In his speech on India’s 71st Independence Day, Prime Minister Modi’s call for a ‘New India’ was an attempt to give a fresh spin to his own older – and betrayed – promises of Achhe Din (Good Days). The promise of job creation is mocked by employment at an all-time low and job losses at an all-time high, and BJP Governments seeking to recruit youth in ‘Gau Rakshak’ (cow protection) mobs in Haryana and Uttarakhand! The promise of women’s safety is mocked by a Union Minister trivializing stalking by a BJP leader’s son as harmless ‘boy chases girl.’
The ‘New India’ slogan sounds ominous in the wake of the deaths of 70 children in a Gorakhpur hospital; the callous apathy towards the victims of devastating floods in Assam, Bihar as well as parts of Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal; a never-ending spate of deaths of Dalit sanitation workers in sewers; and yet another massive train accident bringing up the tally of major train accidents in Modi’s tenure to an appalling 27.
What stands out is that all the above are more crimes than tragedies and calamities – because timely action on part of Government could easily have averted the massive toll of human lives. 1.42 lakh railway staff posts remain vacant – resulting in a situation where the driver of the oncoming Utkal Express train was not informed about maintenance work on the track. Some ten written reminders for payment of pending dues to the oxygen supplier of the Gorakhpur hospital were ignored by Government authorities – including the Chief Minister of UP himself who had personally been informed of the matter. The deliberate refusal of Governments at the Centre and states to take timely steps to protect people from yearly floods costs lives and livelihoods every year. The Swachh Bharat campaign focuses on cruel coercion and humiliation of the poor, with no steps to ensure an end to manual scavenging. To maintain the fiction that Government sanitation services are free of manual scavenging, workers are employed on contract – off the books – to clean sewers, and these workers are simply disowned when they die.
A feature of Modi’s New India also stands out in these crimes: the attempt by the ruling BJP leaders and their supporters to try and communalise the issue to divert attention away from the accountability of the Government. In Gorakhpur, a Muslim doctor – who had reportedly made personal efforts beyond the call of duty to arrange oxygen to save the children’s lives – has been the scapegoat, subjected to vicious false accusations on social media by BJP supporters. The CM who ignored the infrastructure of a Government hospital in a constituency he has represented in Parliament for two decades, was more interested in communal profiling than public health, asking madarsas to prove patriotism by recording the singing of the national anthem on Independence Day celebrations. Likewise, within an hour of the Utkal Express accident, attempts were made by BJP supporters on social media to spread fake news blaming Muslim ‘terrorists’ for it. In fact, it was local people – including many Muslims – of Muzaffarnagar who rescued trapped people long before official rescue operations kicked off. The story of Hindu saints thanking local Muslims for saving their lives is an affirmation of ‘humanity first’ – in contrast to the BJP’s politics which in 2013 incited communal violence against the Muslims of Muzaffarnagar.
Meanwhile, Modi’s speech was notable for its glaring attempts to mislead citizens with fudged facts. The most blatant instance of this was his claims on demonetization. While the RBI has inexplicably claimed to have failed to finish counting the money that came in through the Note Ban, Modi claimed – without citing any credible source – that Rs 3 lakh crores entered the banking system for the first time, that black money worth Rs 2 lakh crores had been deposited, and that Rs 1.75 lakh crore was “under the scanner.” These numbers appear to have been pulled out of a hat at random, and make no sense whatsoever. Likewise, Modi claimed that 56 lakh new taxpayers filed tax returns between April and August 2017 which was double the number of new taxpayers in the same period last year. Again, these numbers and this comparison simply do not add up. Embarrassingly, the number of new taxpayers cited by the Economic Survey since the Note Ban announcement till March 17 is 5.4 lakhs; the number cited by Modi pertains to e-returns filed, and includes both old and new taxpayers. Even this number represents only a modest increase – with the growth in e-returns filed being much higher in previous years during the UPA regime. The Finance Minister meanwhile claimed the addition of 91 lakh new taxpayers since demonetization – another mystifying and inflated number pulled out of the hat. The subsequent clarification given is that this number is for the entire financial year of 2016-17 – but it does not match the Economic Survey’s assessment which placed the total number of new taxpayers in the 2016-17 financial year at 80.7 lakhs. Further, the Government in reply to a question in the Rajya Sabha on 1 August 2017, had stated that the number of new taxpayers post demonetization is 33 lakh! When different institutions of the same Government make wildly varying and mutually conflicting claims, it is clear that they are trying to pull wool over the public’s eyes in a desperate attempt to defend the Note Ban.
In yet another shocking instance of Emergency-style censorship that has become the norm in Modi’s New India, the Prasar Bharti did not air the Tripura CM Manik Sarkar’s Independence Day speech on Doordarshan and All India Radio after he refused to obey their diktat that he “reshape” it! The Prasar Bharti had the temerity to decide that an elected CM’s speech warning of the countrywide threat to secularism and the attempt to divide the country on communal lines was out of tune with “the solemnity of the occasion and the sentiments of people at large”! It is a sign of the times that the same Prasar Bharti broadcasts the hour-long Dussehra speeches of the RSS chief on state-owned Doordarshan.
In Modi’s New India, poor tea garden workers in BJP-ruled Assam have been booked by police for “disrespect to the national flag” because they hoisted the flag stripped to the waist to symbolize their destitution and oppression even after 70 years of freedom.
As the Modi Government flounders to cover up its monumental failures and crimes, struggling people of the country will channel the spirit of Independence to resist the fascist politics of the Sangh and BJP with renewed determination and confidence.