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Mainstream, VOL LIII , No 38, New Delhi, September 12, 2015

Eternal Vigilance Necessary to Protect Our Democracy

Sunday 20 September 2015

by Mahi Pal Singh

Within 15 months of coming to power at the Centre, the Narendra Modi Government has amply shown its true colours. If we compare what Narendra Modi, the Prime Ministerial candidate of the BJP, and the party’s President Amit Shah, had promised to the voters with what the government has done so far, the wide difference between the promises and implementation comes out clearly. Modi had made a tall claim to bring back black money stashed in foreign accounts and put in every individual’s account an amount of fifteen lakh rupees each within something like three months. This has already been repudiated by Amit Shah who has truthfully admitted it to be a mere ‘poll slogan’, which clearly shows that they do not mind raising false slogans deliberately before the elections only to be forgotten and rejected after coming to power.

The Prime Minister has also forgotten his promise of bringing down prices of vegetables and other essential commodities. Contrary to his ‘poll slogan’, the prices of vegetables and cereals have risen by 50 per cent to 100 per cent during the last few months, the prices of onions having reached, on an average, Rs 60 to Rs 80 per kg. and ‘dal Arhar’ is being sold at an unprecedented high price of Rs 150 per kg. and the government has done pretty little so far to control the price rise.

The Prime Minister’s vow, or slogan should we call it, ‘Na khaoonga na khane doonga’ (I will neither eat nor let others eat) has come to be true not for weeding out corruption for which it was made, but for removing vegetables and cereals from the plates of the consumers. A frantic effort was also made by the government to snatch farm lands from the possession of the farmers by amending the Land Acquisition Act, passed by the earlier UPA Government in 2013 with the express consent of the BJP, so that handing over land to the builders and industrialists, in the name of Public Private Partnership (PPP) projects, could become easier to the detriment of the farmers. The government was so desperate to pass and implement the new law that it brought a Central Ordinance three times when it failed to get the bill through Parliament.

Had the new law been passed, farmer suicides, which are already very high, would have attained new heights with more farmers losing their only source of sustenance. Yet the same government claims to be farmer-friendly. The government was so adamant on passing the amended bill that it proposed to bring in a fourth ordinance but the move was abandoned after its efforts were strongly opposed by all the Opposition parties in Parliament and the farmers agitated against the move throughout the country. The BJP, which had come to power on the basis of only 31 per cent votes, could have hardly afforded the erosion of farmers’ votes and still hope to come to power again.

After its failure, at least so far, to get the new anti-farmer Land Acquisition Bill passed by Parliament, now the government plans to bring in a new pro-factory owner and anti-labour law. The government plans to overhaul the 67-year-old Factories Act to allow two different departments of the same factory to be counted as two separate companies. A factory employing less than 40 people will not be treated as a factory. The move will encourage factory owners to list different branches or departments as separate factories to bring down the number of employees to less than 40 so that the new factories would be kept out of the purview of the Factories Act and they would enjoy many relaxations, including in their social security obligations. The irony is that the Labour Ministry, which is supposed to safeguard the interests and welfare of labour, has prepared this anti-labour proposal.

The record of the Narendra Modi Government on the education front is also deplorable. It has done nothing to send every child upto the age of 14 to school, as mandated by the Free and Compulsory Education to all children upto the age of 14 Act passed by the national Parliament long ago. On the contrary, those already going to schools are being taught through the school textbooks that multiple rape and murder accused Asaram Bapu, a self-proclaimed godman who is in jail, is a ‘great saint’ and finds himself listed in the company of Buddha, Mother Teresa and Guru Nanak only because he had supported the BJP during the elections. “Hitler lent dignity and prestige to the German Government within a short time, establishing a strong adminis-trative set-up,” appears in a chapter titled ‘Internal Achievements of the Nazis’ in a State textbook used as a guide for children aged 13-15 years old. And those who belong to the RSS and hold such obscurantist and anti-democratic views are being made heads of educational institutions, including institutions of higher learning.

