The BJP has, predictably, pinned all its hopes on creating hype about our endangered national security. No one can miss the total break between Narendra Modi’s rhetoric in 2014 and his election masala this time around. Intelligent voters will, given that Modi has failed to deliver on all promises made in 2014, conclude that “crying wolf” about a neighbouring country, which is no match for India in any respect, is meant to deflect attention from the poverty of a party’s performance in office.
Yet, there are “threats” that we face today. To see them in perspective, a distinction needs to be made between the threats that the people endure and the threat that plagues those in power. Modi and company would like us to believe that they are the same. They are not.
The “security threat” that Modi faces is from the voters; a threat to continuity in office. The signs of desperation are everywhere, and they cannot be missed or mistaken. Why would Modi, who has a penchant for unrivalled leadership and hegemonistic domination, be so desperately keen to enter into pre-poll alliances with uncomfortable outfits — the Shiv Sena in Maharashtra and AGP in Assam, to take just two examples — if he felt electorally secure? Why else would he use agencies like the CBI, ED and I-T against his rivals in an electorally suggestive manner? Are we to believe that economic offenders are to be found only among his political rivals? Why would Modi sacrifice five seats in Bihar out of the 22 his party is currently holding to ensure that the JD(U) is on board? Surely, there is a manifest “insecurity” issue here. And it is understandable that it has intensified to a feverish pitch since the setbacks the BJP suffered in the recent assembly elections.
Secondly, there are security threats that several sections of the society — especially farmers, unemployed youth, small-scale entrepreneurs, Dalits, Adivasis and religious minorities — are facing. There is no greater insecurity than a threat to one’s survival. Suicide is the ultimate and unambiguous acknowledgement of insecurity. Ask the farmers across India, they will readily agree. Modi needs to answer why farmer suicides have increased, rather than decreased since 2014. How does this square with his promise to double the income of farmers? The talented and well-educated youths of India are second only to the farmers in the desperation they harbour.
They are highly “insecure”. Lynch mobs have added to the insecurity of vulnerable sections of the society. Anti-Romeo squads — unofficial, lumpen squads out to terrorise individuals who exercise the freedom to choose their life-partners — have widened the ambit of this insecurity. Free thinkers and votaries of our rational-secular culture are stigmatised and damned as urban Naxals and anti-national saboteurs. Our liberal centres of educational excellence — JNU, University of Hyderabad, FTII, etc — too have felt the heat.
There is, finally, the threat from across the border. Admittedly we have an unwise and intransigent neighbour to live with. But this is nothing new. Successive governments have had to deal with this headache. It is integral to the duties of those who govern the country. If it is handled well, the security environment improves; otherwise, it worsens, as indeed it has in the last five years. That given, discerning voters will ask a few questions: Why is it that the borders begin to boil closer to election times? Why is it that the BJP is so palpably edgy when commonsensical questions are asked out of legitimate curiosity by anyone? Why does it become a patriotic duty to accept on blind faith — like in fundamentalist religions — “official versions” put out for public consumption? What patriotic duty is it that coerces citizens to consume what they are not free to examine? Why is it necessary that military operations are dragged into the public sphere where, in a democracy, citizens should be free to examine them on their merits?
The opposition parties — especially the Congress — are doing the country a service by re-focusing the national debate on people-centred, real-life issues. As a non-partisan political observer with a lifelong commitment to social justice, I am relieved that the 2019 elections are being fought on where the parties stand in relation to issues like rural and farmer distress, unprecedented unemployment, escalating social and communal tensions, economic and industrial instability due to reckless governance, etc. Citizens, if they are mature, will not allow themselves to be hijacked by mendacious propaganda, even of the most electrifying kind. They know that by voting in indifference to their needs, aspirations and lived realities, they invite, legitimise and perpetuate mis-governance.
Those who are in touch with the election scenario cannot miss the fact that the charismatic appeal that Modi had in 2014 has waned. Now, TV channels keep the cameras turned away from crowd-responses as Modi goes on with his predictable lines of attack. Such “Modi-Modi, Modi-Modi” chants now sound feeble, forced and contrived.
The common man appears to have read aright the “security threat” that he is facing. He has concluded that his life and welfare matter a great deal more than potent doses of insincere rhetorical flourishes: Electrifying to hear, but illusory to live by. This had its novelty in 2014. But the last five years has dimmed its authenticity. Now the words remain; the magic is gone. As a politically savvy person put it the other day, with reference to the advertisement about gas connections given to the poor, “Well, they seem to have got gas connections; the rest of the country mere gas, without the connections.” Many may not paint as vivid a picture as this cynic, but there are millions who feel likewise. This should worry Modi and his cheering squad.
This article first appeared in print under the headline: Insecurity at the top
The writer is Vedic scholar and social activist