Unable to break the farm deadlock even after two months, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has identified a new villain -- ‘andolan jeevis’ or professional protesters who are ‘misleading’ the farmers.
Addressing the Rajya Sabha, he said that India must protect itself from this parasitic species which lives off agitations. Talking about them, the PM said, “Kabhi parde ke aage, kabhi parde ke peeche, yeh poori toli hai (Sometimes upfront, sometime behind the scenes, this is an organized group)”.
The implication is that those who support various people’s movements, from citizenship rights to workers’ rights to Dalit agitations to human rights, are conspirators harming the nation!
The PM has a knack for turning a fact on its head. While the BJP government can be justifiably accused of conspiring to pass the farm laws in a jiffy, it is the protesters who are being accused of a conspiracy.
'Foreign Destructive Ideology'
Mahua Moitra of the TMC put it perfectly in her rousing Rajya Sabha speech, “These laws were arrived at without consensus, tabled without scrutiny and rammed down this nation’s throat with the brute force of the treasury benches.”
Coming back to the PM’s demagoguery, he reinforced the familiar pseudo-patriotic appeal saying that we have to protect ourselves from the new FDI, ‘Foreign Destructive Ideology’ (alluding to singer Rihanna and teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg’s tweets supporting the farmers’ agitation). Read with the ‘andolan jeevi’ slur, this is clearly a dog whistle.
The PM’s speech targeting dissidents also assumes significance in the light of the fact that the Union Home Ministry plans to invite citizen volunteers to police online content.
Under this scheme, to be piloted in Jammu and Kashmir and Tripura, volunteers will flag and report child sexual abuse, rape, terrorism, ‘radicalisation’ and ‘anti-national’ activities. Who these volunteers will be is anybody’s guess.
As it is, the BJP’s troll army, high on jingoism, has latched on to left liberals as their enemy number one; calling them anti-national and urban Naxals, abusing them as ‘sickulars’ and ‘libtards’ and targeting them as the ‘tukde-tukde’ gang, which wants to dismember India.
The hostility against anti-establishment journalists -- called ‘bikau patrakar’ (sold-out journalists) by the PM -- is such that six of them, including Rajdeep Sardesai and Mrinal Pande, were booked for sedition as they “shared misinformed news and instigated violence on Republic Day’’ through their tweets about the death of a farmer in police firing, which were subsequently corrected, as the farmer died in a tractor crash. Also booked for the same offence was Congress MP Shashi Tharoor.
Pertinently, the six journalists and Tharoor were booked for sedition based on a single complaint by ‘social worker’ Arpit Mishra of Noida. And identical FIRs were filed against them in five different states. So, the Congress has a point when it says that the FDI that is likely to come is Fear, Deception and Intimidation.
Attack on JNU students
Strangely, no such law was applied when fake videos about JNU students were circulated to incite hatred against them and when a mob attacked them with iron rods. Neither was it applied to the hatemongers of the BJP, including some news TV anchors. In fact, the man who incited a mob with, “Desh ke gaddaron ko, goli maaro saalon ko (Shoot the bloody anti-nationals),” is a Union Minister today.
The PM’s speech in the Rajya Sabha deriding dissidents has not received the condemnation it deserves. Who would want to antagonise a government which can book senior journalists for sedition and which can file a FIR against a teenage climate activist? Better to let the emperor carry on with his new clothes.
Dehumanising and demonising dissenters is the hallmark of despots. In fact, the PM’s address comes close to a hate speech, the kind that his government wants blocked on Twitter.
Dalit bards Vishal Ghazipuri and Sapna Baudh of Vishnupur village in Ghazipur, UP, are in hiding after they sang, ‘Ek tha Hitler, ek hai jhootler… (There was a Hitler and now there is a liar)’.
Activists in jail
Where the treatment of ‘andolan jeevis’ is concerned, the PM seems to be practising what he preaches. Look at the list of such ‘malcontents’ behind bars for two years after being arrested for flimsy reasons under the draconian Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA):
Sudha Bharadwaj, 60, a trade-unionist, activist and lawyer who has lived and worked in Chhattisgarh for over three decades, Gautam Navlakha, 70, human rights activist and journalist, Anand Teltumbde, 71, civil rights activist and management professor, Varavara Rao, 80, activist poet and teacher, Fr Stan Swamy, 84, Jesuit priest and tribal rights activist based in Jharkhand… If the National Investigative Agency is to be believed, all of them are enemies of the nation.
Last year, the Delhi police even tried to ensnare IAS officer-turned-activist Harsh Mander and Prof Apoorvanand of Delhi University under the UAPA when the duo criticised their lopsided handling of the Delhi riots. If M K Gandhi, the original ‘andolan jeevi’, were alive, he too would have been booked for waging war against the nation.
The relentless assault on civil liberties, the Constitution and democracy under the Modi government is being noticed across the world. India, which is a beacon for third-world nations, is losing face internationally.
In the Democracy Index compiled by the influential magazine, The Economist, India has fallen from a global ranking of 27 in 2015 to a ranking of 53 in 2020.
To think that this is the PM who came to power on ‘sabka saath, sabka vikas’ (development for all) and promised to rid the country of ‘bhay, bhookh aur bhrashtachar’ (fear, hunger and corruption).
The writer is an independent journalist based in Mumbai.