In the past four years, since the NDA came to power over hyperbolic promises and slogans, the PM, Mr Narendra Modi, has not held a single press conference to allay the apprehensions of the public over the growing lawlessness and the state of the economy. Neither has he addressed the clamour of voices in the civil society and the media that express the very real fear that in spite of exorbitantly expensive government advertisements and individual feel-good soundbytes from sundry ministers and MPs, the country is in danger of falling apart.
Accusations and complaints have been either ignored, trivialised, or deflected by counter accusations against past governments, whataboutery, and a barrage of nonsensical gaslighting that plays out in an infinite loop.
The PM's speech was a long and monotonous readout from a script after much twiggling of fingers, histrionics, and appeal to patriotism. (Photo: PTI)
Given the frustration, the lack of transparency and accountability for such an extended period of time, even after the failure of the government on several fronts in keeping their promises, and the clueless state the public still is in over the bizarre demonetisation that ruined so many businesses and took its toll in lives, it was only a matter of time before things came to a head.
What could have been the reason for the no confidence motion brought in against the government by an Opposition that lacked woefully in numbers, yet persisted, knowing it would surely fail? 154 against 331?
The Telugu Desam Party (TDP) MP from Guntur, Jayadev Galla, who started the debate in the Parliament, said it was a war against the injustice meted out to the people of Andhra Pradesh. Galla pointed out that that the Modi government had allocated less funds to build Amaravati, projected as Andhra Pradesh’s capital city, than even the money budgeted for the mammoth statue of Sardar Patel. He revealed that barely 2-3 per cent of the funds required had been allocated.
When he said that the “saga of Modi-Shah regime has been of unfulfilled promises”, he was speaking not only for the people of Andhra Pradesh, but just about everybody in civil society today.
Trinamool Congress (TMC) MP from Barrackpore, Dinesh Trivedi, deliberately used mythological references (which the BJP RSS is fond of making) when he said, “Pandavon ke paas sankhya nahi thi par sachh tha” This was because Pandavas sided with the truth,” (Kauravas were many, yet they were defeated by numerically inferior Pandavas) in an obvious allusion to the superiority of numbers the BJP enjoys in the Lok Sabha.
Likening the Modi government to an ostrich that buries its head in the sand, deliberately oblivious to all that is happening around it, he called it a mute spectator to the mobocracy that it has unleashed nationwide.
As if to illustrate his point, in another part of the country, Akbar Khan, a 28-year-old man, was beaten to death at Alwar in Rajasthan by gau rakshaks on suspicion of cow smuggling as he was transporting two cows through a forest area.
The lynching came soon after the home minister’s speech saying laws would be made to address mob lynching.
How serious is this government where these lynchings are concerned? Let’s take a look at another similar incident in Always a year ago. Six people identified in Pehlu Khan’s (the victim) dying statement weren't even charge-sheeted. Nine people charged weren't named in the FIR. Seven of nine are out on bail. Two are untraceable. In a counter case, Pehlu Khan has been named as a cow-smuggler despite a valid cow purchase receipt.
The no confidence motion was never about the numbers or about winning. It was a disruptive exercise to bring home and expose the lacunae of an unresponsive, impassive government. It was creating an opportunity to be heard in a public darbar of sorts, and forcing the government to respond. It was dragging the horse to the water in the hope that it would drink.
Akbar Khan was lynched in Rajasthan soon after Rajnath Singh said a new law could be brought in to deal with the menace. (Photo: ANI)
But more importantly, it was a concerted attempt to bare these issues in front of a public fed on disinformation and propaganda for the past four years.
As one prominent panelist in a channel put it, it would be exceedingly naïve to expect that there would be any point-to-point rebuttals involving specifics, from the side of the Treasury benches, and he was proved correct. All these charges have been made before, on separate media channels, in the press, by Opposition leaders, activists, journalists, and they have all met with the same fate — either a wall of silence, or tu quoques and false equivalences.
The same clichés have been trotted out, the “where-were- you- whens” and the “seventy years of inactions” and that most multipurpose one (delinked of context), to suit all accusations of every riot and lynching under the stewardship of the Sangh Parivar, from Godhra to the one that took place yesterday. It was almost with a sense of tired déjà vu that one waited for Rajnath Singh to come up with the 1984 Sikh pogrom in answer to the lynchings currently taking place, and he did not disappoint.
Rahul Gandhi raised issues such as the Rafael deal, low employment rate, the Doklam standoff, Modi’s visit to China and its outcome, crony capitalism (where he injudiciously, without concrete proof, called Modi a “bhagidar” — a partner — instead of a “chowkidar (watchman) as the latter had claimed in the past), and the Indian farmer’s plight.
What was perhaps superfluous was his jibe that the PM was unable to “meet his eyes” as he made these comments.
