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Criticism and expectation in the new age

Have been told on very good authority otherwise known as people on Twitter that it is not correct to criticise a new government as soon as it is elected or sworn in or has spent at least six months, 60 months or 60 years in office.

However, it is apparently all right to give a fledgling government so much advice that it will not be able to breathe for the next six months. Besides, when a government is elected and sworn in and founded on so many promises and so much hope and expectation, as with the Bharatiya Janata Party-led government at the Centre, well then criticism is the first fruit of office.

Our new prime minister, Narendra Modi, also carries a burden and now he is responsible not just for six crore Gujaratis as he has so proudly told us in the past, but all of us 1.2 billion Indians. Pic/PTI
Our new prime minister, Narendra Modi, also carries a burden and now he is responsible not just for six crore Gujaratis as he has so proudly told us in the past, but all of us 1.2 billion Indians. Pic/PTI

Many were very clear that the BJP was winning this general election and that Narendra Modi was becoming prime minister of India, not least Modi himself. Many were tired of the inaction of the last UPA government led by the Congress and headed by Manmohan Singh.

Therefore full of zeal and the promise of a new tomorrow, a non-stop stream of instructions and instructions masked as suggestions has been issued to the BJP even before it was elected into power. And from what one can see, miracles have been promised and miracles will be delivered. The cynicism that marks expectations from politicians has been replaced by a sort of wide-eyed wonder at the magic we will soon see around us.

So how about a list of what it should not do? For those who were not born yesterday, there are some memories of the last time the BJP was in power, albeit without the great magician Narendra Modi at the helm. In the past 10 days between the win and the swearing in, we have seen some mosques attacked in Karnataka during victory celebrations after the BJP’s spectacular showing.

We saw a Muslim chicken stall owner attacked just for being there. We saw an engineer (not Muslim) jailed in Goa for an anti-Narendra Modi Facebook post which he had since taken down. And we saw five people booked and one (Muslim) taken into custody and subsequently released for anti Modi messages on the message service Whatsapp.

We have also seen six people who were arrested for attacking the Akshardham temple in Ahmedabad in 2002 acquitted by the courts. The word ‘secularism’ has been so misused and abused by every political faction in this country that it is not even worth using it any more.

However, it is also true that in a diverse multi-religious country like ours, religious majoritarianism is a real risk and one that we have suffered from in the past. Our new prime minister also carries a burden and now he is responsible not just for six crore Gujaratis as he has so proudly told us in the past, but all of us 1.2 billion Indians.

We have also been told that industry needs impetus from this new government and that the last one wasted a lot of money on poor people. However, it is also true that we have a lot of poor people in this country — what’s the count? Some 300 million give or take a few million this way or that? It is the largest block, regardless of caste, religion, creed and all those artificial barriers we have put up around ourselves.

Does one forget about them because highfalutin American economists wish they would just go somewhere else? We had enough problems with the Planning Commission and the last government. We also have additional problems like art, culture and individual liberties.

No government likes them because no government likes free thinking. But a government whose base lies in majority nationalism likes them even less. We cannot have a ‘my way or highway’ government in this regard. Some well-wishers have demanded 10 million jobs.

Others are waiting for potholes to be fixed, their building to be saved from demolition, their children to get admission into the school of their choice, land acquisitions to be cleared, the environment to be ignored for the ‘greater good’ and their corporate tax burdens to be reduced. Some of us though just want a little less arrogance and a little more respect. Too much to ask for? Or does that sound like unjust criticism?

Ranjona Banerji is a senior journalist. You can follow her on twitter @ranjona

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