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Running out of tricks

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With the government’s obfuscations exposed, the Republic is at a moment of reckoning

There is a classic American street hustle called Three-card Monte. A simple description of it is ‘a sidewalk gambling game run by shady operators to fleece passersby’. The operator sits with a flat surface in front of him on which he moves three playing cards, their backs facing up. Two of the cards are of the same kind, and one different. At the start of the ‘game’, the man shows you the cards before turning them over, telling you to keep your eye on the odd card. Then he moves the cards around. When he stops, you have to point out the odd card. In order to draw you in, the man moves the cards at a slow speed. Then he moves them faster, but you find you can still manage to keep your eye on the odd card. As you watch, other people play and win easy money. Once you take the plunge, things change. The earlier players take their winnings and leave. As you put your money down, the hands become a blur. You’re still sure you’re tracking the right card, but somehow you never win. As you bet more and more money, the man varies his speed and histrionics, occasionally slowing down ‘to make it easy for you’, and you keep feeling you’re just about to win big but your wallet keeps emptying.

The perils of questioning

What is happening is that the man is actually holding two cards in one hand, holding on to the odd card and dropping the wrong one in its place. A more elaborate version of this has the operator show you the cards he has in his shirt pocket; here he uses more than three cards, one of them double-sided (example, joker one side, ace on the other) but deftly changes them over in his pocket. With either method, the result is the same: your greed, gullibility and distractability are used to cheat you.

In India and elsewhere, there are similar gambling games, using cards or walnuts and peas or whatever, all working the same principle. Now, should you accept your losses and go, the matter ends. However, if you spot the cheating mechanism and point that out, or if you grab the man’s hand and demand to see the cards, the friendly patter will cease. Thugs standing not too far away will suddenly loom over you, possibly the same men who were ‘winning’ when you first got there. You will be told to leave quietly or face serious bodily harm. If you call for the police, you will likely find them looking the other way or threatening to arrest you after you’ve been beaten up, for they too are in the team.

Gambling with a country

You can write off your losses and walk away from a con man on the street, but how do you walk away from your own country? Over the last five years and seven months Indians have been subjected to an elaborate version of Three-card Monte. For those who have had a different view of the card game, the sleights of hand come as no surprise, but for many millions the moment of questioning, of doubting the fairness of the ‘game’, of spotting the double-faced cards has only happened recently. As the questioning and challenging have spread, the goon auxiliary has descended, openly working with the complicit police — attacking the people asking questions, the many who have been calling out the fraud from long before, as well as innocent passersby.

As many have suspected for a while, the recent, widespread use of naked criminal force by both uniformed personnel and non-uniformed thugs confirms that this is not a regime which ever sees itself relinquishing power. Whether its Constitution-changing exercises of brutality in Kashmir or Kanpur, Messrs. Modi, Shah and Ajay Mohan Bisht (aka Yogi Adityanath) seem to have no worries about being called to account by the voting public. These men seem to think that the normal brakes of democracy that keep ruling parties and politicians in check have been disabled. However, their rigged card game has now been caught out, their distractions and obfuscations have run their course, and the whole sorry operation has now been challenged by the victims and potential victims alike. And thus, our grievously assaulted Republic is now at a moment of reckoning.

After watching the BJP-RSS government for over half a decade what becomes ever clearer is that this regime has never had anything in its bag that could be mistaken for governance or plans for genuine progress. The people who voted for them hoping for a centre-right, pro-business government perhaps with a garnish of Hindutva now see that that the garnish was the main dish and feel bitterly disappointed and utterly foolish. The less privileged sections of younger voters, the ones who were aspirationally impatient, now find their hopes of economic betterment dashed and pushed back indefinitely. Those who nurtured grandiose dreams of India muscling its way to becoming a superpower now find that the country is an international laughing stock after the Balakot airstrike, back in the regional ghetto, hyphen-yoked to Pakistan, and security-wise far more vulnerable than it was in early 2014. Those who imagined that the big election victory last May would allow Mr. Modi and Co. to prioritise desperately needed measures for the economy and healthcare now see that NDA 2.0 is like a delinquent child in a sweet shop, grabbing and smashing its way towards its favourite sweets, utterly uncaring of the nourishment needed by the nation.

Stopping a disease

When a badly applied coat of paint dries, the marks that have been covered up start to re-emerge from underneath. It is clear, yet again, that this government has never had any honest vision or master plan; the duo leading it have always depended on bluff and bluster to capture power and retain it. It is now clear that they have had an amazing streak of luck, coupled with their managing to leverage the plentiful weaknesses and hypocrisies of their opponents.

This regime has leeched on to all that is worst in our society, all that is most riven and wretched, and put itself in a position where it thinks of itself as unassailable, immovable. But this kind of a spread has a limit and sets off a resistance. And perhaps that is what is happening now.

Ruchir Joshi is a writer, filmmaker and columnist

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Printable version | Jan 21, 2020 9:16:14 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/running-out-of-tricks/article30569026.ece

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