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Action, not Rhetoric, Matters

Archbp Thomas Menamparampil Archbp Thomas Menamparampil
02 Jan 2023
The BJP promises to build a Congress-mukt India; however, what is emerging is a democracy-mukt Bharat which is not good for the nation

Gujarat elections call for deeper reflection in view of 2024. Do non-BJP parties have an understanding with the Ruling Regime that they will divide the votes in such a way that the BJP can win? Why did AAP need to divide votes in more than 50 places, except, possibly, to keep the Congress out? They had done the same in Goa. Do they not have the basic sense of strategy? Fortunes seem to be fixed in one direction: dividers will win. The option is between BJP-division (communal) or non-BJP division (party, personal, petty). 

In any case, most voters seem to fall to rhetoric, Mann ki Baath. 

Into a “Goblin Mode”

The BJP victory in Gujarat makes us understand more clearly why Oxford Dictionary chose the word ‘goblin mode’ as the word of the year. Society today is lost in the virtual world, digitally dazed, immature in their judgements, prodded on by emotions, ready to be led by political wizards and twitter kings. The cyber-armies win. Blind surrender to the ‘Strong Man’ leads people down the blind-alley. 

Modi-rhetoric may win, but will it keep promises? Modi addressed 30 rallies, Rahul just 2. The former has his finger on the Gujarati pulse. He knows how to flatter the regional pride of the Gujaratis, as Mamata knows in Bengal, Nitish in Bihar, Stalin in Tamil Nadu. 
The Nobel prize winner Maria Ressa says, “The battle for your minds is won by manipulating your emotions.” That is why, centuries ago Plato thought ‘rhetoric’ was the art of duping. He had little esteem for it. Be sure, sophistries do not soften the slap of poverty, ill health or malnutrition. Gujarat has opted to ignore such ‘outdated’ concerns! Start-ups come at the expense of the down-trodden.

Democracy-mukt India

Morbi bridge stood for the ‘Modi Model’ economy. When it collapsed taking 123 people down to their death, we were awakened to the ugly reality under whose care 1.4 billion people were in India. The Modi Model has many other dimensions too. Drug movement through Gujarat ports has risen. Rural women have it tough. Tribal lands are grabbed in corporate interests. Protests are labelled as treason. Muslims feel compelled to limit their commercial interactions among themselves. 

BJP promises to build a Congress-mukt India; what is emerging is a democracy-mukt Bharat. Congress men feel distressed that they lost even Muslim and tribal votes. Or is the surprise to be explained by what they have described as “manufactured votes” in BJP’s favour, an unexplainable surge at the last moment of the counting? Were the EVMs manipulated? The fact is that Gujarat police alone managed many questionable scenarios. These offer tips for 2024 strategies. Our fates seem fixed.

An Era is Ending

Mukul Kesavan describes the surrender of NDTV to Adani as the end of an era when a set of anglophone elite ruled India. No doubt they were cosmopolitan and liberal, but they were also an uprooted lot, insular, cut off from the masses, ruling an India whose many vernacular dimensions they were unaware of or chose to ignore. However, their superiority complex didn’t help them. Modi’s dig at intellectuals like Amartya Sen and ex-Harvard elite won him countless vernacular supporters. The anglophile criticism of Modi after the communal clashes of 2002 following the Godhra tragedy won him even more supporters, despite international condemnation. 

Similarly, not a word of sympathy did we hear from Modiji when Stan Swamy died in custody, aged and broken, ailing and pitied by the entire world! The official clarification was that the ‘legal procedure was followed’. Adolf Eichmann had a similar explanation for executing millions of Jews when he claimed he had merely carried out instructions from authorities. Such a clarification sufficed for Modi supporters. Really speaking, Stan’s elimination served the interests of Jharkhand corporates who were robbing tribals of their land. But who among the upwardly mobile Modi-supporters care!

