In defence of dissent

Five years ago, before the reins of power changed wheels, shiny cities and sponsored media outlets had already emerged as grand opinion-makers. Television, hoardings and large scale-emergence of web portals had built inroads in the lives of its audience. The grand play was already at work, advertisement and branding became buzzwords, as necessary tools on how the game of politics was played. A year later, the current disposition was already in power. Polarisation, with effective strategy managers had paid off.

India, a country of over a billion people has one Supreme Leader, infallible; loved and revered by all. One who is feared by opponents, chosen by history to lift the lives of those condemned to despair and poverty. One who protects, with his life and honour those who stay true to the rashtra, and do not wander off with propaganda. A leader unmatched in wit, humour, and style.

Or something that was shouted from rooftops, for everyone to believe. Let us not speak of these people then, for once.

Let us speak of those who did not get a say in what their lives were going to become. Those crores of people who live a life already on the margins, with entire populations forced to live off meagre wages – sometimes near you – cleaning the dishes, building the bridges, dusting the streets. Let us speak of those who till the lands and produce food that we eat. Let us speak of those who never got back what they had been robbed off. Let us speak of the millions who everyday lead long, difficult lives – of those who are on the streets, fighting off everyday diktats from self-styled godmen who pose as leaders of a nation.

We cannot speak for them, though. Any attempt to do so continues to resemble parochial hangovers of the urban elite and the middle classes. They do not need your charities; they need their rights.

When about 40,000 farmers including adivasis and other forest dwelling communities marched from Nashik to Mumbai in the hot month of May 2018, a realisation struck the city. An obligation to listen to them crept up. People who were unaware were caught off-guard. The same ruthless city extended whole-hearted support when many people and institutions came out and supported the protestors. They came marching, on foot, jeopardising their already-falling incomes, because they do not want their children to do the same. It was not a march to simply demand things, but to come out where they would get some visibility – where finally their voices could be heard.

Had social and political institutions responded to them, our cities would not have been witness to what was essentially a watershed moment in the recent history of peoples’ movements.

Most states have seen large mobilisations of people in the streets, fighting it out, every day. Communities living in regions rich in natural resources face an unprecedented crisis. While the mainstream development agenda treats minerals, mines, water bodies, forests and mountains as commodities for ‘commercial exploitation’, the millions of people whose lives are then subjected to uncertainty and exploitation are deliberately ignored in this process. If this is not colonialism in the guise of modern democracy, what is?

At the mandatory public hearing meetings of a supposed development project, far away from these cities – the police fires at will, register false FIRs, coerce people wanting to enforce legal provisions, or threaten those who want to ‘disrupt’ nation-building. It is also not an isolated instance, and has slowly become the norm.  How long does it take before those running vested interests come out and denounce them as ‘anti-development’ or ‘maoist sympathisers’ or ‘foreign-funded miscreants’? How much of it gets silent sanction from each one of us?

These are the same kinds of people who marched to Mumbai, silently in the night so children and their exams do not suffer due to traffic diversions. Their lives might still not change even if Lok Kalyan Marg becomes Race Course Road again, or Deen Dayal Upadhyay Junction is renamed Mughalsarai, or the Niti Aayog resume its work as the Planning Commission. Their lives will change, and so will ours if we can learn to make our so-called leaders and institutions accountable for their actions and inactions. If we can promise this to each other, to come together like those 40,000 people did – strangers to each other but united in cause and action.

Farmers protest march from Nashik on the way to Mumbai arrives at Thane at late evening on Saturday. Express photo by Janak Rathod, 10th March 2018, Mumbai.


Yes, we should not elect to highest offices, hate-mongers and those who do not believe in values of a modern, democratic society. Yes, we have enough of them already. And yes, a dystopian society does not seem much far away. But is there some hope within us, at the end of this tunnel?

I realise that many people might not find it so, for their lives are different than the rest. Many would not take a moment to call this propaganda. But these people in protest are real, you know, living on, fighting on – for themselves and for the rest of us. They demand freedom from apathy. They demand justice and equality.

Who do we speak to then, if not to each other?




