Dissent nautanki diminishes democracy

Kanchan GuptaIt must be said, and said right away, that India is witnessing its very own desi version of last summer’s US campus protests spun around the theme of boycotting, disinvesting and sanctioning Israel for its perceived oppression of Palestinians. The ‘BDS’ movement, as it came to be known, was cleverly crafted by the American Left-liberal intelligentsia, among them Jews who would rather see the Jewish homeland ‘wiped off the face of the world’, as Israel’s implacable foes continue to threaten to do, than be disowned, isolated and put in the proverbial dog house by fellow intellectuals.

Have we forgotten? A file picture of children in New Delhi in 2007, protesting the lack of action to help the Kashmiri Pandit community. Pic/AFP
Have we forgotten? A file picture of children in New Delhi in 2007, protesting the lack of action to help the Kashmiri Pandit community. Pic/AFP

The raucous ‘BDS’ movement has amply demonstrated that intellectual integrity is increasingly a discounted commodity as the intellectually bankrupt take centre stage. What began as campus protests in America’s ‘liberal’ universities has unsurprisingly caught the imagination of Left-liberals in Europe. Dissent is the new camouflage for anti-semitism; morality is the new pulpit from which the righteous now preach their sanctimonious bunk.

Here at home in India we are witnessing something similar. The intelligentsia — writers, filmmakers, historians and even scientists — have launched a ‘BDS’ movement against the NDA government headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. They bad-mouth the government relentlessly to paint it in the bleakest of colours, their manufactured dissent is aimed at urging people to disown an elected government, their attempt is to clearly sabotage the government’s agenda. If ‘BDS’ means hobbling India and halting its surge, so be it.

And, like the protagonists of the ‘BDS’ movement in America, our desi Left-liberal intellectuals also hope their ersatz dissent will influence opinion abroad and that, in turn, will lead to further sequestering of Modi Sarkar. Unknown and unheard of Indian-origin academics in the US and the UK have been vigorously trying to spread the desi ‘BDS’ message. Their petitions floating on the Net are a thinly disguised call for boycotting India till such time the present regime is in power.

Naming individuals is, frankly, meaningless. That would mean raising discomfiting questions like why they chose to gloss over real atrocities and assaults on freedom all these decades. It would also mean asking a simple question: How is the situation today far worse than the black days of Mrs Indira Gandhi’s Emergency? Do we still smell the stench of burning flesh that hung heavy over Delhi as Sikhs were massacred, many by placing a burning tyres around their necks?

Have we forgotten the Kashmiri Pandits who were forced out of their homes in Kashmir Valley by Islamists? The many riots and killings, from Nellie to Meerut to Bhagalpur: have they all been wiped from our collective memory? The infamous ‘Press Bill’ that Rajiv Gandhi tried to ram through Parliament, using his brute majority? The severe punitive restrictions imposed by the UPA through draconian amendments to the IT Act? The all-pervasive corruption by a cash-and-carry regime which corroded faith in the system?

It’s a long list. Very long. And it’s too well-known to merit replication in detail. Suffice it to say that when yesterday’s collaborators turn into today’s dissenters, when court historians and palace bards speak of the need to preserve freedom, when a compromised intelligentsia talks of intellectual integrity, when those who endorsed the tyranny of the Nehru-Gandhi Dynasty by maintaining eloquent silence or by toeing the line of least resistance, they elicit widespread contempt.

This sequenced, choreographed (no, it is not spontaneous, as is being fraudulently claimed) protest is the entrenched, privileged elite’s articulation of its inability to accept that subalterns have seized power in Delhi, dethroning the Ruling Class. What is equally unpalatable for them is that a chaiwallah with no club membership or boastful family credentials has risen to become the Prime Minister of India. The power of the ballot has made them fearful. The rise of the masses has clearly scared the classes.

The rage of the libbies would have been laughable had it been devoid of sinister motives. The papier-mâché protest could have been ignored had it not been sufficiently incendiary to light anti-India sentiments elsewhere. Gulzar, publicly praised by the Prime Minister, has poured ad hominem vitriol on him and his government, if not directly, then elliptically, in keeping with his poetry. “No freedom of speech in India, says Gulzar,” the Pakistani media reported dutifully.

Yet, it is difficult not to titter scornfully at the protesters. A group of Urdu poets attending a literary festival pompously declared their opposition to “fascist forces” ruling India. Who’s to tell them that had fascist forces indeed been at large, they would have been cowering behind shut doors or hiding under their beds, not attending lit fests. And who’s to tell the Urdu poet who made a grand show of returning his Sahitya Akademi award on live TV that he stood denuded of honour and dignity the day he penned a servile ode to Sonia Gandhi?

Democracy loses its life force if there is no dissent. But when dissent is trivialised and reduced to a village mela nautanki, democracy is diminished. Blinded by the bigotry of elitism, our Left-liberal intelligentsia has lost sight of this simple dictum.

The writer is a senior journalist based in the National Capital Region. His Twitter handle is @KanchanGupta

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