We are uncertain what impact the finding of Arsenal Consulting, a Boston-based firm, that fabricated “evidence” was planted into Stan Swamy’s computer will make on the Administration.  Most probably they will adopt the strategy that Nirmala Sitharaman did when she called Opposition leaders “desh ka dushman” because they asked for explanations about the border incidents. 

Get Rid of Your Complexes

No, even if the era of Superiority Complex is over, that of intelligent thinking ought not to be over. As Mahua Moitra insisted, it is the ‘raj dharma’ of leaders in a democracy to listen, to explain. 

Amit Shah’s explanation always leaves people more confused than ever. He says, no one can take an inch of our land! But according to modest estimates the Chinese had taken 1,000 sq. km, a portion of which they seem still to retain. Shah’s bold words sound similar to his claim that Modi brought “permanent peace” to Gujarat since 2002 by teaching a lesson to trouble-makers. But, what Teesta Setalvad notices in Gujarat is “a pyramid of hate. Prejudiced attitudes at the base, then acts of prejudice, then discrimination, after that violence, finally genocide”.  

According to Pew Research Centre, India tops the index on social hostilities relating to religion: communal violence, terrorism, and harassment over dress. No doubt, there are reactions to such criticisms. Vice-President Jagdeep Dhankar asks us not to allow ‘international’ criticism to distort our views about the nation. Understandably, ex-colonies are allergic to any critical comment from “foreign” agencies and “international” bodies. But at the same time, they are dying for a word of appreciation, as though their self-esteem would vanish without it. Many among our elite are suffering from this sort of “inferiority complex”, not excluding the Prime Minister when he speaks of 1,200 years of slavery. He shifts it to the Congress to whom he attributes a “slave mentality” while cultivating it among his followers. 

On the contrary, what we notice in our freedom-fighters is the proud fact that they held their “head high”. They took on the mightiest imperial power of their times. And they held on till they won.

Today, India wins attention for its market size than for its real performance. There are foreign leaders ready to flatter their Indian counterparts, because they are interested in our ‘mighty’ market. Give India’s 1.4 billion people a reasonable ‘purchasing power’, and every world leader will bow to India. Macron did so and made a fortune selling fighter jets. Johnson did so, more Scotch whiskey is sold in India than in the UK. Putin does so, and jealously guards his oil market with Modiji. Kurt Campbell, the White House Asia Coordinator, showed himself cute similarly referring to India as “a Great Power”.  

Nirmala Sitharaman felt delighted that “foreign countries” were proud of our economic performance. A. R. Reddy was quick in responding, calling the claim ill-founded. When the Rupee was 66 to a dollar, Modi as the Chief Minister of Gujarat had complained that the Indian currency had gone to the ICU. But today it is 83.20 to a dollar, and the Rupee ought to be rescued from the mortuary, cried Reddy! 

But the BJP must keep boasting. Adityanath Yogi stated proudly that India had stunned the world with its management of Covid. He has clearly forgotten the deaths under his care caused by oxygen shortages and bodies of the poor floating down the Ganga from UP. Modi-supporters seem to have taken an oath to remain blind to the failures of the Hindutva team. The RSS may have administered the oath.

Teaching Wrong Lesson

While the government in China relaxed their Covid rules under protests and Iran promised to disband the ‘Morality Police’, the Hindutva forces have decided to strengthen their own ‘Durga Vahini’. Their youth will march in “Shaurya Yatra” (valour March) and “Dharma Raksha Abhiyan”. Two vigilante attacks have been reported in Mangalore in the name of fighting against ‘love jihad’. Hindu Janajagriti Samithi was the chief initiator. The police merely stood by, since there is official support at higher levels. A certain Sanjay Hindu Sinha of the VHP has promised to give three months training, and provide swords and sticks free to volunteers.  Writings have been seen in many places “Muslim lives don’t matter”.