Zameen Se Bandi(gi) : The Tale of Love. A protestor’s note

Bhu Adhigrahan Nahi, Bhu Adhikar Chahiye (No Land Acquisition, We want Land Rights) echoed the Parliament Street when almost 20 thousand people gathered in the capital on 24th February to protest the Land Ordinance which the Modi government had hurriedly passed on 30th December 2014. The protestor’s logic was simple – when the people of the country (those poor, ailing, not middle classes, mostly rural, already forced on the margins) have repeatedly said no to an aggressive and pan-national development logic in to take shape in their backyards, it was idiotic for the new government to believe that it could do away with clauses of social impact assessment and requiring consent required for acquiring land for development projects without attracting their ire. They are all reassembling, even more strongly on May 5th, again in Delhi, to reassert their opposition to the ordinance, and take forward the campaign for land rights. Meanwhile, ordinance-burning campaigns and resistance across the country has increased, inviting many illegal arrests, police firing and atrocities on the protesting people from an impatient government.

20000 people assembled in Delhi on 24th Feb to demand the withdrawal of the Land Ordinance. The media mostly dubbed it as the Anna Movement, but he mostly sat there as the guest. It was social movements and other ‘ordinary’ people who led the protests


What followed early in 2015, were opposition parties joining farmer unions, trade unions and social movements across the country to multiply the opposition. The Congress party defended its version of the 2013 Act – while the ruling party maintains that it will solve the ‘critical, even emergency issue’ of the need of land, much needed for setting up industries. Their logic is simple too – development is directly proportional to acquiring more land as industries need land, and the land hence must be acquired at all costs. No longer can the development of the country be allowed to halt, claims everyone in the ruling coalition at the behest of the PMO, some ministers very unconvinced with the argument themselves.
The unleashing of a singular belief in the trajectory of growth and development is a gory dream we gulp down with a tinge of nationalism. While the presented logic usually removes realities of people who do not benefit from this development idea, any other need is considered going back centuries of civilized world order.

burning ordinance
We burnt copies of the ordinance in Delhi, in solidarity with protests across the country, against draconian, and non-consultative legisaltions


Read  Usha Ramanathan’s analysis on the land ordinance  here.

As a citizen of the country, is it a crime to call out fellow citizens and point out failures to move towards pro-people policies, even when loud thumping by the new government dismisses all opposition from individuals and groups as a ‘political ploy’ or just a bunch of ‘anti-national’ and ‘anti-growth’ people, shouting hoarse over everything they want to do to take the country ahead?

The magnificently publicized ‘Make in India’, Smart Cities and Industrial Corridors are the avenues where all the supposedly acquired land is to go (even when millions of hectares of land lie unutilised or in SEZs or in government land banks, or simply under the capture of forest departments). While the Indian government’s logic regards huge corporate industrialization as the only saviour of the country and the economy – its methods and ways are extremely questionable, if not only the intent. Even the Supreme Court raised question of the re-promulgation of the land ordinance on 3rd April 2015, giving the government 4 more weeks to reply on the charges of using Emergency Powers under Article 123 of the Indian Constitution.

(Left) The extent of the proposed Delhi Mumbai Industrial Corridor (DMIC) (Right) Women affected by the mega project wearing topis for scrapping the project.
(Left) The extent of the proposed Delhi Mumbai Industrial Corridor (DMIC)
(Right) Women affected by the mega project wearing topis for scrapping the project.

What is the emergency then? One side may again argue that development is the need of the hour, we need land for development and more industries is equal to more jobs. This logic too, is simple; yet powerfully captures aspirations of a class who has seen the dream they were shown magnificently. Over hundreds of hours of work of PR agencies and shouting leaders – to imagine what nation do they want! How many peasants, farmers, workers, adivasis and dalits even come close to represent their views when their lands, lives and livelihoods are so vigorously debated, and becomes a cause for upheaval in the national and international arena, specially for a government which does not bother too much to care too much about protests. It sees them as an anomaly, an abnormality of sorts – led by anti-national and anti-development brigades.

The criminalisation of dissent and portraying everyone who differs with a single-point agenda of the government is a dangerous trend, especially when no justifications are given in the Parliament or outside, to the demands and concerns raised by the judiciary, activists, farmer and trade unions, journalists, academicians and the intelligentsia. It is simply my way or the highway – perhaps democracy is too much an impediment for the Modi government – who gave a call for Minimum Government and Maximum Governance as the motto of the popularly elected government.
The BJP has found itself in a peculiar position here. On one side, the parent organisation and ideological guru – the RSS has its own agendas en-route to the formation of a Hindu Rashtra. The government has also not done much to differ from the ideologies, except playing down idiotic remarks made by their ministers and MPs against religious minorities, conversions, ghar wapsi, taking away of rights – civil and political. [You know, all to save the nation from the menace that are non-(upper caste)Hindu. Very Good Maths. A+]



But will saying out anything against this would not earn people the tag of pseudo-secular, a dreaded term used by Internet trolls to dismiss all opposition to the stupid ways and objectives? Is this how the 21st century for India will go, in the hands of ever increasing power hungry people? Will ordinary citizens not understand the pain with which the people on the margins are saying no to the efforts of the Dream Man India has stumbled upon? Is the government the only source of making laws and force ways of life – will people never be consulted, their needs never given priority? Are some people more equal than others, indeed?

