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Mainstream, VOL LVI No 28, New Delhi June 30, 2018

Nikhilda, We Miss You Today

Saturday 30 June 2018, by Muchkund Dubey

Alienation of the Minorities

Since the BJP-led government under the leadership of Narendra Modi came to power at the Centre in 2014, the country has been sinking into multi-pronged degradation. The minority communities, particularly the Muslims, have never felt as insecure and excluded from the mainstream of national life, as they are feeling today. Organised gangs, most of them affiliated with the ruling party, the BJP, and its political and cultural mentor, the RSS, are on a rampage to harass, terrorise and kill members of minority communities. Incidents of Muslims being lynched in the name of cow protection, which includes cattle trade and eating beef, have become too frequent to be ignored. The minorities are humiliated, physically assaulted and even killed for performing their religious practices and rituals in the public, whereas those belonging to the majority community are routinely able to do so. Ordinary man-woman relationship between a Muslim and a non-Muslim is magnified into conversion in the name of religion (love-jihad) and hence is considered as deserving of punishment going outside the ambit of law or legal procedure.

These atrocities against the Muslims are not the consequence of communal riots which have been endemic to the Indian society, but are in the nature of a deliberate and well-planned assault on their cultural identity, way of life and the means of livelihood. The objective is to drive them into deeper and long-lasting deprivation and destitution. These criminal activities and violations of the rule of law are fuelled by provocative and malicious statements made with regular frequency by BJP Ministers in the Central and State governments and by MLAs and MPs belonging to this party. As a result, most of the culprits have so far escaped arrest and criminal proceedings and practically none of them has been convicted and punished. There are even instances of the BJP leaders and those belonging to the Sangh Parivar sheltering these criminals.

The top government leaders have never tried actively to stop these incidents or to ensure that the criminals are brought to justice. Their reaction has been confined to such routine, evasive and inane remarks as: ‘we have ordered investigation’ (Rajnath Singh), ‘these are stray incidents and do not reveal a pattern’ (a brief repeated by all BJP leaders), ‘charges are false because Indians are basically secular’ (a music to the ears of thoughtless, boastful and communally-minded Indians). These generalisations have been taken by the criminals as an immunity against the crimes committed by them. This kind of reaction of BJP Ministers and workers taken together with the silence of the top-level government leaders seems to be a conspiracy hatched by them to terrorise the minorities, deprive them of the protection of the rule of law and destroy their future. This cannot but have a long-lasting negative impact on our national unity and cohesion.

Downgrading Institutions

This government is following a conscious and well-planned policy to take control, on behalf of the BJP/RSS, of all academic and other research institutions, cultural organisations and think-tanks. The purpose is to reorient their objectives and programmes to conform to the ideology of these organisations and to serve their political interest. The posts in these institutions, including that of their heads, are being kept vacant for unusually long periods in order to be filled by persons holding allegiance to or directly nominated by these organisations. This is bound to lead to the dilution of the quality of these institutions, downgrading their intellectual status and changing their research programmes and syllabus. It has been noticed that candidates selected to fill these vacancies do not rigorously meet the qualifications for these posts.

There is a real danger in the very near future for most of these institutions being headed, and several of them being manned, by persons committed to the BJP/RSS ideology and objectives, but not necessarily possessing domain expertise. This will severely curtail India’s intellectual heft, which in any case is not abundant in relative terms. The process will also adversely affect both the quality and quantity of human capital essential for development.

Battle for the Soul of India 

The present regime has deliberately unleashed a battle for the soul of India. The intention behind it is to trample down the real soul of the nation and put in its place a chauvinistic, single-culture and single-religion idea of a nation. We have seen during the past two years a nationwide debate triggered by the BJP/RSS combine on nationalism and the notion of India. A long-term effect of it will be a change in the very ethos of the nation as it has developed over centuries, as embodied in the Constitution and as brought into conformity with the universally recognised modern values of democracy, justice, human rights and human dignity.

As the government pursues this objective, the list of the right-thinking people whose
beliefs are being declared as seditious, is constantly increasing. Any praise of Pakistan, any suggestion to talk to the Hurriyat in Kashmir, any articulation of a belief that most of the Kashmiris now aspire for Azadi, and any praise of the traits of Muslim culture is regarded as seditious.

Intolerance

We are today witnessing the emergence of a viciously authoritarian order in our country in which all those who do not blindly conform to the national priorities and programmes and the world view of the present regime, are declared as infidel, fit to be harassed, tortured and even killed.

This intolerance of the other opinion has been taken to a point where the BJP/RSS combine either itself killed or hired murderers for assassinating eminent journalist Gauri Lankesh and rationalist, thinker and author Kalburgi. This has been stated by the government agency investigating the case of the murder of Gauri Lankesh in its submission made to the trial Court.

