Dear Mr. Prime Minister,
I came across your letter to citizens of India recently on your website. As you rightfully point out, your electoral win was indeed historic. The people of India trust you. Along with many citizens of this country, I’m proud to live in a country which has the democratic institutions that make it possible for a “chaiwalla”(tea-seller) to become PM.
However, my tone throughout this letter will be respectful but critical. Some would call this “the beauty of democracy”. The Supreme Court has referred to dissent as the “safety valve of democracy”. Dissent is indeed a wonderful thing but I don’t think people should be obligated to the establishment for providing them with rights that they deserve.
Even before your first term, a cult of personality was formed around you. This only strengthened with time. We were told, among other things, that you were “Vishnu’s avatar”, “God’s gift to the nation”, the world’s most beautiful face and a great economist. These were eminent members of your party. Many of them are ministers. The fact that this rhetoric continued leads one to assume that you revel in sycophancy.
In 2016, you announced your plan to clean Ganga. According to official sources, Ganga was supposed to be clean by July 2018. This was not merely an environmental issue, it was a symbolic statement as well. The river Ganges is a holy river for Hindus so one naturally assumes that it’d be your priority considering your adherence to Hindutva. 2018 came and went. Ganga did not become clean. A Hindu sannyasi and a former environmental engineering Professor, G.D. Agrawal wrote a letter to your government complaining about the lack of action. The 86 year old professor went on a fast unto death and elucidated his demands in a letter. The government failed to respond appropriately and the professor died on 111th day of the fast from starvation. Along with many other conscientious citizens, I continue to believe that it was a murder.
It would be futile to expect you to take any concrete action on environmental issues and climate change considering the fact that you believe “climate has not changed” only people have changed.
We have also witnessed a slow capture of independent institutions. Many of your present day critics, such as the journalist Tavleen Singh, hoped that you’d dismantle influence of the elite Lutyen’s Delhi Durbar. You were seen as an outsider. One who won’t bow down to the influence of few courtiers. This elite circle was rightly referred to as exclusionary since it focused only on Delhi. This is not what has happened. We continue to passingly hear taunts at Lutyen’s Delhi. Indeed, you have mentioned it yourself.
But there has been no systematic change at all. Lutyen’s Delhi continues to act as a propaganda tool for the establishment. The media now openly propagates polarisation. It asks questions to the opposition, but rarely to the establishment. You have encouraged this attitude by giving interviews only to news outlets which praise you. They ask you about your poems, your childhood, your navratri fasts, your tireless energy, your selflessness, your “fakiri”, your apparently unscripted interviews abroad,your fashion sense, the medicines you take while ill, the movies you watch, the songs you listen to, how you eat mangoes and your sleep schedule. You have time to do an hour long interview with a Canadian Bollywood actor but you don’t have time to do a press conference. You don’t have time to do interviews with those who criticize you. You treat media outlets merely as a means to an end. A means to get your message, your propaganda across.
Your regime is also slowly capturing the judiciary. Recently, the Gujurat high court claimed that those who cannot “do anything good for the people have no right to criticise the functioning of the state government.” I consider this to be a rather petulant observation. The citizens of this country have every right to criticise and hold the government accountable. The government works for the people. Your government nominated former Chif Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi as a Rajya Sabha MP just months after his retirement. This was seen by many as a clear quid pro quo.
Many of Gogoi’s judgement continue to be mired in controversy. His dilution of free speech, his open defense of Assam NRC while the matter was still sub-judice and his utter shamelessness in constituting a special bench to preside over a sexual harassment allegation against himself. One cannot help but wonder whether the nomination was a “reward” to him for delivering verdicts that worked in favour of your regime. Your late friend Mr. Arun Jaitley was spot on when he said “pre-retirement judgements are influenced by post-retirement jobs.”
In your letter, you mentioned the Ram mandir judgement of the Supreme Court along with achievements of your government. One wonders why you didn’t feel the need to write a letter (or even a tweet) hailing the Supreme Court’s equally historic judgement on Sec 377 and the Sabarimala issue. In fact, you seem to have actively opposed the Sabarimala judgement while remaining ambivalent about the LGBTQIA+ issues. Your government’s neutral approach to Section 377 was excoriated by Justice DY Chandrachud himself. Justice Chandrachud rightfully points out that this section treated LGBTQIA+ individuals on par with rapists and child molesters. Thus, the government’s neutral stance does nothing to prevent the “stigmatisation” of the LGBTQ+ community. Could this be due to the fact that the Ayodhya judgement was politically expedient for you?
While you were holding a highly publicised event with President Donald Trump in February, Delhi was burning. Trump praised you for “working very hard on religious freedom” while citizens were being slaughtered for belonging to a different religion. The police openly took sides and chanted “Jai Shree Ram” while charging at Muslim protesters. For your critics, this wasn’t surprising. The country witnessed the same lack of law and order bordering on state complicity during the Gujarat riots . One can attribute this to incompetence but the fact that there’s a pattern makes me wonder whether its sheer calculated malevolence.
The lack of proper planning of lockdown has added to the unnecessary misery of migrants and day laborers. We have come across harrowing visuals of injured migrants who were forced to travel with dead bodies in the back of a truck, migrants dying of starvation and most recently the video clip of a baby trying to wake up their mother who died of starvation. The fact that this has continued for almost a month now speaks volumes about the ineptness of the establishment.
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You talk about the pluralism of the nation while considering MS Golwalkar to be “Pujniya”(worthy of worship). In his book, We or Our Nationhood defined, Golwalkar writes “The foreign races in Hindustan must either adopt the Hindu culture and language, must learn to respect and hold in reverence Hindu religion, must entertain no ideas but those of glorification of the Hindu race and culture or may stay in the country wholly subordinated to the Hindu nation claiming nothing, deserving no privileges, far less any preferential treatment not even citizens rights.’’
You claim that the Constitution is your holy book while idolising Deen Dayal Upadhyaya, who condemned the constitution and the use of the word “secular”(along with Golwalkar).
You claim to stand for the ideals of Gandhi but take no action against Sadhvi Pragya for referring to his murderer as a “patriot”. You claim to believe that “the entire world is one family” while choosing the communal Yogi Adityanath, as chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, has openly instigated violence and claimed that Hindus and Muslims cannot co-exist.
Your followers claim that opposition to you is opposition to the country. They have created an “us Vs. Them” narrative. The fact remains that you are not the country. The BJP doesn’t have a monopoly on nationalism, despite what the media would want us to believe. India is a democracy and you have only been elected to serve the people. You are accountable to the people. The people have elected you and they have every right to criticize you if they’re dissatisfied. Some would blame me for criticising you for what MPs and ministers of your party say. Surely, you’re not responsible. However, your silence has fostered this polarisation. The buck stops with you.
Your ambivalence, your silence and your neutrality is a statement in itself. Mr. Prime Minister, speak up. Never before has silence screamed so loud. Speak up lest you go down in history as the real “Silent Prime Minister.”
This article was origially published on Anwesh Satpathy’s blog. Read it here.
Featured image credit: Reuters