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Sanjay Jha on why India is the 'republic of fear'

Sanjay Jha
·Former National Spokesperson, Indian National Congress party
·5-min read

It seemed Kafkaesque; there were actually armed insurrectionists in an inflammatory state of madness marching menacingly up the steps of the storied US Capitol Hill in Washington.

January 6th 2021 was an unforgettable crackpot day not just for America but for a flabbergasted world watching the grotesqueness play out on their television screens.

The security infrastructure guarding the historical place, where the Congress and US Senate was to certify Democrat candidate Joe Biden as the 46th President of the United States of America, was ridiculously feeble and unprepared.

The world’s putatively most enlightened democracy appeared blissfully nonchalant about brewing trouble at its gates. The bizarre bedlam that followed was thus inevitable.

Five people died, including a police officer who was brutally bludgeoned to death by a frenzied white supremacist mob. Democrat Alexandria Ocasio Cortez feared for her life.

The US Commander-in-Chief who was also the chief instigator of the ongoing violence was probably watching the mayhem from his bedroom in the White House.

US President Donald Trump who had taken an oath four years ago to protect every American life was brazenly betraying that faith. Gloating sadistically, the incorrigible narcissist had exhorted his Proud Boys and associated toadies into believing that the elite establishment had surreptitiously cheated him of a re-election.

‘Stop the steal’ call was the provocative fuelling of raging anger. The Democrats had colluded in an international conspiracy to cheat the true patriots of Uncle Sam, bombarded Trump to his fanatical mob.

He made outlandish accusations in a rabble-rousing speech of election fraud ( more than 50% Republican voters believe the gibberish). QAnon, the conspiracy theory, was Trump’s Man Friday. It was a rigged election as he had with calibrated clairvoyance predicted long before November 3, 2020, Trump said.

Thus, it was time for comeuppance. For war. For claiming victory, thundered the business tycoon who is a pathological liar, according to his new hero-worshipper Ted Cruz. It was like watching 9/11 in real-time, only this time there were domestic terrorists and none would be going to Guantanamo Bay.

America would never be great again, rest assured. But did America’ shocking misfortunes give us in India a reason for schadenfreude? What were we exuberant about?

Understandably, a scarred Washington echoed all over the world, prompting its numerous adversaries to pontificate about it’s miseries. Iran, Russia and China had a field day. China reminded Americans about US Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s ‘beautiful sight to behold’ remark on Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protestors.

In India, under sustained global scrutiny for becoming an illiberal democracy under Prime Minister Narendra Modi since 2014, the reaction was one of self-righteous indignation: how dare can anyone now criticise the largest democracy in the world, cribbed the Bharatiya Janata Party acolytes.

The transfer of power in India from one government to another has always been a tranquil exercise, argued pro-BJP TV cheerleaders. Sure, but that precisely is our problem. We were missing the woods for the trees.

At the Singhu border, where thousands of protesting farmers have steadfastly resisted a pettifogging government on farm laws on cold chilly winter nights, a sliver of hope emerged for India’s battered democracy.

They had been subjected to unwarranted vilification, wanton humiliation that branded them as Khalistani terrorists and Naxalite-sympathisers. It was repugnant, even if a few may have indeed exploited the popular mood to push their parochial agenda.

The BJP had raised the anti-national crescendo to sky-high heights. It boomeranged. Earlier, their anger was directed towards authors, NGOs, intellectuals, artistes, left-liberals, journalists, students, etc. Now even the helpless Jai Kisan was a traitor.

Ultimately, it was the Supreme Court that intervened with a temporary truce, even if that looked fragile. Perhaps if the government had indeed adhered to established constitutional protocols and democratic parliamentary traditions, the farm bills would have gone to a standing committee for a detailed scrutiny. But a government intent on prestidigitation on legislative bills (Aadhaar was passed as a Money bill) was hardly inclined to do that.

Pity, because that would have been far more sacrosanct as it would have had an all-party political representation, as opposed to a policy group formed by the Supreme Court, which has already been seen as pro-government puppets. Good legislation could become a victim of political hubris and an anti-democratic proclivity.

Elsewhere, India stands ruptured at its soul. A stand-up comedian from the minority community is arrested for hurting religious sentiments. BJP state governments are passing anti-love jihad laws that is an assured recipe for social disharmony. When love becomes a four-letter word in a suspicious society practising bigotry with the confidence of a cheetah sighting a hapless prey, we are in trouble.

Like Trump, India has been obsessed with its manufactured ‘enemy within’ narrative; the Desh Ke Gaddaron ko, Goli Maaron Salon Ko hyperbole echoes loudly.

Our sanctimonious baloney is refulgent; do we even care to remember that a year ago the JNU campus in the heart of India’s capital city was attacked by armed hoodlums in a pre-planned anarchy pregnant with bloodlust while the guardrails of society in khaki uniform were mere disinterested spectators? Have we forgotten our violent mobs lynching people to death?

The irony is that the current government actually made an embarrassing diplomatic snafu by serenading Trump and the Republican party on bent knees in meretricious extravaganzas: ‘Howdy Modi’ and ‘Namaste Trump’. It has turned out to be a political disaster for the BJP.

I am sure incoming President Joe Biden is fully aware of Ab Ki Baar Trump Sarkar. India has dipped in both the World Press Freedom and the Country Democracy Index, a perturbing reality-check for it. For many, we are a Republic of Fear.

For the diehard right-wingers, of course, India is a fountainhead of ecclesiastical democracy. Smell the coffee, folks.