I recently met a young investment banker who expressed his great disappointment with the Narendra Modi government, specifically about its handling of the economy. Business was sluggish, he said and his institution’s economists were forecasting even more difficult times ahead for the Indian economy.
“I had voted for Narendra Modi in 2014, and when things didn’t improve I still remained optimistic in 2019.” Did he consider the dispensation’s social agenda problematic—its attitude towards minorities, for instance, someone asked. “I wouldn’t mind even a ruthless dictatorship, one that brings about discipline if the economy performs well,” he answered, quite honestly.
It is always somewhat risky to extrapolate from one remark, but this yearning for a strong hand that can guide this chaotic nation towards its manifest destiny – a glorious economic future, proud leader in the international community, with a passport that is respected all over the world – is not that unusual. “Indians require a danda to rule them” is a sentiment expressed as much by uncles out for their morning constitutional in the park to business tycoons and many others in between. Indira Gandhi’s Emergency was widely welcomed by the middle-classes and the idea of ‘discipline’—punctuality, honestly and conformity, all imposed by a central authority, was seen as the only panacea for the country’s problems.
The celebration of the encounter killing of four men accused of a heinous rape and murder of a veterinarian in Hyderabad is apiece with this hunger for the state coming down with a heavy hand to deal with criminals. The fact that the crime against these men has not been proved is a niggling detail, perhaps even a needless one that does not matter.
Politicians, film stars, sportspersons and common citizens have come out to cheer loudly at this ‘achievement’ of the police to avenge the brutal killing of Dr Disha. Jaya Bachchan only the other day said in parliament that the culprits should be lynched, and her wishes have been more than fulfilled. Mayawati has used this incident to mock the ineffectuality of the UP government in dealing with rapists, Rishi Kapoor has congratulated the Telangana police and P.V. Sindhu, who is from Hyderabad, has declared, ‘Justice has been served.’
Justice! Is this really her idea of how the process of justice works? Or is this wish fulfilment, a fantasy of how it should work in the ideal state where bad people are simply eliminated, no questions asked. This is the only way, she (and others) may well think, where all those tedious, unnecessary and time-consuming procedures that delay justice can be speeded up. You know how these courts are, they might say, and everyone may nod in agreement.
Bypassing the rigmarole
But before the case reaches the courts, the police has to do a thorough, painstaking investigation to build up a case—find evidence, establish the guilt and prove it in front of a judge. At any stage, the accused may be let off, not the least because of shoddy work by the cops. Why not just bypass that whole boring rigmarole and end it all by killing the accused right away? We all know that they are guilty, why waste time finding proof?
To the average Indian, the ‘system’ appears to be cold and unresponsive, bogged down by rules and regulations, run by corrupt and inefficient bureaucracies and designed to frustrate the citizen. It is unhelpful and yet demanding, as anyone who has dealt with a government department will know.
This inefficiency and sloth are blamed on India being a democracy, where everyone has an opinion, where tribal interest groups (reservations) trump national identity and where troublesome and disruptive employee unions are allowed to operate. Discipline is seen as a magic bullet that will set all these ills right. There is an impatience with not just the structures of democracy, which involves checks and balances, negotiations, public participation and more importantly, the rule of law which prohibits absolute power in the executive’s hands.
From here, it is easy to understand why the kind of summary justice that the Telangana police meted out becomes so attractive, to politicians and the citizen alike. It helps of course that the alleged rapists were from the poorer sections of society. There are any number of rape cases in the public eye right now where the accused is powerful and privileged—taking any of them out in the darkness in shooting them will get the policemen sacked, not honoured.
Perhaps the most anger is reserved for those who talk about ‘human rights’. They are seen as not just perpetual naysayers, bleating on about due process, but as those who are actively working against the national interest at the behest of foreign agencies. When Major Leetul Gogoi tied up an innocent Kashmiri in front of his jeep – an act designed to humiliate as much as to demonstrate state machismo – he was declared a hero and got a commendation by his army chief. The green uniform is viewed as beyond the pale of criticism, and questioning it is akin to treason; this government has done more than any other before it to promote a culture of militarism.
The Hindutva project and a strong hand
The Hindutva national project and the urge for a strong hand to steer the nation meld well with each other. One of Modi’s most projected characteristics is his tough, no-nonsense demeanour. Now it has been buttressed by his even more ruthless partner Amit Shah.
It does not matter that this dispensation has been unable to efficiently run the economy or generate employment or even stop wealthy and well connected offenders from decamping from India. What matters is that this government has put the minorities in their place and tamed those rebellious Kashmiris. It shows firmness and resolve.
If and when the National Register of Citizens (NRC) process is rolled out nationally and the and the Citizenship Amendment Bill is passed, they will cause untold hardship even to genuine citizens of India, including Hindus. But just like demonetisation, the population won’t mind this personal sacrifice for the “greater good”.
That is what discipline is all about—every citizen must do his or her duty, rights can wait. The nation is above everything. Tukde tukde gangs, pseudo-secularists and sundry other anti-nationals (all phrases coined by politicians rather than the law) must be eliminated.
The bloodlust of the masses has hardly been satisfied. They will demand more and more and they will get it. Today rapists, tomorrow someone else. And with even public figures saluting the police for a job well done, there will be no influential voices to temper this insanity. The courts might as well shut shop—they have no role to play anymore.