India has four mints spread over the country in Mumbai, Kolkata, Hyderabad and Noida. These facilities mint coins for the use of the public at large. Prime Minister Modi has set up a fifth mint. This mint does not produce coins, it mints new words and slogans. The latest word he has minted is “Andolan Jeevi”, obviously referring to those who have made his life difficult in recent times by launching protests against the policies of his government. The pride of place here is occupied by the farmers of the country who, when they realised the pernicious impact the three farm laws would have on their livelihoods, launched a massive movement against the government. “Vinash kale vipreet buddhi” (bad times see bad decisions), goes an ancient Sanskrit saying. This is what has happened to this government, especially to the Prime Minister. Has Prime Minister Modi ever participated in any movement or gone to jail? My Google search led me nowhere, except to point out that he acquired a degree in ‘entire political science’ from the Delhi University. I acquired a first class Master’s degree in Political Science way back in 1958, and also taught the subject in Patna University for two years before the Indian Administrative Service changed the course of my life. To the best of my knowledge, neither then nor now there is a course in any university on ‘entire political science’, but then Prime Minister Modi can produce any rabbit from his hat. But let us return to the theme of his slogans.
Before the general elections of 2014, the slogan which reverberated throughout the country was of “Acche Din” (Good Times if Modi is elected). People believed it and voted the BJP to power by giving it a clear majority of its own, something which happened after three decades. Modi became the Prime Minister of India, the supreme leader of the BJP and started rubbing shoulders with top world leaders. Better days did not follow, but the people were mesmerised by a barrage of new slogans. The latest in line is ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’ a slogan which is as old as our freedom movement and which was given flesh and blood as long ago as the Second Five Year plan (1957 to 1962). The slogan is not original but who cares? If Prime Minister Modi uses it, he becomes the originator of it. Who are we, lesser mortals, to question him, or the hordes of his blind followers? ‘Achhe Din’ was followed by ‘Make in India’, ‘Beti Bachao Beti Padhao’, ‘Minimum Government, Maximum Governance’, ‘Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas’ and many more. The latest in this long list is of ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’, and ‘Vocal for Local’. It is a government of slogans, for slogans, by slogans.
Why does the Prime Minister constantly churn out these new slogans? He is obviously playing a deeper game here. The most important task for any party or individual in politics is to be able to set the agenda. You set the agenda and expect the others to react. This is what the Prime Minister is doing through these slogans, leaving no option for his opponents except to react to his agenda. The opposition must get out of this trap. It must first set the agenda and then corner the government. In its nearly seven years in office, the government has failed on multiple fronts, economic, national defence, social and political. But most importantly of all, it has, by its actions, put democracy in this country under threat. The many bulwarks of our democracy, so assiduously created and nurtured by our leaders in the past, stand devalued. Democracy does not merely mean the people exercising their right to vote once in five years. It means the accountability of the government to its people on a 24X7 basis. This can be enforced only if the institutions enjoined with this responsibility discharge their task truly and faithfully. Is this being done?
Let us take the media first. The state of the media was perhaps not as miserable even during the Emergency of Indira Gandhi as it is today with a few honourable exceptions. Proximity to power and pelf, a scoop, standing in society, and finally, a Rajya Sabha seat is the ultimate aim of many of the worthies in that tribe. Even national security, as recent events would show, can be sacrificed at this altar. Additionally, most of the media today is controlled by corporates who know no better than to toe the government’s line. They are the ones who set the editorial policy, not the editors. The less said about the judiciary the better. If a chief justice of the Supreme Court opts to accept a Rajya Sabha nomination immediately after retirement, if a Supreme Court judge sings praises of the Prime Minister in his presence, if a Chief Justice sits in judgment on his own case relating to sexual misconduct, then God save this judiciary and this country. And parliament has generally ceased to reflect the mood of the people at large. I have always believed that the tumult outside should be reflected fully in parliament, even if it involves disruptions. The responsibility for running parliament is that of the government’s, not the opposition. Has the current session of parliament been able to resolve the farmers’ issues? Has it shown the way? Clearly not. Where should people go if even parliament fails to resolve issues, especially important issues like those of the farmers?
I have long held the view that if the institutions of democracy let democracy down, the street will take over. This is exactly what has happened today. Parliament sessions will come and go. The motion for thanking the President will be passed by both Houses, so will the Budget and other legislations but will all this ultimately lead to the farmers lifting their dharna? If it does not, then clearly parliament will have failed in its responsibility.
What do people do when everyone fails them? General elections are still three years away. But as Dr Lohia said, “Zinda kaume panch saal intezaar nahin karti” (people who are alive do not wait for five years). Launching a popular movement therefore is the only option. The farmers have shown the way. Let the rest of us follow. Let us show the government that slogans alone will not do.
Yashwant Sinha, former BJP leader, was Minister of Finance (1998-2002) and Minister of External Affairs (2002-2004)
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