Let me start by saying that I was never under the illusion that Modi wasn’t coming back to power. The bubble I live in may be thicker than I had realised, but it was still somewhat transparent. I knew he’d be back, but I somehow firmly believed that this time, there would at least be a coalition government, if not to marginally dilute BJP’s and Modi’s power, then to make it harder for them to go about their macabre agenda. I had not imagined that the BJP would be back with a complete majority, or that the majority would be GREATER than the last election.
I don’t live in India currently so because of the time difference, I wasn’t aware that the results had started coming in. I got the news from a women’s WhatsApp group I am a part of. For the rest of the night, I was talking to this group and other friends, all of us trying to figure out how to deal with the knowledge that this man and his political party would be in charge for another five years. Perhaps, the only thing which made me feel somewhat better was that we were all feeling the same kind of dread.
When Time published an article titled ‘Can The World’s Largest Democracy Survive Another Five Years Of A Modi Government?’, they summed up the biggest concern some Indians have had from the start. I firmly believe that those who think that Modi is what the country needs are deluded, blinding themselves to the hatred he and his party spout, or are using him as an excuse to unleash their worst and most evil beliefs and tendencies.
So my friends and I are sharing our dread, the hopelessness, the fear that our country WON’T survive another 5 years of this government. I had Muslim friends sharing their fears of having to survive, perhaps literally, another 5 years of state-sanctioned hatred. One of these women who lives in a very Hindu neighbourhood shared her panic and how her family and she were considering moving from their home of decades to a slightly more diverse city. Her parents were suggesting she move to a different city, adopt a less Muslim sounding name, and definitely stop wearing her hijab. Basically, pretend she was Hindu, or at least not Muslim. These are women of relatively higher privilege than so many other minorities in India and they are terrified.
Part of me feels like I have no reason to feel this dread, this fear coursing through me since I heard the results. Because I have all the privileges. I come from a Hindu family, and because my atheism isn’t tattooed on my face, I’m not going to be the target of religious hatred. I’m already a vegetarian, so I don’t have to give up beef or be terrified every time I want to eat it. I am not of a lower caste, so I’m not going to be beaten up for daring to eat in the same restaurant like anyone else. And most of all, I have social capital because of my family’s socioeconomic status. The major negative consequences of the Modi government are probably not going to dramatically impact my daily life.
But I still feel this dread and this fear, because, despite all of the MANY faults of India, I really love my country. I love the uniqueness we have, the insane levels of diversity. I love that we’re one of the few countries in the world which still wear our ethnic garb on a daily basis. I love that we have hundreds of different languages and that every state, if not every city has its own cuisine. I love that though we have modernised, we haven’t lost our identity due to globalisation. I love that Indians are the mistresses of jugaad, and will always fight to get what we need. I love the colourfulness which is in our clothing, and in our life. I even love that we have too many people because that means we have just as much potential. I love the fighting spirit of Indians, and I love our resilience.
My point is that India is awesome. We have a lot to do but for a country which has only had independence for 70 odd years, we are remarkable. What fills me with dread is that Modi and his government have a history of taking what is amazing about India, and twisting it into something that polarises the masses. They take our hold on our culture and make it regressive. They take our diversity and try to paint it in that exact shade of saffron to hide it, squash it. They take our resilience and cheapen it with fear, direct it towards all the wrong things to further divide us all. They take our intelligence and creativity and disrespect it by conning us into believing that they know what is best for us, for this country, because supposedly they’re just so much smarter than we are. In my opinion, Modi, BJP, and all the cronies along with them are the largest con machine India has seen since independence.
The biggest thing which fills me with dread though, is these questions I can’t get rid of – are we heading towards the same lack of freedom we fought for almost two centuries to be independent of? When the British first came to India, were there the same kinds of signs which we got conned into ignoring, as they took power and made us believe it was in our best interest? Did they spout songs of economic development as well? Were they as obvious about their divide and rule strategy, and if so, how did we not see it then?
How do too many of us not see it now? It is estimated that 35 million Indians died under the British empire. Their rule stole an estimated 45 trillion dollars from India, but it’s still an estimate because we don’t have clear numbers. We have clearer numbers today. We have an idea of how many lynchings happened in the last few years, what the increase was under Modi’s first term, how many hate crimes occurred based on religion and caste, and how many women were assaulted. We can see a clearer lack of subtlety in RSS’s Hindutva ideologies. We see how shamelessly BJP has not just adopted them but actually propagated them.
The British empire believed that they knew better, that they would bring about true development BECAUSE they knew better. See any similarities? They blatantly used divide and rule strategies to establish their rule, to make sure that we were so busy fighting each other that we didn’t notice that every single day, they were snatching away our freedoms. I know that too many of Modi’s supporters will argue that it’s not that same. And I’m sure that those who supported the British said this too. Regardless of who says what, I believe the consequences were the same then, and they are the same today.
What I truly wonder is if our ancestors had this same kind of dread coursing through them at any point? What did they tell themselves to explain everything in ways which made sense to them? Did they eventually realise how that blindness allowed for an amazing country to be shackled, for the golden bird to be grounded? Did they realise that they were at the precipice of losing their freedoms, their identities, and potentially their lives when the British first came in?
I have many questions which feed my dread. I have a rage going through me directed at Modi, BJP, and all those who allowed them to come to power. I am deeply disappointed by every single person who voted for him, and I do include my loved ones in that disappointment because now isn’t the time to split hairs and find blinded justifications based on love. But more than the disappointment in the people who voted for him, I am disturbed by the circumstances that brought us to the point where it was even possible to have these men run our country.
But I also have an answer to the question put forth by Time of ‘will India survive?’. Yes. Yes, we will survive. We have the Indian resilience which will ensure we survive. But that isn’t the truly relevant question. That question is – will India ever recover from a decade of Modi’s rule? And to be honest, as much as I don’t have a definitive answer to that, I don’t think we will. Because even if we do find a way to piece together the spirit of what India stands for, the tens of thousands of people who will be affected may never have a chance to recover. And even if they do recover, there will be scarring which makes it impossible to forget. The minorities who are harassed at best, and tortured and killed at worst, may never have a chance to recover.
The hatred which too many of these minorities have been facing, and will continue to face will not be forgotten. The citizens who have lived all their lives in India but are still told to ‘go to Pakistan‘ will remember. The Dalits that are beaten to death will never recover. The families forced to leave their homes because the whole village turned against them will never forget.
India will survive because surviving requires the least effort. India will survive because “India” is greater than the sum of all those who comprise her. They may not survive, but India will. But even India may never recover. Have we truly recovered from colonisation yet?