Within an hour of the announcement of demonetisation by the Prime Minister Narendra Modi I wrote:
“The main problem in India isn’t about the government having or not having enough money to run the country. The real problem is that only a minor fraction of that is spent on the welfare of the citizens, while the rest goes into different pockets.
“The essential honesty and character are totally missing from the governance.
“I will just give you an example of clean drinking water. The tap water in London is as portable as the branded water sold under fancy names.
“The reason we don’t get potable water at least in Mumbai is: (1) because half of the pipelines still belong to the British period. (2) The filtration plants need to be upgraded and their capacity expanded. (3) The water Mafia steals the water and sells it to us after an artificially created shortage.
“Where is the money issue if the richest Municipal Corporation in the entire country has failed to do even this basic duty despite having an absolute control for 70 years?
“So please don’t expect any great effects of the money government collects after demonetisation.
I would call it mild criticism. It is my right. But within minutes, I found the pro-BJP elements – popularly called as bhakts – pouncing on me. No one really argued back, but everyone questioned my patriotism and nationalism, and some of them poured scorn on me.
Angered, I wrote some more and found more bhakts trying to silence me. They called me anti-national and unpatriotic. It would have soured anyone’s mood and silenced him. But it didn’t happen to me, maybe because I have seen worse days during an emergency period.
Are we witnessing another emergency? Or is it already an undeclared emergency?
The debate is out! A sensible argument has become irrelevant. Hired hands have been unleashed on the two social networking sites. They neither debate nor talk sense. They seem to have one aim: harass those who are critical of the policies of the Prime Minister.
That our Prime Minister cannot handle any criticism gracefully is clear for years. During his election campaign, on a channel I forget, he was interviewed by several journalists. Everyone asked questions that flattered him, but one of the scribes was asked to grill him. I could see that the young man was shivering in fear, but he went ahead.
Within seconds, we saw Narendra Modi glaring at him!
Our PM candidate wasn’t willing to answer a single hostile question.
Indira’s emergency era
My earliest memory of national emergency declared by Mrs Indira Gandhi, on a personal level, is watching a police constable posted to control a bus queue, slapping a well-dressed bespectacled senior citizen for hurrying to get into the public transport. His pair of spectacles was thrown several meters away due to the impact. Yet, not a single person protested.
The fear psychosis had gripped everyone. The electricity of the offices and a reputed newspaper was cut off. The list of the leaders and journalists arrested and thrown behind the bars along with hardcore criminals was a mile long.
On the first Saturday, in the afternoon, after the declaration of emergency, I stepped into an Irani Hotel on Bazaar Gate Street. We, writers, used to conduct our story readings over tea. The tea would give way to beer and whiskey. Which group of writers would be satisfied with tea?
The manager cautioned us. “No alcohol. Emergency laga hua hai.”
The hotel didn’t have the permit and didn’t want to risk losing the license because of a couple of bottles hid under the table. As we emptied the tea cup, my contemporary writer Vishnu Bhatia made a crack.
“Indira Gandhi used to sit on these chairs before she became the PM.”
This was an innocent joke, private between us. And I laughed.
A lot of celebrities and politicians used to hang around in Fort, Bal Thackeray, and R K Laxman used to work in FPJ, a barefooted M F Husain along with a short and stooped K H Ara would stride in and out of Irani Hotels and I had seen J R D Tata entering a saloon without any fanfare. I used to throw different names.
A policeman emerged from nowhere. “Kya bola?”
We became nervous, but tried explaining. He wasn’t willing to listen. He wanted to take all of us to the Thana (Colaba Police Station). Our other writer friends explained to him with several apologies. When he saw that we really were writers and weren’t even expected to have enough money to bribe him, he let us go with a warning, “Emergency laga huaa hai, andar kar doonga to kissi ko pata bhi nahin hoga!”
Things may be worse today!
Saagar, a journalist from ‘Caravan,’ narrates his latest experience. Writes Saagar, “In an effort to document the tense situation (in the bank), I started recording the incident with the camera on my phone. Bemused, the official in the white shirt told me to stop shooting. When I refused, he rushed towards me—momentarily forgetting the crowd he was supposed to block—his arms outstretched. I asked him repeatedly, not to touch my camera and said that I was from the press. He grabbed me and dragged me down the stairs of the building, onto the road. Subsequently, other employees and security guards from the bank surrounded me. “I’ll show you now. You will not escape unharmed,” the man in the white shirt said. “You don’t know me, he continued, “I already have cases registered against me, I myself am the police.”
A legitimate journalist from a respectable group is being threatened by the thugs appointed by the bank as guards while doing his job.
People criticizing Modi are anti-national
D K Barua coined the notorious phrase: ‘India is Indira, Indira is India.’ It was the personality cult of epic proportions.
And now, if you’re against Narendra Modi, you’re anti-national!
They equate the Prime Minister with the nation, Modi with India. A slight criticism of the man earns you the abusive wrath of the bhakts. The abuses would have your ears turning red, but the bhakts, who represent a political party that prides itself on its hoary tradition, drags your mothers and sisters in the filthiest arguments you can have.
Like Congress tried doing it to the states ruled by the opposition parties, BJP too has tried the same trick with the states ruled by the opposition.
You can hear the echo of what Mrs Indira Gandhi did during the emergency. But one thing that made emergency the most hated, besides the press censorship and jailing of the opposition leaders, was the compulsory sterilization of men, Nasbandi. And the arrogance; the arrogance that Indians deserve danda, that they didn’t have the courage to retaliate to the police canes and army shoes. Magistrate Lateef Fatima (actor Shah Rukh Khan’s mother), Rukhsana Sultana (actor Amrita Singh’s socialite mother), and a few others close to Sanjay Gandhi had played a massive role in nasbandi drive. And then happened Turkman Gate massacre. The government tried to cleanse Delhi of slums and force poor residents, mostly Muslims, to move to distant settlements.
The police opened fire on protesters, killing several of them. However, it was not reported in Indian media which had been silenced with censorship, but we learned about the killings through foreign media.
BJP has not declared press censorship, either. But it doesn’t need to.
The state power has already been used to keep the press, particularly television media in chains. Major channels are owned by big business house which has vested interest in being on the side of the establishment. It is because of this dirty connection that the almost entire television blacklisted Arvind Kejriwal.
(Mohan Deep is an eminent novelist and Bollywood biographer, based in Mumbai.)