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BJP, hold your Emergency outrage, please

Modi government's own track record is not much better than Indira Gandhi's 1975 imposition.

 |  12-minute read |   26-06-2018
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Launching an all-out attack against the Congress, finance minister Arun Jaitley wrote an eloquent three-part blog to mark the 43rd anniversary of the Emergency imposed by Indira Gandhi, giving a timeline of the events that led to perhaps one of the darkest chapters of Indian democracy. This was duly tweeted out by the PM himself. The finance minister also questioned if the script for imposing Emergency was inspired by what happened in Nazi Germany in 1933.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, while addressing a function in Maharashtra to mark a "black day" today, used the opportunity to lash out at the Opposition. The PM attacked the Congress on its dynastic tradition and said that the BJP was not observing "black day" (Emergency) just to criticise the Congress, but rather, the party wants to make the youth of today aware of what happened in Mrs Gandhi's reign. 

modi_062618074711.jpgThe PM attacked the Congress on its dynastic tradition.

At a press conference, Union minister Prakash Javadekar went a step further and said his party will include the whole story of the Emergency in school curriculums. Children should know the reality of that time and why the Emergency period is considered to be the second freedom struggle.

While the BJP is right in criticising the Congress for the Emergency, its own track record of ensuring the fundamental rights of citizens is far from stellar.

Accusing the Congress of having no internal democracy, the PM said it cannot be expected to follow the ideals of a democracy. But the PM forgets that the BJP has itself apparently become a personality cult. All powers are reportedly concentrated in the hands of just a few people, which, in itself, is detrimental to democratic values. If the people's representatives have no say in decision-making, this goes against the spirit of our Constitution.

While the PM accused the Opposition of fear-mongering, the sad part is that a large part of our population — especially the minorities and Dalits — do live in fear.

They live in fear for their lives, for the consequences of sporting a skull cap, something that Junaid had on when he was brutally lynched while on his way back from Eid shopping last year, for their food choices, for what they store in their refrigerators, fear of a mob storming their house at night and beating them to death over a rumour, fear over growing a moustache in a higher caste-dominated village, fear of being flogged brutally for skinning a dead cow.

junaid_062618075013.jpgJunaid was brutally lynched while on his way back from Eid shopping last year.

While Indira Gandhi apologised to the nation for imposing Emergency, we are yet to see Modi even speak on these gross violations of fundamental and human rights.

Instead, the PM's critics point out, he blissfully follows vitriolic trolls on Twitter who openly threaten people with murder, violence or rape if they do not toe their line. Despite her being one of the most active members of his government on social media, the PM still hasn't found time to denounce those who abused his own MEA, Sushma Swaraj, just because her ministry issued passports to an inter-faith couple. 

Amid the stoic silence of their PM, and emboldened by apparent state patronage, the ruling party's ministers are openly threatening journalists and the press. People who celebrated the gruesome murder of Gauri Lankesh are still followed by the PM online. And recently, senior BJP leader Lal Singh in Jammu issued a warning to journalists, saying journalists should “draw a line”, or “be prepared to meet the fate” of Shujaat Bukhari, the editor of Rising Kashmir, gunned down in Srinagar on June 14. The party's Jammu and Kashmir president Ravindra Raina went on record to say that no action would be taken against Singh for his statements. Media, long considered the fourth pillar of democracy, is itself under apparent threat.

Aadhaar debate: Right to privacy

While the Aadhaar project was piloted by the UPA regime, its ambit was vastly increased under the current BJP government.

During the Budget presentation on 29 February, 2016, finance minister Arun Jaitley announced that a Bill would be introduced to provide legislative support to the Aadhaar project. On March 3, 2016, the Aadhaar (Targeted Delivery of Financial and Other Subsidies, Benefits and Services) Bill, 2016, was introduced in Parliament as a money bill by Jaitley. The decision to introduce it as a money bill was criticised by Opposition parties on the grounds that the government was trying to bypass the Rajya Sabha as they did not have majority in the upper house. 

Amid opposition, the Aadhaar Act 2016 was passed on March 11, 2016.

