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Where are the protests?

In the run up to the general elections of 2014, opinions were expressed against BJP’s plank of the Gujarat model of development. Modi had promised to develop India along the lines of Gujarat.

This notion was criticised by many in the intellectual spectrum, which included economist Jean Drèze. In an article titled 'The Gujarat Middle' in The Hindu, he argued that Gujarat ranked midway as far as the Human Development Index was concerned; and that states like Tamil Nadu and Kerala fared better in these rankings. However, nothing at all was to stem the Modi wave — the BJP won an outright majority and Modi was declared Prime Minister.

Five months into his tenure, the Prime Minister has taken big decisions, one after the other, which find mention in newspapers, receive flak and then disappear. Sometimes there is a whimper on Facebook like a ‘link (of protest)’ and the next day there’s something else to share on social networking sites.

Reports in the media suggest that the government plans to dilute provisions of the Forest Rights Act, which requires the consent of gram sabhas before land is diverted for development projects. This assumes importance as last year the gram sabhas in the Niyamgiri Hills of Odisha refused to give consent to Vedanta's bauxite mining project. The Union Ministry of Environment and Forests felt that it was important to protect the rights of the tribals, and it was this Act that gave them the power to do so. If this Act is diluted, we can well imagine the implications. Union Minister of State for Environment Prakash Javadekar reportedly said that the Act would be amended if need be. At the end of the day, their motto is that there should be no impediment to the path of development, which actually means economic growth.

Week after week, we have writers draw our attention to Universal Health Coverage and how treatment for certain life-threatening diseases can wipe out savings of the poor and the middle class. The public is in a catch 22 situation — going to private hospitals where you are bound to get ripped off or queuing up at overcrowded government hospitals. Isn’t 'good health' or a steady access to health services something we ought to have as a matter of right?

The powers of the National Pharmaceutical Pricing Authority of India (NPPA) to decide on price controls of medicines not in the list of National List of Essential Medicines (NLEM) were recently withdrawn by the government. Therefore, the NPPA which had planned to regulate prices of drugs for cancer, HIV, TB — not included in the NLEM, would not be able to do so in consequence of the Department of Pharmaceuticals directive.

This decision was taken a few days ahead of PM Modi's visit to the U.S. It’s easy to guess why.

Dumbing down of public

Modi was banned from entry into the U.S. for nearly a decade. This was until he became Prime Minister of India. It seems the U.S. had a lot to make up for. How was the U.S. going to persuade India to open up its market, give in to its demands of the Intellectual Property Rights regime?

How was the U.S. going to placate a man it had banned for overlooking acts of violence in Gujarat in 2002 during his tenure as Chief Minister? What was the U.S. to tell its own people that it was welcoming a man it had banned by invoking the International Religious Freedom Act? Invite him to address a big crowd at Madison Square Garden. Have him welcomed by actor Hugh Jackman. Host a dinner by President Barack Obama. A section of people in the U.S. were said to be enthralled by Modi’s speech.

I was reminded of an article titled 'An age of Ignorance' in New York Review of Books by Charles Simic, professor of American literature, who found it appalling that students did not know of the historical agitations in their home towns. He spoke of a population that believed in lies propagated by the government, in contexts of war and in instances where public money was used to save erring banks.

This time in September 2014, it was a group of Indian Americans that was welcoming of Modi, whose government had reportedly turned a blind eye to the Naroda Patiya massacre where women and children were slaughtered.

Yet, every day in my life, I find myself surrounded by people, who rave about Modi, mainly about his accomplishments as a speaker, as they gloss over his actions of the past and the present. We are witnessing a deliberate dumbing down of a public that is not responsive to the ploys of politicians.

As I type, the Aam Aadmi Party is busy creating muck around the Swachh Bharat campaign by putting up photos of garbage on Delhi streets. Three years ago, Arvind Kejriwal did seem to be fighting for public good, right now he is gearing up for the Delhi Assembly elections. In the entire process, issues requiring heavy intellectual debate do not find mention beyond a center page article in newspapers. There are far too many distractions.

Catch 22 and funny interpretations

The opinions for and against Modi are funnily construed. If you are anti-Modi, it means that Modi is being unnecessarily targeted, because he is better than Dr. Manmohan Singh in many ways. If you criticise Modi, you got to be leftist or from the minority community. Some people even claim that Modi is ‘pro-poor', (not different from Obama being labelled socialist). This is very similar to Catch 22 by Joseph Heller. It's my fourth attempt at reading the book. This time I appreciate it as I find it easier to understand what's happening around me — novel situations and temperaments of people.

After Modi was appointed PM, some of those who had voted against him, believed that he must be given a chance. Five months after he took over the reins, this is what we get to see: MGNREGA, a programme which provides 100-days employment to the rural poor, may get restricted to 200 districts of the country. This evokes memories of the National Advisory Council's recommendation of restricting universal Public Distribution System to one fourth of the poorest districts during the UPA regime, which meant the exclusion of poor in other areas thus not covered. At this point, we don't even know what the Modi government has in mind as far identifying the 200 districts is concerned.

Three years ago, it was a cry against corruption: The Anna Hazare movement that had centered on a struggle against corruption captured the imagination of the middle class, who believed in this agitation as a matter of their right to a corruption-free system. They had effectively managed to shake people up to fight for a ‘common good’.

Today, it is the same system and businesses which are swiftly and surreptitiously eating into our basic right to live. It’s time we woke up and realised what we as a public stand to lose in the coming days in view of what he have already lost.

(Bincy Mathew writes on issues and events that strike her, sometimes with a serious focus, and the rest with a humourous touch.)

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Printable version | Apr 17, 2021 6:05:03 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/blogs/blog-free-for-all/article6551190.ece

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