No Parliament got off to a more disgraceful start than the one in session now. The prime minister struck a high note when he said that the opposition should not worry about numbers, that their viewpoints would be honoured. Formalities finished, mayhem began. Oath taking turned into a political tamasha. If one MP shouted ‘Har Har Mahadev’, another came up with ‘Bismillah al Rahman al Rahim’.
Sonia Gandhi was interrupted by BJP patriots shouting ‘Jai Shri Ram’. Asaduddin Owaisi ridiculed slogan shouters by gesturing to them to go on and ended his oath taking with ‘Jai Bheem, Jai Meem, Takbar Allahu Akbar, Jai Hind’.Is there any country in the world other than India that is Bharat where silly games of this kind are played in the chambers of Parliament by elected representatives of the people? It was clear that the BJP benches were set on making use of their brute majority. To that extent, it was an indication of things to come. Expect the one-party, one-leader ideology being raised to new levels of patriotism. Expect dissenters getting more isolated as anti-national.
It is unfortunate that this should happen at a time when the prime minister has acquired a new international profile. At the Shanghai Cooperation Summit last week, Modi’s re-asserted legitimacy won instant acceptance. The triumvirate he formed with Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping looked like a triumvirate of equals, not just in diplomatic formality as before, but in real terms now. Significantly, his call for a united front against terrorism became the principal message of that conference.
Recognition of this kind can prove momentary. For it to take root, there must be a minimal economic progress as backup, progress that is not assessed in GDP terms, but experienced in visible ways. International eminence, for example, cannot coexist with mass starvation. Leaps of power on the nuclear front would not have won respect for China if a section of its population was starving to death in its cities.
In order to sustain its world leadership dreams, China ensured that its poor were no longer unacceptably poor. There are beggars in all the big cities of China today. But they are no longer starving. Many carry round their necks small placards with QR codes enabling you to make e-payments. In Moscow, beggars can be seen prostrating in pitiable ways on streets. But they are paid members of an organised mafia-managed racket.
In India, too, similar mafias exist. But beyond them, there is also the reality of hundreds of thousands of poor in every city, with no income, no prospect for their children, helpless in disease, subject to discrimination at different levels and with no one to go to for advice. Reports appeared last week about the misery of the poor in the Aurangabad region. Sub-teen children leave home around noon, take a train to Aurangabad city station to fill up water cans and get back home around 6 pm. It is an arduous task for each kid, given the irregularity of train schedules, the crowds and the burden of carrying two water-filled cans on shoulders about ten years old.
Those in power tend to dismiss such tragedies as isolated cases. Isolated, too, were the deaths of seven people in a septic tank in Vadodara last week. In the course of unveiling the prime minister’s inspiring target of a 5-trillion-dollar economy in five years, it was put out that toilet coverage in the country had expanded from 33 per cent in 2014 to 99 per cent now.
Obviously the miserable men who died miserably in Vadodara’s shit-hole do not come under these numbers because manual scavenging is banned in Gujarat. Despite the ban and despite the availability of automated scavenging machines, the ancient killer practice goes on. What was preventing the widespread adoption of such machines, asked Anand Mahindra.
The answer is: The Indian mentality. For us, wretched tragedies such as asphyxiation in a cesspit is part of the routine of life. For our rulers, intolerable living conditions are non-issues if they are confined to the marginalised. The Mahadev and Bismillah shouters in Parliament would spare no more attention to scavengers than they would to victims of public lynching. The five thousand years of civilisation we claim is in deep putrefaction. The day’s drama, the passing publicity and the international limelight that flashes in and out are success enough for our leadership. With the brute majority reinforcing its power through slogan shouting, who wants to bother about guys dying in septic tanks?