Is this really Bapu's Bharat?
If Gandhi were here today, he'd lament how his dream of Swachch Bharat has been distorted in a nation of increasingly murky morality
Dear Aditya, Tomorrow is my birthday and the headlines nowadays make me glad I'm not celebrating. In UP, the police is delivering on Chief Minister Baba Yogi's threat to thoko anyone committing a crime. Boy, am I glad I'm not leading the Dandi March and breaking the law anymore.
Just see how things flip in a second. Baba Yogi is seen as a tough Hindu chief minister, helping Prime Minister Narendra Modi revive our glorious civilisation, perhaps even succeeding Modiji one day. Now his police are helping disintegrate his voters. The victim this weekend was an upper middle-class executive working for Apple, humanity's first trillion-dollar company, and a Brahmin. Brahmins are 14 per cent of UP's population. They may start thinking that Baba Yogi is nothing more than a vengeful Thakur. Dalits are seething as it is. Such are the vagaries of political fortune. What surprises me most is former CMs Mayawati and Akhilesh Yadav's silence on the killing. Perhaps it's too early to take to the streets.
Social media roiled last week over actor Tanushree Datta's revelation that she was assaulted by single-role has-been Nana Patekar ten years ago. (Sardar Patel joked that's why Patekar's film was Ab Tak Chhappan, but I shushed him for inappropriate humour.) She is brave and I'm glad more are finding courage to expose the cruelty that derails individual lives, aspirations and happiness. But how the modern Indian male reacts. Panama uncle proved himself the opposite of his intellectual father, the late Harivansh Rai Bachchan: he is a weasel. His existential response that he was neither Tanushree nor Nana (though he is a "nana", thanks to suddenly-emergent author Shweta), so he could not comment. Presumably he cannot afford to open his own Pandora's Box of power-drunk, male-privilege behaviour.
Worse was Salman Khan with his derision at a reporter's question; but then he's a turd who ought to have been flushed away by Modi's Swachh Bharat campaign (of which I am, uninvitedly, the icon), so what can we expect. Filmmaker Vivek Agnihotri was equally vulgar to Tanushree, proving himself an Urban Pervert, a variation of the phrase he himself proudly invented.
Depressingly, many Indian men reacted exactly like American men did to the accusations against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh that in his youth he was a drunken rapist. How can you destroy a reputation built so painstakingly over decades, they say. Indeed, how can you destroy a woman before her chance to build a reputation? Privilege is nauseating. No wonder these fellows were frothing at the Supreme Court judgment allowing women into the Sabarimala temple.
The biggest shock was Sharad Pawar's defence of Modi's Rafale fighter jet deal, when he said: "There is no doubt in public minds about Modi's intentions in the Rafale deal." This is not true. Even one person's doubt negates the "no doubt" proposition. However, a veteran politician like Pawar has made a self-fulfilling prophecy: if he says there's no room for doubt, then the public will drop the matter.
Pawar has neutralised a serious corruption allegation that was hobbling Modi of late. Modi owes him one. Pawar will probably cash it in after the next general election, next year.
Was it just the lure of a future reward that made Pawar do this, considering that Modi is not much of a reward-giver, even to veteran loyalists in his own party? Or was Pawar looking to neutralise, for his own benefit, the rising star of Congress president Rahul Gandhi? After all, Rahul Gandhi was successfully raising the Rafale deal and its attendant mysteries — even if no other opposition leader had joined him in doing so. Ever since the Gujarat Assembly election last year, Rahul has been gaining momentum, and through much of 2018, he showed Modi's vulnerabilities without capitalising on it personally. Till the Rafale deal and former French President Francois Hollande's revelations that Reliance Defence was forced upon his country. (Nirmala Sitharaman may try to discredit Hollande, but it is a risky gambit for Modi.) Since then, it has all been Rahul. Mayawati and Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee have faded into the background. They must be grateful to Pawar. He has another quarter from which to extract a pound of flesh after the 2019 election.
It's saddening. Swachh Bharat should not be just about trying to sweep litter from a patch of government grass. It is about cleaning up the policing, the sole representation of the government to the humblest Indian; it is about cleaning our society of distorted inter-gender or inter-caste power relations; and it is about cleaning the endemic corruption that distorts governance, simply because the political system needs it for increasingly costly electoral wars. On my birthday, I feel that we are still a distance from my dream of a Swachh Bharat.
Aditya Sinha's latest book, The Spy Chronicles: RAW, ISI and the Illusion of Peace, co-written with AS Dulat and Asad Durrani, is available now. He tweets @autumnshade Send your feedback to email@example.com
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