An economy in deep crisis and a government on a rampage. Modern history will tell us that this dangerous combination often presaged a definitive eclipse of democracy in many countries. India 2017 is faced with precisely such an ominous juncture.
The GDP growth rate, the statistic that is most often flaunted by politicians in power and establishment economists, has been on a steady decline for the last four successive quarters. At 6.1% in the last quarter (the first post-demonetisation quarter), the Indian economy lagged significantly behind the Chinese economy which grew at 6.9%, thereby clearly belying the ‘fastest growing economy in the world’ claim that the BJP leaders are so fond of making. Per capita income growth rate in real terms slowed down to 5.7% in FY2016-17 compared to 6.8% in the previous year.
Employment generation has hit an all time low with even the IT sector now reporting huge layoffs across the board. The government can only offer some fake explanations – like describing GDP decline as the wiping out of black money or passing off the growing non-availability of jobs as ‘voluntary unemployment’ – but nothing to bring about any improvement in the situation.
Meanwhile, it is working overtime to divide the people and suppress dissent by all possible means. Soon after the BJP came to power in May 2014, we saw a sudden mushrooming of so-called cow protection gangs. From Dadri to Latehar and Una to Alwar we saw these gangs beat up and kill people with utter impunity, sometimes in the middle of the night, often in broad daylight. With the arrival of Yogi Adityanath as the CM of UP, the state openly started throwing its full weight behind the cow vigilante groups, legitimising cow terrorism as the latest stream of saffronised state terrorism. In the name of shutting down ‘illegal’ slaughterhouses, a veritable ban was imposed on the sale and consumption of meat in Uttar Pradesh. And now the central government has chipped in with its order of sweeping restrictions on cattle trade across the country.
The ban on cattle trade has been ordered by the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change in the name of prevention of cruelty to animals and regulation of livestock markets. It says cattle can be traded only with valid documentary evidence to prove that the cattle will be used for agricultural purposes. This goes against the judicially validated established practice that treats non-milch non-draught cattle as being fit for slaughter. Even now, the ban will be selective as cattle-slaughter will continue unabated in the big export-oriented firms and only the poor, mostly Dalits and Muslims, who earn their livelihood from the production and sale of meat or from the tanneries and leather industry will be badly affected. The poor will lose their only affordable source of protein, and farmers depending on the livestock economy will also be adversely affected. Yet the BJP is bent upon imposing this ban as it serves its agenda of communal polarisation and Brahiminical domination.
And to impose this agenda, the government seeks to rule by fear. Almost every day, we come across examples of ministers and officials instilling fear in the name of governance. In Kashmir, we saw this horrendous case of a citizen being strapped to the bonnet of an Army jeep. Major Leetul Gogoi, the brain behind this humiliating violation of human dignity, was given the Army Chief’s ‘Commendation Card’ for his ‘sustained efforts’ in counter-insurgency operations. And when debates sharpened on the subject, the Army Chief made a public statement invoking the theory of ‘fear’.
Now that historian Partha Chatterjee has described this as the ‘General Dyer moment’ of the Indian Army, recalling the arguments offered by Reginald Dyer, the infamous Brigadier General of the British Army in support of the Jallianwala Bagh massacre, the pro-establishment propagandists have begun to hound the Professor and the news portal for publishing this ‘audacious’ comparison. But it is precisely the theory of ‘fear’ as the basis of governance and the treatment meted out to fellow citizens as ‘prisoners of war’ which have prompted this comparison and by attacking Professor Chatterjee and The Wire magazine the establishment is only validating such a comparison.
The similar contempt for democracy and reliance on fear could be seen at work at the CBI raid on NDTV premises. It was alleged that the NDTV promoters owed a private bank Rs 48 crore, an allegation that turned out to be utterly false. But the very fact that the CBI considers this as a fit case for conducting a raid while Vijay Mallya sits pretty in London after a known case of default of Rs 9,000 crore and Gautam Adani owes as much as 72,000 crore to Indian banks exposes the utter hypocrisy of the government. The raid on NDTV is nothing but a desperate attempt at silencing dissent and destroying whatever semblance of media autonomy still survives in India. We have not forgotten the one-day ban (November 8, 2016) on the Hindi channel of NDTV that the government had to withhold in the face of powerful protests by the press and the civil society. It is the same logic of ‘rule by fear’ that has now claimed the lives of five farmers at Mandsaur in Madhya Pradesh in police firing.
If rule by fear is the cornerstone of Sangh-BJP school of governance, freedom from fear was central to the vision that guided India in the freedom movement. Tagore put it eloquently in his invocation of India as a land ‘where the mind is without fear’. Some four decades ago we had seen another leader try and rule this country by fear. India did not brook that reign of fear and terror, and the restoration of democracy at the end of those nineteen months of nightmarish Emergency remains a high point in the history of post-Independence India. If Modi and Yogi and their gangs and propagandists think they can rule India in the twenty first century by instilling fear and stirring up hatred they could not be more mistaken.