Elections 2019: India at Cross roads

Ram Puniyani

Elections in a democracy can rightly be called as festival of the masses. They determine the course of the country in times to come. That is generally the case and Indian democracy has been steering this path, deepening the democratic process so far. It is not that there are no problems. Many issues related to money power, muscle power, EVM machines reliability have marred to objectivity of the process. A newer dimension to the hindrance in the march towards a substantive democratic society has been intensified during last close to five years. That factor relates to the division of society along religious lines, undermining the democratic process by blatant abuse of power to browbeat the religious minorities. The guardian of democracy, Indian Constitution has been challenged and opposed bluntly by the forces, which resort to the politics in the name of religion’s identity, namely by using identity issues related to Hinduism. The events of last five years, the Modi regime has alerted, frightened and shaken various sections of society for different reasons.

The large section of population which voted for him in the hope of Acche Din (good days), 15 lakhs in accounts of everyone, end of corruption, control over price rise, strengthening of rupee vis a vis dollar, creation of employment, and Minimum support price for farmers have been totally disillusioned and are suffering the pangs of joblessness and agrarian crisis. Rising prices have broken the back of average sections of society. The fragmented opposition has realized the folly of disunity and serious though not totally successful efforts are going on to forge the opposition unity. The opposition has realized major reason for Modi’s victory apart from massive propaganda and corporate funding has been the fragmented opposition. While a lot more is expected from opposition to forge a minimum program, the sharpening the focus of people’s issues, whatever little has been achieved so far, is likely to become stronger as the elections come knocking on our doors.

Modi and company have driven a serious wedge in the unity of the country. The issue of Ram Temple, Ghar Wapasi, Love jihad and finally Cow-beef have seriously affected the fraternity of Indians, which is the foundation of the secular democracy. The pluralism, which had been the backbone of Indian freedom struggle and the underlining point of our Constitution has been attacked recklessly by the ruling Government. While BJP has driven its agenda hard, its allies, enjoying the perks of power have quietly acquiesced in the BJP agenda.

Modi’s rise to power began after the Godhra train burning issue was politicized, communalized and was made the pretext of unleashing a carnage in the state. This polarization gave bigger electoral support to BJP in the elections that followed. After this Modi switched the language and started talking of Vikas (development). For him Viaks is synonymous with giving blank chits to his capitalists hanger-on’s. Capitalists reaped rich dividend and started asserting that Modi should be the next Prime minster. RSS, BJP’s parent organization, played its card with deftness and put in lakhs of its swayamsewvaks/prachraks to ensure the victory of Modi. This was the first time that BJP crossed the Rubicon of simple majority and along with pliant power hungry associates unleashed the agenda of RSS Combine, the agenda of Hindu nationalism. Kashmir became a real estate issue more than before. The so called fringe elements, the essential part of ‘division of labor’ of RSS Combine, started ruling the streets and lynching became the dominant part of the politics of Modi combine. The intimidation of religious minorities did get accompanied by the attacks on dalits and insecurity of women increased. The farmers, totally neglected by corporate oriented politics of BJP started protesting time and over again, to no avail of course. Their dissatisfaction is simmering and adding on to the disquiet among other sections of society. All this put together the electoral surveys started revealing the defeat of BJP.

Here comes in the terrorist attack in Pulwama, which is being milked by the ruling regime to gain electoral advantage. BJP is projecting the actions of army as the achievement of Modi-BJP. BJP which came to power last time on the slogan of Achhe Din is now out to project that Modi is a majboot (strong) leader. This media blitz is dominating the scene. The opposition which asked questions about the claims of the ruling government is being defamed as if they doubt the claims of army! What a twist and convoluted way to criticize opposition parties! Will this work for Modi’s electoral prospects?

As such today the countrymen are facing the choice between the ‘idea of India’ which emerged from freedom movement, the idea which saw people of all religions as being equal partners in the enterprise of nation building, equal before law and equal in all matters of citizenship. The competing narrative is that of Modi-BJP, where Hindu elite are the pivot of politics, where problems of average people are put on the margins, where dalits are subjected to Una type beatings or Rohith Vemula type institutional murders, where the women face the situation like Kathua and Unnav, and religious minorities are relegated to second class citizenship.

Despite the mighty propaganda machine of Modi, what is clear is that you can’t fool the people all the time. The Achhe Din could delude the masses for once. The hyper patriotism, muscular nationalism may put the masses in trance for temporary time, but that can’t last beyond a point. The pangs of problems, will surely assert themselves this time around and the moderate language of opposition, the cry for addressing problems of issues will surely prevail and those standing for the idea of India of Mahatma Gandhi, Nehru and Sardar Patel will surely triumph this time around. The hope is, wisdom of the masses will realize what is best for the country in times to come, and that’s what will come to the rescue of Indian democracy, that’s what will thwart the danger of sectarian nationalism.

