The semi-democratic, quasi-autocratic trappings that have come to define amrit kaal, or the Era of Nectar Divine (END), are imperceptibly being replaced by the deepening hardness of a kroor kaal or Ruthless Era. If Prime Minister Narendra Modi is the principal narrator of the“amrit kaal” jumlebazi, Union home minister Amit Shah has taken it upon himself to spell out what is in store for all of us in the latest khand or chapter of ‘Naya Bharat’.
At a conference of top police officers last week, the home minister exhorted the senior operatives of our national security agencies to adopt “a ruthless approach” so that no new “terrorist” outfits dare sprout out. Calling upon policemen to think out of box, the Iron Man told his audience, as per a PIB press release, that “we need to not only combat terrorism but also dismantle its entire ecosystem”. An ominously sweeping mandate for the policeman.
Since the home minister is universally serenaded as the second most powerful man in the Modi regime, it is fair to assume that when he articulated the need for a new ruthlessness he was not just reflecting the ruling elite’s infatuation with coercion but also serving notice that henceforth a “take-no-prisoners” attitude would define their approach to political rivals, foes and dissenters. There is a new confidence that the regime will encounter no opposition as it pursues its chosen course.
Arguably, with nine years’ experience under its belt, the Modi regime seems to have made a cool calculation that the higher judiciary will, occasionally, play to the gallery but there will never be any bite behind its bark. As long as the government keeps chanting its “national security” mantra, it can go merrily about cherry-picking its real or presumed “enemies” in the “ecosystem” – i.e. anyone outside the inner cordon of ji hazoor wallahs. A maximalist definition and interpretation of anti-terror laws at the expense of constitutionally protected rights shall be the order of the day.
While politicians will always be politicians and inevitably play the “national security” game if it will fetch them a few extra votes, what is deeply disquieting is that the political crowd has effortlessly enlisted the enthusiastic complicity of thousands and thousands of ‘servants of the state’. The vast infrastructure of national security has bought into this new theology of ruthlessness.
This is a familiar syndrome in history from the lands of totalitarianism. It is best decoded by the Nobel Prize winner, Svetlana Alexievich, in Second-Hand Time, when one of her interlocutors points out the incompleteness of blaming the Stalinist era excesses entirely on the Great Comrade. “Now, everyone’s the victim and Stalin alone is to blame. But think about it …it’s simple arithmetic…Millions of inmates had to be surveilled, arrested, interrogated, transported and shot for minor transgressions. Someone had to do all this…and they found millions of people who were willing to…”
Now, just think of thousands and thousands of personnel in our own ever mushrooming “agencies” doing the regime’s bidding without being told. There seems to be a new joy among our civil servants as they go after our “enemies”. It must have required a certain kind of imagination to zero in on NewsClick as the worm in the ecosystem to be dealt with. And it would definitely have demanded some ingenuity to dust out a 13-year-old FIR against Arundhati Roy.
Our new rulers and their bidders seem unfazed by Roy’s global reputation as one of our best creative voices. We seem to be proclaiming to the world at large that we do not care for international opprobrium. We are hard men and we are comfortable with our own heavy hand. No one dare mistake us for “softies”; you poke us or even think of poking us and we shall come after you with all we’ve got.
The new elite probably draws comfort from its derived wisdom that the middle classes are almost uniformly untroubled by the increasing and widening use of coercion in our society, especially because this coercion comes wrapped up, most of the time, in judicial sanction. Middle classes have a sneaking admiration for the policeman who uses his truncheon to keep peace in the neighbourhood.
It would be pertinent to keep in mind that the Union home minister’s invitation to a new ruthless approach was unveiled days before the world learnt of the Hamas’s show of strength in Gaza. Now the regime has creatively unleashed its vast network of disinformation and fake news to seek reinforcement of its majoritarian prejudices. Social media is flooded with “bad Islam, bad Muslims” themes. As self-designated Vishwagurus, we are now custodians of global peace and order.
The subtext of the new emphasis is that we (read: the majority community) live in a violent and uncertain world, flirting with chaos and aggression, and we need to secure the services of a strong man, a leader who will protect us against the vendors of disorder and instability. And the strong man needs to be given maximum authority and unfettered powers to go after all those in the ecosystem who provide aid and comfort to agents of chaos. This infatuation with the policeman and his danda seems to have seeped down to the lower levels of the civil bureaucracy.
The new elite, now armed with the technology of total surveillance, has come to believe that every challenge of statecraft can be met effectively by the use of a heavy hand. The danger is that this calculus de-emphasises the time-tested tools of dialogue, conversation and debate in search of reconciliation, fairness and consensus with the aim of securing social harmony, political stability and emotional solidarity. Manipur has already shown the limits of duplicity and deceit as instruments of governance in Bharat that is India. Yet we remain persuaded of the uses of ruthlessness.
Harish Khare is a former editor-in-chief of The Tribune.