My message to first time voters: Choose love, not hate

Narendra Modi has painted the choices of this election in the starkest possible terms. But in fact, you need to know the history of India and its political diversity to make the best possible choice.

 |  10-minute read |   11-04-2019
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Dear first time Indian voters,

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has appealed to you to dedicate your first vote to the armed forces who carried out the Balakot air-strike and to the deceased Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel who lost their lives in the Pulwama terror attack.

I didn’t call them ‘martyrs’ because, according to government policies, they have reportedly not been accorded martyr status. The Congress party’s manifesto has promised to change this and accord martyr status to paramilitary forces. So, there you go — a heads-up on the facts you should know before you get emotional.

modi-690_041019051250.jpgPM Narendra Modi has asked first time voters to dedicate their votes to the armed forces. (Source: Reuters)

Modi is asking you to dedicate your vote in a manner that would ultimately, as I see it, benefit him. He is using our soldiers for political gains. Do you support this man? The choice is yours, but before you make that choice, you should know who Modi is, where he came from, what his life’s journey has been and what he represents.

Most of you were born in the 21st century, unaware of the past, and movies are a good way to enlighten you. So it is no coincidence that just a week before elections, the Modi biopic and Modi TV series have been launched — but from the look of it, the stories they intend to tell are apparently attempts to whitewash Modi’s past. The idea was evidently to overawe young and gullible first time voters just before the elections and leave them with no time to find out the truth.

Thankfully, the Election Commission has now stalled the release of the biopic film.

So how would you know Modi’s story?

Well, a simple Google is enough. Just read books and magazines outside the WhatsApp and Facebook groups you follow. I wrote about Modi’s journey in my previous column, you can read that. In a nutshell, information about Modi’s life before he became Gujarat CM is not verifiable by a great deal of evidence. RTI activists have asked for proof of some of the stories like ‘Modi sold tea’ or on his education, but no proof was given by the Modi government.

Coming to his political career, he was part of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and worked as a karyakarta. The RSS is an organisation, not a people’s movement. Modi has never led a people’s movement and never represented the poor and marginalised on the ground. In October 2001, the BJP was going through its worst time in Gujarat, and the party wanted to replace the then-CM Keshubhai Patel — so, Modi, it is said, was air-dropped into the CM's seat. In February 2002, Gujarat witnessed one of the worst episodes of anti-Muslim violence in which an estimated 2,000 Muslim men, women, children and new-born babies were brutally killed.

How it happened remains a mystery.

Modi was accused of allowing it to escalate and cause maximum damage. However, Modi was given a clean chit by a Supreme Court-appointed three-member team of investigators. Appeals against it are still pending. The Supreme Court had indicted the Modi government, calling it a ‘modern day Nero’ who was looking elsewhere when Gujarat was burning. But, as has often been claimed, many Modi supporters justify the violence by relying on Modi’s reported action reaction statement, and that is how Modi became the poster boy of Hindutva.

Do you want to be one of these people?

The choice is yours.

But you should know that whenever the BJP’s chances in elections seem weak, some or the other communal riots erupt, after which leaders like Yogi Adityanath apparently use this as a poll plank to consolidate Hindu votes. A study done by scholars of the esteemed Yale University has shown that BJP gains votes after every communal riot.

As a first time voter, you have the immense responsibility to reject this model of election on the basis of fear-mongering and othering, reject the politics of hate, fear and violence in the name of religion. You have on your shoulders the responsibility to forever clean Indian politics, and make it issue-based — not perception based.

Choose between hate and love

The choice is yours, and yours alone. Don't look at Rahul Gandhi and ask ‘What is the alternative?’ You have to decide whether you are with hate or love, with fear or hope, with issues or perceptions? As someone said on Twitter, you have to decide what to do with a malignant tumour? You remove the tumour — you don’t look for alternatives.

Personally, I believe Modi should be voted out for the hate he has come to represent to many, his five years of reported failures, and the prospective harm he might cause to India’s secular democratic values in the years to come. His defeat should be unconditional for the sake of India, the Constitution and humanity, irrespective of whether we can find an alternative or not.

For your help, let me recap the last five years.

Just like the fragrance of Parijat flowers tells you that autumn is here, the first mob lynching, of Mohammad Akhlaq in September 2015 told us that the Hindu Rashtra was here. Modi remained silent over the crime. Then Pehlu Khan, Junaid, and another, and another, several of them, till the fag end of this regime March 2019 at Gurgaon, the Hindutva mob violence never stopped.

No matter how many ‘Not in My Name’ and Karwan-e-Mohabbat campaigns we did, it never stopped.

