A new outbreak- Dark days then and now
|The Thin Edge|
A short list of certain similarities between 1975 and now might, nevertheless, be instructive: was one single figure touted as the Great Leader of the Nation in 1975? One figure who towered over the administration, erasing almost everyone else except for one of two chosen chief lieutenants? Yes. Is that happening now? Yes. Was the Greatness of the Nation repeatedly drummed into our consciousness then? Were we supposed to put aside minor needs such as human rights and basic necessities to further build the Nation's already great greatness? Yes. Is this happening now? Yes. Was the media threatened and muzzled in those days? With the constant accusation that the newspapers and magazines were 'elitist', 'out of touch with the mainstream', 'protesting against the government only because they had lost their position of privilege'? Yes. Is this happening now? Yes, but with some important differences. The media landscape has changed beyond recognition since 1975; there are many more channels of dispersion of news and opinions so it's impossible to shut them all down; what can be done is that media groups and television channels can be bought by sympathetic oligarchs, and what they report and how they report are controlled from within; what can be done is the constant carpet-bombing of social media by paid trolls, the volume presumably drowning out the dissenting, critical voices; what can be done is the spread of false news, doctored photographs and fake or mislabelled videos to keep various target segments agitated; what is being done is that there is a far heavier hand falling on the regional papers and channels, leaving the mainstream channels and print media cosmetically freer - in theory this kills two birds with one stone - you censor the news going out to the wider voting public while being able to point to, say, columns such as these as evidence of a free and unfettered media. This is being done by different state governments as well the powers in Delhi.
Besides the media, the other big difference from 1975 is that there are now several overt fascisms struggling with each other, within and without the ruling RSS-BJP family. So, for example, you have the fascism of the Shiv Sena that is not always in lockstep with the sangh and you have the fascism of the Mamata Trinamul that is directly in confrontation with the Hindutva fascism at the Centre. Soon you will have splinter fascisms within the sangh 'Family' once Bisht-Adityanath feels he wants to expand his power from Uttar Pradesh and decides to challenge the Godfather in Delhi.
The list of similarities between 1975 and now continues in spite of these important differences. Were there crackdowns on student protests before and during the Emergency? Yes. Is that happening now? Yes, but with slightly different tactics, with the government and police being in cahoots with bent TV channels and media houses. Did the ruling party normalize the deployment of goons and murderers during the Emergency? Yes. Are goons and murderers being given free reign today? Yes. Is this being done by only one party? No, there is a difference: the larger party-cluster may have widest deployment of goons and bloodshed but many other parties are also doing their best to keep the flow of daily violence moving fluently.
The analogies that come to mind are that of a human body and of the environment. If the Emergency was a serious life-threatening single illness that attacked the body politic of India it was fought off in under two years by a mixture of resolve and not a little luck; this current sickness is even more serious, a longer-term disease that is damaging multiple organs, not least because it's more insidious. What's more, we can't count on luck to save our democracy a second time. To take the second analogy, an environmental disaster doesn't happen overnight; various different seeds of greed and mismanagement have to be planted and watered for an ecocalypse to come about. Succeeding actions, succeeding attacks, have to be carried out before something as complex as an ecology succumbs to human depredation. The disasters currently approaching (and make no mistake, they are, more than one, approaching) have been given a massive fillip by the current RSS-BJP regime but they are not the only ones who set the sequence in motion.
It was the Indira Congress who normalized overt thuggery in Indian politics; in Bengal it was the Communist Party of India (Marxist) which became the master exponent of this thuggery, and it was the CPI(M)'s numerous failures that allowed Cong 2.0 in Mamata Banerjee's Trinamul Congress to come to power. It was the CPI(M) who first pandered to the reactionary Islamist leadership in the state when they banned Taslima Nasreen, with Mamata Banerjee later stealing their song sheet and singing the same song louder. Now, if Amit Shah's toxic mix of algorithm deployment and Hindutva realpolitik makes headway in Bengal all these three parties, the Congress, the communists and the TMC will have to accept the blame. Likewise, a reactionary pseudo-sacred yahoo like Bisht-Adityanath could become chief minister precisely because all the non-sangh parties kept playing their cynical caste-billiards in UP.
Whatever snake oil the RSS-BJP's English-enabled propagandists may keep trying to sell us, however much they may hose us down with their sophistry and lies, where we are headed as a country is not pretty. By the time the next Lok Sabha elections come around we will be in a far, far worse place than in May 2014. By 2019 our economy will be further skewered in favour of the minuscule minority of the very rich while the poorest Indians will be suffering even more, both economically and health wise. Our already badly scarred society will be bleeding with deeper wounds, with various different minorities living in abject fear. Culturally we will have imploded; by then several of our important institutions would have been for half a decade under the cosh of bigoted obscurantists; Hindutvaliban types who believe women should not step out of the house after six pm, or have sex after becoming pregnant. The English-speaking sangh-sycophants will continue to lead their shameful double lives, choice imported beef at home, ban-butchery on the streets, the best foreign colleges for their daughters and a suffocating ghungta for the country's poorest women, all the world's knowledge on their bookshelves and computers, the hood of dark superstitious ignorance for everybody else. Inebriated on some fantasy of power and 'greatness' yet completely cut off from the vast majority of the country, they will keep trotting out phrases about how such and such Hindutvaliban murderousness is understandable if not acceptable, regrettable but not choreographed and so on and so forth.
Right then, or a couple of years later, these apologists, these fan boys and fan girls of religion-fed rape and murder will be forced to come out of their orange pods and look at the charred rubble of the long emergency that was Achchhe Din.