The loosely used ‘anti-national’ phrase does not bring a smile to people who work day and night to protect the environment, read, discuss and put forward legal opinions all advocate the need for pro-people, and not pro-corporate agendas. Perhaps it does not bring a smile on the donors of thousands of crores to political parties – hence this aggressive campaign. But to hear that from the government, even the PMs mouth only encourages them further, for they must have struck some wrong chords. Why will the PM and the entire executive work overtime to declare a bunch of people as wrong and working on falsely driven agendas? They actually must be making some serious damage.


Avoid 5-star activism : Modi (No Can Do, Baby Doll, Ummah!)

The question of land and acquisition is the story of the farmer, and the landless, the dalit and the adivasi. It is the story of the woman who works day and night in the family, to keep the stove burning. It is the story of millions of people still waiting for getting their constitutional rights recognised – to preserve what is left to preserve, and to build howsoever much they can. The government can only destroy the environment, not create. It is for the local people who have held on which gives us the air to breath, to produce food which we eat and to preserve rain cycles as much as they can.

What governments do is license it out to others to destroy it, dig more mines, build thermal and nuclear power plants, divert rivers to industries – destroying and displacing communities in the process, sanction the conversion of farmland to produce smoking chimneys. Indiscriminate consumption in the name of progress is the progress of only a few, not the many – and certainly not of all. It takes away all that we need to hold dear, and hands it over – sometimes through legislation, and mostly through brute force.


50,000 people assembled in Jashpur, Chhattisgarh against forced land acquisition, and for demand of constitutionally recognised rights over natural resources.

Economic policies today no longer take the conditions of citizens into account. It builds a rhetoric that is backed by all that is powerful – all the wings of state power, the dominant castes and classes, and inter(national) institutional of the first world jumping to finance projects in the third world. Not many spare a thought in the middle of all this for the farmer suicides, for the landless women depending on a 300-rupee pension, for the huge threats to environment and the living reality of climate change. These are mere roadblocks in the discourse of independent nation-building. Nothing must stop marching armies of the nation even when it has to take on its citizens – to build, build and build.

Build on lives?

Then build some more. And a little more after that.

P.S. – Relax, I am not being paid by foreign agents who want to destroy any development activity in the country. I am speaking what I have felt, witnessed and imagine my nation to be – to believe in the people of the country. I claim my active citizenship, my right to dissent and to imagine a future free from the violence of the state. And not put all my trust only in a bunch of people who would want us to believe that it is okay to build houses over the bodies of dead people.  I won’t live in such houses or eat that food.

It would haunt my soul, forever.

Scribbling it out – For the ‘Thought Police’

A few things have been troubling me, and before it engulfs a larger portion of my brain than it already does; I feel I need to write it down and try to make a little sense out of it.

I have, also by the virtue of the constitution, and of universally respected and accepted rights by the simplest virtue of being born as a human being, the right to think. We do not yet (maybe yes) live in the Orwellian world where Big Brother ruled, as it was described. We are close, yes; but there is still no ‘maintained’ squad of the ‘Thought Police’ as he described in the timeless classic, 1984. Maybe it exists in different ways – it is only a matter of time it takes physical shape.

Why I dragged a world-renowned writer to seek justification for my arguments, I am not very sure. But when I think of all that keeps happening around me, nothing else in classical literature comes closer to explain the idea of this society which I am trying to understand, and illustrate. This is not an apologist effort or to slowly convince people to come to my side of the arguments. It is simply and plainly an effort to self-reflect, and to establish a cause-effect relationship for the future.

I do not like the Prime Minister my country has; I never did. I also realise that He is merely an image of so many things I detest that I am unable, and even unwilling to ‘look at the brighter side’. On countless occasions have people asked me why, attacked me and cursed me for saying this out loud, or thinking this out loud. This ‘argument’ today has no place in my priority of things. If someone had really wanted to understand the numerous reasons, they would have actually made the effort. But it is done mostly for the joy of heckling, I guess. I believe the question should have been framed the other way round. I should have been equally aggressive in my ‘comments’ – asking them to justify their opinions. But I never did. I lack(ed) the courtesy and energies to do so with such an alarming rate of people – to ask these questions.

