Updated: July 24, 2021 7:38:35 am
Can a government obsessed with managing headlines not see that it is going about it in spectacularly the wrong way? Clearly not, given the Income Tax Department raids for alleged tax evasion on the premises of the Dainik Bhaskar Group, on the UP-based Bharat Samachar channel in Lucknow, and its persistent stonewalling of questions raised by the Pegasus revelations. Only days earlier, Dainik Bhaskar carried reports recalling allegations of phone-tapping of politicians and bureaucrats in Gujarat when Narendra Modi was chief minister, in the context of the Pegasus revelations. Before that, the newspaper had been aggressive in April-May in its reporting of the second wave of the pandemic, challenging the official coronavirus death figures. The fact also is that the BJP-led government at the Centre has earned itself quite a reputation for unleashing enforcement agencies on dissenters and political opponents. The burden of proof of good faith, therefore, rests on the government — and it will not be easy. There will be few takers for the brand new Information & Broadcasting Minister’s assertions that there is no interference with the functioning of government agencies.
This government has a syndrome — it paints itself as the besieged even as it wields a strong arm. In its narrative, there is a conspiracy constantly afoot to undermine it, run, in no particular order, by political opponents, the “Lutyens’ elite” that has not reconciled to the ascendance of the Modi-BJP, their shadowy associates in foreign lands, “anti-nationals”, enemies of “New India”. In this story, the Modi government must always be in battle gear, swatting enemies and Others, slaying ghosts and spectres, never admitting a mistake, or turning the searchlight inwards. Criticism of its work — from management of Covid to the economy — is met by outright denial. When the Pegasus revelations come to light, ministers rush to point the finger outwards, at a bid to “malign Indian democracy and its well established institutions”. Even the opportunity to recast governance is lost in a cabinet revamp that focuses more on how the government is to be projected, and less on how it is run.
It may be possible to recognise the deep anxiety and insecurity that lies at the core of the government’s shows of machismo. As with a bully, its strong-arm action betrays nervousness, certainly not strength and confidence. But the toll this is taking on freedoms and institutions is a cause for concern. Short of the halfway mark of its second term, the government needs to pause and ask itself if the time has come to take off the combat fatigues, and show greater ease and large-heartedness, less prickliness and vindictiveness, in power. That was the responsibility cast on it by its large mandate.
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