 On the front of human rights, the record of the NDA Government so far is worse than that of the UPA. The latter had at least passed the Right to Information Act in 2005 which empowered the citizens to access government records to find out where their tax money was being spent and how the government was functioning. The BJP talked of transparency and accountability in public life when it was in the Opposition. Now the BJP-led Central Government has told the Supreme Court, in reply to a PIL filed by Prashant Bhushan, a noted lawyer and human rights activist, that it was against the idea of bringing political parties under the Right to Information Act arguing that the move will adversely impact their "internal working”. It does not want people to know from where the party gets the funds for the elections, which run into thousands of crores.

 In another bizarre U-turn, the BJP led government has strongly supported the Congress initiated UID/Aadhar card project of bringing in every citizen’s personal details under the scanner of the government which it had opposed earlier on the argument that the data could be easily misused. In a case pertaining to the project, the government argued that the ‘right to privacy’ could not be considered a fundamental right. In relation to privacy as a fundamental right the Supreme Court itself observed that reading the 1954 judgment in M.P. Sharma’s case and the 1963 judgment in Kharak Singh “literally” and accepting it as “the law of this country”, would denude “the fundamental rights guaranteed under the Constitution of India and more particularly right to liberty under Article 21” of “vigour and vitality”.

The government also does not like anybody to raise a dissenting voice. As civil society organisations oppose anti-people policies of the government, as they have been doing in the past, the government has cracked its whip on them in the name of foreign funding though in many earlier cases the judiciary had declared its moves as illegal and unconstitutional. In a new move, rights activists are being denied access to meeting halls and other places where people can discuss various issues as the government fears that such meetings would foster dissent. In a recent case in Gujarat, which has a BJP Government, the Mehdi Nawaz Jung Hall at Ahmedabad, which was earlier widely used by civil rights organisations, has been made out of bounds by the Gujarat Governor, O.P. Kohli, for “any political activity or any activity against the government”, on the basis of an “oral decision” by Governor Kohli. The decision has been strongly opposed by the People’s Union for Civil Liberties whose State General Secretary, Gautam Thaker, strongly criticised the decision saying: “I think it is a move to stifle the voice of dissent. It is an attempt to suppress the freedom of speech and expression of civil society.”

As if this was not enough, leading rationalist scholars and anti-superstition activists are being targeted and killed by the intolerant forces of the Hindutva outfits who choose to interpret even mere discussions, debates and statements about Hindu practices and rituals as an insult to Hinduism, and resort to threatening and attacking speakers and writers. Earlier, leading rationalist and anti-superstition activist, Dr Narendra Dabholkar, was murdered in Pune on August 20, 2013, and Left leader and outspoken critic of Hindutva, Govind Pansare, was murdered in Kolhapur on February 20, 2015. The latest murder of Prof M.M. Kalburgi, a renowned rationalist scholar and former Vice-Chancellor of Hampi University, Karnataka hailing from Dharwad, who was shot dead on August 30, 2015, along with the earlier two murders, is suspected to have been committed by Right-wing religious extremists. This belief gets credence because the Co-convenor of the Bajrang Dal’s Bantwal cell, Bhuvith Shetty, welcomed the assassination of M. M. Kalburgi. Such Right-wing Hindutva elements are emboldened and are increasingly coming out openly against persons who are merely critical of Hinduism because they are getting the tacit support of the BJP Government at the Centre.

To what extent their opposition can be allowed—to ‘gali’ or ‘goli’, ‘abuse’ or ‘bullet’—has to be considered by the society as a whole. If this trend is not checked and turned back immediately, the people of India will lose their right to freedom of speech and expression, and India’s secular democracy will turn into fascism.

Showing their concern for civil liberties and the future of India in view of the bad record of the Modi Government, leading US academics, most of them Indians working in the US, have in a statement urged Silicon Valley to be cautious in dealing with Narendra Modi when he goes there in the second half of September 2015. This shows that not only the activists living in India but also those Indians living abroad who love their country and the democratic values equally perceive a danger to both of them under the rule of the Modi dispensation.

To save them both we all have to be eternally vigilant and oppose every undemocratic and anti-people move by the Modi Government.