I feel disenfranchised. The polls reveal a growing number of Indians willing to adopt a majoritarian ideology in exchange for economic opportunity. The BJP's saffron juggernaut continues to plough across India unopposed and the collective euphoria makes me feel increasingly alienated and alone. I balk when young ideologues question someone's patriotism just for daring to question the government's actions in Kashmir. I cringe when the most reputed international NGOs are barred from working in India or have their foreign funding cut because they report on human rights violations, custodial deaths and environmental crimes. India has signed up to several international covenants protecting children, minorities and political dissidents but it is obstructing outside observers from holding us accountable. In an age of populism, established freedoms are being sacrificed in the name of job creation.
The Congress has betrayed India by failing to provide a strong leader who would energise the youth with a secular and more liberal interpretation of democracy.
Gurmehar Kaur gave us a salutary warning that freedom of expression is not a given even though it is a constitutional right. She is right in blaming her father's death on warmongering politicians. In the "patriotic" narrative it's all Pakistan's fault but what about our failure to counter terrorist activities on our soil? The bully majority has decided what patriotism looks like –just as it has decided who is an Indian and who should go to Pakistan. Demonstrations against visiting Pakistani artists, blackened faces of entrepreneurs who try to bridge the cultural divide—this is what virulent patriotism looks like today.
I feel betrayed that there is no longer a political party with the moral grounding and the ability to provide a bulwark against the steady corrosion of minority rights, artistic expression and the creation of an alternative narrative of our history and culture. It is governments, not media, that invent fake news. Several senior editors have been removed from their posts in India in the recent past. In fact, India ranks below Palestine at number 133, the bottom third in the 2016 World Press Freedom Index by Reporters Without Borders.
"Journalists and bloggers are attacked and anathematized by various religious groups that are quick to take offence. At the same time, it is hard for journalists to cover regions such as Kashmir that are regarded as sensitive by the government. Prime Minister Narendra Modi seems indifferent to these threats and problems, and there is no mechanism for protecting journalists. Instead, in a desire to increase control of media coverage, Modi envisages opening a journalism university run by former propaganda ministry officials."
If Trump rails daily at the "dishonest media" for exposing habitual untruths then the seeds of this government's wariness were sown in the coverage of the 2002 Gujarat riots.
As the BJP notches up seats in both houses of Parliament and becomes the biggest political party not just in India but the world according to Modi, who will hold it accountable for its lapses of governance such as refusal to pass the Lokpal or the women's reservation bill—two of dozens of bills awaiting clearance in Parliament? Pundits are quick to see the poll results as public approval for the harsh measure of demonetisation but who will tell us what has really been gained by this tough measure, at what cost and by whom?
I can only hope that political developments will somehow throw up a strong opposition united by the core liberal tenets of our Constitution. But I'm not betting on it.
The Congress has betrayed India by failing to provide a strong leader who would energise the youth with a secular and more liberal interpretation of democracy. Instead it remains a feudal party mired in dynastic politics, a slew of corruption scandals and a world view that represents a past that has been firmly rejected by the electorate. I sometimes wish Indira Gandhi was still alive—she would have broken away and set up a new faction within the Congress, energising the political landscape.
India desperately needs a national opposition with a pan-Indian presence if it to function as a true democracy. The space vacated by the Congress leaves many like me searching for a voice in the political spectrum. Will the government adopt a more pluralistic view of social development now that it has uncontested power to enact its promises? As pundits forecast a BJP sweep in the next general elections, I can only hope that political developments will somehow throw up a strong opposition united by the core liberal tenets of our Constitution. But I'm not betting on it.