Aakar Patel is a syndicated columnist who has edited English as well as Gujarati newspapers. His writings show his liberal and secular credentials. He has consistently critiqued Hindu rashtra and right-wing politics in India. He held the chair for Amnesty International, India which was subjected to the evil gaze of the current regime. In yet another book Price of Modi Years Patel has marshalled abundant empirical data to substantiate the very convincing position he has taken in puncturing the Modi bubble. Following are glimpses of these stances on several aspects of Modi rule.
First of all, Patel deals with Modi’s character traits that are ‘decisive, full of certitude, transparent, unlearned, energetic and charismatic’. He has cultivated bhakts (devotees) by mobilising the masses through bravado, bombast, glamour, and demagoguery on sentimental issues especially along religious axis. Asish Nandy, a psychologist who interviewed Modi, declared that Modi was a ‘classic, clinical case of a fascist’. An authoritarian personality, ‘who had a mix of puritanical rigidity, narrowing of emotional life, massive use of the ego defence of projection, denial of fear of his own passions combined with fantasies of violence’.
As a highly charismatic leader, Modi promised two things: inclusion and development of all (Sab ka saath, sab ka vikas). He promised a great change in economic growth which he did not deliver. He has not brought much positive change to the majority of those who adored him.
Commenting on ‘Brand versus Product’ Patel refers to around twenty-five different indices on India, conducted by reputed organisations across the globe and shows how they have fallen during seven years of Modi-rule. To mention a few -- Human Development Indicators, Democracy Index, National Civic Space Ratings, Religious Restrictions, Freedom in the World, World Competitive Ranking, Global Soft Power Index, Women, Peace and Security Index, Prosperity Index, Sustainable Development Solutions, Economic Freedom Index, Gender Gap Index, International Corruption Perception Index, Smart City Index, Quality of Life Index, Inclusive Internet Index, World Bank Doing Business Index, Global House Price Index, Quality of Nationality Index, Air Quality Index, Climate Risk Index, Food Sustainability Index, Migrant Integration Policy Index, Commitment to Reducing Inequality Index -- and the list goes on giving data on the fall of India’s position on most of these indices.
Secondly, Modi promised inclusion but he was successful only in identifying an internal enemy, the Muslims primarily, and Christians secondarily, even though his mantra was inclusion and development of all. Three years into Modi’s first term, a research report found that 97 per cent of all cow-related violence came after he was elected. The report was from 2017 and it showed that 84 per cent of those killed were Muslims. In 30 per cent of the attacks the police registered cases against the victims. The data showed that half of the attacks were based on ‘rumours’.
Further, ‘offences promoting enmity between groups more than doubled over 2016. From 478 cases in 2016, the numbers rose to 958 and 1,114 in 2018’. Patel has chronologically documented these from 2015 to 2019. The legislations and speeches on cattle and beef are written to provoke violence needed for polarisation which in turn are beneficial in electoral policies and appeasing the Hindutva constituencies. Mob violence against the week is promoted by the BJP with the approval of Modi and feel no shame with lynching. This is the new normal. Give a dog a bad name and hang him!
The role of the police has been despicable in hate crimes against the Muslims. They have gone after the victims rather than the victimisers in cases of atrocities against Muslims. ‘It is said that the police had deliberately gone after over 70 anti-CAA protestors, mostly Muslims, who were abused, threatened and coerced into giving false statements’.
In the case of ‘Love Jehad’, a cooked-up conspiracy was floated to harass the Muslims. India’s laws allow inter-faith marriages under the Special Marriage Act (SMA). Love Jehad follows the pattern and format of beef lynching and the cow slaughter laws. The ‘State deliberately stokes sentiment and introduces the legal mechanism through which Muslims can be harassed’.
Coming to Christian minority, come Christmas the atrocities against Christians rise accusing them of converting Hindus. The Census of 2011 state that the Hindu population which was 83.8% in 2001 had reached 84%. The Muslim population in 2001 was 12.3, and it reached 12.9 % in 2011. The Christian population which was 1.91% in 2001 became 1.87% in 2011. If conversions were taking place as claimed by the Hindutvavadis then Christian population should have risen, instead of going down.
‘Hinduism is in danger’ and ‘Hindu sentiments are hurt’ are the common refrain to harass minorities. Around this Christmas, a series of events of vandalising Christian churches, statues, disruption of prayers and celebrations have taken place. This happened despite Modi visiting the Pope and hugging him. Modi is silent on these atrocities which goes to show that he approves such acts.
The FCRA is used to cripple civil society organisations, especially the Christian organisations. Filing an FIR against the Missionaries of Charity Sisters of Vadodara by linking the presence of religious artefacts and literature to conversions and not renewing their FCRA license, giving vague excuses, show the mala fide intentions of the State. Those 22,000 inmates and other employees of MC centres being thrown on the street is no concern. Tolerance and compassion which were civilizational values of India have gone for a toss.
‘The law must take its own course,’ but law is tampered and is one sided, favouring those in power. Except a handful of media persons, the entire media is the handmaiden of the BJP, provoking and promoting the denigration of the minorities especially Muslims and Christians.
In conclusion, the book deals at length with Modi’s failures in economy, policies, internal security, governance, judiciary, law and order, handling of Covid-19, Kashmir affair, relations with neighbouring countries, and so on.
While many books on Modi are in the market, this book is very strong in providing hard evidence and data to the reader about the failures and misdeeds of Modi regime. Aakar Patel has done a great service to secular India and minorities, by documenting and putting things in perspective the actors and factors responsible for the contemporary situation in the country.
(The writer is a research scholar, Indian Social Institute, Delhi)