Tuesday, February 23, 2016

A strong government with weak knees  

Ratnakar Tripathy

The NDA regime at the centre with its 336 seats in the lower house out of which 282 were won by the BJP alone may seem a strong government by definition. One wishes life and politics were as simple as that! By now there is enough evidence to suspect that the BJP and its leadership suffer from the classic bully syndrome – they threaten and harass those who appear relatively helpless while their knees go jelly in the face of the vocal and the determined. Whether in Hyderabad or JNU, the central government has shown tremendous zeal in muzzling dissent, even taking recourse to doctored videos and forged evidence from the media against the student leaders. The disproportionately strong response is now followed by a perverse demand from the Delhi police chief Bassi that the absconding students must come forward and prove their innocence. One would expect that in a democracy, things ought to be the other way and the police must produce due evidence that proves forensically sound. What is most confusing about such behaviour is whether it is more undemocratic or simply exceptionally inept in the context of the Indian democracy. A young friend of mine who teaches in a Delhi college recently insisted in a conversation that the BJP brand of authoritarianism has foolishness built into it and that you cannot separate one from the other. I had little to offer by way of refutation even though one would like to presume a high level of cunning in an authoritarian bully.

And when does the bully go weak-kneed?  When the Jats of Haryana decided to choke the arteries of the state as well as the central government, our home minister ran to make negotiations that will have very loud and very prolonged repercussions in other states in the coming days. The state government is now committed to following the dictates of the Jat mobs that are in no mood to listen to reason at this point. Our PM Modi who likes to project an image of raw masculinity has been outdone by the arsonists in Haryana who were often smart enough to place their women and children in front of their tidal processions. On the same day when the Indian army had to intervene to retrieve the crucial water supplies to Delhi, the capital from the mobs, I sat listening to the chief executive lecturing students at the annual convocation in BHU, Varanasi on the significance of education. I have in the past had the wicked pleasure of listening to him talk about the importance of innovation among the entrepreneurs, the importance of food among farmers and the importance of jobs among the unemployed. I am now waiting for him to pontificate on the importance of fruits in a jam factory! Such is the sublime ineptitude we are dealing with! Recently the PM even tried to wear the mantle of a victim of disgruntled NGOs and the opposition who are unable to accept a tea-seller as the nation’s leader, an appeal to pathos that increasingly sounds hollow and melodramatically unreal.

The government’s antics on campuses has ended up with consequences unforeseen – the BJP student wing feels increasingly free to indulge in violence, the moribund left has found a new constituency and relevance among the youth, the oppressed Dalits and liberal elements are more determined than ever in their opposition to the BJP and its government. On the other hand, the attempt of the BJP government in Haryana to provoke and humiliate the Jat community has backfired and may soon find echoes among the Patels in Gujarat. The solution used by the government thus far is to use the bazooka of sedition and branding of individuals and groups as ‘anti-national’. At this rate the Indian demography may throw up the strangest anomaly possible – as a country chiefly of ‘anti-nationals’. We are anyway a country where people have an almost aesthetic preference for dissent and where agreements and uniformity are seen as exceptional compromises made for limited though essential practical purposes. Words like ‘diversity’ and Amartya Sen’s favourite qualifier ‘argumentative’ are actually euphemisms for a society heavily and chronically biased in the favour of quarrelsomeness that requires kid gloves and soothing words, not strong arm tactics.    


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