Today, when I see a man up there, revered with loud thumping of people with social, cultural and political privilege, it is deeply unsettling. It unnerves a few tempers. Maybe we are indeed speaking for and with different people. Our honourable PM represents the interest of people who revere him, cheer him, throw open their pockets, and put their trust in a man who says with the roar of a tiger that he will do what he will do – dare to stop him; and people vexed with their despair of everyday life kowtow to the most supreme being.

It is no secret that the corporate money which fuelled the media-intensive campaign is now starting to get its returns, in bulk. Look at the series of constitutional amendments which have been attempted, and passed – and try drawing the lines yourself. I have been meeting people from the villages, groups and institutions which are bearing the burden of the entire ‘development’ – the claimed mandate for the current government. It has forced many to the brink of their own survival, and many are desperate to seek help for bringing into effect constitutional provisions for safeguarding basic values of human rights. When even travelling to a Tehsil office eats away so much of their income, and when District Collectors come marching in with their sepoys and force them to sign ‘acceptance orders’ to take away their rights – imagining legal right and recourse to natural justice is a little far-fetched, and at times even utopian!

It would not only be naïve to ‘wait and watch’ (as many argue) but also idiotic to let things pass. I can bring out examples of dams, mines, slum demolitions and building of malls, among the many things when I say this; but I realize that the entire debate will end up with rhetoric arguments on the development agenda (including some from my side). If only I could list down on a single piece of paper (I intend to do it at a later stage – when I can have the energy and the resources at my disposal) the coercion at the ground, the attacks on groups wanting to invoke and uphold constitutional rights, of growing polarization in the society and the fear all (not so fancily privileged) sections of our society) are experiencing, both in reality and in looming threat!

I also realize that there is growing clamour of ‘Modi-critics’– which turns off many people who really want to engage. Someone told me some time back while I was trying to evade this topic on a beautiful jolly evening – “I am willing to listen. Tell me why you think what you think.” I was lured in for an hour of exciting conversation. All it took was two minutes before the person brought out arguments on the need to be a superpower, moved on to some random statistics on military growth and what not. I was disappointed. “Read my blog and we will come back to this”, I sheepishly said before going back to cooking. During a recent train journey, of complaining of bad food in the trains, a fellow passenger said – “Modi has come. Now he will take care of this. Sabko tight kar dega.

It is one thing to not want to do something about things, and expect a superhero to come solve all your problems. But it is completely irresponsible to also make irrational choices, when millions of people are actually standing up and saying things you were not willing to hear, or know. It pisses me off , a lot!
The ‘mandate’ of the country is to be respected, and I am not wanting or willing to ‘demonise’ people who think exactly how the social, economic and political elite want them to think. And I am also pretty sure this mandate will change direction if and when ‘people’ find their interests are not being fulfilled. This is the strength and the limitation of the existing electoral system – which gives us the power to only change governments, unless people really want to engage in the concept of ‘active citizenship’ (which by fact moves well beyond criticizing politicians and parties at the corner chai stalls – now morphed into social networking sites).
The politics of the country is not my business alone. And is not your business alone. It is a historic moment today in an evolutionary process where a variety of groups of people are wanting (and struggling) to make ends meet, and live in peace and prosperity – but not at the cost of their lives and livelihood, not through the taking away of natural resources in favour of huge corporations, and not by letting the idiots of the Hindutva brigade roam free. Till the time it continues to exist, so will my protest.
What we choose to do, and think is indeed with us now. Let us not point guns at each other without taking an effort to think and understand. Let us not claim supremacy of caste, religion, gender, race or anything for that matter when human suffering does not appall us – and it does not shake the human inside us. Let us not claim to be belonging to a higher evolutionary process in the history of humans when we can actually point out why some innocent people deserved to die, and laugh about it or justify people who applaud such actions.

It is a gruesome and violent society we live in, but we do not necessarily have to live in one.

Let us change this too. Let us start with oneself then.

One at a time?

A few things Mr. Modi could bring with him – Isn’t it time we chose wisely?

Before you dismiss it like probably you do to everything else, or nod in agreement similarly with other things, process it for a moment.

To the ardent fan and the follower, or to the moderate who today sees no other alternative, there probably is a need for all of us to sit down and talk.

No, not about the same things.

I know for a fact that you are bored of  hearing the same things over and over again. Although that does not take away any bit about the authenticity of those arguments or the convictions of people who have written or spoken these things, there is probably a side of the story which has now emerged which needs your attention – your active attention, if you may look up from your smart-phone for a bit.

