A Question of Answers: Why is Narendra Modi's govt so averse to giving real facts?

Why should citizens be attacked for asking questions of the govt on Pulwama, Balakot, even jobs? Yet, that's what's happening. We need to know why.

 |  7-minute read |   12-03-2019
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In the din and commotion of war hysteria and ultra-nationalist posturing in today’s India, the small — and rapidly shrinking — voices of sanity are going unheard. One is increasingly being forced to come to the conclusion that all this frothing and fuming without substance in the public space, the outraged demands for binary accounting of oneself in terms of ‘nationalist or traitor’ is a deliberate smokescreen to obfuscate the abysmal failures of this government over the last five years. The desperation had been peaking ahead of Sunday's announcement of the dates for the 2019 General Elections.

The most alarming development, in my view, is the solidifying public perception that asking questions of the governing is a traitorous act.

This idea of criticism is apparently tantamount to ‘sedition’ — a fact that seems but a hair's breadth away from full-blown fascism.

“There is a recent trend of people expecting that everything has to be done by the government. They also seek answers from the government for the works that are not done. This was not a tradition in our country,” the Prime Minister said at the ‘pran-pratistha’ (idol installation) ceremony at the newly constructed Annapurna Dham temple in Adalaj town of Gandhinagar district in Gujarat.

narendra-690_031119111918.jpgAccording to PM Modi, asking questions of the government is a new trend in India. (Source: PTI)

Democracy was always a tradition of our country if we take 1947 as a base year to define ‘country’.

As Amartya Sen says, “We have reason to be proud of our determination to choose democracy before any other poor country in the world, and to guard jealously its survival and continued success over difficult times as well as easy ones. But democracy itself can be seen either just as an institution, with regular ballots and elections and other such organisational requirements, or it can be seen as the way things really happen in the actual world on the basis of public deliberation. I have argued in my book The Argumentative Indian that democracy can be plausibly seen as a system in which public decisions are taken through open public reasoning for influencing actual social states. Indeed, the successes and failures of democratic institutions in India can be easily linked to the way these institutions have — or have not — functioned… A government in a democratic country has to respond to ongoing priorities in public criticism and political reproach, and to the threats to survival it has to face.”

However, asking for further information on the Pulwama terrorist bombing that claimed the lives of 40 our Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) jawans, or clarity on the numbers of terrorists eliminated in the recent air-strike at Balakot, is taboo. There have, after all, been many conflicting reports from different media houses. And it is undeniable that the government spokespersons have been either avoiding, seen to be defiant, offering different explanations from the numbers killed, and advancing persuasive arguments from how trees do not talk on cell phones to how one does not ‘count mosquitoes’.

Subsequently, the swell of nationalist sentiment has by extension conflated the audacity of such inquiry to even a smidgen of doubt regarding the Modi government’s performance and made it heresy. This is not just restricted to trolling on social media by Modi bhakts — people are reportedly actually getting thrashed on the streets. A couple of days ago a youth was beaten up in Muzaffarnagar when he apparently challenged the government’s claims on job growth during a video interview by a local channel, not by the police but by other ordinary citizens like themselves who have bought into this climate of mindless consent. A professor in Bangalore was recently forced to kneel and apologise by Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) activists after he expressed doubts on the internet about the effectiveness of the Balakot air-strike.

Accountability to the public is the cornerstone of any democracy. If anyone that deviates from the current norm of praising the government does so at his/her own peril of being called ‘anti-national’, then how would the Modi worshippers define Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s niece, Karuna Shukla, who, after 32 years in the BJP, joined the Congress and apparently called Amit Shah and PM Modi ‘goons’, alleging that the party ‘changed its ideology in greed for power’?

 

And in the latest outrage, are we permitted to ask how the dog ate the homework — aka the Rafale files? Spot the anti-nationals in the following paragraph.

Post the central government’s submission that the key documents related to the Rafale deal had been stolen from the defence ministry, Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal has called Modi ‘dangerous’ to India, and the Congress party demanded the Prime Minister be booked under the Prevention of Corruption Act. The Congress’ chief spokesperson Randeep Singh Surjewala has said, “It is now clear that corruption and malfeasance in Rafale deal is writ large. It is clear that none less than Prime Minister of India caused loss to the public exchequer by misusing his office. It is a clear cut case of Section 13, (1)D of prevention of corruption act and other offences under the Indian Penal Code… Time has come to lodge an FIR to investigate and find the truth vis-à-vis the conduct of Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi and others involved in the matter.”

surjewala-690_031119111657.jpgCongress leader Randeep Singh Surjewala has blamed Narendra Modi for alleged corruption in the Rafale deal. (Source: PTI)

This government in my view prioritises optics and publicity over transparency and disclosure.

The average daily advertising spend of the NDA government in print and electronic media till 2017 was a little over double that of the previous UPA government's two terms, a Right to Information inquiry revealed. The NDA government reportedly spent Rs 3,214.7 crore on print and electronic advertisement during 2014-17, incurring Rs 3.21 crore in daily expenses. The erstwhile UPA regime reportedly spent a total of Rs 2,658.24 crore in 10 years on publicity, the daily average being Rs 1.45 crore. The BJP-led Union government apparently spent a total of Rs 3,529 crore in advertising during the first 1,000 days of its tenure.

As per data provided by the Modi government in Lok Sabha, almost 56 per cent of the total fund for ‘Beti Bachao Beti Padhao’ scheme was spent on advertising — reportedly no impact assessment was conducted for the scheme. The government had allocated ₹684 crore for the programme of which apparently ₹364.66 crore was spent on advertising and ₹159.18 crore was distributed to different states and districts.

However, according to Modi from his recent comments, anyone raising doubts about him is either being disloyal to the armed forces or the country.

modi-690_031119112124.jpgWe do need answers: The Narendra Modi government needs to be far more forthcoming with real information and facts. (Source: PTI)

One has seen the constant exhortations by the BJP not to politicise the Pulwama suicide or the subsequent Balakot air-strikes as election fodder, but in all of Modi’s speeches, the chest thumping and the appropriation of India’s victory and success at eliminating terrorists, comparisons to the UPA government which apparently sat back silent, and the emphasis of India now being in ‘safe hands’, is loud and clear.

Can one believe that this is not an election plank being juiced out to the maximum?

One cannot but help feeling cynical.

Unless you are a diehard believer with feet firmly planted in the rich alluvium of the Modi cult, busy harvesting spins, whatabouteries, excuses, diversions and bizarre lies, you will have reached the end of your tether by now.

There is just so much suspension of disbelief one can stomach.

Also read: Lok Sabha elections dates announced: From Pakistan to Kashmir and jobs, 5 issues that will dominate the electoral discourse

Writer

Gautam Benegal Gautam Benegal @gautambenegal

Award winning animation filmmaker, artist, author, and social commentator.

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