Growing up, I was all too familiar with phrases like “you are too young to understand” or “you are just a kid, so stay in your lane”. They often popped up in conversations about politics or religion – both of which have a huge impact in our lives.
I grew up thinking that the ideal world I learned about in school was what the real world was like. I thought that the government – be it local, state or Central – was a smooth functioning entity that went completely by the book and worked solely for its citizens.
How I wish that were true.
My first introduction to real-world politics was during Dr Manmohan Singh’s second prime ministerial term. I remember my parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles talking about the various scams that occurred during the UPA years.
That was the moment my bubble of ideal politics burst. I started listening attentively whenever anyone talked about politics. All around, the consensus was the same – that the Congress was full of corrupt politicians and that Singh was just merely a puppet in the hands of the Gandhi family.
This was a narrative I heard so many times and at so many places that I had no doubt that it was true. At the time, I had zero respect for someone who I now believe to be a man with unquestionable integrity. Because that was all I could see.
I remember asking my mom that if all politicians are corrupt, who would be the leader of our country?
The answer came to all of us in catchy TV commercials and speeches that changed the course of politics in India. I truly believe that one of the biggest contributors to his landslide victory in the first term was Narendra Modi’s oratory skills – and Rahul Gandhi’s lack of the same.
We were all mesmerised by his charisma and by the beautiful words he used to woo us. He called on us as friends, brothers and sisters. He made us feel like he was trustworthy and that if we listened to him and followed him, we would have everything we wanted.
In hindsight, our prime minister now reminds me of the mythological sirens that lure sailors to shipwreck with their enchanting music and song.
The phrase ‘Ab ki baar, Modi sarkar‘ was on everyone’s lips and the whole country was waiting with bated breath for ‘Achhe Din’ to finally arrive. At a Hindi essay writing competition in school, I even wrote ‘Ab ki baar, Modi sarkar‘ as my closing statement in a topic that was not even related to politics (it probably didn’t help my chances at bagging a position).
Such was the effect Modi had on the nation.
On May 26, 2014, when Narendra Modi was sworn in as the prime minister of our nation, it ushered in a new age on the back of one of the most clinical political victories in our country’s history. The Congress was decimated to such an extent that it has yet to recover more than six years later. The world was watching and expecting great things from the new leader of the world’s largest democracy.
And boy, did he disappoint.
The first term was riddled with controversy, but one thing that did not change was his huge following. That, in fact, increased. What also increased was discrimination against the minorities like SCs, STs, OBCs and Dalits. Muslims particularly now had a target on their backs.
There has been a significant rise in mob lynchings of Muslim citizens in the country, which was kicked off by the infamous beef ban. That was one of the first few moments when some of his followers, including me, began to question the direction the BJP was steering India towards. Religious beliefs aside, dictating what people should eat just because a particular group is against it is hardly democratic. The only thing the ban contributed to was the rise in violence and communal tensions. The Quint in 2019 broke down how there had been 113 deaths due to lynchings between 2015 and September 2019.
Modi and the BJP have cracked the code when it comes to rallying the masses and maintaining a vote bank: jingoism and whataboutery. Jingoism is essentially hyper-nationalism in the form of aggressive policies to safeguard “national interests” while whataboutery is the practice of deflecting questions and blames of wrongdoing by bringing up past or unrelated incidents. It’s a classic manoeuvre to move the focus away from one’s own faults by putting the attention on something else.
Along with these tactics, there’s another policy that the ruling party loves to use – ‘us vs them’. The fastest way to get people to follow you and your ideology is to unite them against a common enemy. And if no such enemy exists, you make one up by demonising a part of the population and painting them as the enemies of “national interest”.
For many Indians today, the biggest ‘enemy’ is the left-wing, or liberals – who have been given a thousand nicknames since 2014. Anyone not conforming to the sheep mentality and the blind faith of the conservative right-wing, and has the audacity to question the beloved Supreme Leader, is quickly dubbed an ‘anti-national’. Threats and abuses follow and dissenters are then usually asked to go to Pakistan or China.
Those who does not subscribe to the Hindu rashtra ideology of the BJP and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh is abused, threatened, arrested, lynched and killed. The government protects and supports the perpetrators and even has some of them on its payroll. The dreaded BJP IT cell is always on the lookout against people who seem to be exercising their use of free speech and basic rational thinking to question the leader of our country.
Even as I write this, I wonder about the hate I am likely to get once it is published.
The biggest mistake of the government for me though, has not been the hate propaganda it has peddled and taught others to peddle too, nor the shoving of Hindutva down our collective throats. The biggest mistake has been the attacks on students peacefully protesting against the Citizenship Amendment Act, National Register of Citizens and the National Population Register.
The violence that rocked Jamia Millia Islamia, Aligarh Muslim University, Jawaharlal Nehru University and countless other academic spaces aided in sparking one of the biggest protest movements the country had witnessed since Anna Hazare’s call to protest corruption played its role in toppling the UPA government.
Things devolved quickly from there, causing many to rethink their allegiance to a leader and party that has been working to systematically destroy the very institutions that form the bedrock of India.
This is a leader who claims to be proud of our national heritage and yet uses an Act as draconian as Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act to imprison those who dare to do what freedom fighters like Bhagat Singh did and question those in power.
There have been countless instances for those who still fanboy the prime minister to sit up and take notice – from imprisoning a pregnant activist during a pandemic on charges that have no standing to the denial of bail to peaceful protesters. At the same time, people who discharged their weapons in broad daylight in front of hundreds of live witnesses and the Delhi police itself have been let off.
All of this is a sign of everything that is wrong with our country and how the entire system is broken. And most of us continue to watch with apathy. We have become numb to the suffering of others – as the ‘Bakre Ki Amma’ by Gaurav Kadu portrays perfectly.
While there is rising anger against the government, there are many (including most members of my family) who still support the BJP regime. The most common arguments they give are also along the lines of whataboutery, and by constantly exclaiming that “Congress favoured and appeased minorities for decades so why can’t Modi favour the majority”.
Aside from the fact that in any society it is the minority that must be protected, a wrong act opposing another wrong act does not become right. These are the very same people who hated the Congress for its appeasement politics but love the BJP because they are the ones being favoured right now. The blunders and wrongdoings of the INC over the decades does not make it okay for the BJP to repeat the same actions and on a much bigger scale.
On one hand, former prime minister Dr Manmohan Singh said, “I may not agree with what you say, but I will defend to death your right to say it,” when faced with slogans and black flags opposing him and his policies. On the other, the current prime minister uses his power to crush dissent and silence all those who dare question his government and its policies.
And don’t even get me started on the gross mismanagement of the pandemic, the ‘godi media’, the escalating border tensions with China and Nepal, the arrests of activists who have done years of hard work on the ground and police brutalities.
If you have even an iota of empathy and are willing to look past taught biases, the list of atrocities taking place in our country is endless.
For those of you who are ‘apolitical’, you too are part of the problem. If you are not with the ones fighting for justice, you are with the ones causing the injustice. In this fight, there is no grey. In this fight, there is no choice of staying neutral. This is a fight not only for equality but also to help preserve the democratic ideals our country was built on.
Namit Pandey is a 20-year-old trying to change the world, one word at a time.
Illustration: Pariplab Chakraborty