Propagation of a False Culture 

 

TheBJP/RSS combine is never tired of condemning the influence of the West on our culture and never misses an opportunity to point out that India achieved in the past everything that has been achieved by the West in modern times. On the other hand, they are patronising institutions which use English as the medium of instruction and not the mother tongue of the students. They incongruously include high-sounding English words in the Hindi names given to schemes floated by the government and the Hindi speeches of their top leaders. There has been a fast deterioration in the pronunciation of Hindi and Sanskrit words in the newscast by our media.

There is also a tendency at the highest level to use in the speeches of the top BJP leaders, abusive language and language in bad taste, and publicly mock at the rival in the highest decibel sarcastic tones. Even the advertisements designed to popularise government schemes and campaigns are indecent, loud and in bad taste, shorn of sophistication and subtlety.

Media

The institution which has suffered degradation of the worst kind is the national media. More than 90 per cent of the news coverage is either palpably false or proved so by the event the next hour or the next day. Besides, these news items contain either non-issues or false issues. Similar is the case with most of the comments that appear on the editorial and op-ed pages. Most of them also deal with subjects of ephemeral value. They write in a quaint and complex style to display their punditry. Very few of them have held sustained views on crucial issues like secularism, socialism, role of the government in development, interest of the poor etc. Given their past record, their current views, even if progressive, do not carry much conviction. It is extremely difficult to distinguish between the good and the bad by reading these newspapers or viewing the visual media.

Also, there is hardly anything that is written in the newspapers or disseminated through the visual media which reflects any long-term vision, particularly those rooted in our struggle for freedom or incorporated in our Constitution. It is often observed that reporters or commentators writing on foreign policy or international relations are not burdened by any perception of enlightened national self-interest or the ideal of global peace and security.

Development Strategy 

Since the adoption, in the early 1990s, of the policy of full-fledged liberalisation and globalisation, India has moved fast to a position of corporate-led development strategy. The government preceding the present regime followed this strategy as faithfully as the present regime. However, the present regime seems to be in a hurry to hand over the economy to the private sector as fast as possible. The state has been steadily withdrawing itself from such public services as education and health.

Nobody expected the present government to reverse the process of surrendering economic space to the private sector. However, it has sought to denigrate all that was done by the previous government to moderate the indiscri-minate and ruthless play of market forces by introducing legislations which provided to the people rights-based access to public goods and services. The government has refused to translate the Right to Food Act into actual availability of urgently required food items to the people, particularly the poor among them. It has left it to the State governments to take action on the Act, which means taking no action on it. After its failure to replace the Land Acquisition and Rehabilitation Act by a hastily drafted Ordinance, the government has left the original Act to be implemented by the State governments. The RTE Act has been diluted by truncating it into fragments and ultimately throwing it under the carpet by the executive order to establish the Samagra Shiksha Scheme.

The earlier policy of having a clear-cut medium and long-term perspective of development, adopting measures having forward and backward linkages, taking a holistic view of interconnected issues, and as reflected in the RTE Act, acting on all the variables simultaneously to achieve the desired goal within a specified time period has been given up in favour of an ad hoc short-term approach. This is reflected at the institutional level in the substitution of the Planning Commission by the Niti Ayog.

Foreign Policy

This government has deeply harmed the country’s interest and failed to take any initiative in broader interest, in the manner it has conducted India’s foreign policy. It has been claimed by it and its protagonists that no government in the past has been as active and full of initiatives in the realm of foreign policy, as the present one. No doubt the number of foreign visits made, bonhomies exchanged, physical contacts made with foreign leaders and agreements signed are impressive. However, on closer examination, it appears that in most of the meetings with foreign delegations and dignitaries, the government did not have any serious agenda to pursue except harping on old tunes, formally raising well-known contentious issues and ad nauseam seeking support to curb terrorism emanating from Pakistan—an endeavour doomed to fail in the current situation in the region and the world.

These visits have been essentially structured to project the personality of the Prime Minister and propagate his high-sounding new schemes. The purpose has been to send back home the signal: ‘Here is a great Prime Minister never missing an opportunity to serve India’s interest abroad.’ The concentration, therefore, has been mainly on how he was received on his foreign trips, how he was entertained and who were all present at the airport and ceremonial events. These titbits are lapped up back home and thus ideally serve the electoral purpose of the ruling party. Given this basic domestic purpose of PM’s odyssey abroad, it is not surprising that, with rare exceptions basically wherever the Prime Minister went he made it a point to address Indian crowds. This included even countries where the presence of Indians is minimal or insignificant, like the Philippines and Japan. All these meetings with the Indian diaspora were converted into electoral gatherings where the PM mainly boasted about his government’s achievements and denigrated the Opposition leaders which is not done by high dignitaries in foreign lands.