We know what came later, the hug and the wink which has captured the public imagination and diluted the thrust of the debate. (It is something that one would not wish to explore, as a matter of populist optics that devalues any serious political discourse.)
Nevertheless, this rant was probably the most brutal hauling over the coals in full public glare that this regime has had in these past four years.
Rahul’s diatribe is not new. It is a reboot of an earlier speech. On March 18, 2018, during his first major presidential address at the AICC plenary session, Rahul had launched a headlong attack on Modi and Amit Shah, alleging corruption, crony capitalism, and administrative incompetence.
He had said, “Modi gives (Nirav) Modi Rs 30,000 crore of your money and, in turn, Modi gives Modi money for marketing Modi and fighting elections.”
As a point of interest, it is to be noted that in the same speech, he had made the same reference to the Mahabharata that Dinesh Trivedi echoed in his address: “Like the Kauravas, the BJP and the RSS are designed to fight for power, but like the Pandavas, the Congress is designed to fight for truth.” Referring to the Rafale deal he had said, “Forget fighter planes, you can’t trust such a man to buy vegetables. Modi is not fighting corruption. Modi is corruption.”
The PM’s response in Parliament followed a tried-and-tested template that most of us are inured to by now. Against the din of “We want justice” by the TDP MPs, Modi rubberbanded back into the familiar theme of deprived subaltern vs landed aristocracy, the inability of a “kaamdhari” to look into the eyes of a “naamdhari” (shades of Harvard vs Hard work there) and a long and monotonous readout from a script after much twiggling of fingers, histrionics, appeal to patriotism, and deconstruction of the hug and wink as an attempt to dethrone him.
Or, as a TDP MP pointed out, worthy of a Bollywood film.
But the stellar glory of his speech is in his attempt to divide the Opposition. What did the Congress do to Charan Singh Ji, what did they do to Chandra Shekhar Ji, what did they do to Deve Gowda Ji, what did they do to IK Gujral Ji …all the way up to Pranab Mukherjee – with a keen eye towards the TDP ranks, that had deserted the BJP.
History rehashed simplistically, divorced of the surrounding complex context, and weaponised opportunistically has always been the BJP’s mainstay, and trotted out like an old racehorse.
To rebut point by point the various claims that the PM has made from the written portion of his speech (barring the non-written extempore full of invectives and familiar jibes against the Gandhi family) would be an interesting, albeit humongous exercise.
But let us examine just a couple of the most obvious “jumlas” as an example of the kind of hype that has become the norm and practice. (Leaving out the claims of vast numbers of “empowered” youth who have become auto drivers and other ennobling lower scale businesses cited as examples by our PM, of a “thriving economy” enabled by the current NDA economy, of course). Exactly how content are the farmers?
When Jayadev Galla described the regime as a 'saga of broken promises', he was not speaking for Andhra Pradesh alone. (Photo: Twitter)
Around the same time, give or take a few hours when Akbar Khan was getting lynched in Alwar by gau rakshaks, giving lie to our Home Minister’s claims of normalcy, this was taking place giving the lie to our PM’s claims of agrarian bliss.
In a show of strength on July 20, about 1,500 farmers from several states, who had travelled several thousand kilometres under the banner of All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee (AIKSCC), marched in New Delhi to “express no confidence in the Narendra Modi government”.
The protestors alleged that the Modi-led NDA had reneged on all its election promises made to farmers and has attempted to mislead farmers on the issue of minimum support price (MSP).
About the claims of 100 per cent electrification of villages all over India, presented as an achievement of the NDA government: The average Indian hardly is privy to how much is on paper and how much is reality on the ground, but here are the facts according to data released by Niti Ayog. Previous governments (beginning from the second five-year plan that had included rural electrification in their aims) had already achieved 97 per cent of electrification up to 2014 with 5,79,012 villages, while only the rest of the 3 per cent — 18,452 villages — in these past 4 years have been done by the NDA.
Probably the biggest achievement in this No Trust Motion has been the examination of the Rafale deal and the distinction that has been made between what is a national security concern involving technicalities of the aircraft and the confidentiality of the monetary transaction between the two governments.
The first is understandable, but has no bearing on the second, which is the right of every taxpayer to be aware of, as Arti Jerath pointed out during a discussion in a panel discussion recently.
It is the consistent effort on the part of the BJP to conflate the two and impose a veil of secrecy that is suspicious, and this is what has come out to the fore in these proceedings.
The NDA may have won in numbers, but the Opposition has achieved its objective in occupying a higher moral ground. The carpet has been well and truly dusted in public in every aspect of this regime’s governance.
The Rafale might well turn out to be the Bofors of this government. Hopefully, it will turn out to be as much of a damp squib as the latter for our Pradhan Pracharak.