History casts long shadows. The atavistic fear of every democracy is of dictatorship spreading its dark wing over individual liberty. India lived under the shadow of fear between 1975 and 1977, when former prime minister Indira Gandhi declared the Emergency, suspended civil rights and suppressed and savaged institutions. Victimhood as an ideology was birthed by the trauma of those dark times and is now making a comeback as opinion makers of the anti-saffron persuasion speak of disquiet and dread spreading under Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s rule.
As the pace of poll kinetics accelerates, fear is the key to effective rhetoric. Elections are no longer a clash of ideologies or about reaping the mixed harvest of governance, and have instead become an orchestrated bedlam, which is drowning voices of rebuke and rejoicing in character assassination. Warring opponents ride out into a summer of hate, and the swords of propaganda and poisonous peroration clash on the battlefield of ballots, spilling blood. Since performance and promises are not marketable vote-catching weapons, projecting the other as an enemy of the democratic discourse is the new chapter in the hardly read but ritually printed manifestos containing vows that are anyway not meant to be honoured.
With the countdown for Mandate 2019 starting, those toppled by the 2014 Modi typhoon are exhibiting fear for the loss of their voices and even their lives. The killings of Gauri Lankesh, Kalburgi and Pansare, and the murderous sadism of cow vigilantes are invoked to bolster their thesis of an emerging tyrannical ecosystem. The creative community of India is in ferment over the murders and is dismayed justice is not forthcoming—a reason for the pandemic of fear sweeping through the liberal world. None of them, however, named and shamed the hidden killers of the FOE.
Two words, ‘’fear’’ and “intolerance”, have captured more media and mind space than even the prime minister’s speeches or the number of sixes hit in the latest edition of IPL. Almost every newspaper or TV channel now includes a story or discussion on the assumed threat to freedom of expression or isolated cases of murderous assault by fringe elements as a permanent part of their daily news menu. It appears that once again, after 1977, the 2019 agenda is being defined by the anti-BJP parties in terms of dissent versus dialogue. India is witnessing Dharma Redux—in 1977, the Opposition came together to defeat Indira Gandhi for imposing the Emergency.
Now, 41 years later, the anti-Modi brigade, including, ironically the Congress, sees a dash of Indira in Narendra Modi and the BJP. Over the past few weeks, a group of Leftist liberals and their fellow travellers have used various public platforms to create an impression that a cloud of fear hangs over India. Right wing-baiter Arundhati Roy tarred Modi’s image by using the BBC to spew venom, saying, “Anybody who holds views opposed to the government, not just me but anybody, would be stupid not to feel worried.’’ She is not alone in her desire to desiccate the idea of Modi’s India. Ignorant of the Bharat homeland, many foreign-educated, Left-funded academics, columnists and even foreign newspapers are lamenting that liberals, minorities and student leaders are being attacked.
Left historian Romila Thapar declared, “They are terrorists, their function is to evoke terror and spread fear in various communities by killing and threatening people, while their patrons in mainstream politics protect them.” Fear has also found a new mask in the Maoist plot to do a ‘’Rajiv Gandhi-style’’ hit on the PM and threats to eliminate Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Phadnavis. Liberals have just ignored it.
Meanwhile, Opposition parties are crying foul over the government’s alleged extensive use of the CBI, ED, DRI and the Income Tax Department to neutralize and silence dissidents, including even the have-beens and nothing-beens. Libtards, intellectual terrorists and SM warriors are screaming that the administrations’ gadfly adversaries are being blackmailed with secret files. They allege “fabricated cases” are being used to force Opposition leaders to spend more time visiting courts and offices than campaigning for their parties. The fearmongers warn of a conspiracy to defame the government’s foes by hacking emails of anti-BJP leaders and posting embarrassing details on the Internet. Anti-Modi-ists have activated prominent film stars and celebrities to provide credibility and glamour to their fear narrative. Even top corporate honchos avoid phoning executives and family members, fearing the government is tapping over one crore phones—a statistical feat our agencies are incapable of.
What is more worrisome for the prime minister is that the bureaucracy is gleefully contributing grist to the rumour mills. Many senior civil servants have asked their contacts to avoid meeting in public because Big Brother is watching. The inaccessibility of political leaders, including ministers, to party workers and journalists is being attributed to a fear of snooping. It is well known that the prime minister has imposed strict restrictions on ministers and greedy civil servants indulging in gossip sessions and hobnobbing with dubious individuals in the name of pubic interaction. Champing at the bit, it’s not the successes of the government they discuss but the personal rivalries and lifestyles of ministers.
The BJP's outreach is confined to those who may matter to their own class but are irrelevant for the masses. Modi still has ten months at his disposal to explode an exaggerated myth of imposing a highly suspicious and overbearing establishment. He is a master of connectivity and his party’s chief, Amit Shah, enjoys jet-speed mobility. Their admirers and ideological supporters expect both of them to be seen more with the core constituents and less with those who are fair-weather birds. Both Advani and Atal Bihari Vajpayee realised this after they lost power.
While campaigning for the 2014 parliamentary elections, Narendra Modi ran on the slogan “Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas (With all, development for all.) For a convincing comeback, he must puncture the burgeoning balloon filling up with the hot air of fear and intolerance. There are more dissenting voices and noises against Modi than there were against Indira, who strangulated democracy. They wish to make the Emergency regime look less repressive than the current dispensation. Modi and his team will have to do much more than provide “Saaf Niyat, Sahi Vikas” and must deploy credible ambassadors of “Sampark for Samarthan” to dissipate the much-hyped prevalent atmosphere of alarm and fake fear.
Follow him on Twitter @PrabhuChawla