Dangerous life & times of India

09 Feb 2015


The writer is a journalist.
The writer is a journalist.

A FEW days ago I got a troubled and troubling mail from a friend who happens to be a Roman Catholic. Her parish church, St Alphonsa’s, in a well-to-do locality in Delhi had been vandalised a few hours after she had attended evening service last Sunday. The collection box, full after the weekend congregation, was untouched but ceremonial items used in the service had been desecrated or taken away; it was clearly not robbery.

This is what she wrote: “Some media reports describe it as an ‘attack on the church’, the cops call it ‘burglary’. The fact that this most recent attack comes just a few days before the Delhi State elections surely seeks to politicise the issue. I think of it as neither. I wouldn’t even begin to think of it as one religion against another. That’s trivialising the issue. An attack on a church is an attack on democracy. Liberty of belief, faith and worship is one of the cherished tenets of our democracy.

“I refuse to be an unequal citizen,” she said but was deeply concerned by the studied silence of Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the church attacks that began in November 2014.

Since the emergence of the Modi government, history like so much else in the secular fabric of India is unravelling.

Three days later, as Christians took out a rally and marched towards the home minister’s residence they were arrested in their hundreds while the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government of Narendra Modi remained mute. As mute as it has been since the orchestrated violence against churches began.

There is also the high-profile conversion programme by the Hindu right to regain their lost sheep. The small ‘reconversions’ of Muslims to Hinduism at a couple of towns in 2014 is set to become a gala event in March this year with plans afoot to hold a mass conversion of 3,000 Muslims in Ayodha, the scene of frequent communal clashes. The prime minister is again silent.

India is clearly in a bind with its people being forced to deal with so many confusions at one time. Old certainties are being challenged as the forces unleashed by the Hindu supremacist government of Modi undermine what the Indian republic has believed in, or at least subscribed to, in the past six decades and more. The assassin of Mohandas (Mahatma) Gandhi, the guiding spirit of the independence struggle and the conscience of the new nation in its aftermath, is now the mascot of the Hindu right.

However, since the emergence of the Modi government, history like so much else in the secular fabric of the country is unravelling. Godse is now a patriot who is being deified by some BJP politicians and the party’s ideological mother organisation the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh along with its fringe outfits who aggressively and violently push to make India a Hindu nation. A flyover in the state of Rajasthan, which is ruled by a BJP government, was briefly named after Godse till protests forced the local officials to remove the plaque. In other parts of the country statues are proposed to be installed to Godse and in the most egregious affront to civilised society a temple is being built to the assassin.

Sly attempts are also being made to delete the words ‘socialist’ and ‘secular’ from the preamble to the constitution which may not be a bad idea if truth be told but without explaining the rationale for this step and without a full debate on the issue.

For Indians, from the very young who are unlearning their history in rewritten textbooks to the middle classes who believe that India’s emergence as a dominant economic power is round the corner, these are unsettling times. It is paradoxically a case of nothing having changed with the BJP while so much transformation appears to be in the air.

The bigger disappointment is on the economic front. It did seem that the Modi regime was in overdrive to undo the stasis of the past five years during which the Congress government of Manmohan Singh appeared to have been in coma. Yet that is an illusion that is beginning to wear thin. Indians are being fed a daily diet of smart slogans for every occasion instead of the promised administrative and policy reforms that were meant to usher in a resurgent India.

Not much of substance has been seen although alliterative acronyms flow like a tap from Modi. There is, for instance, the 3Ds that only India possesses: demographic dividend, democracy and demand as he has been telling visiting heads of state. Or to industry, the 5Ts that will build brand India: talent, tradition, tourism, trade and technology. These may be a neat device to turn dreary truths into catchy slogans that keep his teeming fans engaged, but neither industry nor investors, domestic or foreign, appears to be enamoured.

The confusion on the development direction India should be taking is also being cloaked in superficiality. The Planning Commission has been renamed the NITI Aayog (National Institution for Transforming India), but neither its members nor the government has let out any details on what the proposed changes will translate to. So far, the achievements in efficient governance that Modi claims for his regime stem from schemes launched several years ago by the previous government, a fact that many economists have commented on rather wryly.

What is perplexing is that the BJP is frittering away factors favouring the government. Foremost is the sharp drop in global crude oil prices which has filled the coffers by as much as Rs180 billion since prices and taxes have not been brought down at par in India. Inflation is another plus since the rate has been dropping.

Nine months may be too short a while for a government to prove its mettle — or for critics to pass judgment. But Modi’s silence has done much damage to both the social fabric of the country and its economy. In the case of attacks on minorities it is frightening. On development, it is puzzling.

The writer is a journalist.


Published in Dawn, February 9th, 2015

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