.
* Don’t know about you, but I believe that the Congress party, even if it comes within striking distance of power, does have an awful lot of old baggage on its barge and the question is whether it will be able to jettison this weight or allow it to gently sink its prospects of being a credible vessel.
* Don’t know about you, but I fear that the sum of the contradictions between the various parties that could comprise a potential mahagathbandhan against the Modi dispensation in the 2019 general elections, when divided by the number of potential prime ministerial candidates within it, may lead to a figure that India is credited with having given to the world of mathematics.
* Don’t know about you but soaring ambitions are not exactly a glue to keep disparate, even mutually repellent, political forces together.
* Don’t know about you, but midnight continues to be the favoured time for governmental machinations, otherwise why would the Union Ministry of Home Affairs choose midnight to pass the recent order empowering various wings of government to descend on our homes and search encrypted messages in our computers. Also, wasn’t it the midnight hour when the director of the Central Bureau of Investigation, Alok Verma, was packed off for a holiday he clearly didn’t want to take?
* Don’t know about you, but I would have called these tactics Darwinian – since it’s finally a question of who is the fittest to survive in that jungle called Raisina Hill – if the Union minister Satyapal Singh hadn’t dismissed old Charles as a charlatan. After all, who can deny the validity of the Satyapal theory – which in itself represents a high moment in the country’s scientific evolution – that no one ever saw an ape turning into a man?
* Don’t know about you, but isn’t it interesting that prevailing notions of science also maintain that bovine life is a more valuable form of life than the merely human, and that if you were – like Naseeruddin Shah – to make assertions to the contrary, it should follow as night does day that you will be trolled mercilessly for being “anti-India” and put on a train to Pakistan.
* Don’t know about you, but talking of the midnight knock inevitably revives memories of the Emergency under Indira Gandhi, and 2018 certainly provided evidence that the spirit of the Emergency was alive and could be knocking at your door at any moment, as over ten human rights defenders across the country were to discover over the course of the year. Framed as “urban Naxals”, their homes were raided, and any books they may have possessed with a suspiciously ruddy complexion were duly seized as “evidence” of their urban Naxalism. What followed was a police chargesheet that rivalled the Mahabharata in both length and dramatic action.
* Don’t know about you, but the government is constantly refining its methods, in pursuit no doubt of the noble aim that helped to bring it to power: “minimum government, maximum governance”. If the Union Ministry of Information and Broadcasting has set up a media monitoring cell to make journalists aware of the four corners of national interest, the surveillance system of the Union Ministry of Home Affairs is as opaque as the electoral bonds of the Union Ministry of Finance.
* Don’t know about you, but while this government may have diluted its welfare activity in general, seeing the fate of MGNREGA and other measures, I believe that it is nevertheless strongly committed to welfarism. Why otherwise would it choose to wield “extraordinary” laws like the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act to lock people up, no questions asked, in order to extend free accommodation and nourishment to its critics?
* Don’t know about you, but I found that state governments are also turning similarly hospitable, having borrowed liberally from the Centre’s playbook. The Odisha legislative assembly ruled that a visiting wit be made to cool-off in its jails for making flippant comments on the Sun Temple in Konark and the Jagannath Temple, while Manipur journalist Kishorechandra Wangkhemcha will now enjoy state hospitality for a full year under the National Security Act for a Facebook post criticising the chief minister of the state.
* Don’t know about you, but one wonders why the same generosity is not being shown to the lawyers of the Jammu Bar Association who rose as one in defence of the gang rapists of an eight-year-old girl child of the Bakharwal community? Surely gau rakshaks and other agreeable participants in freelance lynching should also get invitations to state penitentiaries? Why for instance, should Raja Chauhan, captured on video brandishing his gun with the intention to kill protesting Dalits during the April 1 strike, be so deprived?
* At least minister of state for aviation Jayant Sinha did not let the side down and garlanded not one but seven notables who had lynched a Muslim meat trader in Jharkhand. One can only hope that this extraordinary gesture would serve to get him a ticket to contest the 2019 elections.
* But then, wasn’t 2018 also the year of the Great Escape, with Messrs Nirav Modi and Mehul Chokshi allowed to garner their full share of frequent flier miles? Both, incidentally, were also lucky enough to have had photographs taken of themselves in the same room as the prime minister before they were unfortunately rendered persona non grata and fugitives from justice. But it must be said that they were considerate enough to leave a raft of love notes to the government – sorry, that should read LOU notes.
* Don’t know about you, but I am finding the Rafale air show more gripping than anything that Netflix offers. Bofors had given us scribes enough to write about for a decade, and my hope is that the Rafale deal will serve the purpose for at least half that span.
* Don’t know about you, but I believe that the most impressive personality of the year was a certain Acharya Atal, attached to Cobrapost, who could successfully prove through sting operations that getting prestigious newspapers and broadcasting houses to carry toxic communal content is a piece of cake – provided, of course, they were made offers they couldn’t possibly refuse.
The anger and restlessness of students came sharply through in my mailbox and their letters reflected the expectations that young readers have of The Wire.
Alok Kumar drew my attention to the effort of the Student Representative Council (SRC) of Indian Institute of Science Education and Research (IISER) Mohali to focus attention on the need for more research fellowships. It organised a peaceful march on November 30 to highlight the issue in which scholars from other premier institutes of the region like PGIMER, INST, CIAB, joined in. This, it was felt, was the need of the hour given the rising discontent among researchers ranging from JRF, SRF to Post Doctoral fellows across the country over the inadequate fellowships they get. Alok hopes that The Wire, which has always been raising burning issues and has been the front runner in bringing issues of national importance to the forefront, will stand firm with research scholars on the issue. Alok Kumar is on the Student Representative Council of IISER.
Sexual stalking and harassment was the subject of another mail I received from a student in a prestigious private engineering college in Chennai. A second year girl student accessing the hostel lift one afternoon was confronted by a college employee who masturbated in front of her. She identified the man after checking the CCTV footage but was told by the college authorities to keep discreet about it. The authorities have failed to inform the police about the incident despite the act being deemed a criminal offence. The letter goes on to state, “This event has taken place in the daylight inside the hostel so in light of the events that have taken place, we need to ask…what are the measures that are being taken to ensure our security?” What was most disappointing was the response of the management on the issue. They were told that the incident happened because they were “North Indians studying in a South Indian college”. They were also told that if girls in the hostel smoke and drink, they shouldn’t be arguing with the management over safety issues. It is precisely such absurd reasoning that allows sexual harassment incidents to proliferate on our campuses.