'Truth spoken without moderation reverses itself'
This blog is a source for intellectual exploration. It includes a list of alternative resources and a source of free books. The placement of an article does not imply that I agree with it, merely that I found it thought-provoking. There are also poems and book reviews. Texts written by me are labelled. Readers are free to re-post anything they like.
Friday, November 4, 2016
Pratap Bhanu Mehta - There is no Emergency
Let’s find another name for cult of the leader, tyranny of nationalism, use of state power to suffocate opposition.
NB: An excellent
article by Professor Mehta that combines irony with analysis in equal measure.
I fear though, that given the hyper-inflated outrage that the Sangh Parivar and
its allies in the mass media are hell-bent upon substituting for public
discourse, this article will meet the fate of Johnathan Swift’s Modest Proposal of 1729, wherein he suggested that Ireland's
poor escape poverty by selling their children as food to the rich. Who has time
for irony these days? No, there is no Emergency. Yes, there is no Emergency. Past was Glorious; Present
is in Safe Hands; Future is Bright and Leader is Right. Think positive!
Forward Into the Past! - DS
“Every generation must
keep reflecting on the Emergency period in an unbiased manner so that no future
political leader can even wish to commit the same sin.” These were the prime
minister’s words at the Ramnath Goenka Awards ceremony this week. No one should
underestimate the destruction the Emergency of 1975 unleashed on freedom and
democracy. But that event was all on the surface. Many are arguing that we are
now moving towards an undeclared Emergency that seems equally insidious and
far-reaching. The real Emergency will be that we will not even recognise that
we are in an Emergency.
But surely those who
accuse you of creating Emergency-like conditions are being unfair to you. How
can the signs possibly point to Emergency-like conditions? They say the
personality cult of the “Leader” has reached unprecedented proportions. The
nation seems like one leader’s ego writ large. The leader can do no wrong. But
this cult of leadership cannot possibly be like the Emergency. After all, Our
Leader is always right.
There is increasing
use of state power to suffocate the opposition. Elected governments of non-BJP
parties are not being allowed to function, like in Delhi. Routine politics now
risks detention. A chief minister and Opposition leaders are denied routine
forms of protest. All forms of civility break down. Even if the detention was
shortlived it sent a signal of what the state intends to do. But this cannot
possibly portend an Emergency. Opposition politicking is bad for the country.
Only the ruling party’s politicking is good.
Nationalism is used to
stifle all thinking. The cultivation of collective narcissism to stifle all
individuality, the promulgation of uncontested definitions of nationalism to
pre-empt all debate over genuine national interest, the constant hunt for
contrived enemies of the nation, is suffocating thought. But we cannot declare
this to be an Emergency, since that would require us to think. Social
protestors are routinely detained. The articulation of social protest is more
difficult. Just ask Jignesh Mevani or Hardik Patel. The use of preventive
detention to stifle social protest cannot be an Emergency. It is the mere
maintenance of order, the time-honoured tactic of the state.
The covert use of
state power to keep the press, particularly television media, aligned with the
government’s purposes, has produced something far more insidious than
censorship: It has shown how much conformity can be produced without overt
censorship. But this cannot possibly be an Emergency. The media, after all,
caves in of its own free will.
The effective way in
which Indian civil society’s revolt against corruption has been neutralised and
made invisible is astounding. Every corruption scam, from Vyapam onwards, is
wiped out of public discussion. A simulacrum of virtue and innocence is created
by throwing a cloak of invisibility over all vice and scams. How can it be an
Emergency if the objective is to protect the government’s claims to purity and
virtue? Academic institutions are threatened if students and faculty exercise
their rights. Governments will often appoint sympathisers. That is their
prerogative. But making mediocre appointments with the sole purpose of taming
institutions has reached new heights. But this cannot possibly be an Emergency.
This is merely producing right thinking.
The state continues to
create a climate where extra-judicial killings are justified. But, perhaps this
is not an Emergency, since we are in permanent war, where the norms of
terrorism and those of civilised states become indistinguishable. There are
witch hunts in the name of protecting the cow. The prime minister warns against
vigilante hooliganism. Yet ministers compensate the killers, and drape them in
the national flag. But perhaps this too does not feel like the Emergency. How
can crimes committed in the name of the holy cow be compared to the Emergency?
The unfettered use of surveillance cannot be an Emergency. It is only for
making citizens more transparent to government. The critics are wrong. The
government does not need to be made more accountable to the people; citizens
need to be made more accountable to the government. How is this an Emergency?
The attempts to
control the judiciary cannot be an Emergency. After all, the judiciary has
become a law unto itself. The arbitrary use of the state machinery of law
enforcement, from police to CBI, continues. But this cannot possibly be an
Emergency. This is just regular government. The growing use of militarism and
military iconography in politics cannot be an Emergency. After all, mere claims
to have shown Pakistan its place can excuse all other vice, including inflated
claims about what we actually achieved. Clamping down on those who question
government propaganda cannot be an Emergency. Why call it Emergency, when we
can call it treason?
The repression in
Kashmir, the suppression of all information directed against our own citizens,
cannot possibly be an Emergency. After all, we are dealing with insurgency and
rage. The cult of propaganda reigns supreme. The purpose of propaganda is not
the dissemination of information. It is to render the very distinction between
truth and falsehood irrelevant. It is to impugn reputations of those who
challenge. But this cannot possibly be an Emergency, since an Emergency would
matter only if you cared about the truth.
And truth be told, how
can any of these be signs of an Emergency? Previous governments have used some
of these tactics. Many Opposition state governments from Bengal to Tamil Nadu
occasionally dip into this playbook. If they did something piecemeal, any
government is entitled to do it whole-scale. How can this be an Emergency? The
prime minister says one thing in his speeches. He, always after the fact, tries
to strike the high note. His government and party do something different. They
take the low road. This cannot possibly be an Emergency. This only shows a poor
helpless prime minister. It shows a prime minister who is strong enough to take
on Pakistan. But a prime minister too weak to take on the likes of Mahesh
Sharma? How can this be an Emergency?
And yes, of course,
all this is good for the economy. The GDP number looks impressive. But since
you cannot question the meaning of the number, we won’t know if this Emergency
is successful. The spirit of your words, prime minister, was to invite a
reflection on the Emergency. But surely your critics are mistaken. How can the
contemporary moment be declared an Emergency? After all, something can be an
“unbiased” assessment only when it agrees with your truth. Your truth will not
permit us to say it feels jolly close to an Emergency.