Faults in the political narrative of India today
With elections round the corner in the world’s largest democracy, the usual suspects are out with their fear- mongering. From economists to allegedly independent filmmakers, writers and artists are back with their petitions and appeals to their compatriots to oust the BJP government. While they are well within their democratic rights to make such appeals, it is natural for others who do not subscribe to this false alarmism and selective outrage to counter this narrative. The story of a country cannot be defined by perceptions and feelings of a select few.
If one were to investigate the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data, it reveals that from 2009 to 2013, crimes against Dalits rose by 17.3%. This meant almost one crime every 15 minutes for all the five years running. In fact, 2013 was the worst year as per the NCRB data where crimes against women, SCs and STs rose by 27%, 17% and 15% respectively vis-à-vis 2012. On the contrary, the same numbers stood at 3%, 18% and 8% in 2015 under the NDA. The latest NCRB report, too, as of 2016, reports an under 5% growth in crimes against women and SC/STs. So when certain people talk about increasing hate crimes against Dalits or minorities, which data points do they base their arguments on?
The issue of cow slaughter is a sensitive one in India. We must not forget that it was one of the reasons for the 1857 uprising too. Leaders such as Mahatma Gandhi and Vinobha Bhave campaigned or fasted unto death demanding a ban on killing cows. More than 20 states have laws forbidding the same — most of which were implemented during the Congress regimes. Several cultures have forbidden certain kinds of meat. Dog meat is banned in Germany, Britain, Ireland, France and Australia, as is horse meat in the US. It is the human sentiment attached with that animal. That cattle thefts lead to social unrest in rural India where they are important for the agrarian economy is evident in the data from 2000 to 2017 that shows 63 vigilante attacks — an average of nine per year. While no civilised society should condone lynching of any form, the intense publicity that these attacks attract now is for obvious political gains. But how is it that mobs demanding Kamlesh Tiwari’s head, lynching of Muslim-turned-atheist Farook in Kerala, cow protectors such as Prashant Poojary, the Malda killings or the genocide of political opponents by ruling governments in Bengal or Kerala never attributed to communities or their political patrons?
We are told that there has been tremendous censorship and hounding of artists under Modi. Have we really forgotten that Majrooh Sultanpuri was jailed for two years in 1949 for his poem comparing Nehru to Hitler’s protégé? Utpal Dutt was arrested for seven months for his plays — Kallol in 1965 and Duswapner Nagari in 1974 — by Congress chief minister, SS Ray, who had famously commented: “Political plays will be politically dealt with.” Kishore Kumar was blacklisted for refusing to sing at a Congress function. The list of books and films banned/hounded after 1947 can put our democracy to shame. Films such as Aandhi, Kissa Kursi Ka, Garam Hawa, Da Vinci Code, Amu, Indu Sarkar, Rajneeti, Aarakshan, Tango Charlie; or books like Nehru: A Political Biography, Nine Hours of Rama, Understanding Islam through the Hadis, The Moor’s Last Sigh, Midnight’s Children to name a fraction of them; there has been the hounding or physical harm caused to Salman Rushdie, VS Naipaul, Taslima Nasreen, Sanal Edamaruku, TJ Joseph. In fact, India was the first country to ban The Satanic Verses even before Ayatollah Khomeini’s theocratic Iran did! All of this happened under so-called secular governments that swore by the Constitution. Yet, we are to believe that the Modi government is out to muzzle voices?
These politically-motivated appeals remind one of writer James Rozoff who said: “Sheep only need a single flock, but people need two, one to belong to and make them feel comfortable, and another to blame all of society’s problems on!”
Vikram Sampath is an author/historian/political analyst and a senior fellow at the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library, with an upcoming biography of Savarkar
The views expressed are personal