So your wish came true, and all what a lot of other people (including yours truly) had been already saying (fearing) came to be true as well – that your favourite political party now has an angry, stern and undeterred face in your Mr. Modi as the PM candidate of the BJP. I remember all of your status messages to each other and in random groups – celebrating the occasion. And likewise, I also saw the anger in stern anti-Modi groups of people. I saw the television media – unsure of how exactly to respond – but finding more and more ways to sell things, using adjectives which do not usually find mention unless you are trying to oversell a bad product.


If you are reading this, then you also saw and read those. I do not really need to illustrate it here.

For the ones who believe that it is now time for the Hindus to stand up and dictate everyone around; if you think this is a license to kill and loot at will; if you think this will boost foreign investment which in turn will boost everything in the country or you think that it is now time to do away with democracy, because it is just too much hassle – we need to talk. (And yes! as the rhetoric phrase suggests, it is indeed time for trouble)

Because this is not about the same things, as I promised, it is about the other things – all based on assumption, or projections, as I would like to call these.

I made a list of this from the knowledge of reading minds and writings from a lot of people over the last few years. It may only be appended, not removed, in my humble opinion.

So what is this actually about, if not about the Gujarat model of development, or the charisma of the leader, or 2002, or the rise of communalism, or the effective bureaucratic functioning of the state of Gujarat, of administrative clearances to industries doled out sooner, to forming bigger SEZs, low social indicators, poor reports by national and international agencies on development and human rights, ridicules faced by the leader, of his humble origins, the shrewd overthrow of established leaders and the opportune characters, of the hijack of issues of ‘development’, of the pre-existing vibrant economy of Gujarat, the general apathy of middle-classes, the ghettoization, of intolerance, the building of reactionary politics and more reactionary societies?

It is none of this – and somewhere all of this. It is a call to think maybe a tiny bit more before we take sides. It is a call to think from where we are not – and to be responsible citizens, and be responsible human beings.


Did we all not grow up with the idea that most politicians divide the country for votes, that vested interests run ugly nexus of powerful people who run states and corporations? It seems today many are ready to turn a blind eye to all of it. It is not that all of that we learnt from chai-corners or drawing room discussions was all wrong, it at-least reflected the anger and frustrations of the people living off on the streets and in the homes. From a class of people which  has been branded always as blaming politics for even their vehicles not giving enough mileage, this is sea-change. Everything is fair now, everything is right, because it is war, right?


Economic policies lie at the intersections of majority of conflicts in the country. Do you really think putting out fire with fire is a good idea? Do you think that the majority of conflicts in the country which derive their existence somewhere due to aggressive capitalist expansion, can be solved by more and more of capitalist expansion? Is it not exactly the Modi model of development – if there even exists one!

When the critiques for global capital systems are made, it is usually not its dismissal in the entirety but also a way to understand the resonance it creates among people who are not ‘you’, people who are somewhere also there because you are ‘somewhere’. All these are perspectives, and are living realities for a lot of people. When most of you have claimed to be wanting to do good to society, (I till date have not figured out what exactly is that supposed to mean!) take care to think of wanting to look at all the aspects before you put a blanket on the definitions of development, growth, struggle, culture, and all of that.

Nationalist and citizenship are evolving concepts. To straight-jacket it into only what you believe, and it gets accepted because someone tells you that is how it is, to serve their own vested political and socio-religious interests is violent political behaviour – and from both sides. Probably this will sting, but not everyone believes in ‘Bharat Mata ki Jai’, or ‘Ram Rajya’, or crying ‘Allah-hu-Akbar’. This cannot determine their patriotism, because many do get anything from this patriotism, and because you cannot build patriots at gunpoint. Is that really so important to hold your head high in false pride – just because it serves some alter-ego for some people, while the others die.

You have claimed all this while to be focused on ‘development’. Because the rest are not issues of development, is it? Only pockets can develop, is it?

Think a bit; because all humans are meant to think. Think something else other than planning your weekend getaways, of where to get booze on the next dry day, or about which malls have the biggest sale offers – because that is exactly the grand way to not let people think.  There are a lot of things to think about. And no, it is not somebody else’s responsibility to do that. If it is, then you will have to keep your mouth shut forever and let anything happen – which you believe has to change, right? Isn’t that the slogan which you chant – Change?

So before the project of fitting dreams in people’s eyes even ventures out, think. I will not suggest what to do with your vote – because personally I do not think much will matter who sits at the helm of political power in the country. But I will not make problematic political choices, however insignificant I think they really are, because I believe in the democratic principles of freedom of speech and expression, and of right to life and liberty – and I will not trade warranties over my own right for the absolving for someone else’s. Maybe it is time you do too, or maybe not – it is your choice after all.

