By T.J.S. George
In a matter of weeks, Uttar Pradeshians will be lining up to vote. This election will be of considerable significance to all of India. Yogi Adityanath, the politician dressed in saffron, is well-known for his ambition to replace Narendra Modi as the BJP’s Prime Ministerial nominee. In such situations, Modi develops ten eyes and twenty ears. This internal yudh makes the UP elections a historical tug of war.
Election time is the time — the only time — when ordinary citizens get extraordinary attention as voters. To get those votes, parties and politicians go to any length. Once upon a time they could directly bribe voters; actually give cash. That’s not done now because now things are a bit more sophisticated. Politicians recognise that and rise to the occasion.
A few days ago the Prime Minister transferred Rs. 476 crore to the accounts of 53,000 women Self Help Groups (SHGs) in UP. What are these SHGs and who benefits from them? We are free to form our own impressions from the few available facts. They are groups said to be functioning under the Deen Dayal Antyodaya Mission. This was part of a capitalisation fund of Rs. 1,625 crore that was disbursed to more than four lakh SHGs. Plenty of money which means plenty of opportunities to win the support of voters because officially the control buttons are at the Prime Minister’s Office — and the PMO is at your fingertips.
These are days when fingertips can work wonders. SHGs are not the only akshaya patras responding to VIP fingertips. There are other wonderful-sounding initiatives. For example, the Kanya Sumangala Scheme. What a noble concept, arranging sumangala for Kanyas. It gets nobler when we realise that it enables the Government to transfer Rs. 20 crores to the accounts of approved groups.
“Approved groups.” Ah, there’s the key. It is irrelevant to ask where this kind of money is coming from. But it is relevant to look at what such munificence has meant to the national exchequer. Since 2014, when the Modi Government came to power, the rupee has fallen quite noticeably. The rate was 63 rupees to the dollar that year. In 2020, just six years later, it became 76 to the dollar. This was when the Prime Minister was saying publicly that he would take the rupee high and make it 40 to a dollar. Economic growth rate in this period has been zero in automobile and residential property sales. So 60 percent of the population were surviving on free grain.
The Prime Minister’s response was to rely on his oratory. He spoke of how Aurangazeb tried to change civilisation with the sword, but Shivaji rose to protect India’s culture. Justice Fali Nariman wondered why Babar or Akbar was not cited instead of Aurangazeb. “Akbar was famous as one of the most secular rulers that any nation ever knew at any point in time,” he said. He quoted Babar’s letter to his son Humayun asking that justice be delivered as per the tenets of each community.
Tenets in today’s India have scant regard for secular ideas, or for free speech. Although the prevailing notion is that free speech is truly free in India, British-period sedition laws are used against even “youngsters, students and comedians” who criticise the Government. “It is time,” said Justice Nariman, “to do away completely with the sedition laws and allow free speech so long as, ultimately, it does not extort somebody to violence.”
But people in power, especially when they have an insecurity complex, tend to hear the voices of only their followers. A few days ago Madhya Pradesh Minister Kamal Patel claimed that Modi was born to save India, that he was an avatar of God, like Rama and Krishna. His reasoning was that, when crisis develops in a country and dictators rise, God appears in human form. Like Rama appeared to end the misrule of Ravana. Similarly, when the misdeeds of the Congress increased, God appeared as Modi to save the country. He has come as Viswaguru of India, leading the nation along the right tracks. When we have Ministers who see God’s actions with such certainty, what scope is there for those who do not have such easy access to God?
Some of our official patriots get angry at the very mention of “hate speech.” Keshav Prasad Maurya, UP’s BJP stalwart, got furious when the subject was raised at a recent interview. He snatched the reporter’s mask and forced the crew to delete the footage, as the BBC said later. “We don’t need to prove ourselves,” he said. Lesson to learn: BJP leaders do not know what is hate. Love is their guiding light. Damn the people who have to prove themselves.