The Finance Bill, 2017, passed in the Lok Sabha on March 22, made Aadhaar, the card with the specific number issued by the UIDAI – Unique Identification Authority of India, mandatory for filing of income tax returns as well as for obtaining and retaining the PAN or permanent account number.

The Bill dealt with one primary focus — whoever gets benefits from the Consolidated Fund of India, either state or Centre and other institutions, is entitled to have an Aadhaar Card. This vital piece of legislation was added to the Finance Bill, 2017 as a last-minute amendment on March 21.

This indirectly bought everything required for day-to-day existence and availing of civic and public/private amenities under its ambit.

Children will need to have Aadhaar to get mid-day meals in school, in contravention of the Right to Education Act. Pregnant women will need Aadhaar card to obtain maternity benefits.

pic_062618080404.jpgKoyli Devi, mother of girl who died allegedly of starvation in Simdega, Jharkhand. (Photo: @ANI)

This was also in violation of the Supreme Court order of August 2015, which stated explicitly that the Aadhaar card would not be mandatory for availing benefits, and would only serve as a voluntary identity proof. 

Finally, it took the Supreme Court to rein in the government. A nine-judge Constitution bench upheld privacy as a fundamental right emanating from the right to life under the Indian Constitution. In a unanimous verdict, the SC rejected all arguments of the Union government that privacy has limited scope in countries like India.

Law minister Ravi Shankar Prasad welcomed the SC verdict and said that the government supports right to privacy as a fundamental right. Interestingly, Prasad's ministry had put forth arguments of the Centre in these past four years, where the Centre had questioned the status of privacy and its existence, argued that citizens don't have an absolute right over their own bodies and even told the Supreme Court that in countries like India, with mass poverty challenges, privacy can be given a go-by.

Cow politics

The Centre on May 26, 2017, banned the sale of cattle — including cows, buffaloes, calves, heifers, bulls, bullocks and even camels — in animal markets which sold these intended for slaughter. It also imposed fresh restrictions on the sale on animals and ruled that animal markets cannot be set up within 50km of the international border and 25km of the state borders, as per the gazetted notification.

According to the new rule, brought in under the ambit of the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests, and as part of the Prevention of Cruelty against Animals Act, 1960, cattle can only be sold to a person who has documents to prove he’s an “agriculturalist”.

In addition, young and infirm animals cannot be sold in animal markets intended for slaughter.

This notification directly affected the livelihoods of farmers, cattle traders/beef traders and the leather industry which had already been reeling under the dreadful impact of demonetisation. Farmers opposed the move to restrict trade in markets only to animals meant for agricultural use, saying they cannot directly access slaughterhouses. Farmers normally brought their redundant animals to livestock markets, from where traders purchase and transport cattle to abattoirs. While the farmer now had no way to sell his ageing or ailing cattle, the administration also provided no clarity on whether slaughterhouses could procure cattle for slaughter directly from farmers. Although no rule prohibited this and slaughterhouses had all rights to continue their business, they were curbed from buying the cattle from animal markets.

farmer_052717015447_062618080847.jpgThis notification directly affected the livelihoods of farmers.

In May-end, the Madras High Court granted an interim stay on the implementation of the rules, specifically Rule 22(b)(iii) that required a person bringing cattle for sale to the market to furnish a written declaration that it would not be sold for slaughter.

In July, the Supreme Court extended the stay to the entire country. 

Coming under severe criticism for attempting to impose the nationwide ban on ideological grounds, the Centre decided to withdraw its controversial plan in November 2017.

Although the notification was withdrawn, perhaps emboldened by state sanction, several cases of assault by 'cow protection groups' were reported from various parts of the country.

Rising crimes against minorities and Dalits

While communal polarisation and clashes are not new to this country, the targeting of minorities and Dalits has seen a dramatic rise under the current establishment.

Incidents like Una to the recent clashes in Bhima-Koregaon have given rise to severe insecurity among the Dalit community. While the police has shown great alacrity in arresting six activists reportedly linked to Bhima Koregaon, who have been accused of having Maoist links and fomenting trouble during the clashes, other leaders like Sambhaji Bhide and Milind Ekbote have been treated with kid gloves. While Ekbote is out on bail in both the cases registered against him, the administration has not even been able to muster courage to arrest Bhide “guruji”. While Ekbote and Bhide have both been close to the BJP, the PM himself had hailed Bhide in 2015, saying he came to Sangli on “guruji’s call”. 

