November Revelation

The last few weeks have seen events unfold quite rapidly on several interconnected planes, often leaving a maze of confusion in their wake. But the events are also helping reiterate and reinforce the two conflicting agendas that propel the politics of our times: corporate ‘Hindu Rashtra’ versus a modern democratic people’s India.

With the Maharashtra elections over and the Congress-NCP combine back in power for a second consecutive term, the UPA government chose to celebrate its Maharashtra victory with a ‘Maha’ hike in petro-prices. UPA demagogues who never tire of shedding crocodile tears for the poor and the backward countryside have been audacious enough to argue that only the car-owning urban rich have been hurt by the hike while the rural poor have no reasons to worry because kerosene oil has been spared. There cold not be a bigger lie. Hike in diesel price has a direct adverse impact on agriculture and a petro-price hike invariably raises the price of fertilizers, another key agricultural input. And they must be aware that the ubiquitous cooking gas cylinder is no longer a symbol of urban comfort.

While the all round increase in the prices of articles of everyday consumption delivers a body blow to the rapidly shrinking purchasing power of the common man, the government is all set to give a quiet burial to its promise of providing assured employment to the huge army of the jobless. In the name of enacting an employment guarantee legislation, the government has only come up with a weak draft proposal that makes a mockery of the notion of a legal entitlement to employment guarantee. And the food for work programme which is supposed to provide a stopgap cover and was launched amidst a lot of fanfare by the Prime Minister on November 14, is confined to only 150 districts and backed by a paltry allocation of Rs. 2,000 crore!

All the economic moves of the UPA government so far – from greater investment freedom and tax concessions awarded to big capital to across-the-board hike in prices and cuts in public investment – have made it crystal clear that it has nothing but utter contempt for the occasional barks of the self-styled Left watchdog. And if anyone thought that the watchdog might now feel provoked enough to move over from barking to biting, in real life we are actually seeing a distinct fall in the frequency of barking! With street protests getting louder in every corner of the country, it would be interesting to see what role the Left now plays in the forthcoming winter session of Parliament

Major battles are also being fought out in the judicial arena of the country. In a dramatic twist to the Best Bakery case, key witnesses, including Zaheera Sheikh whose testimony was instrumental in getting the case shifted out of Gujarat, have turned hostile. Modi’s men have clearly pulled out all stops to turn the judicial tables on the very people who dared to explore judicial avenues to bring at least a few perpetrators of the genocide to justice. It will indeed be an ominous sign for the future of India’s democracy if the fascists are allowed to subvert the judicial process and demonise the not so powerful civil liberty movement in the country.

Meanwhile, the shocking arrest of the Kanchi Shankaracharya as prime accused in a murder case has once again revealed the ugly face of organised religion. When religion becomes an instrument of big money, when it is allowed to be used as a respectable cover for brokering shady political and financial deals, it is surely time to take a closer look. A modern society can abandon the fight against the nexus between big money, crime and religion only at its own peril. It has been reassuring for once to see the judiciary treat the Shankaracharya as an ‘equal’ before law, and even more reassuring to see the people in Tamil Nadu and elsewhere in the country ignore the Sangh Parivar’s attempts to stoke the flames of fanaticism over the issue. There has seldom been a more robust practical display of secularism in the country.

It however remains to be seen if the system can really muster the political will to punish the perpetrators of the Gujarat genocide or criminals camouflaged as seers. Already the Prime Minister has expressed public concern over the progress of the case considering the ‘age’ and ‘stature’ of the Shankaracharya. And the BJP, which never tires of advocating a uniform civil code, has now openly mooted the idea of legislating a special code for ‘sants’. Modern India will have to assert itself with all its strength to defeat this reactionary design. q