Amit Shah, the henchman of India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi, says that his party – the BJP – would need to remain in power for twenty-five years to inaugurate acche din or the good days. This is a terrifying thought. Half the households in rural India live in abject poverty, with half the workers in rural India confined to the deprivations of manual labor. There is no future for them in Modi’s India. Twenty-five years is a prison sentence.
The main ruling class political formations in India are united on the path of development, namely to enrich the rich at all costs. The government pries open areas of social wealth to the corporate sector – accumulation by extraction and dispossession, allowing for the mining of minerals and pension funds. It is easy money for the powerful. None of this is questioned.
Disagreements come at the level of “corruption.” Anti-corruption is the order of the day. This is a sanctified language. It is the mirror of the IMF’s discourse of “good governance.” Nobody is for corruption. But they are for the enrichment of the propertied camouflaged as enrichment of the people in general. The path of development engenders corruption, which then on occasion erupts into scandals.
Scandals open the door to the hierarchies of power and property. Out of them spill gossip – the first draft of journalism. Without scandals the reality of accumulation and distress will not be revealed.
The most deadly scandal that has engulfed India is the Vyapam Scam. In the BJP-ruled state of Madhya Pradesh the Vyavsavik Pariksha Mandal (Vyapam) conducts entrance examinations for government jobs and admission for education institutions. Bribes to a network of scoundrels, including politicians, enabled impersonators to take the tests and provided falsified results for the exams. The money involved was enormous. It was no surprise that one of the conduits of the money – Sudhir Sharma – has his snout knee deep in mining wealth. He made “huge payments in cash for air tickets and travel bills” for politicians from the ruling BJP, such as Prabhat Jha, and its brain-trust – the fascist RSS (senior leader Suresh Soni denies all allegations). This is Modi’s BJP, caught in the trough of dirty money.
As the scandal emerged, another ominous reality came to the surface: forty-four people involved with the scandal died – many murdered. Blood soaks the scandals of the Right.
In the lead-up to the elections of 2014, a rash of anti-Muslim and anti-oppressed caste (dalit) riots took place in India’s formidable state of Uttar Pradesh. It is the heart-land of the elections. These riots clarified the polarity between the propertied and the powerless. In Muzaffarnagar, the local BJP leaders Sangeet Singh Som, Suresh Rana, Hukum Singh and Sadhvi Prachi riled up the dominant sections over garbled notions of honor and protection of women. They provoked a rampage against the Muslims of the area, the men yelling, Musalmano ki laundiyon ko rakh lo (seize all the Muslim girls). At the elections in the area, the BJP’s Sanjeev Baliyan won handily. Neha Dixit, in her superb reporting, noted that it was Baliyan who threatened police superintendent Shailendra Lal for trying to stop intimidation on voting day. “If you continue to work against us,” the BJP MP told Superintendent Lal, “it won’t do you any good.” This is Modi’s team. Baliyan is a member of his Cabinet.
In Delhi’s eastern section, in Shri Ram Colony, the RSS – the brains and brawn of the Hindu Right – holds its morning Shakhas in a field used by the local Muslim community. During the month of Ramzan, and in the lead-up to Id, the RSS provokes the locality with brutal slogans. Mahesh Kumar, who documented the Shakha for the Communist Party of India-Marxist, noted that their slogans are “provocative and mischievous.” One such slogan is Ab Hamara Hindustan, Mulla Bhago Pakistan – now Hindustan is ours; Muslims flee to Pakistan. The police have not tried to quell the intimidation. Instead they stand guard as the RSS continues its incitement. Tension sits heavy in the air. Id is on Friday. The RSS plans to return in force. It is bent on a clash. The grammar of Modi’s form of electoralism is to provoke a clash, create a schism in the community and then consolidate the vote of the Hindus. It is crass right-wing politics.
Shiv Ram Colony.
Democracy is television. Politicians want a seat on a talk show. Deliberative popular democracy is brushed aside. Tele-democracy, American-style, is the rage. Vineet Kumar, author of Mandi Mein Media, wrote an article in Jansatta, where he explored the role of PR agencies that link the political office of Modi to the corporate offices of Nestle. It pointed the finger at the kind of pseudo-campaigns run by corporate-backed politicians whose commitment to democracy is wafer thin.
Genuine democracy is an assault on the body politic. Communists are hounded as anti-national. Campaigners accused of being communists and foreign agents. Ford Foundation is assaulted because it had funded some of the work of watch-dog campaigners such as Teesta Setalvad of Communalism Combat and Sabrang. Teesta documented the role of Modi in the Gujarat riots of 2002. She scrupulously tried to build a case against his administration – earning brickbats from the government but plaudits from those interested in human rights, and the victims.
The political police, the CBI, went after Teesta Setalvad. A team raided her office on Wednesday, seizing documents and trying to intimidate Teesta and others. She called it a “shameful political vendetta.” There seems to be no other way to understand the attack. In Vyapam, a case littered with dead bodies, the CBI has not been as aggressive. Why here? Veteran journalist Kalpana Sharma suggests that the attack on Teesta is an attempt to silence dissent in India. It is ferociously anti-democratic. What was the cause of the investigation? It was supposedly a consultancy signed by Sabrang with the Ford Foundation. That is why Ford is also under Modi’s scrutiny. But Ford has the US Ambassador to speak for it. Modi is eager to establish his bona fides with the Americans. Ford will get off. Teesta is not so lucky. She faces the very real threat of prison.
Most other NGOs are too scared to rally around her. The Left has taken a position. So have many courageous journalists. Matters are rough. Vendettas are easy for the Right. It has a long memory. It is also fickle. If you do not curry favors, it might declare you persona non grata. It is democracy for those who agree. The rest experience a more nightmarish scenario. Teesta shares her nightmare with Josef K from Kafka’s The Trial. A priest runs into Josef. He says, “You are being held for trail.” Josef K replies, “Yes, I have been notified.” The priest says, chillingly, “Good. You’re the one I want.”
Modi looms large, like a titanic Vedic figure – picking up India in his vast hands and threatening to feed it to his corporate allies. These corporate magnates sit in a line, led by his favorite Gautam Adnani, eager for a mouthful.
On July 20, the day before parliament reopens, the Left will take to the streets. It will place its objections to Modi before the people. The media will ignore the rallies. It will be as if democracy never happened.