In 2014, when Narendra Modi ascended to the post of India’s Prime Minister, not only did he enjoy the support of the masses but also some of the foremost intellectuals paraded for his run as the PM. Backed by the rich, media, academia and the masses determined for a “greater change,” his victory was inevitable. He had put forward a lucrative dream called a New India.
We must pause to recollect that this dream was overtly positive with no explicit communal suggestion similar to the 2019 campaign. The communal campaign was limited to the erstwhile so-called ‘fringe elements’ who are mainstream today. In this New India, Mr Modi promised to implement the lucrative Gujarat model. Each day of his ‘rule’ was supposed to be an “achcha din” (good day). 2014 was the beginning of a new India: Modi’s India.
Modi’s blitz did not cease here. He continued to win election after election. In a matter of just one year, the entire opposition was choke-slammed into silence. To every doubter, they said. “It is too early to ask questions. Let him work. Give him time. What did the Gandhi family do in the last 7 decades?”
This extreme repulsion against the preceding governments allowed Mr Modi to accumulate more meat. He became an ultimate heavyweight of the Indian political arena. Given his mammoth stature, it became simply irrational for him to even refer to the feeble existing opposition, therefore, the self-christened Pradhan Sewak (prime servant) challenged Pandit Nehru, the late Pratham Sewak (first servant) for rhetorical bouts! His flanks blamed Nehru for committing fatal anti-India errors. Nehru’s actions apparently hindered Modi from delivering.
The clock was ticking. PM Modi’s voters wanted him to deliver. He could not carry on lamenting the blunders of the Congress party. It was exactly at this point when they launched a campaign to slay the inherent tendency of this country’s voter, i.e. to expect the government to work for the voter and in case of failure, the citizens would hold the government accountable through the institutions of checks and balances.
Slowly, the media, election commission and the judiciary started to lose their lustre. This was not unprecedented; deep down, a large number of Indians had always longed to be ruled by a man like Mr Modi; someone whose stature could make every ‘loathsome,’ indolent and corrupted institution look timid and obedient towards the majority. Indian media, being no exception, submitted to him. He was, by now, the Hindu Hriday Samrat (The ruler of Hindu hearts).
By this time, the BJP IT cell had developed its vicious talons. Back then, posting an anti-government post meant inviting a swarm of stinging trolls. Speaking up felt lonely and of course dangerous. The online atmosphere became more toxic. Never had people been allowed to openly show their communal fangs so routinely. It created a faux impression that everyone blindly supports this government.
For the trolls, it was so rewarding. They were often joined by union ministers and occasionally by the PM himself. In the backdrop of the aforesaid and the Aadhar controversy, we must recall that around this time a little known and entirely new telecom company’s popularity sky-rocketed. It was offering free and fast internet for several months. The IT cell enjoyed unquestioned power for most of Modi’s first term.
As early as 2015, Mr Modi’s BJP and its IT cell had developed a workable formula to keep the citizens busy. The formula given to the media and IT cell to set the agenda for the masses is quite naked now. At its heart, it is Islamophobic, anti-Dalit, anti-women, anti-science, anti-rational, and most importantly anti-national.
One film, one actor, one author, one public intellectual, one historical/religious figure, one university, one socially unfortunate student (Najeeb, Rohit, Payal and Fathima), one animal (cow) and one lynching every year (Akhlaq, Junaid, Pehlu, Qasim, Afrazul, Tabrez) was diabolically used to polarise the common masses like never before.
Communal controversies like love jihad (hadiya), land jihad (kairana) were raised periodically to keep the communal pot on the boil. No one, not even the IT cell, follows this scheme as religiously as the Indian TV news anchors.
Let us just take the example of movie or the controversy surrounding it, to understand how films were appropriated or assaulted to match the narrative of the Hindutva brigade – PK in 2015, Lipstick Under My Burqa in 2016, Padmaavat in 2017, some other films that propelled the virulent us vs them, films on surgical strike and finally, bio-epics on Manmohan Singh and PM Modi!
In 2020, Chhapaak or Tanhaji merely follow this logical sequence. Never before had actors, cricketers, singers behaved like trolls of the government. The fiercest critics of the previous government became the most loyal generals of this government’s actions. When this well-crafted script failed, the rabbit of national security/valour was pulled out from the hat.
The first opposition to this government came from the universities making them its biggest ideological foe. This resistance was feeble but foundational. The rampage that ensued, gave us a plethora of fresh and intelligent voices like Umar Khalid, Kanhaiya, Pooja Shukla and many more.
In the constant pursuit to make new foes the people’s movement was silently bestowed with new friends. This list just keeps on getting bigger because India has never had so many educated, creative, informed and questioning young minds. Bloggers, comics, YouTubers, academics, a section of Bollywood, alternative critical new media, civil society and millions of disconnected citizens separated by geographical and linguistic barriers started speaking up.
