So the cat’s out of the bag. The marquee appearance of UP Chief Minister Swami Adityanath in the Jan Suraksha Yatra Kerala last week, his strident call to deport the Rohingyas notwithstanding the Supreme Court’s observations, and the announcement that he will also campaign for the HP and Gujarat elections is a clear indication of the BJP’s election narrative. Hindutva will be the clarion call, not development, for hoovering up the votes. There can be no other explanation. Adityanath’s only visible appeal, in his saffron attire and tilak on a shaven visage, is as the flag bearer of a new and aggressive brand of Hindutva. Being the head of the Gorakhpur math adds to these credentials, and he has just reaffirmed this by spending a week during Dussehra at the math instead of the CM’s office. He has nothing else to speak for him: his six month reign has been a disaster, what with the anti-Romeo squads, targetting of madrassas, rising crime graph, near destruction of the beef, cattle and leather industry, the infant deaths at Gorakhpur, the violence against girl students at BHU. His only achievement has been that he has more or less dismantled the Yadav mafia of the previous regime, but only to replace it with his own Thakur-Brahmin- gaurakshak version. And yes, he has stated that the Taj Mahal does not represent Indian culture and therefore has been omitted from his Tourism department’s brochure! His next big achievement will be the construction of a hundred meter high statue of Ram in Ayodhya: funds for the hospital in Gorakhpur where more than 1500 children die every year will have to wait till his religious fervour is doused by a couple of electoral losses, I guess.
Unlike the Congress, the BJP does its homework thoroughly. It has realised that its development plank of 2014 will not work because it has collapsed under the weight of too many hasty “reforms”, a Prime Minister who loves to police rather than govern with empathy, and a Finance Minister who refuses to get out of the barrister mode of scoring debating points rather than keeping an open mind. And so it is now evident that Hindu nationalism and minority bashing will be the primary agenda for the coming state elections- the opiate of the masses is still a potent force. More poison will be injected into the already ailing body fabric of a tired and confused nation. And herein lies the real danger. Regardless of who wins these elections, the poison will be here to stay. In the three and a half years it has been in power the BJP has altered our cultural fabric of inclusiveness for ever: the mutual suspicion, distrust and animosity between communities and religions it has engendered will persist for a long time, if not for ever. In a way, it has already won the cultural battle- it remains to be seen if it wins the political one too.
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Are you still wondering how tens of millions remain unemployed and undernourished, and thousands commit suicide out of economic distress, even as our economy continues to be the fastest growing in the world? Well, wonder no more. Its because all the gains are being cornered by that 1% of Indians who own 55% of its wealth, or the 10% who have collared 74% of it (Credit Suisse Global Wealth Report)- the rich are getting richer while the poor are rotting where they were. I refer you to the latest Forbes Annual India Rich List 2017, which contains some revealing figures. The combined wealth of the 100 richest Indians increased by a whopping 26% to US$ 479 billion. or Rs. 31 lakh crore. To put this in perspective, their wealth is more than the country’s forex reserves, it is almost three times the total NPAs of our banks, it is about 20% of our GDP, it is equivalent to the annual incomes of 310 million Indians ! Heading the list, of course, is Mr. Mukesh Ambani whose wealth went up by 67% to US$ 38 billion or Rs.2.5 lakh crore.
Now, one does not grudge these financial wizards their wealth, but one is certainly entitled to question the economic model which permits this scandalous inequity in a country where 40% of people go to bed hungry. It shows us that a high GDP cannot be the end all of economic planning, because its gains are siphoned off by a privileged few who possess the wherewithal to exploit the policies and systems which in any case are tailor-made for them. The distributive aspects of growth are even more important than its absolute numbers. A 5% GDP growth, whose gains go down to the lowest levels, is much more preferable than a 7% growth which is cornered by the few. Our economists have not yet realised this , but the politicians are beginning to if the results of elections in the UK, USA and now even Germany are anything to go by: the mantra of globalisation and growth for growth’s sake is getting increasingly discredited (I have no doubt that Mr. Modi too, notwithstanding his PT Barnum type of soap-box skills, will also discover this in the coming polls). He is enamoured of the western, neo-classical model which is driven by unrestrained consumerism, a dog-eats-dog market place where the richest are lauded and the devil takes the hindmost. It will not work. Perhaps the time has come to go back to that old man whose spectacles are used only for promoting govt. programmes . Maybe we should also look through them once in a while and try to understand his vision of a country where the “daridranarayan”- the poorest of the poor- would be at the centre of all policy making, and not just the Ambanis and the Azim Premjis. Do you detect a delicious but tragic irony in this- that our rulers take the votes from the poor but deliver the wealth to the rich ? Isn’t that vote laundering ?
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My earnest advice to Mr. Chetan Bhagat is that he should stick to what he is good at: churning out assembly line pulp fiction and bilge. He should not don the universal expert’s hat, and in particular should desist from projecting himself as the champion of Indian “traditions”, which appears to be his new avatar while lashing out at the Supreme Court judgement banning the sale of firecrackers in Delhi NCR till Nov.11 this year. This order has not come a day too soon. Only a nitwit or a bhakt would fail to admit that Delhi becomes an Auschwitz during and long after Diwalis and the hospitals are packed with respiratory cases for weeks afterwards. Last year the quality of air index reached 999 and then packed up because the scale stopped at a reading of 1000! (the WHO norm is 60) . And this happens at the precise time when the city is already engulfed in the acrid pollution caused by burning of 35 million tonnes of stubble in neighbouring states. Nobody- not Chetan Bhagat, not Shekhar Gupta, not Sehwag, not the RSS- has the right to inflict this on hapless citizens in the name of tradition, livelihoods or religious freedom. or whatever. The Supreme Court had given us enough time to stop the practice voluntarily, but as usual the average Delhi-ite doesn’t give a shit. Mr. Bhagat can lock himself in his air conditioned house, switch on his air purifier and write his best selling rubbish, but the ordinary citizen does not have the luxury of this protection. Every right thinking resident of the NCR should welcome and support the decision of the Supreme Court. As for Mr. Bhagat, since he is so fond of a numeral in the title of his books, may I suggest a title for his next one- THE HALF- WIT. ? It could be an autobiography.