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Narendra Modi is not Donald Trump

By Vivek Gumaste
January 21, 2021 20:25 IST
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The danger to India's democracy is coming from recourse to mobocracy encouraged by the anti-Modi gang, argues Vivek Gumaste.

IMAGE: Prime Minister Narendra Damodardas Modi. Photograph: PTI Photo
 

Post the unprecedented and tectonic Capitol siege in Washington on January 6 that jolted the global portals of democracy, the ugly rush to draw parallels between Narendra Modi and his supporters and Trump and his rowdy acolytes has gained gravitational momentum.

There has been a plethora of censorious commentary on the state of democracy in India, with some questioning its resilience in the event of a Washington, DC-like crisis and others even suggesting that autocracy is already here in a subtle form.

Tavleen Singh, writing in the Indian Express (external link), wryly commented: 'This has inspired me to draw for you a portrait of the 'new Indian' who constitutes the base of today's BJP, which is as heavily stamped in Modi's image as the Republican Party came to be stamped in the image of Donald Trump.'

She then went on to make a baseless and outlandish rhetorical surmise: 'America may look bad at the moment but let's remember that its democracy just passed its hardest test and won. Would we be able to say the same in India about our institutions if put through such a test?'

How valid are these concerns?

Is there any iota of truth in the claim that India is fast hurtling towards becoming a totalitarian State?

Or is this Machiavellian tactics a deliberate attempt to create an illusion of impending autocracy to defame the current government and put it on the defensive by traditional Modi baiters?

True, Indian democracy has been under siege for the last year or so, but not by Modi and his supporters.

An objective appraisal of the current political scenario reveals that It is India's liberal left, the political Opposition and columnists like Tavleen Singh are the ones who have been testing the limits of our democracy.

First, in a democracy change is affected by laws enacted in Parliament which people are supposed to accept.

Over the last year, every effort has been made to derail this process.

The Citizenship (Amendment) Act was a Constitutionally legitimate law that was passed by Parliament; it had a benign intent that did not impact any Indian Muslim.

Nevertheless, duplicitous rumour-mongering gave it a discriminatory connotation and created an atmosphere of distrust.

The law was not challenged via the normal channels available in a democracy.

Instead, mobs were provoked to descend on to the streets in large numbers and indulge in senseless violence to intimidate the government: A clear-cut case of ochlocracy or the rule of the mob.

The anti-farm laws protest is another attempt to exploit misguided public dissent to discredit constitutionally enacted laws.

The canard being spread is that the laws were rammed through Parliament without adequate discussion: A lie that flies in the face of facts.

Not only have agricultural reforms been discussed for years, but in August 2014, the government set up a high-level committee headed by Shanta Kumar to suggest agricultural reforms.

I reproduce below an excerpt from the preface that reveals that stakeholder suggestions were taken into account:

'The Committee had wide consultations with several Chief Ministers, Food Secretaries and other stakeholders in various States. Their valuable suggestions were invited through various newspapers also.'

'Almost 300 representations were received by the Committee and many of these valuable suggestions have been taken into consideration while finalizing the report...'

Surjit Bhalla calls out (external link) this dishonesty.

Bhalla writes: 'All the above facts have been known, and discussed, by learned people for decades. Which is precisely why the intellectual gymnastics played by many learned people defending the farmer protests is so shocking.'

'The 'demand' by intellectuals that the farm bill should have been discussed before being passed is well beyond the bounds of conventional dishonesty.'

So what we have here is dishonesty and violent blackmail at its worst being used unscrupulously as tools to subvert our parliamentary democracy and replace it with street politics.

It is even more outrageous when another commentator speaks of 'mob politics' (external link) to indict the BJP and not the Opposition: 'In terms of constructing a constituency of the mob, the present moment is probably more dangerous than what India has seen so far for two reasons: There is a carefully orchestrated and sustained use of mobs which are excited prior to be unleashed...'

'Thus, the 'science' of mob politics is employed in a nuanced manner with a rhetorical discourse legitimating the mob as the people.'

Such statements as these warrant a reality check. Hello! the protestors taking to the streets are not BJP supporters.

These are mobs unleashes by a desperate Opposition which has become even more desperate after the BJP's massive victory in the 2019 Lok Sabha election and sees no future for itself unless it indulges in such unruly shenanigans.

So, let us be clear about one thing: The danger to India's democracy is coming from recourse to mobocracy encouraged by the anti-Modi gang.

Second, comes the usual refrain that freedom of speech is under threat and with it the constant whining of being called 'anti-national'.

Tavleen Singh writes: 'They make it clear that there is no room in India for people who do not share their point of view. The dissent of any kind is for them exactly the same as sedition and they see it everywhere.'

Pratap Bhanu Mehta indulges in bizarre logic (external link) by making a distinction between abstract people (read Modi supporters) and actual people who oppose Modi: 'The people in this construction are an abstraction, unified and marching to the same drum beat. The minute any actual people assert their reservations, express their individuality, or pose pragmatic facts against wild prophecy, they are immediately branded as being outside of the pale of the people, they are the anti-nationals.'

'So, the rhetoric of the people can be turned against groups of actual people, one at a time. It is an enemy of both freedom and fraternity.'

Name-calling does not make for civil discourse and must be avoided. But let me remind you that those whining about being called anti-nationals today are the very same people who revelled in dubbing nationalists as extremists and 'saffron loonies' in the yesteryear.

These well-known columnists cry hoarse that dissent is under threat, but appear to have the freedom to rant and rave against the government using choice epithets in their columns.

Every week, after I read their vitriolic vituperations, I sleep in peace knowing fully well that freedom of speech is alive and kicking in India.

With regard to the issue of corrosion of institutions, it is a matter of perspective. Charges are being bandied around with no real evidence.

If a Supreme Court verdict is not to one's liking it does not mean that the institution is damaged.

We need to be mature enough to accept verdicts with grace even if they do not conform to our ideology: That is the crux of democracy.

Finally, let me remind readers that despite all the charges of fascism levelled against the BJP and Modi, not a single action attributed to either Modi or his party stands out as undemocratic.

In fact, the BJP and its leaders have always religiously conformed to the tenets of democracy.

In 2002, when Modi was subject to overwhelming criticism for his handling of the Gujarat riots, he resigned prematurely, recommended dissolution of the assembly and sought a vote of trust from the public -- a democratic gesture par excellence, certainly not totalitarian.

Who can forget Atal Bihari Vajpayee's magnanimous gesture which must go down as the finest moment of Indian democracy?

In late 1999, after a successful tenure of 13 months, the BJP was forced to seek a vote of confidence and, as a result, a realignment of political parties.

It was a test that the BJP lost by a single vote in a House of 540; a vote whose legitimacy was questionable being cast by a Congress member (Girdhar Gaming) who had ceased for all intents and purposes to be a member of the august body after being elected to a state legislature.

Yet, without a murmur of protest, Vajpayee (the BJP prime minister) put in his papers, in the larger interests of democracy.

The current political situation in India is profoundly distressing. In their bid to pull down Modi it appears that certain sections will stop at nothing even if it means the destruction of our democracy.

Rule of the mob is being encouraged as opposed to rule of the law; an illusion of free speech coming under threat is being engendered and wild charges of national institutions being compromised are being thrown around -- all with an intent to sow doubt in the minds of the public.

It is time that these sleazy machinations are called out for what they are.

Academic Vivek Gumaste, who is based in the United States, is the author of My India: Musings of a Patriot. You can e-mail the author at gumastev@yahoo.com.

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