You can choose how to die, and kill, or choose how to live.

All of them want Modi as the PM, I just want to have my coffee

I will admit. Even before I thought of what I will write here, I realized I will either be praised or be attacked. There would be back-handed compliments or  sugar-coated criticism, minced and fried with sharp dismissal of opinions, I am expecting that. You ask why? Oh don’t you know already. Its because it involves at least something in passing about the most talked about four-letters in India currently, D-I-M-O (arranged alphabetically so that only humans can understand it, because going by the size of it, I am pretty sure there are programs designed to identify and abuse anyone or anything written, spoken, heard, imagined or dreamt about him).

So what is it I want to write now, after all this time, after all what has been written and spoken, and argued and fought over, you ask again? I will tell you. Morning news has changed for a lot of people. Newspaper articles are all online. Blogs and comments following a piece of (mis) information shape how people who have responded to it, and pegs you to form an opinion. So now everyone has an opinion that can be expressed easily. Earlier letters sent to newspapers and magazines were awaited, so that we could see them published. It was supposed to be a huge achievement – almost being part of history, at least for a few people . Today most of it has become online – and mostly there is another four-letter word for that. Its called S-P-A-M (necessarily in that order). I have spammed many, and the reverse is true as well. I always look-forward to a lively and well-informed debate. There was a time when this used to happen. Now it is mostly just dead meat.

The Indian audience has largely not held on to basic premises on which a discussion, an argument, an agreement can be held. I guess because the computer is cheaper – so has the language also become. Everything is cheaper – the internet connection, smartphones, 2G/3G internet special packs, tablets, different versions of the i-pad, launching a plethora of products which has brought the world closer. Online chatting is now no longer understood as a misguided activity which forms the night-life of majority of college-students in estranged cyber-cafes on flirting chat groups. It has received the silent consent of the society as a form of communication, in a world where phone chats have replaced long letters sent over post.

My apologies. I almost forgot that you came here to read what I had to say about the four-letter word, and not my pathetic nostalgia about something you do not probably care about. So coming back to the question at hand, what new exactly will I say that will make my point clearer. Nothing. Having closely followed everything that has happened around our prospective-PM, I have realized that lines are already drawn. A large number of the people wander around in the middle, with the communist/secular/sickular/pseudo-secular janta is up in arms against a communal-prejudiced/Hindu nationalist right. Both of them claim to have understood the nuances of everything that goes around. And all of them speak for a lot, crores at a time, people. The decreasingly decent ones have tried putting facts, figures and perspectives in front of the others while the other has taken all the painstaking efforts to build counter-arguments. The rest have now resorted to make it a university examination of all the gendered-abuses they have learnt till date.

And I must say, people are doing exceedingly well in this arena. The others floating around are so caught unawares in this that they have already applied for the Australian visa, atleast there is good and cheap beer there (this is the one thing in this piece that I base truly on hearsay). All of the three categories are the small minority of people who have access and ownership over some form of online spaces. Around 70 crore people (if I am being modest in the figures) are not anywhere here. They are too busy tilling the lands of their landlords, or picking your waste, cleaning and cooking for you – or getting shot by bullets in the ‘conflict-zones’ of this country. The rest are just sleeping around the huge pillars of your huge infrastructural architecture – your metro stations, your lush-green real estate apartments, your factories, and beneath your dams and power stations.

They still have not exercised their vote, and more importantly their voices. Not yet. But they will. And the bubble of everything around this four-letter word will then burst. All the arguments of Nationalism, Development, Growth, Progress, Communalism, Mass-Murder, Rape, Violence, all of it will change. All of these people have still not talked about these, because they are too busy living all these, while the rest has merely watched movies and interviews, read reports, argued or have plainly just abused each other. They have not lived everything, probably the ones that they could make use of – ‘skewed development’, for example, that the four-letter word has done to them.

I might rest my case till then. It could take a few years. Elections would come and go. Worst fears on both sides might be realized in this time. I will keep sipping my coffee till then, but I still might not rest my case till then.

Modi (not) for PM : Battling a lost cause?

In the past one year the call for Mr. Modi to become the Prime Minister and rid the country of bad governance, making it developed, has grown – and it has multiplied exponentially. People share pictures and messages comparing him and Rahul Gandhi, asking to choose development over family legacy, a family which has held on to power since decades and has ruined the country, they argue. I would agree with the latter. However, I do not see the point of this discussion. It is not an either-or situation – and nobody knows what is the lesser devil here.

