There are two forces of physics acting upon a changing India today. On the economic front, as India expands into global terrains, a centripetal force is gathering momentum, best represented by the country’s 8 per cent growth rate. This force, however, is being pulled back, through an equally strong centrifugal force that looks inward, is fragmented and savage in its execution. Caught in between are the rest of us. If economic development and mass prosperity have to be delivered, the politics of violence that the centrifugal force represents needs to die. And there lies a political opportunity for Elections 2009.
The most high-profile wart of this centrifugal force is the Nano’s undignified exit from Singur. Last week Ratan Tata had said that Mamata Banerjee had pulled “the trigger on his head”, forcing him to move out of West Bengal to Gujarat, the trigger being his employees’ safety. Earlier, L.K. Chaudhury, CEO of the Italian company Graziano Trasmissioni, was beaten to death by workers in Greater Noida, some 20 minutes from the national capital, with the Labour Minister subtly trying to build political capital from the crime by saying, “This should serve as a warning for managements.” (He later backtracked, but the damage was done.)
North Indians are being targeted in Mumbai by Raj Thackeray and his Maharashtra Navnirman Sena as an investment into future elections to garner jingoistic support. Churches are being burnt in Orissa and nuns raped under the blind eyes of the police while the state’s highly articulate Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik says he’s doing his job. A young journalist dies a mysterious death in Delhi and its Chief Minister Shiela Dikshit says women should not be “adventurous” and that companies, not the police, should take responsibility for their safety.
The message from our politicians who have built walls of protection with taxpayers’ money around themselves and their families: India is, and will continue to be, run by thugs, so please watch out for yourselves.
As the rest of us take events like these in stride and get desensitised by the never-ending images on TV, permanent headlines in newspapers and infinite opinions on blogs, never has the need for law and order as the first and foremost electoral expectation of voters been so high, so acute. Law and order is something we are supposed to take for granted. It is only riding this safety infrastructure that we can do anything else — pursue jobs, buy groceries, watch films.
On the other hand, we are gradually beginning to accept lawlessness, particularly by the rich, the powerful and the organised mobs they manage to cobble, as one more dinner-table discussion — ‘Pass the death toll, please.’ As this anarchy gets political support, we are gradually being pushed into a corner, where an unvoiced frustration with governance is systematically eating into our democratic and civilised innards. With weapons in the hands of a small clutch of ineligible political aspirants, the man on the street has never been in as much physical danger as today.
Lawmakers are breaking the law as if it’s their birth right. And when stopped — as Virendra Kumar Khatik was, as he tried to barricade the arms of the law from an anti-encroachment drive, only to face collateral damage — action is taken, not against the honourable Member of Parliament for attempting to come in the way of the law, but against the junior policemen who tried to implement it. They’ve been charged with an attempt to murder and have been suspended from duty. Shed a tear for them.
Those whom voters have entrusted with democratic power and white car privileges — and with them the responsibility to provide law and order — are all but numbed into submission under this new force gathering strength, issue by issue, in state after state. Leadership at the highest levels is reeling under the weight of a moral compulsion to let people, who any right-minded person would call murderers, rapists, repeat offenders, and bad characters, have a free run on the rest of us, feed on our livelihoods, our fears. And our freedoms. (“Today, terrorists are being worshipped,” said Justice J.N. Patel referring to Raj Thackeray, who, in turn, instead of feeling the fear of the law as any law-abiding citizen should, is brazenly asking the court to “define a terrorist”.)
The CPI(M)’s West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee virtually offered a free hand to Mamata Banerjee and her mob to stop workers seeking nothing more than an honest day’s job from working. The Congress’s Maharashtra Chief Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh is standing still, watching non-Maharashtrian citizens of India being beaten and threatened, their businesses, taxis and trade being destroyed. The Biju Janata Dal’s Orissa Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik has nothing more than lofty words to offer Christians being mauled in his state.
We, the silent majority, have allowed this small band of hoodlums to decide whether we have the right to work, to religion, to celebration, to life, to love. Too busy to look beyond the prosperity that the economic centripetal force has brought, in the form of our 2-BHKs and iPhones, we are allowing a new political culture to invade our country. It’s almost as if we are being conquered all over again, this time by some of the smartest minds this country has produced, minds — like the smart lawyers, accountants and financial engineers who recently ran the global financial system aground — that are finding and punching holes in the law to usurp power.
A leveraged buyout is underway, where a small bunch of private interest groups cobble together to create visible damage for maximum impact. We are being forced into believing that violence is the currency of political or social intercourse in a modern, trillion-dollar economy. That if we want something bad enough, we can just go out and collect thugs. This faith needs to be destroyed. These mobs and their political masters need to be dragged under the purview of the law, before this belief system becomes a mass religion.
For any responsible party, this presents a so-far ignored political opportunity. In the last elections, with a focus on economic growth, our attention moved from ‘roti-kapda-makaan’ to ‘bijli-sadak-pani’. It’s time now to go back to basics and devise a new slogan around ‘suraksha-kanoon-dand’ (safety-law-punishment) — and implement it ruthlessly. Political profits are guaranteed.
Until that happens, can anyone tell me where I can buy a gun?