A Bandh Mukt Bharat!

A Bandh Mukt Bharat!

Prof. T K Thomas

One thought of an auspicious beginning. Here is what is considered sublime before dwelling on to the ridiculous. The term ‘Mukt’ essentially has a spiritual connotation. Almost all human beings with faith in God or a Supreme power believe in deliverance or salvation or its Sanskrit / Hindi equivalent Mukti. Even a commonly used phrase like ‘Nasha Mukti’ [deliverance from drug or alcohol addiction] there is a hint to a total transformation-mental, moral, physical and spiritual. Even when it comes to using a derivative of ‘Mukti’ in terms like ‘garibi mukt’ [poverty free], ‘polio mukt’[polio free] or ‘pollution mukt’ [pollution free] the essential nuances continue to be positive. It is considered appropriate to mix a light hearted approach with a bit of seriousness.

The ruling party’s National Executive that concluded on Sunday seems to be persistent on a Congress, nay opposition ‘Mukt’ Bharat with an earnest resolve to win not only the 2019 general elections but also to be in power for the next half a century. The ruling party’s earnest desire seems to be too modest as the Mughal sultanate or empire was in power for over three centuries or 331 years to be exact, till Bahadur Shah Zafar was exiled to then Burma! So fifty years more of the present ruling party sounds too unambitious!

The National Executive has also suggested very positive promises which the detractors of the ruling dispensation dismiss as ‘Jhumlas’. So, the promises include Muktis for the people of India from maladies that plague the country, by 2022- absolutely time bound! First of all, it will be a terrorism or ‘Atankwad’ mukt Bharat. Already demonetization has ensured, the ruling party claims, that sources of funding to the terrorists or ‘Atankwadis’ have been eliminated! Terrorism and violence have come down with a brand new governor and a new but temporary police chief at the helm in Jammu and Kashmir.

Secondly the New India of 2022 will be casteism or ‘Jativad’ Mukt. This may not be in consonance with the concept of the ‘Varna’ system mentioned in the Rig Veda or the Chatur Varna reiterated in Manu Smriti and Chanakya Niti. The Varna or caste system was essentially based on division of labour which over the centuries degenerated into the concept of untouchables who were out of the purview of the four castes and considered ‘Chandalas’ or Panchamas; they also included hill tribes. It was Gandhi ji who named the untouchables ‘Harijans’ or people of God. In fact in his agenda for the freedom struggle, emancipation or Mukti of the Harijans was one of the most important issues. Even one of his newspapers was titled ‘Harijan’. The British government referred to them as Depressed Classes and the first reference to the term Scheduled castes is found in the Government of India Act, 1935 which came into effect in 1937. Incidentally there were disagreements on the term Harijan as many communities considered the term condescending. When the Constitution of India was framed lists were made of depressed or historically disadvantaged people and were mentioned in the First Schedule of the Constitution; they were termed as Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. It is believed that these terms were considered inappropriate and an old Sanskrit term Dalit became the new nomenclature. After the Mandal Commission and the agitation that followed the word ‘Dalit’ came into vogue. The term Dalit means broken or scattered and is used to denote untouchables. It is believed that the term was first used by social reformer Mahatma Jyotirao Phule [1827-1890] to refer to the untouchables, socially and culturally marginalized sections of the society living under the shackles of thralldom. Now this term Dalit also has been discontinued thanks to a judicial pronouncement and ‘Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes’ are back. So the ruling party is sure to make India Jativad Mukt or Casteism free by 2022!

The third promise is to make India Communalism free or ‘ Saampridayikta Mukt’ ! As the ruling party claims to be truly secular and insist that they have never used religion or community an issue and no one should have any doubt that by 2022 they will have a Saampridayikta Mukt Bharat!

The Poverty or Garibi Mukt Bharat promised by the ruling party has had a chequered history. Actually Prime Minister Indira Gandhi had ushered in a ‘Garib Mukt, sorry, ‘Garibi Mukt’ Bharat with a powerful slogan, ‘Garibi Hatao’ in the 1970s. So what is promised by the present Sarkar of a Garibi mukt Bharat may go down in history!

