In Crisis: India Now A 'Pale Shadow of Former Self'
Be it India's economy, its handling
of the Coronavirus pandemic, its socio-political landscape, its foreign policy,
its handling of security and its democratic institutions and instincts — all
are in a varying degree of crisis today, endangering the nation’s rise as a
credible and stable global player.
Indian economy is passing through a historic low being
witnessed for the first time since its independence in 1947. With the economy
witnessing a negative growth of more than 10 per cent, the rising economic
power of South Asia looks a pale shadow of its former self.
The handling of the pandemic betrays a complete
lack of imagination and planning and as a result despite imposing the strictest
and longest lockdown in the world, New Delhi has failed to achieve desired
results. No country in the world has failed as miserably as India in providing
adequate safety nets to its vast population. As a result, millions of lives are
at stake and very soon India will end up having the largest number of
coronavirus cases in the world.
Separately, security situation at the Himalayan
border is in a very precarious state, something the country is witnessing after
four decades. More than five months have passed since the Ladakh region became
tense, dealing a heavy blow to the trust New Delhi had built with China in the
last three decades and putting extra burden on the country’s economy. The
imbroglio also brings into sharp focus the wisdom of established strategic
As a result, today, South Asia’s biggest nation
stands isolated in the region. New Delhi’s divisive domestic politics and its
erroneous geo-political thinking has put India at a discount in most
neighbouring capitals. India has never looked so vulnerable and edgy in its own
neighbourhood as it looks now.
The domestic situation is also not very
encouraging. Social and religious fissures are at an all time high,
majoritarian politics has further alienated Kashmir, and India’s minority and
liberal sections feel persecuted. Democracy is under siege in the country with
an open attack on the press, against dissenting voices and the political
opposition. Today we are witnessing an atmosphere where diversity is openly
discounted and secularism is seen as an abuse.
Television debates and media discourse however
blanks out these multiple crises confronting India. On the contrary, a vocal
section of the media is doing everything in its power to distract the public
from the issues at hand and protect the image of the regime which has brought
India to such a pass.
For example, for the last few months, the media has
been debating the suicide of Bollywood actor Sushant Singh Rajput. A section of
the media known for its ideological and political proximity with the ruling
establishment invented a conspiracy in the death of the actor, following which
news media became a reality TV hub and with every passing day a new theory of
death and a new villain was planted in the public imagination. This was done
not to find responsibility or investigate in order to get to the truth of the
matter but to digress and distract the public. The drama subsided only when
Rajput’s partner Rhea Chakraborty, a victim of false and motivated propaganda,
The question is: was the hysteria created by the
media driven by elusive television rating or was there more to the madness?
A cooler analysis tells you that a majoritarian
agenda is at play and the ruling establishment is not losing sleep over India’s
growing downward graph; it is however working over time with a pliant media to
dismantle the secular and plural DNA of the nation.
Rajput’s death also became a means to attack
Bollywood, which is by far the strongest proponent of diversity. There is a
discernible attempt to coax the film world to fall in line with the
majoritarian thinking of the governing party. The very fact that the government
encourages rabid communal artists like Kangana Ranaut to become the voice of
Bollywood further exposes the larger political and cultural intent of the
Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government.
This intent is all the more visible the way the
government is dealing with dissent. The arrest and detention of critics and
political opponents and a shrinking space for democratic resistance further
reveals that the government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi is not fully
focused on dealing with the pandemic, nor is it interested in reviving the
economic fortune of the country. On the contrary, Modi is using the pandemic as
an excuse to further his political agenda.
The situation has come to such a pass that
secularism and diversity have openly come to be attacked. Popular jewellery
brand Tanishq was forced to withdraw an ad portraying an interfaith marriage.
The social media backlash against the ad was so vehement that the brand not
only withdrew the 45 seconds long short film but also apologised. When have we
seen such animosity in India towards its own civilisation and heritage of
diversity? Following this, Home Minister Amit Shah asked the public not to
'over react'. These events illustrate that the echo system created by the BJP
has made such an open attack on diversity a normal affair.
At the same time, the government is going full
throttle in shutting down democratic dissent by creating difficulties for
independent NGOs and getting in the way of their smooth functioning. Very
recently, Amnesty International was forced to suspend its operations in India
after its bank accounts were frozen in a government “witch-hunt”.
Additionally, things have become so dire that
global journalist bodies — the Austria-headquartered International Press
Institute (IPI) and Belgium-based International Federation of Journalists (IFJ)
— have urged Prime Minister Modi to take urgent action against the rising use
of draconian sedition laws and other legal sanctions to threaten and silence
journalists in India.
Commenting on the current state of affairs, senior
Indian journalist Harish Khare recently wrote that Indian politics is sliding
into “a stereotypical authoritarian ‘Third World’ country of the mid-1970s” and
given what the country is becoming, its current stewardship should perhaps stop
pretending that the country should be an aspiring world leader.