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Mainstream, VOL LVII No 24 New Delhi June 1, 2019

The new “New India”: How New it will Be

Saturday 1 June 2019, by Badri Raina

Many literate and not so literate men and women of my generation grew up with stipulations about a “New India” that derived from the ideals of the freedom movement.

As is well-known, those ideals came then to be codified in the provisions of the Indian Constitution.

In a broad brush of recapitulation, these provisions comprised the guarantee of a citizenship that would transcend religious, cultural and gender identities; the right of franchise to every adult Indian; equality before law and of opportunity; the right to practice and propagate individual and community faiths; freedom of expression, subject only to maintenance of public order and national security (recently adjucated a “fundamental right” by the highest constitutional Court in the land); an enforceable Right to Information that supercedes the Official Secrets Act; a system of education directed at fostering a scientific temper among the populace; an economic system that would place the public ownership of assets at a commanding height in order to ensure that the wealth that came to be produced did not remain concentrated in a few private hands; a network of institutions that would operate the laws and policies of state and maintain checks and balances on the exercise of executive power; and, among the Directive Principles of State Policy, the injunction to the state to ensure that “we the people” became the true owners of wealth as much as of sovereignty. (Article 39)

In foreign policy, the “New india” was to support the liberation of subjugated peoples around the old colonised territories, foster world peace rather than militarism, and be on the side of the ideals of the United Nations Charter.

The perorations and lived experience of recent times suggest that much is slated to change in that old order of “New India”.

Again, in a broad brush, India is to learn to accept cultural homogeneity wherein one particular religious identity is chiefly denote the totality of the nation; where administering to that identity is to tantamount to “nationalism” and worrying with any exclusivity about marginalised “other” populations is to be decried as “appeasement”; where internal security—as much as external security—is to be procured through a muscular exercise of the state apparatus rather than through the cementing of social cohesions by a non-discriminatory and equitous order of governance; where “terrorism” is to be associated with just one colour, however much it may be said that “terrorism” has no colour; where the usefulness of state institutions may be evaluated not as much in terms of their independence and fairness of mind but their rectitude of loyalty; where “Western” notions of a scientific temper are to be jettisoned in favour of ancient knowledge which is to be taught as having been far ahead of systems of modern science and technology; where the nation’s wealth is to be taken out of “wasteful and corrupt” public Institutions and placed in more collaborative private hands; where “welfare schemes” are to be discouraged and replaced by a new order of individual entre-preneurship—an idea that has miserably failed to take off; where intellectual challenges to the new “New India” are to be viewed with grave suspicion and suitably quelled; where alliances are to be struck not with the “enlightened” regimes (as much as they still exist) around the world but with those whose centralisation of political, economic and military power corresponds to the ideals of the new “New India”; where the fourth estate is to be expected to toe the official lines and preferences of policy and governance, or else; and, where free-market propagation of establishment ideas, replete with star power, is to be an inseparable part of executive functions.

Althougth the last five years have yielded a fair enough blue-print of how these postulates of the new “New india” may pan out, it will remain to be seen as to how far the Constitution, as at present operative, will be able to sustain that blue-print, and at what point a make-over may be initiated. Or, what social upheavals attempts at such a make-over may unleash.

After all, nothing ever remains the same.

There remains of course the factor of “we the people” to consider. By all indications, their interminable sufferings—farmers, jobless youth, lynched populations, deterred segments of the polity, and a massive slowdown boding no good for people’s welfare—none of these seem to have influenced negatively the prospects of consolidating the new “New India”. Who knows, may be, as Bertolt Brecht had once envisaged, “we the people” have indeed been transmogrified, as if by a potion, into “we the nationalists” of India.

Always to remember, though, that the politics of hallucination has never had a long or decisive life in democratic history. And for a simple reason: you cannot fool all of the people all of the time.

When the throat slakes more than the mirage pleases, the “visions” that false gods propound unravel for what they are, namely, political aphrodisiacs for the time.

Then, even the call to faith and prayer falls on deaf ears.

In the meanwhile, Modi’s address to the new party parliamentarians has evoked some guard-edly positive comment. That its inclusive pitch has been followed by three instances of hate crimes against innocent Muslim citizens—two in BJP-ruled States—with little departure in the style of police “action” in such matters—pops the same old question to Mr Modi: how come nobody is listening to him? Or, do his followers, in fact, understand him better than we do? A larger and more ominous question is this: what might be the state of the nation five years from now—socially, economically, not to say constitutionally—if some eighteen per cent of her citizens continue to receive the treatment of pariahs?

And, what might the world make of that sort of record from the Vishwa Guru?

The author, who taught English literature at the University of Delhi for over four decades and is now retired, is a prominent writer and poet. A well-known commentator on politics, culture and society, he wrote the much acclaimed Dickens and the Dialectic of Growth. His book, The Underside of Things—India and the World: A Citizen’s Miscellany, 2006-2011, came out in August 2012. Thereafter he wrote two more books, Idea of India Hard to Beat: Republic Resilient and Kashmir: A Noble Tryst in Tatters.

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