Reacting to a senior ruling party leader’s reference to a “Congress Mukt Bharat’’ the ruling party’s top most ideological mentor said that such political slogans are not “ language of the RSS”! Whatever may be the debate that followed the term ’mukt’ seems to have become popular in the national firmament. The Maharashtra government is leading from the front to have an Urban Naxal Mukt Bharat. While hearing a petition in the Supreme Court against the arbitrary arrests of prominent activists termed ‘Urban Naxals’ by the Maharashtra Police, Justice D Y Chandrachud said, “Dissent is the safety valve of democracy. If you don’t allow safety valve pressure cooker will burst”.

Is there a pressure cooker situation in India today? Are there attempts to throttle dissent? The answer obviously depends on which side of the political spectrum you are. The ruling party spokesperson would say that everything is fine and small events like a lynching here or a rape there or some disorder in certain areas do not reflect any major political turmoil or pressure cooker situation. The problems on either side of our borders are not alarming and that there are only minor skirmishes in the Kashmir valley engineered by the Pakistanis. The problem according to right wing activists is that groups like those recently arrested by the Maharashtra police termed Urban Naxals are instigating gullible Dalits and Tribals and India will soon be Urban Naxal Mukt, even before the 2022 deadline!

A ‘Dissent Mukt’ Bharat where nothing against government is projected, may be ideal for the government. Indira Gandhi had tried it during the National Emergency. She refused to believe that dissent is the fundamental requirement of democracy. She curbed democratic freedom and saved her chair for a few months. In the 1977 elections she realized that the people of India wanted an Indira Mukt government!

Judging from what the newly appointed governor of Jammu and Kashmir on Monday [September 10] of visiting the recently resigned Chief Minister was breaking all protocols. Political appointees to constitutional positions doing away with protocols, seem to be a new tendency. Similarly a senior officer of the armed forces commenting on purchase of defense hardware too is a new tendency. Are we witnessing the beginning of a Protocol Mukt Bharat?

Are we also witnessing a political propriety Mukt Bharat? Certain adjectives to describe political rivals and certain communities seem to indicate this. How would the politically unattached react to phrases like Pheku, Buffoon, Pappu, The lie lama, wild dogs and a host of others? A political propriety Mukt Bharat is already there!

Monday, September 10 according to the government of Delhi’s full page advertisement in the morning newspapers with the picture of the Chief Minister, claims that, “for the first time in the world A Revolution in Governance- Launch of Home Delivery of Public Services!” Citizens of Delhi now need only to call 1076 to avail of public services like issuance of Caste, Birth, and 13 more such services, and initially 25 more such services for which they had to visit government offices number of times. Of course it comes with a fee of Rs.50 for people to avail public services at their doorsteps. Are we going to see red tape Mukt governance?

In conclusion one would suggest a Protest or Bandh Mukt Bharat. As one was framing this suggestion one’s attention was drawn to two visuals on a news channel. One was the footage of a 2013 speech of the present Prime Minister in which he castigates his predecessor for hiking fuel prices to almost seventy when the price of crude was around115 US dollars! [It is another matter that today when crude prices are around 80 dollars petrol in Mumbai is being sold for a little above 88 rupees per liter! The second visual was about a protest rally on cycle in Patna by the present law minister, one of the strongest defenders of the present government, demanding cut in fuel prices! The politician in the minister who led the Patna protest hits out at the opposition parties for an unnecessary protest without understanding that the present government has no control over international fuel prices and that the citizens should understand it and should not protest in national interest! Did this echo the comments of the Rajasthan minister for temple affairs? The PM obviously didn’t react. If the opposition Bandh was a flop show, why did the oil minister meet the party chief for 90 minutes? One would suggest that we should have two strategies for a Protest or Bandh Mukt Bharat- one strategy for when we are in power and the other when we are out of power!