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Mainstream, VOL 61 No 22, May 27, 2023

Arrogance of Power | Faraz Ahmad

Sunday 28 May 2023, by Faraz Ahmad


Never in the history of independent India has any Prime Minister betrayed such arrogance of power as our dear Prime Minister Narendrabhai Damodardas Modi.

Narendra Modi is the 14th Prime Minister of India since 14 August 1947. Opinion among political observers and analysts is divided on whether Indira Gandhi was arrogant or a victim of circumstances. Morarji Desai the fifth Prime Minister was haughty and disdainful of his critics who were innumerable but he never betrayed a blasé disregard for constitutional proprieties and an upfront attempt to trample upon all democratic institutions.

The only one in the power corridors who showed similar disregard for constitutional propriety and institutional restrictions was Sanjay Gandhi. But then he had no constitutional authority and derived all his powers illegitimately because his mother, the Prime Minister handed him all the reins, without so much as making him a member of Parliament. It is doubtful if when on June 25 he became the de facto ruler of India and put behind bars the respected Pandit Brother on wholly trumped up charges, simply because he hated the Prime Minister’s Principal Secretary and trusted confidant P.N. Haksar and Pandit Brothers was owned by his uncle/s, he was even a four anna member of the Congress party.

Sanjay was an aberration who died early for defying institutions and performing aerobatics on a small plane, without proper training or experience, much against the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) rules and regulations and we all assumed and rejoiced that was the end of an evil era. How very wrong we were in coming to a hasty conclusion, unaware and unprepared for much worse to come.

That apart, the great Lal Bahadur Shastri was a self-effacing humble and modest leader. Sheer luck favoured H.D. Deve Gowda to occupy 7, Race Course Road but he never put on airs. Narasimha Rao may have been a rather laid back and inefficient administrator but none can rival his scholarship and his modesty rose from his genuine scholarship. Dr. Manmohan Singh is an internationally renowned economist and put India into world’s leading economies bringing unparalleled growth of the country. But hardly boasted or even talked about himself or his achievements. That’s why Modi and his fellow travellers mocked him as “Maun mohan” meaning a reticent person. Atal Bihari Vajpayee was the first NDA Prime Minister and a poet at that. His critics in the RSS/BJP disliked him and called him a mask because he lacked the dour, cantankerous qualities the Sangh expected from their Prime Minister and arrogance was the last thing one could see in that poet.

Such disregard and contempt for institutional values and constitutional proprieties comes when a leader grabs power through deception and reaches the top through manipulation. That is not true of politics alone but in any profession if you rise to the top through deception, short cuts and manipulations, you naturally develop a disdain for people around you and while you put on a grave and serious visage for the world outside, deep inside you laugh to yourself how you have fooled the others and thumb your nose to the world outside.

Don’t we see this in our dear, respected Prime Minister? First, he brushed aside all objections to his extravagant Central Vista plans to cost Rs 20,000 crore by the initial estimate. But of that Rs 862 crore were sanctioned for this new Parliament building. But certain news reports put the final cost at Rs 1250 crore or more. Evidently, he seemed confident he could get away with it what with the Supreme Court bench led by Justice A.M. Khanwilkar readily giving a go ahead to this project notwithstanding the countrywide restrictions on construction activity in view of the spread of Covid in 2021 and further confirmed the Delhi High Court sentence of fine on petitioner Sohail Hashmi.

Having secured such support from the apex court naturally he was bubbling with excitement and confidence to forget about the protocol to request the then President Ramnath Kovind to lay the foundation stone of that project. Perhaps he felt he had done enough to prove his concern for Dalits by sending up Kovind as the President of India.

Similarly this time again he thinks he has done his due towards the larger Adivasi community by facilitating an Adivasi woman, Droupadi Murmu climb the stairs of Rashtrapati Bhawan and need to do no more, protocol be damned.

When the wrestlers Vinesh Phogat, Sakshi Malik Bajrang Punia won laurels for India, at Olympics and other international events, the Prime Minister invited them at tea. Presumably he felt he has done his due by offering them an opportunity to step into the haloed precincts of the Prime Minister’s home in Lutyen’s Delhi and offering them a cup of tea. So why should these people now seek to meet him? For last month and more the poor young girls and boys, pride of the Nation, are sitting on a dharna at Jantar Mantar under open sky facing the vagaries of weather, demanding the arrest of Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) chief Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh, a known underworld don of Uttar Pradesh charged by these young girls and boys of sexual harassment of girls who go for training and qualifying for the national and international events.

Brij Bhushan has spoken on video how he gunned down his political rival and former UP minister Vinod Kumar Singh. And yet the courts pronounced him not guilty. Such is his clout. It took months for the Delhi Police to register a First Information Report (FIR) on the serious charge of sexual harassment, a well-established non bailable offence along with the POCSO Act committing a similar crime against a minor girl, which was also alleged. Ordinarily in all these offences committed by any person the Police is obliged to arrest the accused with no further delay. But if the Prime Minister has remained aloof and unmoved by the plight of these children, why would the Delhi Police directly under the charge of Union Home Minister Amit Shah act? And it hasn’t. Just shows how arrogance of power blinds a leader.

Encouraged by the indulgence and deference being shown by the Modi regime, Brij Bhushan’s latest fusillade is against the very laws protecting women from sexual harassment and in particular the POCSO Act in the background of the demand for his arrest.

The Prime Minister’s lack of concern for the people and taking vicarious pleasure in their suffering was witnessed when old women and young with little children in their arms rose throughout the country in that biting cold winter and sat on dharnas to oppose the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) passed in October, 2019. The agitation continued but Modi’s government made no effort to speak to the protestors. Instead, several attempts made, successfully first in UP and then in Delhi as well to violently disperse them with the BJP and the Police both calling the peaceful demonstrators anti-national worth being shot down as Union Minister Anurag Thakur called the demonstrators “Desh ke ghaddaron ko” egging on his followers to respond by shouting ‘goli maro salon ko’ (shoot them down)

Then came the farmers’ agitation against the three draconian laws aimed at withdrawing all Government support and instead hand over all farm produce trade to private corporate sector, leaving no protection for the farmers. They were dismissed as ‘Khalistanis’. The farmers sat on dharna outside the Delhi borders for over a year and when former Governor, a BJP man, asked the Prime Minister to heed their call, Modi dismissively asked Satypal Malik, according to him, ‘Mere liye baithe hain kya?’ “Are they sitting for me”.

The last bit was the Ordinance he got passed to undo the unanimous Supreme Court judgement granting the dully elected Delhi government powers to administer Delhi, without interference by the Centre appointee the Lt. Governor. The day the Supreme Court was closing for month long vacation, the Modi government brought in the Ordinance to strike at the very root of the Supreme Court judgement.

Just shows how power has gone to the head of our dear Prime Minister. How he is neither willing to listen to reason nor pleading, not even the apex court’s judgements.

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