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Mathew John Mathew John
20 May 2024

"J'Accuse….!" which is French for "I accuse…." is a term loaded with history and meaning, used to express indignation at the brutality and injustice perpetrated by the powerful against the most vulnerable. In its historical context, that dramatic expression of outrage was the heading of a newspaper article written by Émile Zola to the President of France in 1898, accusing the government of falsely framing and convicting Alfred Dreyfus, an army officer, holding him guilty of espionage without serious evidence only because he was a Jew. That piece of journalism in defence of the unjustly persecuted made international headlines and led to Zola's sentencing to jail, which he avoided by fleeing to England. His intervention, though, was primarily responsible for the eventual exoneration of Dreyfus.

Such a global furore about the unjust arraignment and conviction of one individual - Dreyfus – seems disproportionate and insanely laughable to us today. The all-pervasive numbing of sensitivity to injustice in the present time reflects how much we have degenerated as a society and as human beings. Today, the Palestinians face genocide, and the world merely clucks in sympathy but does bloody nothing to rein in Netanyahu!

At home, we are unfazed when an entire community is oppressed and discriminated against; when intellectuals are "neutralised" and mobs become an extension of the State; when anybody who dares question this regime faces prolonged, sometimes interminable, incarceration; when the instruments of Justice have been bent to comply with the diktat of one man who embodies hate. Mahatma Gandhi taught us the power of love, but Modi has shown how much more potent hate is.

He is the foremost practitioner of Hindutva – the deviant and perverted manifestation of Hinduism - which, in essence, is a gospel of hate based on an exclusionary nationalism that is explicitly anti-Muslim and anti-Christian. (Like Modi, Savarkar's truck with religion was purely transactional and marked by an implacable hatred of the Muslim). Until Modi came on the scene, Hindutva was a peripheral presence in the body politic, hesitantly propagated by Vajpayee, Advani, MM Joshi and the back-room ideologues of the RSS. But Modi has changed the dynamics and brought Hindutva to the front and centre of the nation's psyche, and in the process, repudiated our sacred constitutional commitment to secularism, equality and fraternity.

This is what a triumphant Modi unapologetically told the nation after his thumping victory in the 2019 election: "You have seen that for thirty years especially – although the drama has been going on for years – it has become fashionable to wear a tag called 'secularism'…. In this election, not even one political party has the guts to wear the mask of secularism to fool the country. They have been unmasked." By dismissing secularism as overstated 'drama', Modi was cocking a snook at that which is the foundational principle of our multi-cultural ethos.

Modi's forked tongue embraces contradictions and uses clever words to befuddle his people. He philosophises: "Justice to all but appeasement to none. This is our secularism." He circumscribes secularism to the narrow prism of welfare benefits, arguing that the government's schemes are non-discriminatory and disbursed without consideration of caste and community. The reality is that he has made a virtue of compulsion because the distribution of welfare benefits cannot possibly discriminate between the same class of citizens without causing an uproar and shaming the government for betraying Jim Crow-like bias. However, by enacting the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) that blatantly discriminates against Muslims, this regime has shown that it practices apartheid whenever feasible.

Ten years into his reign, Modi is stridently strumming the same hate-filled tune. Even after making allowances for rhetorical excesses during elections, Modi's recent verbal savagery targeting Muslims is the archetypal example of racist hate speech. The Prime Minister of the world's largest democracy, spewing hate like a Taliban extremist, denounces Muslims, calling them infiltrators who have many children, who threaten the well-being of Hindus by stealing the quota meant for SCs/STs and OBCs. The expressive phrase "vote jihad", urging electors to vote in large numbers, is deliberately misinterpreted by Modi to accuse the Congress party of backing the religious extremism of Muslims.

He even reminisces about the Godhra horror of 2002 that sent Gujarat into a frenzy of manic killing and hate. It's bizarre that the man who presided over that nightmarish genocide of Gujarat in 2002 has no compunctions about invoking that horrendous period if only to polarise the country and reap political dividends. And now, seeing that the election is not panning out the way he wanted, his backroom boys have conjured up an imagined Islamic demographic takeover with coloured, misconstrued population statistics to show that "Hindu khatrein mein hai".

