One of the things the Narendra Modi government is wrongly accused of is turning India into a sort of illiberal nation.
The word illiberal means intolerant and supporting restrictions on freedoms of speech and action. I say the government is wrongly accused of it because the facts show that India’s government has never been particularly liberal, even under the Congress.
Civil society groups and non-governmental organisations that have been working on some issues for decades will vouch for what I am saying. Issues like rights of Adivasis, Kashmiris and the people of the North East have not come into focus recently. They have been with us for decades and it is wrong to assume that it is this government, or this prime minister, that is the root cause of the problems.
The exploiting of Adivasi land, which is the richest in terms of mineral wealth, began even before Jawaharlal Nehru. Some of the nastiest and some of the most heavy-handed action against Adivasis came under the Congress government of Manmohan Singh. All Adivasis are punished for the alleged crimes of a few and the presence of tens of thousands of paramilitary personnel in the Indian heartland is proof of that.
In October, 2015, newspapers reported the headline ‘Anti-Maoist operations: Chattisgarh, IAF to carry out retaliation attacks from air’. The story was that the Indian Air Force would use its Russian made MI-17 helicopters to attack its own citizens from the air. The reports said that the air force had carried out “successful exercises” and that "three IAF helicopters flew over Bijapur and practised strafing.”
The word strafing means “to attack repeatedly with bombs or machine gun fire from low flying aircraft.” Those who are familiar with India will know that there are no parts of it that are totally deserted or unpopulated and so it would be interesting to see what happened to that area that our air force was practicing bombing and machine gunning.
The point is that this level of violence is not new in that area and the State has suppressed its agitating citizens with guns from before British times. It is not only wrong to assume it began with Modi but it is also misleading because it ignores the real issue. Before Modi and unfortunately after him as well, this is how the State has behaved and will continue to behave with its citizens.
I was in conversation with P Chidambaram a few months ago and he was saying that India should lift Armed Forces (Special Powers) Acts (AFSPA) from Kashmir. He is one of our most intelligent politicians and I have great respect for him. However, I wish he had expressed the same sentiment when he was the home minister, because it would have been much more credible.
Those who are upset by the government’s hard position against agitating Kashmiris should know also that it is exactly as rigid as the position of previous governments. Only the rhetoric is a little different. Congress also killed as many — more actually — it carried a big stick but spoke softly. The only difference is that the BJP uses harsher language.
The State has always operated on priorities that are at variance from the needs and rights of its population. We accuse British imperialists of looting India and sending our resources to serving their own purposes. The example of the Bengal famine of 1943 because of the war policy is often cited. This was an unconscionable conduct in a part of the world where people were starving and illiterate. However, I wonder how different this is from the way it is under democracy.
Last year we spent Rs 59,000 crore on 36 fighter jets for the Indian Air Force. This year we are spending 50,000 crore on 57 fighter jets for the Indian Navy. This is happening in a nation whose Union health budget is Rs 33,000 crore a year (it was actually cut under Arun Jaitley). Ten thousand Indian children die every week of malnourishment but we cannot afford to spend more money on them and would rather buy more toys for our armed forces.
Is this not as immoral an act as that of the British Raj? Can anyone make the case that we absolutely need these new planes? No. And the point is, that there is not even a debate about this in our country and there has never been one.
All governments have followed similar pursuits and though one may disagree with this prime minister on many things, one must accept that he is only continuing what others before him did.
Updated Date: Jun 11, 2017 13:48 PM