On the other hand, the two crucial areas in which India has traditionally played very important roles have either been thoroughly messed up or have been almost totally ignored. These are relations with neighbours and shaping the kind of world order which best serves India’s own and global interest. This government has done its desperate best to project our important neighbour, Pakistan, as untouchable. The policy is, ‘no cricket’, ‘no special effort to enhance trade and people-to-people contact with Pakistan’ and ‘no SAARC Summit in Pakistan’. India has been, on the face of it and in the immediate context, solely responsible for stalling the process of South Asian Cooperation by not agreeing to a SAARC Summit if it is held in Pakistan—a country whose legitimate turn it is to hold the next Summit. The deliberately created hatred and phobia against Pakistan has reached a stage where any Indian citizen who has a good word to say about this country is likely to be prosecuted on the ground of sedition. Such a policy does no good to our country. Its only purpose is to placate the Hindu fanatics who walked over to the BJP camp in huge numbers in the 2014 national elections and who must be retained if Modi has any chance to win the next general election.

The action taken by India against Nepal on the Madhesi issue has had the effect of alienating the mainstream of the Nepalese public opinion for a long time to come. This is clearly reflected in Nepal’s diplomatic moves recently. Going by newspaper reports, we seem to be on the verge of taking similar action against the Maldives which is bound to have the same kind of long-term consequences.

The impression prevailing in the country is that we are enjoying excellent relations with Bangladesh. There is no doubt that the two countries have been very careful in not allowing any of their difference to surface in the public. But the fact remains that Bangladesh feels let down by India for its not having done much in lieu of the massive concessions made to India by the present Awami League Government. Besides, the Bangladeshis have in private repeatedly expressed their concern over the treatment meted out to the Muslim minorities in India.

There is also a legitimate concern over the alacrity with which China has moved into our neighbourhood. We could not have done much about it except pursuing well-thought-out and efficiently executed programmes of development cooperation with these countries in areas where we have comparative advantage, particularly in the areas of trade, some segment of infrastructure and soft power in the cultural field. There is very little evidence of our having pursued such a policy in a planned and vigorous manner.

The multilateral world order, underpinned by the United Nations, suffers from original sins and has accumulated distortions during the course of its operation. India has taken major initiatives from time to time to strengthen it, correct its anomalies, and make it equitable. For this purpose, India has used its moral and economic clout and utilised all available institutions like the Non-aligned Movement, G-77, BRICS etc. This world order has now been thrown into disarray and is facing an existential threat by the actions taken by President Trump. The Modi Government has not taken any initiative, in collaboration with like-minded countries, to prevent this looming disaster. The Prime Minister has participated in a series of Summits, both formal and informal, but this most critical among the burning issues facing the world, does not seem to have figured in a substantive and serious way in his conversations with these leaders. The complacency of our top leadership on this issue cannot but be regarded as a major failure of our foreign policy.

Missing Nikhilda

In this situation, we remember Nikhilda, the iconic Indian journalist and public persona whose 20th death anniversary falls this month on the 27th. At the same time, we miss him because I cannot think of anyone in India who could have resisted the current dangerous trends with the grit, determination and courage which he was capable of mustering. Besides, he had the unique gift of sensing such dangers in advance and unhesitatingly using his pen to warn the country against them. Nikhilda started criticising the 1975 Emergency from the word go and within two weeks after that he closed down in protest, the publication of the Mainstream, his beloved mouthpiece.

He was equally categorical in condemning the demolition of the Babri mosque and the riots that were triggered by this historical national shame.

In the matter of development policy, he was a true socialist. He would have, therefore, opposed with all the power of his mighty pen, the current effort to mortgage the growing segments of the Indian economy to foreign companies. He would have also reacted very strongly to the current trend of the withdrawal of the state from the provision of public goods and services such as food, education and health which, according to the Constitution and its creative interpretation by the judiciary, constitute the fundamental rights of citizens. He would not have tolerated any move to compromise the policy of national self-reliance.

On the world order issues, Nikhilda would have done everything possible to disturb the Government of India’s silence on President Trump’s effort at destroying the present multilateral world order. He would have gone beyond this and worked for building a national coalition for taking initiatives to save the present world order.

Nikhilda was acutely aware of the injustices and inequalities characterising the world order and the initiatives India had taken, starting from Jawaharlal Nehru, to bring about changes in it. He was a strong supporter of the Non-aligned Movement. He was instrumental in the establishment of Namedia and served as its first Chairperson.

Nikhilda was deeply involved in South Asian cooperation. He was well liked by the media-persons and leaders of important South Asian countries, particularly Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. I accompanied him in two missions to observe elections in Pakistan and had the first hand experience of his commitment to democracy and pluralism. There is also no doubt that he would have strongly reacted against the present government’s futile bid to isolate Pakistan or to work for the revival or creation of regional groupings sans Pakistan. On the whole, he would have been one of the last hopes to prevent the downward drift of the nation towards loss of purpose, erosion of institutions and authoritarianism.

A former Foreign Secretary, Prof Muchkund Dubey is currently the President, Council for Social Development, New Delhi.

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