Modi has demonstrated that hate and cruelty flow from the same gland and go hand in hand. He drips cruelty from every pore. Who can forget his cold-blooded Newtonian "action-reaction" analogy to justify the post-Godhra mayhem? His apologists, though, either deny that he said what he did or claim the extenuating circumstance that, at an extraordinarily fraught time, a lot of unacceptable things were said in the heat of the moment.

But hold on! That fearless human rights crusader, Teesta Setalvad, who represents all that is noble in human nature, recently reminded us of how cruel a human being Modi is. Even as the surviving victims of the genocidal happenings of February 2002 were trying to come to terms with the hellish suffering and loss they had been through, he heartlessly referred to their relief camps as "baby-making factories". And who can forget his use of the puppy analogy in 2013 while referring to the deaths in the 2002 riots? Is it any wonder that Schopenhauer emphatically declaimed that men are the devils of the earth? Modi has set new standards for sadism and inhumanity.

Modi's Bharat is no place for Muslims for whom the last ten years have been an unending nightmare. Our morally crippled society's routinised cruelty targeting the Mohammed Akhlaqs, the Junaids, the Pehlu Khans et al, is up there with the most horrendous examples of man's inhumanity to man. And who is at the back of it all, the fountainhead and inciter-in-chief of the religious and social discord that has taken hold of our society? That's not hard to guess.

Billy Joel once said that music is healing, an explosive expression of humanity. But in Modi's India, the soul-stirring cultural artefacts, i.e. music, poetry, cinema, and even historiography, have, far from projecting humanism, been diminished and used as sordid props of the Hindutva project. To parody the Bard of Avon, music has become the food of hate. Art has been taken hostage by the authoritarian. "Kerala Files," a cinematic ode to hate and intra-societal conflict, was actively promoted by Modi and the gang. Kunal Purohit's deeply disturbing book "H-Pop" tells the gruesome tale of how popular culture has been debased to spread Islamophobia, demonise minorities, and pillory critics of the regime. Modi is conducting a hate-filled orchestra, and it is worrying that he has a huge receptive audience.

Modi has wrecked everything that we once held dear. Anyone with even a modicum of social awareness would acknowledge that this regime has played havoc with multiculturalism, tolerance, equality and fraternity. It hurts to know that the guard rails of our democracy are so fragile that two Gujaratis with evil intent have been able to circumscribe our freedoms at will. What's particularly alarming is that they have done it without modifying the statutes or the rules regulating government functioning but by bringing to heel the institutions of governance, which have keeled over without even a semblance of resistance. The country has suffered incalculable damage on account of its Janus-faced bureaucracy and judiciary!

Allow me to end on a personal note. For the last ten years, I have been psychologically lacerated by the oppressive environment we live in. I suffer from what, for want of a better term, I would call an unremitting traumatic stress disorder (TSD) that is marked by panic attacks and depression. Despite a wonderful family, great friends and a sinfully comfortable lifestyle amidst a lot of deprivation, there is an unrelenting aura of gloom blighting my life. Some time back, it got so bad that I was driven to consult a psychiatrist. The kindly gentleman concluded our tete-a-tete with these reassuring parting words, "Don't worry, this time will also pass", by which he meant that Modi would ultimately go away.

Much as I would like to believe the solicitous shrink - that the darkest of clouds will give way to bright sunshine - my gut tells me that the damage wreaked by Modi and his henchmen is irreparable. Even if the BJP loses the election, which is now a distinct possibility, the poison of hate and bigotry let loose into our societal bloodstream is going nowhere. True, the economy will bounce back, and law enforcement agencies will once again abide by the law. But my great fear is that with fraternity, aka brotherhood, lying in tatters and a sickly secularism struggling to breathe, the India conceived by our founding fathers is now a mirage. The new Bharat of Modi's making – with the RSS and their saffron bandana-wearing, trident-waving stormtroopers a formidable presence - terrifies me. We will never again know real peace. Mine is perhaps the rant of a paranoid loony, but in defence of my dark forebodings, I have Auden's affirmation:

"And even madmen manage to convey
Unwelcome truths in lonely gibberish."

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