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Mainstream, VOL LIX No 45, New Delhi, October 23, 2021

Not all can see democracy’s power | T J S George

Saturday 23 October 2021, by T J S George

IMPRESSIONS

Uttar Pradesh is considered India’s lead state. Its size, and Delhi being virtually a geographic part of it could be the main reason. UP does have a hold on Delhi’s affairs in ways no other state has. Some of our great national leaders came from UP, the likes of G. B. Pant, Ram Manohar Lohia, Acharya Narendra Dev, Rafi Ahmed Kidwai, not to mention Jawaharlal Nehru.

Compare them with today’s leaders — Yogi Adityhanath, Uma Bharathi, Smriti Irani, Shazia Ilmi. The transformation UP has undergone cannot be clearer. The records also show that UP has the highest crime rate in India, a distinction enjoyed by Maharashtra until a couple of years ago. Some of the crimes also betray new depths of human savagery. The Dalit girl in Hathras, was not only gang raped by upper caste Thakurs but also tortured and finally burnt. The police rushed in to say that the girl was not raped, and then they got her body burned it at 3 a.m.

Chief Minister Adityanath is tough when he has to act against opponents and minorities. Beyond that, his priorities seem different. Extra judicial killings find hardly any resistance from the Government. The approach seemed not very different from the days in 2002 when he formed the Hindu Yuva Vahini comprising "mostly unemployed youth, small-level criminals and youth struggling for identity." The official slogan of the Hindu Vahini said it all: "Gorakhpur mein rehna hai, toh Yogi Yogi Kehna hai."

India mein rehna hai, too, same logic? The Yogi is a hardliner. A favourite campaign has been for India to change its name. His preferred name for the country is Bharat; not "India that is Bharat," but Bharat without India. He had introduced bills in Parliament asking for acceptance of the term "Bharat that is Hindustan." The Supreme Court also was approached with the same plea. After seeking the Central Government’s opinion on the matter, the court dismissed the case.

But Prime Minister Modi has been generous in his compliments to Chief Minister Yogi. "The way Yogi has controlled the second covid wave is unprecedented," he said. He also praised the state for working with a development-oriented approach and bringing the rule of law to the state. When praise from the leader who matters is so wholesome, other realities do not matter. But it does matter that such empty praise is doubly misleading. It misleads those who praise and those who are praised. That hurts the nation.

Ministers say things to suit their politics. But realities do not go away. UP has the country’s highest infant mortality rate. The highest maternal mortality rate also is in UP. Youth unemployment problem is unusually high. Industrial growth has remained among the slowest in the country. Although three of out four rural households are dependent on agriculture, the state’s agriculture has been slowest in annual growth among the aptly named BIMARU states (Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and UP). More than half the households in the state have no electricity. The electricity distribution companies are notorious for corruption and red tape.

The BJP’s election manifesto in 2017 had specified these problems and pledged to solve them in time. Every household in the state, the manifesto had said, would be provided with 24-hour power supply while the poor would be given electricity connections free of cost. Never have emptier words been uttered by a state government.

What makes the situation in the state seem hopeless is that caste rules. Even the law of the land seems unable to bring casteism in UP (and Bihar, too, we may add) under control. Remember UP even started the system of putting car owner’s caste on the number plate.

Problems of this kind are unlikely to go away anytime soon because standards of judging patriotism have changed. Leichombam Erendro of Manipur learned that the hard way. He put out a post saying that cow’s dung and urine had no medicinal benefits. He was put in jail on charges under the National Security Law. He was released only because the Supreme Court ordered it. Less of free-wheeling comment on cow dung is enough for a citizen to be punished under law.

When student activist Natasha Narwal was released from jail on court orders, she made a point that summed it all up. "The rise in state repression is striking," she said. "Yet, despite the increase in repression, the Government has not been able to silence voices of struggle which have in fact been gaining in strength. Such repression only exposes the fragility of the ruling regime and its anti-people character." The power of India’s democracy is clear in such words. But not all in power can see it.

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