Category :- English Bazaar Patrika / OPED

Gimmicks are a part of Modi style of politics. Rather they form the core of his strategies. His act of washing the feet of five sanitary workers and then tweeting it came as another of such acts. Irritated by his act many a social activists responded through tweets. Bezwada Wilson, our most dogged fighter against manual scavenging, who is convener of Safai Kamgar Sangthan, tweeted “105 people killed in sewer and septic tanks in 2018 alone. He kept mum. Now washing feet. Justice not rituals, Mr. PM! What a pity! Then he carried on, “As a CM, he spiritualized shit cleaning, now as PM glorifying injustice…. this act is against Baba Saheb Ambedkar’s mission – jhaadoo chhodo kalam pakdo(leave the broom, pick up pen) #StopKillingUs.” And further: “Clean your mind not our feet, Mr. PM! Highest form of humiliation. 1.6 lac women still forced to clean shit, not a single word in five years. What a shame!”

This in a way summed up the pain and anguish of those who are the victims of caste system in this brutal form. Sitaram Yechuri points out that despite the death of 105 workers in sewers and septic tanks in 2018 & 11 in 2019 alone, nothing has been done to redress the grave situation despite Court Orders. He said that photo shoots with multiple cameras only rub salt into the wounds of those suffering historical injustices,” Similarly CPI(ML) liberation draws our attention to another aspect of the problem, “PMO India, it’s your job to ensure sanitation workers are paid dues, end manual scavenging & sewer deaths. Instead you are striking poses washing their feet! A sanitation worker died in #KumbhMela2019 due to negligence, will you speak on that?”

As such while washing the feet of these workers a sort of glorification of the system is being done. The people who work as sanitation workers in India are not heroes but victims. Another set of data tells us that 2014 to 2016, at least 1,327 sanitation workers died across India as they were sent into sewers without any safety equipment. Death alone is not true reflective of this ignominy. Manually cleaning excreta is a terribly degrading and humiliating work. It strips away a person’s humanity. The very existence of hereditary castes of sanitation workers is a dark blot on India. Even countries poorer than India have abolished this horrid practice.

Why it persists in India for so long can best be understood from the values and mindset of people like Modi and his parent organization, the RSS. Modi in his book Karmyoga (2007) states, “Scavenging must have been a spiritual experience for the Valmiki caste. At some point of time, somebody must have got the enlightenment that it is their [Valmikis’] duty to work for the happiness of the entire society and the gods; that they have to do this job bestowed upon them by gods; and that this job of cleaning-up should continue as an internal spiritual activity for centuries. This should have continued generation after generation. It is impossible to believe that their ancestors did not have the choice of adopting any other work or business.”

This spiritual experience is reserved for the Valmikis, a sub-caste among Dalits, which has been condemned to scavenging jobs for centuries. The functions of the caste are also being glorified and propagated even today in very subtle ways.

The deeper goal of RSS, Modi’s parent organization is to maintain the status quo as far as caste system is concerned. One of the major reasons for formation of RSS was rising assertion of dalits, inspired by Joti Rao Phule and Bhimrao Ambedkar. Dalits had started non Brahman movement in 1920s in Vidarbha region. This upsurge among dalits disturbed the upper caste; who rallied around to form RSS in 1925. RSS ideologue Golwalkar regards Manusmriti  as  glorious book which gave the laws to Hindu society, the laws which gives values for all the times to come. Ambedkar on other side went on to burn the same book as a symbol of opposition to caste and gender hierarchy.

Manual scavenging in its present form should have been abolished long ago. This practice was officially supposed to have been banned in 1993 by the Government of India. Official lapses and apathy apart, the surveys by the activists working against this practice show that even now lakhs of scavengers are still suffering ignominy and nearly 95% of these workers are women. These scavengers are the untouchables section of dalits, who have been trapped in this occupation as a birth based work. The States have not taken the act of abolition of this practice seriously and even till 1999-2000 many a States had not notified the act. It is in this light that the social action group Safai Karmachari Andolan which is campaigning against manual scavenging had given a call for abolition of this atrocity by the end of 2010.

The system of manual scavenging began in early India, well justified by caste system and continued in medieval times as well. While the Muslim kings did introduce different techniques at places for water based disposal of excreta. As such the communal politics, as is its wont, is trying to propagate that since the Muslims used Burqua, women could not go out to jungles, they introduced manual scavenging. This is another way of putting the blame of internal problems to external source. This is far from true. Observation and research into the Mughal forts’ sanitation system shows that they had small outlets in the bathing rooms of Mughal forts which were used as toilets. The waste from these toilets was carried by gravitational force to the ramparts with the help of water. This technique has been seen in the Red Fort in Delhi, in the palaces of Rajasthan, in Hampi, Karnataka and in Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala.

The hope is that we strive towards dignity of all and abolish the manual scavenging will be the real respect for those who are forced into this slavery.

Category :- English Bazaar Patrika / OPED