The Question That India Should Be Asking

by V Anantha Nageswaran - Oct 11, 2015 03:45 PM +05:30 IST
The Question That India Should Be Asking

On Dadri, the narrative around it, and the Prime Minister.

I wrote to my friend Santosh Desai on his piece (‘Dadri lynching: A thin moral line — when is it enough to condemn in unity?’ Times of India, 4th October 2015) that I could simultaneously agree with him and at the same time be dismayed by the arguments of Pratap Bhanu Mehta (PBM). He asked me as to which parts of PBM’s essay (‘Dadri reminds us how PM Narendra Modi bears responsibility for the poison that is being spread’, Indian Express (IE), 3rd October 2015) dismayed me.

Sweeping generalisations

​(1) “But a country that is now murdering or threatening rationalists, where power and violence is hollowing out all sense of value, is hardly in a position to lecture about “fanatic neighbourhoods”.

The equivalence that PBM draws here between Pakistan and India is unfortunate. It is a huge error of judgement to extol ‘creativity’ in a country where the State is a sponsor of cross-border terrorism, illegal arms and nuclear trade and much more.

After criticising Tarun Vijay for ‘drawing false equivalence’, he commits the same error with his equivalence between acts of crime by individuals and a State whose raison d’être is terrorism.

(2) “But the truth is that a lot of nasty people within the BJP and the Sangh Parivar are feeling empowered to the point of shamelessness.”

Many names that the Press gleefully publicises are never part of the BJP leadership. The Press is happy to project that they all are collectively speaking for Modi while some of them, perhaps, derive their satisfaction from undermining him. On the other hand, is PBM insinuating that the Prime Minister has empowered them?

(3) “This government has set a tone that is threatening, mean-spirited and inimical to freedom. Modi should have no doubt that he bears responsibility for the poison that is being spread by the likes of Culture Minister Mahesh Sharma and Vijay.”

I cannot recall any Prime Minister being subjected to intense scrutiny and criticism virtually non-stop as PM Modi has been subjected to, for the last sixteen months and yet his government is being ‘accused of being mean-spirited and inimical to freedom’.

(4) “It is as if the nation is acting out the violent convulsions of a deranged being, with no calm light of reason, or compassion, or values to restrain it.”

In the past, when I had shared some articles, written by other friends, that were critical of the so-called ‘liberals’, PBM had written to me cautioning against collective pronouns. He has been too liberal with collective pronouns in his piece.

Where is the question of a ‘nation acting out its violent convulsions’? An individual committed an unacceptable and unpardonable crime. The state should deal with it. If the State arrested, tried and convicted those found guilty of crimes without fear, favour and discrimination, then there won’t be a need to conflate issues as he does, when he paints an entire nation with a very broad brush. If anything, these crimes have been commonplace well before the nation has been unrestrained by the light of reason, compassion or values since 2014, as PBM would have us believe.

Facing up to the facts of UP

On 7th October, ‘Business Standard’ had a news-item that shows that between 2010 and 2014, UP had some 700 communal incidents leading to 176 deaths. There were 247 incidents in 2013 compared to 133 incidents in 2014. The ‘shameless’ BJP was not in office in Delhi in 2013. Between 2010 and 2014, the top five States in terms of communal incidents were Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka and Gujarat, in that order. In terms of deaths from communal incidents, the top five were Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Gujarat. UP was well ahead of the other four both in terms of number of incidents and in terms of deaths.

I doubt if PBM or any writer held Dr. Manmohan Singh responsible for it. Well, the tragedy for the country was that he was not held responsible for anything until it was too late. That is why PBM’s piece on what happened while we were silent was nine years after UPA came to power first in 2004. He wrote ‘While we were silent’ in IE in July 2013. That woke up many Indians to the tragedy that UPA was, for India. It was and is even now a seminal piece. In fact, he should re-read it.

Reviewing the book by Yashwant Sinha, Surjit Bhalla wrote this in 2007:

History will mark the UPA regime as one of the more depressing periods in Indian economic history-from a policy point of view.

That was even before UPA 2.0!

What we are not missing

The column by Rahul Khullar in Business Standard on India’s current account deficit on 6th October 2015 is a reminder of the criminal neglect of domestic production in many areas that brought the Indian economy down to its knees in 2012-13. It is yet to recover from that.

Statistics available with the Ministry of Labour show that only India’s organised sector created jobs during the UPA period. Excluding the construction sector, overall employment (organised & unorganised sectors) declined during their time in office, up to 2010 (data is not available beyond that). So, the UPA had only created jobs for the ‘suited and booted’.

