“The Party seeks power entirely for its own sake. We are not interested in the good of others; we are interested solely in power, pure power.”
Every morning as I read the newspapers or watch news, I am reminded of this quote from Nineteen Eighty-Four, George Orwell’s dystopian novel that tells the story of a superstate in a world of omnipresent government surveillance and public manipulation, dictated by a political system under the control of a privileged Inner Party elite that persecutes individualism and independent thinking as “thoughtcrime”.
I truly hope I am overreacting, but I can’t help feeling alarmed and anxious when I read about the bigotry, the intolerance and the sudden spurt of regressive behaviour in our society that has mushroomed in the 16 months of this new government.
Till some time ago, such behaviour was associated with only the notorious khaps of Haryana and western UP. But under this BJP government, the hitherto ‘silent’ radical, fanatical and extremist Hindu groups like the RSS, VHP, Hindu Mahasabha, Bajrang Dal and many smaller fringe groups like the Sri Ram Sene, Sanatan Sanstha and Durga Vahini seem to have been emboldened to vociferously dictate what can be termed a non-secular Hindutva agenda. But more recently, they have started invading the privacy of people in more ways than one. Misogynists in the garb of moral policing ban clothing such as jeans for girls or try to impose their narrow-mindedness on the young, who like to hang out with friends at lounge bars and discotheques.
But let’s forget about these Hindu right-wing extremist groups for a moment and ponder over the actions of the BJP governments, in states or at the Centre, and you will notice that they have done no better.
In fact, they themselves have been guilty of advocating and implementing their own regressive, feudal, non-secular and bigoted mindsets and beliefs on the hapless nation—be it the beef ban that has impacted the source of income of thousands and also deprived the poor of a cheap non-vegetarian meal or the ban on meat during the fasting period of the Jains.
Why should the government bother itself with what the people are eating? Should it not be concerning itself with issues of governance? Does this not tantamount to ‘gastronomic terrorism’ on its part? And can one forget the ‘Ramzada-Haramzada’ or ‘those who want to eat beef can go to Pakistan’ barbs of BJP ministers?
There has also been a concentrated effort by the government and ancillary groups to throttle liberal, secular and rationalist voices on social media or elsewhere as seen in the murders of rationalists like MM Kalburgi, Narendra Dabholkar and Govind Pansare, who dared to speak up against superstition and radicalism in Hinduism.
Recently, the government tried to push and then withdrew hastily, because of a huge public outcry, a draft proposal for the National Encryption Policy that would have drastically changed how messaging services like WhatsApp and others would operate, in a bid to monitor interpersonal communications for its own benefit.
Last week, the Bombay High Court, while staying an appalling circular of the Maharashtra government that said a person would be charged with sedition if he or she spoke or wrote against the state government or its representatives, remarked: “How can these kinds of circulars be issued? This implies that everybody in the opposition can be put behind bars.”
Is the role of a government moral policing? Should it be allowed to interfere with the fundamental rights of people? Why should there be any ban because it is retrograde and a slap in the face of personal freedom and fundamental rights that democracies are supposed to ensure. Will this government teach us how to Love, Eat, Pray? These questions need immediate and comprehensive answers before we slide further into the cesspool of orthodoxy and intolerance. The government needs to wake up and concern itself with, as the PM famously promised, “minimum government, maximum governance”, to make sure India does not go the Pakistan way. Or before the people take to the streets and cry out in unison—“Leave us alone!”
Dalmia is chairperson of Grievance Cell, All India Congress Committee