The President of India in June 2019, six months ago: “My Government has decided to implement the process of NRC (National Register of Citizens).” The Prime Minister of India in December 2019, just a few days ago: “My Government has never discussed the word NRC.” So whose government is running the country? In other words, who is lying?
For the general elections early this year, BJP’s manifesto said, “We are committed to the enactment of the Citizenship Amendment Bill. We will expeditiously complete the National Register of Citizens process on priority and will implement the NRC in other parts of the country.” Home Minister Amit Shah repeated these points at various election rallies. The Prime Minister declared that there was “no discussion on NRC after I became Prime Minister”. So, do the manifesto and the home minister repudiate the prime minister? In other words, who is lying?
In his angry speech last week, the Prime Minister said that stories about detention centres in several parts of the country were jhoot hai, jhoot hai, jhoot hai (lies, lies and lies). In September, three months before this condemnation of jhoot, a detention centre with capacity to house 3,000 inmates was nearing completion in Matia in western Assam at a cost of Rs 146 crore. This was the first of 10 centres planned. A few days before his speech, Karnataka opened its first detention centre “for illegal immigrants” 40 km outside Bengaluru. So, whose words are jhoot hai, jhoot hai, jhoot hai?
When December witnessed, across India, protests of a kind never seen since Independence, the spontaneity of it surprised everyone. It was a people’s movement, spearheaded by no one in particular. For two weeks, even Modi was too stunned to speak. Then came his proclamation that anyone could make out who was behind it from the clothes they wore — an obvious reference to Muslims. But is it true that clothes maketh the man? From the clothes Modiji wears, no one will make out that he is the leader of a poor country. For, he is the most expensively dressed leader in the world today.
He wears bespoke costumes customised by an exclusive tailor (Bipin Chauhan of Ahmedabad), Bvlgari spectacles, Movado watches and Montblanc pens. He once appeared in a pinstripe suit with ‘Narendra Damodardas Modi’ imprinted as stripes all over it. When rumours spread about its cost (Rs 2 crore by some accounts), he discarded it swiftly. So, who promotes one set of values and lives by another? In other words, who is the master of doublespeak?
The notable feature of the nationwide protest was the absence of a central leadership. Students and young women seemed to be their own leaders. Yet, according to the Prime Minister, “Urban Naxals and the Congress were behind” the protests. The Congress, lodged in ICU, must have felt flattered. The Urban Naxal is something else. It is part of the ironies of our time that a phrase that was intended to denote the political underground became, instead, one that meant citizens who stood up to fight the wickedness of those in power. Bengaluru will remember for long the sight of an ailing Girish Karnad sitting at a public meeting wearing a placard with the words “Me too, Urban Naxal”. So, who is the patriot and who the oppressor? Filmmaker Anurag Kashyap gave an opinion when he described the Prime Minister as “Urban Nazi”.
Given the atmosphere of fear in the country (to which industry leaders drew attention recently), it is heartwarming that critics continue to flourish. Maybe, the population of India is too large to be easily controlled. Southern filmstar Rima Kallingal trawls BJP leaders and says, “Let us stop making fools famous”.
Many prominent stars, the moment they utter a critical word, begin getting visits from the income tax and enforcement authorities. In Yogi Adityanath’s UP, Muslims, who oppose the (amended) Citizenship Act, are picked up and killed. Activist Rana Ayyub released a list of 14 young men who were thus eliminated. Other reports describe how Muslim families flee as police vandalise their homes and harass their women. All the 23 deaths in the course of the protests have been in BJP-ruled states.
This new India is getting international attention as well. The outside world sees the citizenship laws as essentially anti-Muslim. India’s stock in countries from Japan to Europe and the US has gone significantly down if foreign reports are any indication. So much for ‘Howdy Modi’. Obvious lesson will obviously be ignored: You cannot fool all the people all the time.