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For Indians 2017 must be the year of rebellion– of the peaceful variety. There is nothing wrong with revolting against bad government. It is not sedition against the country. Indians must rise up in peaceful revolt and protest to ensure that their country’s government works for their collective dream of a better and fairer India of more jobs, good public healthcare, better education and less corruption. They must stand up in peaceful protests and tell the increasingly deaf government in Delhi they can’t eat statues, no matter how tall they are.
Domestically and internationally, the Modi government is stumbling from one blunder to another. The devastating demonetisation was rung in on November 8th, completely out of the blue. Even the Reserve Bank of India, the guarantor and regulator of the Indian currency learnt only three hours before Modi threw the demonetisation grenade on the bumbling RBI and the unsuspecting public. Ever since that shock, millions of people have been queuing up at the banks and the ATMs everyday; despite the government’s promises to the contrary the end of queues seems not in sight.
While demonetisation wreaks havoc on the economy and a significant portion of India suffers in horrible poverty, Modi government, in the true Marie Antionette fashion of “let them eat cake”, is promising the tallest statues of steel, marble and stone. Modi’s right wing supporters such as the RSS, the Thackeray outfits and others are bent upon on reviving medieval fiefdoms of fanaticism, bigotry and intolerance; they are playing havoc with the essential ethos and fabric of the country.
2016 witnessed China’s increasing militarisation of the South China Sea and its deepening encirclement of India. In addition to continuing to strengthen its military presence in the South China Sea, on the man-made islands and otherwise, China has also been building infrastructure such as deep sea ports and roads in and to the countries around India–collectively called the string of pearls. Recently Russia has expressed strong support for the China Pakistan Economic Corridor, part of China’s Silk Road Project, which severely impinges on and violates India’s claim of sovereignty over the Pakistan Occupied Kashmir. Russia is even talking about its idea of a Eurasian Economic Union possibly merging with China’s Silk Road Project.
Mr. Modi’s foreign policy has resulted in an isolated India, Pakistanised and delivered into the USA’s lap. Russia and Iran have begun to come together around China’s economic and other incursions into the POK. Russia, Iran and Pakistan are also beginning to see some shared interests in Afghanistan that are clearly at substantial variance with India’s. Modi and his mandarins should have anticipated these dangerous chess moves. It seems they didn’t. They have now been caught with their foreign policy pants down.
The so-called demonetisation was the dumbest Mohammed-bin-Tuglaki scheme to instantly delegitimize 86 percent of India’s currency. It has severely hurt the economy, the GDP and worst of all, the lives of ordinary people forcing them to stand in lines day after day, while the corrupt, the rich and the powerful would receive bundles of new notes sitting at home. There has been a brisk hoarding of billions in new notes and gold by the corrupt, putting a lie to Modi and his cronies’ nauseating claims that this new scheme was to end corruption. In fact it has been a Modi-sent boon to the corrupt including the bankers–even some RBI bankers.
A substantial part of India’s population continues to endure obscene poverty–of gigantic proportions. The country is home to the largest number of poor people in the world. Millions upon millions of Indians continue to live in shanties, hovels and on footpaths all over India. Millions more live in some of the largest slums in the world such as the one sitting cheek by jowl to the spanking new Mumbai airport. The pauperisation and suicides of Indian farmers continue unabated while the Nero like, blissfully blind Modi government of India, slumbers along in its crusade of statues.
Modi’s answer to the problems of India: more statues and more gimmicks. Demonetisation was one such tragic gimmick of a Prime Minister wanting to appear to do something against corruption. To distract people suffering from the demon of demonetisation, he has settled on another gimmick–a statue of Shivaji, another Indian hero, simply to hide his terrible political crime of doing nothing or very little to feed, clothe, shelter and educate India’s poor. For covering up the unpardonable political offence of neglecting the basic needs of ordinary Indians, Modi is wasting at least 7000 crores of Indians’ money on Shivaji’s and Patel’s statues–something they would have called a crime against India’s poor.
Then there are those such as Ram Sutar, the sculptor of the Patel and Shivaji statues, who argue if no one built monuments, the world would have been deprived of the Taj Mahal. One can’t argue with the dead Shah Jahan. The kings of yore like the dictators of today, such as North Korea’s Kim Jong-un, could do no wrong. Anybody saying otherwise would be liable to have his/her head chopped off. Thankfully, Modi is the not the King of India. He is the Prime Minister of the country, the leader of the majority in the elected Lok Sabha. He is accountable to the people of India and the poor among them who elected him to this high office. And he isn’t supposed to chop off mine or anyone else’s head. Any Indians, the poor, the marginalised, the socially and economically disenfranchised have the right to publicly challenge him: “So long as even a solitary Indian soul in India has to sleep on a pavement, in a shanty, hovel or a slum what right do you have to build these extravagant edifices for those who, would themselves have condemned them?”
There is no viable or strong opposition on the horizon to the Modi government’s eloquent jumlas. The Congress is dying under its own corruption and the dead weight of its absolutely depressingly dull and decaying, if not already decayed, dynasty. Almost all other parties are regional and/or small, unable to pose any significant challenge to the Modi government now or in the near future. So the BJP has no incentive to change course, stop building walls of division around regions, religions and castes and become a government dedicated to the welfare of all Indians by building prosperous, fair, just and inclusive India.
Under these terrible circumstances, the Indians revolting in 2017, rising up in vigorous and peaceful protests in the country, to chart a new course for India is the greatest gift they could give to themselves and the country. In that spirit of legitimate, rebellious and peaceful protest, my wish for India in 2017 is that they rise in humungous protests to force Modi to provide a gimmick and Jumla-free government for India; a government that unites not divides along regional, religious or caste lines; a government that builds schools, colleges, hospitals, sewage facilities, universities and research facilities –not lifeless statues to hoodwink Indians into believing something useful is being done when in fact nothing is.
Indians do have the capacity to rise. They showed it in the freedom movement led by Mahatma Gandhi and then again against Indira’s emergency led by Jay Prakash Narayan. Paraphrasing Mahatma’s memorable words, the Indians need to rise up in protest “to be the change [they] want”; and make 2017 the most memorable year of the powerful ordinary Indians.