Unfortunately, we teach each other the wrong lesson. Violence for violence. The bomb blasts at Coimbatore and Mangalore have given the wrong signal.  Posters against ‘Brahmin-Bania’ appeared in JNU. After the ban of CFI, there appeared graffiti writings in 8 places around Hassan (Karnataka) ‘Join CFI’. The over-zeal of International Islamic State keeps worrying sober minded people the world over. In NE Afghanistan, Taliban continues to lash men and women in public for moral failure… 39 lashes. Its ban on secondary education for girls continues. Iran has hardened itself to move on to ‘public execution’ after showing a measure of softness under pressure of protests. The execution of M. Rahnavard, 23, on a crane was the second. A footballer Amir Nasr-Azadani may be the next.
The world needs another model, not ‘sword for sword’ manifestation of displeasure!

We Pray for Peace

The violent incident near Tawang should urge thought not anger, invite unity not division…lest we should be taken by surprise together. The Chinese pressure had long been on the western sector, the attack came on the east. They were aiming at Yangtse heights. While both sides promise to respect the LAC, intense infrastructure build-up continues. When there is internal discontentment in the nation, border incidents can help to divert attention. A showdown will win national acclaim! The word “security” came 52 times in Xi’s last address to the Congress. Now that he is patching up with the US for the time being, he is free to take on others. At Bali he spent three hours with Biden; he just greeted Modi. But internal discontent rages on. Business heads are unhappy with government interference in the name of the poor, freedom loving youth chafe under surveillance. Jack Ma has shifted to Japan, May Lai in Hong Kong is condemned to 5 years in jail.

Protests against Covid restrictions is a symbol of over-all restlessness. Agitation spread from Xingjiang to Urumqi, Chonqing, Shanghai, Chengdu and Beijing. Peng Zhai Zhou, 26, unfurled a flag with the words, “Freedom not martial lockdown, Dignity not lies, Reform not Cultural Revolution, Votes not dictatorship, Citizens not slaves”. The same feelings echoed in other places, “We don’t want lifelong rulers; we don’t want emperors; we are the people”. At Shanghai the words were more specific, “Xi Jinping step down, Communist Party step down”.

People like to deal with strong leaders who can make decisions: Modi with his brute majority in the Parliament, Xi with his surveillance control, Putin with his management of the army. They can decide! We all respect leaders who guide their people to greatness, while strictly preserving universally cherished human values. We look forward for good sense to prevail ultimately in all contexts. The retiring Chinese envoy Sun Weidong, emphasized the civilizational bonds and geographic nearness between India and China. In India-China commerce too both countries have benefitted, China being the bigger gainer. Weidong has since been promoted to External Affairs Ministry on his return. Will better days be ahead? 

Civilizational Values

Rahul Gandhi on his Bharat Jodo Yatra claims that his national march represents the Soul of India, “The people of India have a particular culture -- the culture of compassion, of respect, of affection”. He believes that RSS-BJP have not understood India, that their nationalism is not in “sync” with India’s civilizational values. He feels that those who sold themselves for money should not be trusted. Will Rahulji end up as a renouncer and a preacher, or return to politics with wider experience gained and wider support built up? 
Mallikarjun Kharge, the Congress president, asks his men to spend 10 days a month close to their people trying to understand their problems and be helpful.  Kejriwal asks the Prime Minister to work 2 hours a day for the people, not 18 hours as unrealistically claimed.

Cynicisms apart, Modiji, has worked hard. We admit that. While taking over as the head of G20 he promised to offer a leadership that will be “inclusive, ambitious, and decisive”, making of G20 a catalyst for global change. He held out a message of “peace and security”. We will have to face, he said realistically, “geopolitical tensions and economic slowdown, rising food and energy prices”. He showed himself determined. Life teaches. Leadership styles and goals can change. As someone said, “Life’s tragedy is that we get old too soon and wise too late”.   

Life teaches. Pope called for a ‘humble’ Christmas this year remembering victims of the Ukraine war. Modiji’s “No War” call was widely welcomed at the G-20 gathering. May Peace and Joy return to the world as the New Year begins.

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