With such rampant state sanction, it is no surprise we are seeing more discontentment among Dalits against the ruling establishment.

Muslims have not fared much better under the current regime.

With increasing incidents of lynching and cow vigilantism, the community is finding itself far more under attack. The ruling BJP, instead of carrying out its constitutionally mandated duty of providing free and fair administration, without any prejudice, has maintained a stoic silence on these atrocities. When Pehlu Khan was brutally lynched, the BJP-ruled Rajasthan government actually filed a case against his son who had also endured life-threatening injuries during the attack. When PM Modi finally broke his silence on the issue, he chose to distinguish between good gau rakshaks and bad gau rakshaks.

pehlu-inside_0607180_062618081259.jpgPehlu Khan was lynched by 'gau rakshaks' in April 2017. Ten months after his murder, the police named him in its charge sheet for cow smuggling.

No wonder the crimes only increased further.

Another recent phenomena is the sudden rise of the "Go To Pakistan" catchline. Senior BJP MP Vinay Katiyar on February 7, 2018, said that "Muslims should not even be living in this country, they should go to Pakistan or Bangladesh". Katiyar, who founded the Vishwa Hindu Parishad's (VHP) youth wing, Bajrang Dal, further said a bill should be introduced in Parliament that frames a punishment for those "who do not respect Vande Mataram, (and) those who insult the national flag, or hoist the Pakistani flag." "Muslims shouldn't even be living in this country, they're the ones who partitioned this country based on their population, so why do they need to live here? They were given separate territory, they should go to Pakistan or Bangladesh, what business do they have here," said Katiyar.

Conveniently using Muslims as their political punching bags, the ruling BJP deliberately tries to conflate cross-border terrorism to the minorities and would have you believe their loyalties lie across the border. A narrative is deliberately made about how Muslims apparently support the neighbouring country, especially when soldiers are dying on the border. Rumour-mongering and WhatsApp forwards of "Pakistan zindabad" slogans are used to add further fuel to the fire.

"Jinnah" and "Pakistan" have become the buzzwords to target the Muslim population of the country. While making fiery speeches targeting the Opposition for minority appeasement, the BJP conveniently forgets that the community still figures at the bottom of the development indices, something that the Srikrishna Committee report — that is still to be tabled — also states.

If indeed "appeasement" had happened, the community would not have been in dire straits today.

While the state may not be directly sanctioning these crimes, the constant venom spewed against minorities, labelling them as "anti-nationals", has only added to an overall environment of bigotry and hate.

While PM Modi is a great orator, enthralling his audiences with speeches full of lofty words, he chooses to maintain a silence on the multiple transgressions on such citizens' fundamental rights.

Though it may fit perfectly within the right-wing politics of the ruling establishment, this instills a feeling of alienation among the country's minorities and further drives a wedge between the Hindu majority and the minorities, causing frequent clashes along communal lines.

Having sold us the dreams of "Achhe Din" and "Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas" in the run-up to the 2014 General Elections, Prime Minister Narendra Modi would have you believe that Congress, and especially the Gandhis, are the reason for all that is wrong with the country. He may be true on more than one count, but the reality is, the BJP has been in power for the past four years. His government's own track record on issues like undermining Parliament, stonewalling RTI pleas, abusing agencies or growing crimes against minorities and Dalits is nothing to be very proud of.

Modi may have used the Emergency to score a political brownie point against the Congress today, while sounding the poll bugle for 2019. However, how several of his government's actions are hurting the secular fabric of our country is also something to note. When the BJP talks big about how the Constitution of India was once completely disregarded and democracy crushed when Indira Gandhi imposed Emergency, irony dies, yet again.

Also read: Why lampooning Indira Gandhi and Emergency is not enough to uphold democracy

Writer

Saif Ullah Khan Saif Ullah Khan @saifizm

Deputy editor, DailyO

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