WHEN the people of India fought for freedom from British colonial rule, there was one ideological-political stream which not only stayed away from that great struggle but tried its best to disrupt and derail it with its thoroughly communal and casteist agenda of Hindutva. Today that stream holds the reins of ‘governance’ in the country and is bent upon appropriating the mantle of freedom even as it uses the state machinery to the hilt to subvert the values and aspirations of the freedom movement. Halfway through his term, Modi asked the BJP to celebrate a ‘festival of freedom’ around the Independence Day this year as he delivered his third August 15 lecture from the ramparts of the Red Fort.
True to his demagogic track record, Modi made a few astoundingly misleading claims in his speech. He said while previous governments were all surrounded by complaints and allegations, his government only has to confront the expectations of the people. Well, to tell the truth, the expectations were based on the promises he had made in the 2014 election campaign, and with his government going back on those promises much of those expectations have today turned into frustration and anger. The much touted promises of 2014 were of course conspicuously missing once again in Modi’s Independence Day address.
Modi claimed to have brought down the rate of inflation when the common people are reeling under soaring prices. When the whole world is heaving a sigh of relief over the declining petroleum prices, his government has inflicted steep increases in railway fares. And now in the name of ending ‘tax terrorism’ on the rich, his government has drawn up a blueprint of hefty regressive taxation on the goods and services consumed by the common people which will add fresh fuel to the fire of price-rise.
Modi talked about the alleged efficiency of governance he has ushered in and called upon the people to match this efficiency by ensuring ‘social unity’. A strong economy and a strong society would make India a strong nation. But we have already seen that Modi’s ‘strong economy’ does not care for either the welfare of the common people or the self-reliance and sovereignty of the nation – all it cares for is faster accumulation of corporate wealth and bigger inflow of FDI. Likewise, Modi’s ‘strong society’ is all about maintaining the status quo within a patriarchal-casteist order and that too on lines drawn by an increasingly aggressive and intrusive Sangh brigade which would like to dictate the terms of inter-personal relationships, social interaction, cultural discourse and constitutional liberties in India.
Modi’s deceptive phrase of ‘strong society’ became very clear when he invoked Ambedkar as a champion of ‘social unity’. Everybody knows that the Constitution drafted under the leadership of Ambedkar proclaimed the formation of the Indian Republic on the foundations of liberty, equality and fraternity. Without liberty and equality, fraternity becomes an empty word and unity can only mean subjugation. When Modi eulogises the notion of ‘strong economy’ and ‘strong society’ – there is of course also the implicit third element of ‘strong’ or ‘hard state’ which Modi chooses not to mention in his Independence Day address – he does it by effectively undermining the modern democratic principles of liberty, equality and fraternity.
It is significant that Modi used his ID address to mention the so-called gratitude that some people from Balochistan, Gilgit and Pakistan-occupied Kashmir have apparently expressed to him while keeping absolutely silent about the continuing spate of civilian killings and injuries and the anguished cries of pain and anger of the Kashmiri people who are ruled by the Indian state. He talked about social unity rising above caste divisions but said not a word about the oppression being unleashed on Dalits and Muslims in the name of ‘cow protection’ by cow vigilantes sponsored by the RSS and governments run by his own party in different states.
But despite elaborate plans to appropriate the mantle of freedom, Modi’s Independence Day address and the BJP’s so-called ‘festival of freedom’ only underscored the growing isolation and failure of his government. For the people of India, the real resolve of freedom this year came from Una where Dalits, Muslims and progressive citizens from other sections marched to Una in their thousands, defying physical attacks and threats of more Unas to come, and resolved to intensify their battle for freedom. They resolved to reject the Brahminical code of labour which despises manual labour and reserves all menial jobs for Dalits and demanded five acres of arable land for every landless Dalit family. By linking the question of social dignity and equality for Dalits with the question of land rights, Una has signalled a new direction for the Dalit movement in the country. Following the Una rally, there are reports of renewed attacks on Dalits in Gujarat and progressive democratic forces across the country must unite to overcome this desperate assault by casteist forces.
Fifty years ago the revolutionary peasant uprising of Naxalbari had addressed the agrarian question as the central question of Indian democracy and in the process it had triggered a massive awakening of the landless poor. It inspired a new wave of communist movement in Bihar where the question of freedom from social oppression became the central agenda alongside the issue of land and wages. The Dalit movement too took a radical turn at this juncture with the emergence of the Dalit Panthers and radical Dalit literature in Maharashtra and elsewhere. Today Una has once again galvanized the radical stream of the Dalit movement, squarely placing the agenda of social equality and land reforms at the centre of the radical democratic agenda of Dalit emancipation.
The infamous laboratory of Hindutva fascism is now witnessing a great resistance that has galvanized the entire Dalit community in protests and is also drawing in Muslims and Adivasis to pose a formidable challenge to an increasingly isolated BJP regime. It is also encouraging to note that Una has struck a chord across the country among the oppressed and fighting people who have come out on the streets to express their fullest solidarity and resolve to grasp this new juncture in the battle for real freedom and democracy. The Una exhortation of unity of Dalits and Muslims, women and workers will defeat the RSS-dictated ‘social subjugation’ camouflaged as ‘social unity’.