Now, lets talk some ground realities. What we self-claimed intellectual classes feel about it is a minority opinion; and going by the history of this country – any minority opinion needs to struggle to death before it can even be acknowledged. Insidious propaganda is not the only thing which goes on today. Everywhere, you might have across someone who makes your blood boil by extending his/her warm support for a man you despise so much. Someone somewhere would like, comment or share something about it, and with recent privacy settings on your Facebook account, you get a glimpse of it. Sometimes you argue, sometimes you let it slide. You grin, make a mental note of the person, and gear up to have an argument someday in the future; or sometimes you just hurl abuses in your mind.

Sometimes you would have met people, friends or acquaintances, and eventually this topic would come up. Everyone seems to wanting to mirror their concerns and worries about the future of this country – it is the common obsession for the sensitive middle classes ever since the Delhi gangrape incident of December. You would not have realised when the conversation would have shifted from asking for death penalty for rapists to that of seeking support for Mr. Modi. Sometimes, you would declare that you do not agree to any of it, and no quantum of arguments would be able to convince either side. Both parties would end up citing individual choice – you would facepalm yourself, and they would laugh at your naivety and you idealism, and your humanism, and everything else that you seem to represent. You would go back to sleep thinking of newer arguments or perhaps a better way to articulate them – to convince those who did not agree, just when someone would share another photo, and it would be the same thing all over again.

So, what is the basis of these arguments. You could easily call them right-wing fundamentalists (most of them are indeed!) and move over to the next person, only to witness a somewhat sophisticated and subtle mirroring of the same thing, this time from someone you know to be quite ambivalent in their aspects of life. These men or women always treat their house-help with respect, they call their parents everyday, they do not ill-treat women travelling in buses. They even do not throw waste on the road. They do not ask the caste of people who serve their food in restaurants. In short, They are the ‘good people’. Now this set of good people agree all you have to say against Mr. Modi. But they also agree to everything that is spoken in his support. This is the most blatant (ab)use of individual choice – being apolitical or liberal openly. They are openly against ‘dirty, divisive and communal politics’. They flamboyantly treat ‘all religions equally’ and they have ‘never discriminated against any caste’. The good people will vote for Mr. Modi when the time comes – and you will be stuck with your little protest. They will move forward and make sure that continuous growth in the country is ensured – you can take your little cynicism and shove it somewhere else.

However, all the good people and the media tell us that the youth of today is discontent – and they are angry. There are scams in tune of thousands of crores out in the open and people responsible for them are never punished. The women are not safe anywhere, the economy is falling and there is rising unemployment. There is no water in the taps, petrol prices are also rising. The present government is inefficient, corrupt and indifferent to the concerns of the citizenry; it is bound to lose. It only seems fitting to put someone in charge who is said to have overcome all of this where he has worked for the past ten years. I would disagree with none of it.

There are proven reports of autocratic workings of Mr. Modi in Gujarat. Political analysts have traced his rise to power as a direct result of his shrewd and opportunist character. His resistance to democratic and regulatory institutions are out in the open for anyone who wants to see it. Bureaucracy in the state of Gujarat pays homage to him in person. Eye-witnesses compare the pomp and show of his public appearances for any public function as to any feudal landlord. I am somehow reminded of Julius Caesar. We probably did not learn enough from Shakespeare. He warned us of giving power to an authoritarian to restore democracy. But what does Shakespeare know! Notwithstanding what the courts and investigating agencies have done with Mr. Modi about the 2002 riots, the last thing his involvement can be termed is a ‘mistake’. There is a large sentiment which might not hold him responsible for it – as they believe the courts cannot be wrong – and agree to give him a chance, for the country has run out of options. Rome has indeed found his new hero.

Let us now crown him and see – does he give power, affluence and democracy back to the people or does he take them away and turn it into a dictatorship. If this was the glorious Rome, and I was fed up of constant wars – even I might choose a Hitler, a Caesar or a Modi to put things back in order. Nobody questioned the effectiveness of the Caesars or Hitlers of the world, they are very effective in what they do – and that is the biggest problem. But history is taught for a lesson – to not make the same mistakes again. And no number of good people can convince me to make this mistake. I shall not trade any kind of skewed growth and ill-development for democracy. I shall not give up my rights to speak freely for the promise of a distant and imaginary land. And I shall not accept hopelessness and fanaticism to rule the psyche of this county.

