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Mainstream, VOL LIX No 28, New Delhi, June 26, 2021

Letter to the Readers, Mainstream, June 26, 2021

Friday 25 June 2021

Letter to the Readers, Mainstream, June 26, 2021

As we write this, we hear some among India’s ruling party (from the BJP - or from RSS) present themselves as people who fought for democracy during the days of the emergency declared by Indira Gandhi in 1975. Forty-six years on we can confidently say that members of the RSS and the Jan Sangh who may have faced a prison term during the emergency are no democrats. Being a victim doesn’t turn you into democrats. They represent an authoritarian and supremacist ideology and have successfully used the conditions of democracy in India to organise, mobilise, and contest elections. For the past seven years, the BJP rule in India has amply demonstrated the misuse of state machinery to arrest and harass critics on trumped-up charges of sedition, and to allow the spread of a communal ideology, etc. The ruling party has normalised an authoritarian style of functioning with little room for democratic institutional norms. Demonetisation was decided with no consultation, or article-370 was revoked suddenly in Kashmir with hundreds of democratically elected leaders put in prison at the whims and fancies of a coterie around the big leader.

Our society is being conditioned and trained every day to adulate, its supreme leader like devotees. Where ever you go these days on the road in India’s national capital on major roundabouts, to University campuses to Hospital premises to Petrol Pumps, big billboards have come up thanking Prime Minister Narendra Modi for the Free Vaccination against Covid-19. Seems like shameless self-advertising using public funds with the involvement of Union government bureaucracy (e.g.Directorate of Advertising and Visual Publicity). The country’s apex education regulator the University Grants Commission has issued a circular to all universities and institutions under its purview to put up posters and banners thanking the Prime Minister for the vaccines. A huge publicity drive across BJP ruled states of UP and Gujarat is seemingly underway, with full-page advertisements appearing in national newspapers thanking Mr Modi for the Free Vaccines. Already every vaccine certificate carries a photo of the prime minister. Very ugly this cult of the personality on display in India. A whole army of propagandists within the government bureaucracy, and from the ruling party are constantly at work to polish and enlarge the image of the big leader every day. They re-package the same stale product, to keep it popular.

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The government keeps coming up with newer and newer measures to curb and control the media & public sphere like control freaks. Let us look at the past weeks. The government with its February 2021 New Information Technology (Intermediary Guideline and Digital Media Ethics Code) rules continues to go after social media companies. The law stipulates that if there are more than 5 million subscribers, digital platforms will be required by the government to disclose the primary source of any message.

For some time already the Govt has been breathing down the neck of Twitter to remove tweets critical of India’s health response to Covid-19

50 tweets pertaining to the recent incident in Loni over the alleged assault of a Muslim Man were restricted by Twitter following a request by the Indian authorities

On June 18, the social media firm Twitter received an official request to remove tweets of environmental activists protesting the construction of a wall along north Goa’s Vainguinim beach

On June 4, Twitter informed the political cartoonist Manjul that it had received an official request from Indian law enforcement to take action against his social media profile

The amendments the government proposes to make in the Cinematograph Act are intended to give itself sweeping powers to control the content of films. The draft amendment bill is proposing to accord the central government the power to order re-certification of a film that has already obtained a formal clearance from the Central Board of Film Certification.

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We bear no ill will towards the courts in India but we are utterly horrified reading a report in a prominent Indian newspaper which says that a top constitutional officer, no less than a serving Chief Justice of the Bombay High Court has suggested to the authorities to brand people with permanent tattoos to identify, inoculate mentally ill homeless persons. Is this for real? Branding people, just like animals. even that doesn’t happen anymore. Today it is homeless, tomorrow it could be people belonging to certain minorities, who knows what the future has in store? That such ideas can prevail and are openly expressed at the topmost levels of our society tells a lot about the authoritarian nature of our society. People with such ideas don’t know and probably don’t care that under Nazi rule all Jews were made to wear the Star of David on the chest, with the word "Jew" inscribed inside the star in German or in the local language. This applied to all German Jews and Jews in Germany’s annexed territories. Prisoners in German concentration camps tattoed camp serial numbers on prisoners’ arms. Let us hope that the suggestions by the Bombay judge never see the light of the day and that the respected judge never himself ends up being a homeless person or a mentally ill person on the streets of that great metropolis.

All these are signs and indicators of a flourishing authoritarian culture in India, that show disdain for democratic rights and equality of all citizens. Impatience with dialogue and all set for baton swinging against dissenters.

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The news media reported on June 23, 2021, that the US Navy has released the footage of the 40,000-pound bomb explosion that triggered a 3.9 magnitude quake during a "shock trial" on the aircraft carrier USS Gerald R. Ford.

How on earth is this is allowed, is it legal to trigger an earthquake, destroy subsea life, to test out the military’s lethal toys. The seas off Florida where the test took place is home to various marine mammal species including bottlenose dolphins, humpback whales, and North Atlantic right whales. That such tests are conducted in 2021 tells us a lot about our ethical concerns as the human race. The cost of a 40,000-pound bomb test under the sea can fund hospitals and health care for thousands of people. Who cares?

Yes, we as a magazine with a human-interest focus we care and would say no to all such trials.

June 26, 2021 – The Editors

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