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Mainstream, VOL LVI No 48 New Delhi November 17, 2018

Positive Features and Ominous Signs

Sunday 18 November 2018, by SC



As the process of State Assembly elections is set in motion, one special feature of these polls has come out in bold relief in the first phase. One of the States where elections are taking place is Chhattisgarh. Out of the 18 constituencies that went to the polls in the first round in the State, the turnout was as high as 76.28 per cent, definitely significant since eight districts in this State are affected by extreme Left insurgency and the Maoists had given a call for poll boycott to enforce which they had resorted to coercion in the form of violence. Whereas in the past two weeks there were at least six Maoist attacks wherein 14 persons, including a photo-journalist, were killed, on polling day six Maoists were killed and five security personnel and a civilian were injured in two incidents. Yet the polling was not affected by such acts of violence.

As The Indian Express editorially asserts:

Maoism in India has got more and more militarised and, notwithstanding the loose talk about “urban Naxals”, its influence is now limited to inaccessible pockets of central India. The support Maoism commands even in its strongholds is sustained mostly by fear of the gun. The indiscriminate attacks on security forces and civilians perceived to be state agents is meant to perpetuate this politics of fear. It restricts the space for dialogic politics and creates hurdles and delays in the establishment of civic institutions, the rule of law and due process. When the Adivasi in Dantewada marches defiantly to the polling booth and asks, “how many fingers can dadalog chop off?”, he is exposing the bankruptcy that lies at the heart of the Maoist project.

This is the reality in the Maoist heartland today. And this was also reflected lately in an interview of a local villager in one of Chhattisgarh’s Maoist-infested regions taken by a team of intrepid journalists. Without any fear or hesitation, the villager—once a Maoist sympathiser—said he had decided to vote for a Communist in these elections as in the last in order to ensure that his difficulties and problems were effectively raised in the State legislature. All of us who celebrate democracy must comprehend these words in full.

The Supreme Court-mandated comprehensive probe into the procurement of 36 Rafale fighter jets from France that has caused a furore in political circles too is a manifestation of the persisting strength of our democracy despite the varied attacks on it from different quarters including those enjoying the proximity of the present-day rulers. The three-judge SC Bench, that includes the Chief Justice of India, has reserved its order for the present but it examined even IAF officers on the issue of defence requirements at this stage.

These are positive developments. But in spite of these positive features, there are certain ominous signs which call for serious introspection by all who are interested in sustaining and nurturing our democracy. Right-wing elements have been on a rampage for quite sometime seeking to destroy our composite culture. Lately they have targeted T.M. Krishna, that eminent singer of classical Carnatic music, who was supposed to perform in the Capital’s Nehru Park on November 18-19 at a concert, a collaborative venture by Spic Macay and the Airports Authority of India. Two days ago on Tuesday (November 13), the AAI announced that the event was indefinitely postponed; it thus surrendered to Right-wing trolls which demanded that the concert be cancelled. Why? Because Krishna is a critic of Hindutva and the Modi Government.

This is nothing short of cultural fascism. As historian Ramchandra Guha writes today,

When, as happened to me in Ahmedabad, a scholar is prevented from speaking, that is intolerance. But to prevent a great musician from performing in the national Capital is not mere intolerance—it is barbarism.

And when members of the Hindutva brigade seek to compel MPs opposed to the construction of the Ram temple at the site where the Babri Masjid stood till December 6, 1992 at Ayodhya to change their stand, as they have already declared to do so, that is a new manifestation of curtailment of democracy, something which has become the norm since the Modi dispensation assumed power in 2014.

On the occasion of our first PM’s birth anniversary this week, the moot question is: where are we heading?

November 15 S.C.

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