When a nation has a Prime Minister who didn't express his condolences with a full heart for such crimes, when a nation has a Union minister who welcomes people convicted for being part of lynch mobs with garlands, you can tell that violence against minorities will not just die down.

jayant-690_041019051857.jpgUnion minister Jayant Sinha poses for a picture with a group of lynching accused. (Source: Twitter)

Of course, you may think, "I am not a Muslim, I am an upper caste Hindu — so as long as the economy is good, my job is intact, I am fine with Modi." Well, I have news for you. Modi has ruined the economy with demonetisation and the Goods and Services Tax (GST). GDP dropped, small businesses closed down, unemployment increased, purchasing capacity decreased and foreign investment went down drastically. The RBI has even gone on record that it had cautioned Modi about the bad effects of demonetisation but he still went ahead, because he apparently believes in a shock and awe strategy.

One thing Modi does understand is business. His model of development, to my mind, is to privatise every last bit of government responsibility to private companies. That is the Gujarat model under which reportedly forests, natural resources, public institutions, schools, hospitals, airports, highways, telecommunications and everything else is apparently given to crony capitalists. It doesn't matter how these decisions impact the poorest person.

When everything is in hands of these capitalists who only care about profit and not social welfare, nobody’s job and business is safe. From the best scientists at Tata Institute of Fundamental Research to the employees of BSNL to HAL, everybody today is facing unemployment or salary cuts. Instead of the promised two crore jobs in one year, Modi has apparently destroyed one crore jobs in 2018 alone.

The farmers are angry, joblessness is reportedly at a 45 year-high, every public institution has been impacted apparently by political interference, bureaucrats in many institutions have either succumbed to pressure or resigned, like the two National Sample Survey Office (NSSO) chiefs. Some journalists who could not be bought have also resigned. Activists who couldn't be bought or pressurised have been killed. Gauri Lankesh’s murder is a case in point. Judges who couldn't be pressurised or bought also feel under threat. For the first time in our history, judges had to go to public with their fears.

judges-690_041019051624.jpgFor the first time, Supreme Court judges spoke openly about their fears and the pressures they face. (Source: PTI)

Students who couldn't be pressurised have disappeared or been thrown in jail, like Najeeb and Kanhaiya Kumar. Policemen who didn't toe the line with a Hindutva mob’s frenzy and tried doing their duty were killed, like the Bulandshahr cop.

The list is endless.

Ten lakh tribals are reportedly about to be evicted from their forests because the Modi government didn't defend the Forest Rights Act introduced by the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government in 2006. Forty lakh people in Assam are apparently about to be rendered country-less because Modi brought in a Citizenship Amendment Bill which will only give citizenship to Hindus and not Muslims, ultimately disturbing Assam's demography of indigenous populations with their unique language and culture. Now, the Northeast is also heating because of the Hindutva hate policy.

If you are not able to decide what to do, don’t hide behind Rahul Gandhi’s weakness.

Yes, he is not perfect — and it is easy to make fun of him. But we live in a parliamentary democracy, not a presidential one, therefore, we don’t need one single strong leader who would do everything alone, like Superman. We need a leader who can set up a team of experts and keep them together.

‘There is No Alternative’ — TINA — is a trap I would say Modi created. Before Modi, we had tall leaders like Manmohan Singh, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, PV Narasimha Rao and Lal Bahadur Shastri and none of them were seen as cult superman-like figures. But we don’t need superhumans. We need a simple person who listens to everybody and tries to accommodate everybody’s concerns and suggestions.

Lastly, before you cast your first vote, find out the real story of India. Sixty-seven years of independent India’s history cannot be reduced to a single binary — before Modi and after Modi. “Nothing happened in India in 70 years” is a blatant lie. Governance is a collaborative and continuous project, regimes change but all political leaders more or less work for the nation, albeit cases of corruption and state excesses.

main_rahul-gandhi-wa_041119120105.jpgNo, he's not perfect. But India does not need him to be. (Source: Reuters)

In 2014, the BJP took over a vibrant and thriving nation — but unfortunately, for five years, it focused all its energy on dismissing and undoing the past, instead of adding to it.

After 67 years, we were posed with the problem of individual corrupt leaders who prevented India from achieving its full potential. But after five years of Modi, we are revisiting and re-thinking pre-independence concepts — freedom, democracy, nationhood, citizenship. This disruption was unnecessary and smacks, to my mind, of evil intentions on the BJP’s part.

“Power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely,” there is no doubt that past leaders had turned arrogant and corrupt with power. A new and honest PM had to only fix that aspect — he didn't have to undo all the past work, didn't have to dismantle to rebuild, or to make a villain out of Nehru. Why did Modi do this? He had said he didn’t want to rule but serve — but the fear today is that he came to rule, and rule like a king. Rule not for just a constitutional term but forever. Establish the rule of not a political party but a cult organisation that is RSS.

These are the fears the country is facing today. And you, the first time voter, have the power to give this nation the greatest gift in its history — the gift of democracy and social harmony.

Choose wisely.

Thank you.

Also read: Shatrughan Sinha: 'I saw BJP turning into a one-man show and a two-man army. They kept threatening to expel me'


Sanjukta Basu Sanjukta Basu @sanjukta

Freelance writer, photographer and women studies scholar, and a part of the Karwan E Mohabbat group. She writes on social marginalisation, minority rights and women issues.

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