It spoke a great deal about the Government’s concept of democracy when a journalist was charged with sedition for criticising the Government’s Covid policy. The Supreme Court had to tell the Government that it was the right of journalists to criticise, even brutally, Government policies.
The judgment put it in words that must always be remembered by all, elected authorities and the public and journalists themselves. As the bench put it: The time is long past when the mere criticism of governments was sufficient to constitute sedition. The right to utter honest and reasonable criticism is a source of strength to the community, rather than a weakness.
This is all the more so when we are passing through a phase of history that is wrought with unpredictabilites. Old values are no longer respected and new values keep changing depending on who is resorting to them and when. Leaders are no longer driven by concepts of public good; private and personal interests carry more weight. Sometimes things lead to comic situations.
In the very modern state of Kerala, a new rule has come into force: Wedding receptions must be restricted to a guest list of 20. If only 20 people can attend, it makes no sense printing invitation cards. You can simply hand-write notes and send them off instead of printed invitations. But 20 or 200, you need wedding sarees and wedding shirts with the sheen of silk etcetera. To buy wedding clothes, you have to show wedding invitations to shopkeepers. What conundrum is this? Print invitation cards not to be sent to people, but to buy clothes with!
Okay, you can’t fight with the Government, so you decide to print invitation cards. Suddenly you realise that it is lockdown and all printing presses are closed. This is what Churchill called a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma. No printing press, so no invitation card, so no buying of essentials.
These are unheard-of problems creating unheard-of situations. So words take on unheard-of meanings. “Mask” was a word associated with theatre. The outbreak of Covid made masks a habit. In India, even TV newsreaders do their jobs wearing masks that go close to the eyes, making it difficult for viewers to figure out what they are saying. Mask-wearing became such a universal habit that some countries made news by saying that they had grown “mask free”. Israel cancelled the mandatory wearing of masks in the open air in April. This was after completing one of the most rapid vaccine rollouts in the world. New Zealand made maskwearing mandatory only in public transport, including flights. Bhutan, after vaccinating more than 90 per cent of its adult population in just two weeks, made itself mask-free.
Masks became irrelevant when a new policy concept was announced by the Modi Government. In an amazing brainwave, they set up what is called The Indian Railway Stations Development Corporation Ltd. The Corporation promptly shortlisted Adani and eight other companies to submit proposals to develop the Shivaji Terminus in Mumbai, popularly known as VT (for Victoria Terminus).
The British had a habit of building railway stations as magnificent architectural showpieces. VT was perhaps the finest example of this. Imagine Adani re-doing this terminus complex. In the name of making Thiruvananthapuram airport more efficient, Adani increased fees on aircraft landing there. In the end, the passenger, otherwise known as citizen, will end up bearing the brunt of “modernisation”.
VT station, spread across 2.8 hectares, is an architectural masterpiece. It has been an iconic landmark of Mumbai “With deep verandahs for ventilation, a blend of polychrome masonry and elaborate sculptural ornamentation, crowned by a towering masonry dome meant to dominate the skyline.”
What proposal would Adani submit to the Railway Stations Development Corporation? To get an idea of which way the wind may blow, we must recall a recent news report headed ‘Under Modi Rule, Ambani, Adani have doubled their wealth.’ Then look at the Covid-19 vaccination certificate issued by the Government of India. Every certificate carries a photograph of Narendra Modi with a message. The effort to give Narendra Modi credit for all things good is quite frank.
It is not difficult to imagine reforms in the railways after Adani takes charge. Every compartment will carry a photograph of the Prime Minister with an uplifting message. Every ticket will, of course, carry his photo. Every traveller will be given a chance to know that he is travelling by courtesy of the caring Prime Minister. More innovations will follow because, after all, those who doubled their wealth need to triple them.