In a much-discussed article for US-based Time magazine, author Aatish Taseer calls Narendra Modi India’s “divider in chief” and accuses him of masterminding an assault on India’s “most basic norms” such as “the place of minorities and its institutions, from universities to corporate houses to the media.”
Taseer includes India’s “liberals” among the “minorities” and lays the fantastic charge that Modi’s lack of a moral compass has led him to instigate a culture of anger and class warfare on “liberals” and “free press” who are seen “in the eyes of many as part of a grand conspiracy in which a deracinated Hindu elite…” acts as power brokers to maintain “its dominion over India’s Hindu majority.”
Representational image. PTI
Shorn of rhetoric, Taseer has merely repeated what India’s anglicized, disempowered elite and its lapdog media (of the Lutyen’s variety) had long accused Modi of. That the prime minister has led a popular backlash against their hold over narrative and power-broking. The rabble is no longer at the gates. They have taken over.
While the breast-beating at loss of influence is understandable, the core charge against Modi is that he has altered the basic character of the Indian state. He has ostensibly made it angrier, less fair, unequal and has doubled down on class fissures. This is a pet theme of the western press that has neither the time (pun intended) nor inclination to listen to the masses beyond reflecting the views of its Indian liberal brethren. Or maybe it feels democracy is too precious to be left to the masses.
No point denying that the popular backlash against power-broking by a rootless, incestuous elite and its favourite tool — the mainstream media that relies on “access journalism” — is angry in nature. But here’s the key question, is the anger unjustified? Let us focus on a recent issue to elaborate on the point.
A Dalit woman was gangraped in Rajasthan on 26 April in front of her husband. According to a report, the couple was waylaid on the Alwar-Thanagazi highway, dragged behind sand dunes and the woman brutally raped by five bikers who filmed the act and robbed the couple of Rs 2,000.
For seven days, the police in this Congress-ruled state sat on the complaint and refused to act. The reason? They were waiting for the polls to end in the region. The state administration was apparently trying to bury the issue, or at least go slow so that the rape of a Dalit woman does not snowball into a major issue bang in the middle of Lok Sabha elections.
As the Rajasthan Police, which is bound by law and protocol to act immediately against complaints, delayed registering an FIR, the seven-day gap allowed the rapists to intimidate the victim and her family, demand a blackmail amount of Rs 10,000 and circulate a video clip of the crime on social media.
Such a heinous crime warrants prompt action by the police, who were clearly under some sort of instructions to go slow on the case. As a report by Indian Express states, quoting the victim’s father: “For the next two days, we told police whenever we heard that the accused were nearby but they took no action. They told us to wait until the elections got over.”
The nature of the crime and callousness of the police and state administration were enough to have caused widespread outrage and condemnation. The fact that the victim was an 18-year-old Dalit woman and alleged perpetrators of the crime Gujjars — upper-caste men — should have been enough to amplify the outrage and reverberate it through the length and breadth of India.
In July 2016, four Dalit tanners were stripped, paraded and beaten up with rods by upper-caste men for allegedly skinning a cow in BJP-ruled Gujarat. The heinous incident caused much outrage across the nation and even beyond. It was said that India has become “lynchistan”, the ‘land of the lynchers’ and these goons were being empowered by none other than Modi.
Earlier still, a section of Indian intellectuals had accused Modi of fostering an atmosphere of “intolerance” in the country against minorities and those from the lower-caste and returned their awards en masse in a form of protest that came to be known as “award wapsi” (returning of awards). This was fashioned as a moral position by individuals who want to “reclaim” the idea of a Nehruvian India that was ostensibly under threat from a rabble-rousing Modi.
The phony “intolerance” wave was based less on facts and more on narrative and it ultimately was exposed as a political movement by the perfumed liberals who were failing to cope with altered circumstances where their voice alone doesn’t count any more.
It is therefore of no surprise that this “intolerance” gang has adopted the role of Mahatma Gandhi’s three monkeys — see, hear and speak no evil — on the rape of a Dalit woman in Alwar ostensibly because Rajasthan is ruled by Congress and it is politically inconvenient to do so. After all, there is no point throwing darts at the feudal, dynastic party that has for decades nurtured an anglicized, snobbish ecosystem dominated by the perfumed elites to further the ‘you-scratch-my-back-and-I-scratch-yours’ system.
This story would have been quietly buried had it not been for Modi, the rabble-rouser himself, and Mayawati, the leader of the subalterns battling to maintain her political relevance.
“Instead of arresting those involved in this heinous crime, Rajasthan’s Congress government and the police got busy in hiding it as they did not want it to come out before the polling was over,” said the prime minister at a recent rally before the sixth phase of polling. “They wanted to suppress the news, save the accused for the sake of the vote bank… “I want to ask the ‘award-wapsi’ gang, why are they quite now?” said Modi.
Taseer, who wrote the article against Modi, may note that the anger against this compromised media and the “liberals” is not unjustified. These liberals are no conscience-keepers but political actors waging a grim battle to mitigate an existential crisis. And to do so, they will pick and choose their “causes” of outrage. This is not a moral position, but a deeply immoral one. If only a class revolt may overturn this unequal idea of India, so be it.