A Political Lockdown That Silences Voices
Why did some of us expect anything else from Prime
Minister Narendra Modi's address to the Nation the other evening? Why did we
imagine that this massive migration of dispossessed, wretched labourers,
walking unspeakable distances with babies on their shoulders, an aging mother
on the waist, indescribable pictures of hungry children, pregnant women, misery
beyond imagination, would even be noticed by the country's most awesome leader?
Like King John signing the Magna Carta with his Barons, Modi mollified the
disgruntled business caste by giving a huge chunk to the MSMEs.
His silence on the 16 Gonds who slept between rail tracks to be run over by a
goods train was stunning. Labourers were simply longing for what the Bard
called "sweet nature's second course" - sleep. And they got a surfeit of it.
Unlike western philosophers, who dwelt on society, our Seers had the cosmos in
their ken. In their elaborate framework, migrant labourers have all been given
lottery tickets for upward mobility only in the next life.
The great sociologist M.N. Srinivas asked, "What is Hinduism without caste?" Modi knows the answer. Since he is engaged in an architecture of Himalayan
proportions to take us back to our "golden Hindu past", he has fallen back on
divine sanction to neglect the underclass.
With lamentable naiveté some of us began to expect tectonic changes once the
lockdown was lifted. The build-up to the Bastille, we forgot, is a long
process. What did the millions who migrated from the post 9/11 wars in Syria,
Libya, Sudan, North Africa, Afghanistan, Yemen achieve in Europe? Nothing
immediately. Initially Europe hid behind barriers.
It takes a while for people to begin to cause organic changes. Since the
countries from which the migrants came were Muslim, even fading images of Osama
bin Laden and Jihad facilitated a revival of Islamophobia. Identity politics
began to rear its head everywhere. Even post war Germany's most successful
leader, Angela Merkel was unsettled. In Bharat this genre of politics leads to
communalism with which we have lived since 1947 but which, in Modi's hands, is
the brick and mortar for a Hindu Rashtra.
During this period of change, George Soros and Steve Bannon were hopping across
Europe and the Americas, pushing for their respective visions of capitalism.
Soros is a neo liberal capitalist within a democratic framework; Bannon, a
known supremacist, seeks to promote the market in an illiberal, xenophobic
order. Which one does Modi approximate to?
Soros has launched $1 billion fund for campuses to fight authoritarianism and
to promote liberal values and democracy among the youth. Will some of this
charity trickle down to Jawaharlal Nehru University, Jamia Millia and numerous
campuses which are fighting excesses with their backs to the wall? Soros, a
Hungarian Jew, is involved in a cat and mouse with Viktor Orban, the Hungarian dictator
who stands for, what he calls, "illiberal" democracy. Will Modi stand with
Soros or with Orban?
Orban is very much on Bannon's anti-Semitic, crypto fascist network.
Anti-Semitic? But Modi is a buddy of Benjamin Netanyahu, is he not? Unlike in
socialism, such contradictions are inherent within differing shades of
capitalism. Recently, Bannon was accorded legitimacy on the Indian channel
which defers to Modi on most issues.
Some months ago Bannon told a crowd of far-right French politicians - Marine Le
Pen, for instance - that they should wear labels of "racism" like a "badge of
honour". If they call us "xenophobes and nativists" let them "because every day
we get stronger and they get weaker." Modi, likewise, thumbs his nose at
Jair Bolsonaro, of Brazil, whom Modi handpicked to be the Chief Guest for the
Republic Day parade is another one of Bannon's favourites. Bannon bolstered his
media management which enabled Bolsonaro to topple Lula da Silva whom President
Barack Obama once described as the "most popular politician on earth". This was
at the G20 summit in 2009 in London. Modi would do himself a favour if he
watches The Edge of Democracy, a great docudrama on Netflix, on the rise and
fall of Lula.
Bolsonaro has been quite as forthright about Brazil's indigenous people as Modi
has been about the yoke of "1,200 years of ghulami". One of his quotes is a
classic: "It's a shame that the Brazilian cavalry was not as efficient as the
American (cavalry), which exterminated all the Indians."
Bannon, Bolsonaro, Orban, Modi and many "soul mates" waiting in the wings have
got their fingers crossed. They are aching for a second term for Trump. But
there is a huge fly in that ointment. The covid pandemic and the lockdown have
so secularized the political game that serious policy makers are speaking a
vocabulary which would make Senator Joseph McCarthy turn in his grave.
Socialism is becoming a kosher concept in the post pandemic mayhem.
Little wonder, a brand new mantra of Universal Basic Income is acquiring wide
acceptance. A productive work force, 40 million strong, is staying at home in
Europe and receiving salary. Finland has done a path breaking study: 2000 Finns
were paid UBI of 560 Euro's per month for two years. They were able to improve
their lives in every possible way. They were so productive that the Pope
endorsed UBI in his Easter message.
Can Modi buck this trend? Ironically, Lenin provides him comfort. Human misery
even on a gigantic scale does not by itself provide objective conditions for
revolutionary change. Other factors are needed.
A middle class willing to give the lead, for instance. Fortunately for Modi,
this class is in his thrall. Even so, there is little doubt that an upheaval
lurks on the horizon but what its contours will be is less than clear. Who
knows, it may not be possible to lift the political lockdown quite yet. Which
means no protest marches. Protesters, please return home, otherwise the nation
runs the risk of expiry from coronavirus.