However, this was no match for the organised almighty Goliath establishment. These voices seemed to be echoing in small closed rooms with no real on-ground impact. But, contrary to that, they were making an impact, although little less loud than the current movement.
While looking back, many feel that the past six years were the most testing ones for India’s democracy, especially its largest minority, the Muslims. What was earlier hidden, drawing-room communalism is now a cardinal daily public ritual: a standard of this numb societal normalcy.
India’s secular nationalism, based around the ambitious if not mythical “Hindu-Muslim bhai-bhai” narrative seemed no match for this radical wave of Hindutva nationalism which defines our national character today. The biggest failure of secularists was to surrender all our cherished symbols of nationalism to their marauders. The liberal section of Indian media and a section of intellectuals kept theorising the failure of the “secular wonder.”
Ironically, the ‘secular’ parties blamed Muslims, the biggest sufferers, for their failure. Rather, it was they who failed to protect the Muslim community during their most humiliating ordeal in India. Muslims were advised to look less Muslim.
As electoral precautions, the opposition leaders were advised to appear more Hindu. This strategy failed too. The next election became an election where Muslims were completely irrelevant for all the national parties. It was reduced to an election of Hindus, by Hindus and for Hindus. By 2019, Muslims were political untouchables and secularism was a cuss word.
2019 was the second most crucial year of the last decade for India. It was a vivid testimonial of how India changed its character as a nation during the Modi years. It will be remembered for different reasons: Pulwama attack, Balakot airstrike, Captain Abhinandan, Narendra Modi’s unbelievable mandate and re-election, the reading down of Article 370 and 35(A), the momentous Ayodhya verdict, astonishing state assembly poll results, the CAA-NRC-NPR conundrum, and last but not the least – the unending anti-CAA protests – a rude shock and an ultimate challenge to this large compendium of hatred.
The public reaction and disagreement over the CAA-NRC-NPR are no more limited to online outrage. They are now a loud offline slap on the face. There’s something remarkably peculiar about the anti-CAA stir led by university students, civil society and Muslim women.
Students have stood up for various causes in the past. However, one cannot recall any other struggle apart from the freedom struggle where such a large number of university students of India have hit the streets in unison for a change.
Before 2014, there was a huge disconnect between society and the university. JNU, Jamia and AMU were discarded as burgeoning havens of the “tukde tukde gang.” They were ignored as seasonal dissenters. They have successfully managed to establish a dialogue within society today.
By desecrating the foundations of universities like JNU, AMU and Jamia, the attackers have brought classrooms on the roads. The masses are their classmates now. The courageous people of Shaheen Baagh are the classmates of Jamia students.
Who had thought that the BJP with that ruthless majority in the Parliament will have to organise support rallies for the CAA and NRC? With his unquestionable charisma, the notorious BJP IT cell, the pan-media support and a swarm of ‘masked fringes’ by his side, PM Modi failed to divert people’s attention this time.
India’s secular nationalism is rising in rage against the narrow Hindutva nationalism. It is pushing back. The tricolour, the national anthem, and all other cherished symbols of national pride have been reclaimed from the clutches of Hindutva.
A bruised Jamia, a limping AMU and a battered JNU find the echo of their pain in Lucknow, Patna, Hyderabad, Mumbai, New York and London. Today, the whole world is a university campus for the dissenting students of India. By bringing down the fenced walls of the university, they have caused a flood of knowledge. This will free the masses of the mass disinformation and hate campaign.
There are incidents akin to the ones in Jamia and JNU everywhere right now. I saw one in Ranchi a few days back, where a group of students (most probably from the nearby Ranchi University) were distributing pamphlets, organising street plays, demonstrations and raising the slogans of inquilab (revolution) and azaadi (freedom). Hundreds of common citizens were listening to them.
At a time when most of mainstream media is busy in defaming these protests, my belief in the slogan, “the revolution will not be televised” is reaffirmed. Never before, apart from the Class X Civics exam, did such a large number of Indians read the Preamble of India’s Constitution while agreeing with all its words and spirit.
They know that they can be bruised, battered, detained, imprisoned and even killed, yet they are risking so much to save what they feel is the real India. They have taken this moment to reimagine the ideals enshrined in the Constitution – ideals that we have forced to protect and cherish for long.
Even if they’re silenced by force today, like the protestors in UP, the silence will be loud and deafening for everyone. The government, as Amit Shah has firmly asserted, may not go back an inch on the CAA, yet these protests demonstrate that a raging secular India won’t bow down. It has a strong spine, it will live on and prevail someday.