Dear Prime Minister of India,
I hope this letter finds you deeply disturbed.
It should be difficult for you to be otherwise, given what India is going through right now. It breaks me to see that the vibrant, pluralistic India I grew up in has now cascaded into a cauldron of chaos, into a country whose democratic foundations are tottering – threatened by sectarian hate-mongering under your watch.
When you became prime minister of India in 2014, I was a politically ignorant teenager; and yet, I was heartened by your rise to the most powerful office in our nation. Riding the wave of change, your words persuaded me to believe that you would unshackle India from the complacency of dynastic entitlement, cleanse it from the stench of bureaucratic corruption, modernise its economy, and enlarge its indigenous impact.
I was no supporter of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), but I was a believer in you. It filled me with pride to see a prime minister who projected a strong image of my country, dazzled audiences with his charismatic oratory, strove relentlessly to cope with the burden of his mantle; and who, above all, stood for a great story – the story of a man from humble beginnings, who marched through the corridors of power with equanimity, proving that in the great land of India, nothing is impossible.
Almost six years later, I am a politically conscious citizen of India, aspiring to be a journalist and pursuing a degree to that end in the United Kingdom. Today, I feel dispirited and betrayed by your words; your rhetoric, far from inspiring confidence in me, makes me concerned. The economy is languishing, employment is stagnating, your promise of achhe din, flanked by development and growth, is nowhere in sight.
But that is not why I am writing to you today. I feel compelled to write this because the social fabric of my motherland is changing beyond belief. Not only have dissent and freedom of speech been squashed, but the secular harmony, that was stitched into India’s framework since Independence, is being torn apart by those who profess their allegiance to you and your party.
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In 2020, you now represent a different story – the story of a man in the most important position in India, who has let his silence condone one atrocity after another, fraternising with the US president while the Indian capital goes up in flames. Prime minister, you have proved yet again that in the great land of India, nothing truly is impossible.
For all my complaints, I understand that not even you, with your chhappan inch ki chhati, can be a one-man army. India’s current crisis certainly cannot be blamed entirely on you. But when you consent to spearhead the projection of your regime, when the Government of India becomes synonymous with Narendra Modi, when it is your face adorning every election campaign, when it is your voice celebrating military achievements as your own, when it is your image that underpins India’s domestic and international identity, you must be the first person held accountable.
And in holding your power to account, bear with me as I ask you what the few journalists fortunate enough to have interviewed you will never do.
Why has your government’s focus been on the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) at a time when the faltering economy is a far bigger concern for India than illegal immigration? Why has your dispensation not considered providing refuge to oppressed Muslims belonging to minority sects in the Muslim majority countries identified under the CAA? If the goal of the CAA is, indeed, to grant asylum to persecuted individuals from India’s neighbouring countries, why was Myanmar – home to the Rohingya Muslims, who are among the most persecuted communities in the world – left out from the purview?
Why were the police inexcusably passive in tackling the riots in Delhi? Why have you not personally condemned or suspended members of your party who have clearly instigated violent behaviour with their inflammatory speeches at a time when students have been detained on charges of sedition for utterances that prove harmless in comparison? Having integrated Jammu and Kashmir – without any consultation with the local leadership – to the Indian union last August, how do you intend to restore a semblance of normalcy to the Valley?
Why are foreign nationals studying in India being forced to leave the country for participating or sharing content pertaining to the anti-CAA protests?
The questions are endless, prime minister, and so is your complicity. But I need not have outlined all the aforementioned questions separately. I could have simply asked you one simple question that encapsulates them all: what is your vision of the Hindu Rashtra?
I am a proud Hindu myself and I have never been more ashamed of fellow Hindus than I have of your associates who are misappropriating an ancient faith by loading it with fissiparous language and pernicious objectives. I have been praying at temples all my life, but I am outraged to think that a Ram Mandir is so instrumental to our democracy that countless innocents of another faith can be trampled to pave way for its construction.
I urge you, prime minister, to remember the words of the Narendra who had enthralled Indians more than a century before you did. I urge you to remember the words of Swami Vivekananda – whose memory you have invoked repeatedly but selectively – and his insistence that Hinduism not only ensures universal tolerance, but also universal acceptance, of all other religions.
Remember this message and reinstate it among your cohorts – who are so desperate to do the opposite.
Prime minister, as I write this to you, I am alarmed, angry and afraid. This is not the India that I knew, this is not the India you should have made me know. I grew up in a joint family in India, and whenever the family faced a problem, we all went to the seniormost member, the one with the most wisdom and authority. It was incumbent on that member – as the guide-in-chief of the rest – to come up with a solution.
Our India is one big family, and it is now facing a problem of the direst order. I implore you to cast aside your cloak of imperturbability and tackle the situation at hand, speak to ordinary Indians like me and tell us that you do not endorse the virulent Hindu nationalism pillaging India right now. I implore you to install a mechanism wherein Indians – irrespective of religion and status – feel safe to breathe in peace.
As I end this letter, I cannot be fully aware of its consequences. For all I know, this letter may land me in a whole lot of trouble. While I will not be surprised if this letter never reaches you, I am confident that sooner or later, its spirit will. And when it does, I am still hopeful that you can turn things around. Against the proof of history and ideology, I hope that you can be a changemaker for the better.
I still believe in you, prime minister, for you have left me with no other choice.
Your fellow Indian,
Priyam Marik is a post-graduate student of journalism at the University of Sussex, United Kingdom.
Featured image credit: Pariplab Chakraborty