Democracy under the BJP is in crisis. Dissent has been criminalised. India slipped from 27th position in 2014 to 53rd in 2020 on the Economic Intelligence Unit’s Democracy Index. India now ranks 101 out of 116 countries on the 2021 Global Hunger Index, behind Nepal, Bangladesh and Pakistan. India is ranked 142 on the World Press Freedom Index.
On December 17, in a speech at the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI), Union Home Minister Amit Shah claimed that the government had solved “several long pending problems of the country — abrogation of Article 370 without a drop of blood being shed; the complex issue of Ram Janmabhoomi was resolved and that there is no sphere where in the past seven years, comprehensive change has not been brought.” He claimed that there has not been a single charge of corruption against this government and that the Covid-19 pandemic has been brought under control due to the charismatic leadership of the Prime Minister. Tall claims, but hidden within are some disturbing facts.
In abrogating Article 370, apart from employing extreme coercive measures, the Central Government, from August 4, 2019, a day before the abrogation, to March 4, 2020, imposed the world’s longest Internet shutdown (233 days), within the state. The clampdown included booking 2,300 people under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) in Kashmir with the J&K police booking 954 people (till August, 2021) under the Jammu & Kashmir Public Safety Act (PSA). Around 16,000 individuals, including former chief ministers, were arrested during this period. Curfew was the order of the day. The Home Minister was perhaps unconcerned with livelihoods lost; businesses crippled and the collateral damage that went with it. Superficial scars easily heal, but wounds deep within fester. None can predict the future. I can only hope we can keep the peace.
As for handling of Covid-19, contrary to Amit Shah’s claim, this government’s unpreparedness in dealing with it exposed its utter disdain for the concerns of those afflicted. Modi and Shah, disregarded all Covid norms to get a foothold in West Bengal by holding political rallies, unconcerned with their possible impact on public health. Modi’s Twitter feed celebrated the presence of huge crowds at these mass gatherings. The Kumbh Mela saw crowds of up to 3 million come together on the banks of the Ganga. During this period, all previous single day surge records of Covid were broken with over 350,000 daily cases in under a month. This apocalyptic spike wreaked havoc on India’s healthcare system. Medical oxygen was in short supply. We, as a nation, grappled with a never before death count, witnessing visuals of overflowing crematoriums and graveyards, of bodies floating in the Ganga and of thousands of bodies buried in shallow graves along the river banks. The mismanagement was evident. Despite official denials, the reality of the tragedy shocked the country. We failed to learn any lesson from the experience of other countries in early procurement of vaccines, graded lockdowns, better health surveillance and investment in health infrastructure and medicines. We saw a tragic spectacle of lakhs of migrants, desperate to reach home and stranded without hope, when the Prime Minister announced an ill-conceived lockdown on March 24, 2020. The poor had to walk and fend for themselves, with all forms of transportation suspended and inter-state borders sealed. Despite this, the Home Minister considers the government’s management of the pandemic a shining example of Modi’s charismatic leadership!
Amit Shah’s claim that the Modi government has provided a corruption-free government is yet another ‘jumla’. This regime is riddled with huge scams and instances of crony capitalism. The Lokpal Act, meant to tackle corruption, has been administered a sleeping pill. The Lokpal may not wake up from its slumber before 2024. The promise of corruption-free governance by the Prime Minister was subverted soon after he got elected in 2014. Provisions relating to mandatory public disclosure of assets and liabilities of public servants in the Lokpal Act were whittled down through amendments. Even the requisite rules, after the amendment, are yet to be notified. For over five years, after the law was passed in January 2014, the chairperson and members of the Lokpal were not appointed.
According to Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index, India’s rank has slipped six places to 86th among 180 countries in 2020. In another report titled ‘Global Corruption Barometer — Asia’, released in November 2020, India had the highest bribery rate of 39 per cent in Asia. “Yeddyurappa diaries, Sahara-Birla diaries, PSU bank fraud involving Nirav Modi & Mehul Choksi, Rafale and demonetisation” are among the major scams which are yet to be investigated. The recent catch of over Rs 200 crore in cash in Uttar Pradesh is hardly evidence of the claim this government made that with demonetisation, black money will receive a death blow. On the contrary, according to RBI data, despite demonetisation, the currency notes in circulation in terms of value went up from Rs 17.74 lakh crore on November 4, 2016 (just four days before demonetisation was announced) to Rs 29.17 lakh crore on October 29, 2021, an increase of 64 per cent.
Democracy under the BJP is in crisis. Dissent has been criminalised. India has slipped from 27th position in 2014 to 53rd in 2020 on the Economic Intelligence Unit’s Democracy Index. India now ranks 101 out of 116 countries on the 2021 Global Hunger Index, behind Nepal (76), Bangladesh (76) and Pakistan (92). India is also ranked 142 on the World Press Freedom Index, 2021, out of 180 countries. It was ranked 133 in 2016. Signal transformative achievements in Modi’s India!
As for the complex Ram Janmabhoomi issue, I am intrigued by Amit Shah’s statement that the government solved this complex issue. I hope this is not a confession.