Why can’t the ghosts of 2002 be buried soon enough

I do not really watch much TV. I prefer reading over listening to reports of how we are lucky that aliens did not attack us yesterday. If they (the TV channels) had their way, they would even say that it was their correspondent who saved the world. However, YouTube allowed me to see a news debate following Mr. Modi’s speech at the prestigious Sri Ram College of Commerce (SRCC) recently. I was startled to notice that the panel representing the youth consisted of a young entrepreneur from Bangalore, a suit-clad student from SRCC, and a girl who had openly questioned, and subsequently upset a CM currently in power. There were obviously the riots of 2002 which were to be discussed, that is quite inescapable. Surprisingly, there was not one student from the Muslim community. Perhaps all muslim students are only thought to be associated with terrorist organisations, and do not deserve a place when the supposed young population is to assemble and discuss their issues? When coming to the question of the tainted figure of Mr. Modi, our representatives of the youth in the debate asked us to move on, and bury the past. They asked us to look at the Gujarat model of development – trust me my friend, we have never stopped looking.

There was a huge protest amidst the arrival of Mr. Modi at SRCC. The protesting youth was then beaten up, attacked and molested by the police and the hooligans from youth parties, ready to counter-attack them with slogans of anti-patriotism. So, if you do not believe in the idea of ‘Hindutva’, you have automatically reserved a place for yourself in the train to Pakistan – for you no longer belong here. I saw media clips of protesters breaking barricades and trying to attack the convoy of Mr. Modi – at least that’s what the headlines said. It added that all the people in the protest are mainly from the communist parties, so even if that were true, they perhaps had not much legitimacy in their protests. Thanks to online blogs and social networking sites, I could find out exactly what happened from eye-witness accounts of people whose stories were not good enough for these TV channels. Unless all of them were apparently maoists or had links with terrorist organisations in Pakistan, they seemed quite believable.

I earlier had seen the video of Mr. Modi’s speech (if the youth from the debate are to be believed, was extremely impressive, considering he did not speak from a piece of paper). There was nothing much in it, except he spoke like one of those self-help books – saying he saw the glass more than half full – also comprising of air and glass. How does this help development discourses, I am not sure. How does this address existing conflicts in the country, I am still unsure – except that it is a language used by management pundits when they speak about maximization of resources. Had India been a multi-billion corporate, I would have been impressed with the idea. But contrary to the expectations of a lot of people – it is still a country with living people – with lives, cultures, and traditions. How do I sit in awe over such generic management mantras and treat such people as worthy of being statesmen able to handle the complexities of running a county – I am again unsure.

The debate on the news channel moved from a range of issues. Aspects of ‘development’ were brought out. Poor human development indices of Gujarat were shown. The girl seemed to agree and said that you cannot ignore human rights of minority communities and need to look at ‘development for whom and at what cost’ . The rest of youth shook their head in disappointment, they said all states have problems, but if you go and see Gujarat, muslims are more happy than ever. They now have their own colony with all modern amenities, and they have a strong society of their own. Thankfully we had someone enlightened enough in the panel to point out that it was a ghetto outside the main city he was referring to – and it brought a strange sense of hope to my friend’s face, who was watching the debate along with me. Perhaps we are a different kind of youth – who fail to fit in the news channel’s definitions of a young India. Perhaps people who study society, economics, politics and development are not good enough to discuss these as the issues of the youth. Perhaps there is a need for people like us to go through a rigorous training for accepting mainstream ideas to qualify as the youth in the county. Perhaps we need to learn to clap at every speech made by Mr. Modi to become the youth.

Everytime there is talk of the 2002 genocide in Gujarat, which keeps surfacing again and again ever since Mr. Modi’s Prime Ministerial ambitions have been openly highlighted, there is an increasingly impatient audience who does not fail to remind anyone and everyone talking about Gujarat that even if you do not accept the pogrom of 2002 as a ‘response’ to Godhra – justice has yet not been done for the 1984 anti-sikh riots, or the mass exodus of Kashmiri pundits in 1990 cannot be forgotten. Hence, to continuously harp on the Gujarat riots is not correct. We have to move ahead. True, neither 1984 nor 1990 can be forgotten! And it is not in the best interest to let the guilty go unpunished as well. And we truly have to move on. But you cannot move on when wounds are still fresh. You cannot adore perpetrators for what they have done, that is not called moving on. And you cannot collect a bunch of wide-eyed people, running after the latest cars and gadgets as their sole motive in life, as representative of the youth in this country. I refuse to be a part of such a ‘rising youth’. And the youth needs today needs to see more clearly the complexities of the society before they claim themselves to be the rightful heirs of the land.