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Mainstream, VOL LIX No 49, New Delhi, November 20, 2021

Letter to the Readers, Mainstream, Nov 20, 2021

Friday 19 November 2021

Letter to the Readers, Mainstream, November 20, 2021

Under the Modi regime one thing we get for free every day is high public spectacle. Last week, the day after the speaking (and near force hugging some of the world leaders) at the Glasgow summit on climate, the Prime Minister could be seen dressed in military fatigues in the midst of soldiers in the Indian Himalayas. And this week we saw an incredible sight of Prime Minister Modi stepping out of a giant American-built military airplane that had landed on a newly built highway in UP. Use of military planes to transport top government leaders is not new but the biggest military transport planes are normally not used for such purposes. Deploying precious resources of the armed forces for hosting a spectacular air show with multiple military jets for a quasi-electoral event for show-casing a highway cum an air landing strip in UP state can only be interpreted as political spectacle. This event reflects the underlying constant invocation of militarism and issues of national security which are routine fare in political discourse and spectacles of the Modi regime. The National Security Advisor while addressing a new batch of the Indian Police Service probationers raised the volume of noise against ‘civil society’ as a potential threat to the Indian nation (the Prime Minister himself had previously used the term ‘andolanjeevi’ to point at and take on social movement activists as trouble-makers). Discrediting and targeting civil society groups, individual activists, social movements as anti-national is not new, several thousand criminal cases were filed against participants of a social movement opposed to the Koodankulam Nuclear Power Station in Tamil Nadu before the Modi years, but 2014 onwards the targets have grown … NGOs, student activists, farmers movement, ecologist organisers, many human rights activists, all seen as a national danger. Very selective this finger-pointing, the vast civil society outfit the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh that is deeply connected to India’s ruling Party and promotor of Hindutva brand of communalism remains out of the scanner of ’keepers of National Security’. A dissenting civil society should be seen as an asset. Any democracy is enriched by the citizens groups that raise issues of human security of public-interest and of ‘ordinary’ citizens – from issues of domestic violence, consumer rights, the right to information, to food, right to work, to shelter and questions of environmental protection, public health, education, and citizenship rights. We saw a vast year-long very creative protest movement of thousands of farmers stand against three farm laws despite much repression, vilification as traitors and anti-nationals at the hands of the Govt. and the ruling party (including the brutal mowing down of the protesting peaceful peasants in Lakhimpur Kheri by a car belonging to the son of a top Minister at Ministry of Home Affairs). Now with 2022 state assembly elections in UP and Punjab (also in Goa and Manipur) states fast approaching the Prime Minister has announced on Nov 19 that the Government will repeal the much-contested farm laws. It is clear as daylight that this move is nothing but damage control to protect electoral prospects in face of an unpopular move. We hope the withdrawal of these laws will happen formally in the Parliament and that the many criminal complaints against movement activists withdrawn. Anyhow this is a great victory for a citizens movement. This determined non-violent struggle of the peasantry presents a ray of light in our society where powerful interests have always tried to scuttle public interest in the most authoritarian manner.

Severe air pollution is at a peak in Delhi and neighbouring states in the past weeks. The incredible incompetence of India’s governments (at state and center) and its bureaucracy to deal with this is beyond description. In fact, air pollution is non-problem for India’s political leaders who happily live with it as a fact of life. We saw this on Live TV with the Prime Minister and Co Inaugurating an expressway sitting out in the open hosting an air-show of fossil fuel-guzzling military jets and with the public on rent brought in on busses to witness something in smog conditions and limited visibility. India’s pledges of cutting down noxious gasses in the climate in the decades ahead need to be taken with a pinch of salt, given the total lack of concern for the environment. This extreme pollution that we witness every year is entirely homemade and not sponsored by US imperialism. When will the senior former Indian diplomats who present India as a victim at Glasgow who see India and China as having been unfairly treated at the Glasgow Summit of Climate Change by the Global North, get real. They probably wont. Talking about global inequality doesn’t take away the responsibility of the Indian government in dealing with the all-pervasive environmental crisis at its doorstep. The prominent farmer’s agitation too hasn’t proposed their own solution to counter the practice of stubble burning. We hope citizens movements in India will stand up to take up the question of toxic air in a credible fashion.

Tributes:

Noted author Manu Bhandari passed away on November 15, 2021 in Gurgaon, near Delhi. She was 90. Bhandari spent some years teaching at Miranda House in Delhi University. Some of her writings had an echo in Cinema and TV, were adapted into films. Better known among them were Hindi feature films by director Basu Chatterjee ‘Rajnigandha’ (1974) and ‘Swami’ (1977) for which she wrote the dialogues. Manu Bhandari had been an important figure of the ’Nayi Kahani movement’ in Hindi literature.

We pay our tribute to her

November 20, 2021 – HK

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