The country is not missing any of it now. It will be an act of crime to facilitate the return of such governance through unceasing targeting of the government and the Prime Minister for actions of stray individuals that ought to be dealt with, according to the law of the land by State governments.

Holding Modi to a different standard

Most Hindus, including this writer, will share this efficient and succinct message in the tweet of Gaurav Sawant:

I am a Hindu. Proud of my religion. Don’t support what happened in Dadri. Nor the attack on Hindutva by so called selective seculars

Further, as the academic Vamsee Juluri wrote, many opinion-makers who supported the Iraq war regretted it later. However, it was too late. If, inadvertently or otherwise, opinion-makers foment a deadly communal clash in the country, they will set back the country by a few years if not a decade. The economic consequence will affect the poor and those in the periphery of the system, regardless of their community or caste.

So, when PBM poses a rhetorical question as to what the crime of secularists was, the answer is that secularists have been guilty of disproportion, of unfair assignment of responsibility, of sweeping generalisations and finally, guilty of being selective. Selective outrage at bigotry is bigotry. It incenses the bigot who is being selectively targeted because he is being selectively targeted and because it emboldens the bigot who is spared. So, one bigot is incensed and another bigot is encouraged. This is the seminal contribution of India’s self-styled liberals to the cause of good governance. In other words, they are guilty of growing the national stock of intolerance, hatred and bigotry. Innuendoes about the Prime Minister’s motives are just another form of bigotry.

Why is the present Prime Minister held to a different standard? That is because, in the eyes of the liberals, he is a convict on parole who must prove that he was not involved every time a crime occurs somewhere in the country. They are the police, the prosecutors, the jury and the executioners. Forget about judicial courts and the court of public opinion that have not found the Prime Minister guilty of any communal crime. In their court, he is guilty and hence he must prove his innocence each time.

But, questions over his secularist credentials are the wrong ones to ask. The real questions that are important for India are questions over the Prime Minister’s real authority and control over his government.

Many Cabinet colleagues of former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had gotten away with many irresponsible statements and the Teflon image of the former Prime Minister remained untouched. Of course, the country did not elect PM Modi only for him and his supporters to take cover under the inferior performance of the previous government and that of the former Prime Minister. He was elected to do better than that.

The real question

In this regard, two points made by two different writers – Chaitanya Kalbag and Surajit Dasgupta – are worthy of further examination.

On October 8, Chaitanya Kalbag wrote this:

Looking back, it is almost as if our politics of provocation follow a calendar schedule. Exactly one year ago, also after some major foreign-policy successes of Modi’s, there was a surge of divisive talk by Bharatiya Janata Party worthies like Yogi Adityanath, Sakshi Maharaj and Sangeet Som. This year this trio has been joined by the recently emboldened Culture Minister, Mahesh Sharma, as well as junior agriculture minister Sanjeev Balyan.”

If one may add to that, on October 10, Business Standard reported that the Income-Tax department has sent another demand notice to Nokia just as the Finance Minister conceded that arbitrary tax demands destroyed credibility and the Prime Minister had succeeded in propelling India to the top spot in terms of Foreign Direct Investment inflows. The article correctly notes that the Tax Department could have waited for the negotiations between India and Finland to conclude. That the department chose not to must certainly raise more than eyebrows.

On October 7, Surajit Dasgupta wrote that almost everyone in the BJP aspires to be a Prime Minister:

The best-known or most frequent BJP spokesman in television debates had told me years ago inside the guest room of a studio that his is an organisation where even a municipal councillor nurses the dream of becoming the country’s prime minister some day. Given such a monumental aspiration across the cadre, the ambition to be a known face is, of course, a lesser milestone the unguided missiles have set for themselves.

Clearly, the government is not being allowed to function as it would like to. But, inquiring minds would want to know the Prime Minister’s response to such sabotage efforts. It appears that, just as Dr. Manmohan Singh did not realise that the Congress needed him more than he needed the Congress Party, the present Prime Minister appears to be acting in a constrained fashion. Surely, the man who wants technology to transform rural India would know that communalism would not help him achieve that. His party has forgotten and he appears to have forgotten too that he made the difference between a coalition government and a BJP-majority government. By most accounts, he did not get to choose either the members of his Cabinet or its format.

Therefore, the country would be better off asking when the man, elected to change the system, would take on the saboteurs from within his party and the government and without.

(Anantha Nageswaran is co-founder of Takshashila Institution. These are his personal views).

V. Anantha Nageswaran has jointly authored, ‘Can India grow?’ and ‘The Rise of Finance:Causes, Consequences and Cures’

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