What a mess our country is in? A college student, all of 22 years old, is picked up from her home and taken to Delhi without prescribed legal papers. Her crime? She used internet devices to support the farmers’ march. This girl, Disha Ravi, is not in politics. She belongs to no party. She is just a young girl with enough civic sense to be interested in environmental issues. Many young people are similarly concerned these days, and that is one of the strengths of India. It is astonishing that authorities should see this as a threat necessitating the jailing of students.
P Chidambaram made a pertinent comment on the matter when he said: “If a 22-year-old student of Mount Carmel College is a threat to India, then the foundations of India are broken. India is turning into a theatre of the absurd.” Shashi Tharoor put it pithily: “Activists are in jail while terror accused are on bail.”When popular support evaporates, rulers turn autocratic. This time-tested principle seems to be proving itself again in India. Foreign observers are noticing it and bringing it to the attention of the world. Sweden’s V-Dem Institute now lists India among the top ten countries most quickly becoming autocracies.
“It is on the verge of losing its status as a democracy due to severely shrinking space for the media, civil society and the opposition.” Time magazine raises the question: How long will Joe Biden pretend that Narendra Modi’s India is a democratic ally? “Hate speech is rife, peaceful dissent is criminalised, freedom of expression and association faces new constraints, and the jails are filling up with political prisoners and peaceful dissenters as a servile judiciary looks away.” The world can hardly believe what is overtaking India. In this evolving India, bizarre ideas find easy takers.
The latest brainwave attributed to Amit Shah is that there are plans to get the BJP active in Nepal and Sri Lanka. This was publicly stated by Tripura’s BJP Chief Minister Biplab Deb. He said Amit Shah assured the party that this would be accomplished. It is a mystery that Amit Shah does not want the BJP to take over Bangladesh and Thailand on one side and Afghanistan and Iran on the other. Doesn’t he want them also to prosper under the inspiring colors of the BJP?
The Prime Minister joined the chorus with a surprising remark — that previous governments had not named places after leaders like Subhas Chandra Bose, BR Ambedkar and Sardar Patel. Either Modi was arguing for the sake of argument, or he was betraying a surprising level of ignorance. There is hardly a town in India without a Netaji Road. Ambedkar statues outnumber statues of any other leader. Patel is not as popular as Bose or Ambedkar, but he too has many vidyalayas and chowks named after him. Modi weakened his own argument by ignoring these facts. He assumed, as is his wont, that the country would swallow whatever he says.
In fact, Modi’s new moves have strengthened the world’s view of him as a self-centred, autocratic leader who is doing India more harm than good. The world no doubt noticed the extent of protests that broke out in India when Disha Ravi was seized by the police. All but the BJP saw her arrest as a violation of basic citizenship rights. It struck them as part of an attempt to silence all opposition. Haryana’s extremist home minister Anil Vij went on record with the statement that all those with seeds of anti-nationalist thoughts “should be destroyed”. He would be the first in the list if anti-nationalism were to be properly defined.
The widespread protest that broke out against Disha Ravi’s arrest pointed to the gap between the people’s sentiments and the BJP sentiments. In Bengaluru, not only activists and farmers but also students and writers came out in large numbers to protest against the arrest. Many saw the arrest as a sign of the Modi Government feeling insecure and paranoid. The arrest proved counter-productive when Disha’s supporters launched a digital campaign #fingeronyourlips to show how the Government was gagging people. Modi is losing on all fronts. He will tighten his authoritarian grip. It is a game where eventually people will win, even if one generation has to bear the brunt of dictatorial rule. Modi vs People. What an anticlimax.