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The Emergency In Modi’s India Is In Our Suicidal Denial Of It

Since an ostensibly brute and majoritarian force came to power at the centre in India, most have been in denial of its real objective.

One of the strongest reasons why we as a country have been reduced to this state is denial. Traditionally, a politician revels in it, using it as a convenient tool to escape accountability. However, it becomes tragic when ordinary citizens begin to deny, even when irrefutable evidence to the contrary stares back at them.

Since an ostensibly brute and majoritarian force came to power at the centre in India, most have been in denial of its real objective. While a marginal section of “anti-nationals” continued to warn about a visible fascist agenda to demonise and brutalise India’s Muslims, Dalits and other minorities, and convert India into a Hindu state, a good section of liberals, including senior journalists, preferred to look at Narendra Modi only as a messiah of “development”. Any attempt to link Modi with his genocidal sympathisers in the Sangh, including some of his ministers, party members and Twitter followers, was called a conspiracy against the leader, which disrupted his benign vision of a New India.

Denial has a force that dissent might envy. In no time, and despite his antecedents, Modi, helped by a pliant media, ended up being seen as India’s best hope as far as breaking the “outmoded” shackles of Nehruvian socialism and secularism was concerned.

Three recent developments must be seen within this context of a culture of denial – denials that obfuscate the objective behind them and rejects the issues raised therein by resorting to a familiar trope of nationalist jingoism and victimhood.

The Thomson Reuters survey, which calls India the most dangerous place for women, is one. The 43rd anniversary of the infamous 1975 Emergency and the recent United Nations report on human rights abuses in Kashmir are the other two.

Consider the Thomson Reuters survey first. Even as that report coincided with a BJP MLA in Madhya Pradesh accusing a senior party leader of abuse, or a software engineer in Delhi chopping his wife’s body into seven pieces, there was an immediate denial.

Debates were held on how balanced the Thomson Reuters report is. Nationalists on TV and Twitter went overboard defending the status of women in India, of course with appalling and even hilarious arguments. People wondered how the survey could put India above even Syria and Afghanistan, without even caring to acknowledge that a civil war-like situation is not the same as a structural marginalisation and violence against women, driven by notions not only of patriarchy, but also caste, religion, class, and even sexuality.

Of course, faring worse than even Pakistan also meant a big dent to a nationalist’s argument about Islam being the worst oppressor of women. Therefore, deny the report and call it a Western conspiracy against India. Modi’s India to be more specific. (For matters of context, in 2011, India was fourth on that list).

A few days ago, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights released its report on the human rights situation in Kashmir, the first of its kind report by the global body. It called for a commission of inquiry to conduct an independent, international investigation into allegations of torture of rebels, custodial deaths and extra-judicial encounters by the security forces.

Predictably, India denied the allegations and rejected the UN report, calling it “fallacious, tendentious and motivated”. The Indian Army chief trashed the report. Angry anchors on TV demanded answers from the UN for publishing a mischievous report. What could have been an opportunity to engage with the “hearts and minds” of ordinary Kashmiris was lost in the noisy echo chamber of patriotism and righteousness.

This week also saw the government holding an unprecedented, and ironic, “Black Day” to mark the anniversary of Indira Gandhi’s Emergency. Congress was slammed for being anti-democratic and anti-Constitution. Indira was called a Hitler by a senior minister, Modi endorsed the attack. Indira’s party hit back, unimaginatively, with an Aurangzeb jibe. Politics may be their excuse for such banalities.

But it was denial that turned out to be the biggest hallmark of the hullabaloo over the “dark days” of Emergency, mostly spelt by the mainstream media with an upper case E to assert its singularity, as if Indira is a tough act to follow or emergency too difficult to replicate. As many began to remind the government and the BJP of India going through similar, or arguably even worse, days, they went on their denial mode.

A systematic persecution of minorities in the name of many holy cows; normalisation of mob violence through dozens of lynchings with state patronage and impunity; hounding and killing of dissenters, rationalists and journalists; top judges coming out for the first time and appealing to India’s ordinary citizens to save democracy; corporate loot of taxpayers’ and investors’ money with billionaire businessmen fleecing state banks and fleeing India; and a culture of surveillance and fear imposed on people.

Yet, there is no Emergency – or no emergent reason to course-correct. Unless this nightmare scenario is by design, it’s a suicidal denial.


Nadim Asrar is an independent journalist with a keen interest in theories of governance, minority rights, and Indian popular culture.

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