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Mainstream, VOL LVII No 40, New Delhi, September 21, 2019

Whither India?

Monday 23 September 2019, by Barun Das Gupta


The arrest of the 83-year-old and ailing former Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir and a sitting Member of Parliament Farooq Abdullah under the Public Safety Act—a law which was enacted to deal with smugglers and terrorists—shows what happens when people with a very myopic vision (or no vision at all) and a narrow compass of mind are catapulted into positions of power. Abdullah’s arrest will only further alienate the Kashmiri people. The process of alienation has been on for a very very long time. It will now get a further impetus.

The arrest has come at a time when the Supreme Court was about to hear a habeas corpus petition moved by a member of the Rajya Sabha challenging the detention of the Kashmiri leader. The Solicitor General, appearing on behalf of the Union Government, had challenged the locus standi of the petitioner to file such a petition. To the immense relief of the Union Government, the Apex Court has deferred the hearing of the case till September 30.

Home Minister Amit Shah had earlier claimed on the floor of Parliament that Abdullah had not been detained or kept under house arrest, that he is free to meet people and is indeed meeting people and is in fine health. When he was asked why Abdullah was not attending Parliament, Shah’s sneering reply was that he could not bring a Member to the House at gun- point. But since then Abdullah has, in an interview to a TV channel, emphatically rejected Shah’s claim that he had not been detained and is free to meet people. Farooq Saheb has said that the security personnel posted outside his house do not allow him to step out or to meet people. He has been kept incommunicado. He is not even in contact with his son Omar. What Amit Shah says now, or if he says anything at all, remains to be seen.

Farooq Abdullah’s detention is of a piece with the Modi Government’s overall policy of eliminating all democratic Opposition and turning India into a Hindu Rashtra. The BJP remains committed to its goal of Hindi, Hindu, Hindustan. It is not a freak coincidence that in the midst of the present tumult, Amit Shah found it prudent to make his controversial comment on making Hindi the common language of India. Quite expectedly, it evoked a strong protest from the States of the South. The question arises as to why the chief of the BJP party organisation and No. 2 in the Union Government chose this particular moment to introduce a divisive issue.

Religious minorities certainly do not find a place in the BJP’s scheme of things. Is the BJP now going one step ahead and banishing the non-Hindi-speaking people also outside the pale of India or its brand of Hinduism? What mentality does it betray? Who are the real members of the tukde tukde gang?

Now Amit Shah has gone one step further and questioned whether the multi-party parlia-mentary system is at all suitable for India. It may well be a prelude to ushering in a one-party rule bidding goodbye to the parliamentary democratic system that India adopted on the morrow of independence and abolishing al-together the electoral system. To all appearances, he wants to ensconce the BJP in power for all time to come without periodic accountability to the people which is a must in a multi-party democratic system.

Farooq Abdullah’s arrest also contradicts the government’s claim that everything is normal in Kashmir. With all principal Opposition leaders thrown behind the bar, with Internet facilities withdrawn, with mobile telephone service suspended and with roadblocks set up with felled trees, nothing is normal in Kashmir. There is a complete news blackout. If it is the new normal for Kashmir today, it will be the new normal for the whole of India tomorrow if the multi-party democratic system is abolished..

With opposition parties divided, enervated and emasculated, the possibility of building up a strong resistance to transforming India from a vibrant democracy to a one-party rule in which no dissenting voice is tolerated, seems remote indeed. Those committed to fighting for democracy, secularism and preserving the sanctity of our Constitution will now have to think of new ways to carry on their struggle.

The author was a correspondent of The Hindu in Assam. He also worked in Patriot, Compass (Bengali), Mainstream. A veteran journalist, he comes from a Gandhian family and was intimately associated with the RCPI leader, Pannalal Das Gupta.

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