India@70

Reshaping diets, speeches and even our thoughts

9/2/2017 6:33:04 PM
written By : Shobhaa De Print

Let’s start with what happened at a madrassa on Independence Day this year. Little boys and girls, neatly dressed and holding paper flags, were seated on a dhurrie, when a reporter strolled in. Mistaking the journalist for a government officer, sent to ‘check’ and report to headquarters, the madrassa teacher hastily assured the hack everything was on track. “The children have just finished singing the national anthem…but they will sing it again for you if you want, sir.” What a telling moment! Doesn’t that innocent reaction say everything? To me, this incident was far more revealing of the sentiments across the country than the superb interview of Hamid Ansari, and the censored television address of Tripura CM Manik Sarkar. Taken as a whole, these unconnected but significant incidents point to just one thing: Paranoia, and a lack of trust. As Hamid Ansari stated, “Overall, the very fact that the Indianness of any citizen is being questioned is a disturbing thought.”

Narendra Modi may have been extra considerate this year, when he made the shortest (56 minutes) Independence Day speech from the ramparts of the Red Fort. As expected, it was peppered with the usual alliterations, and word play with the rather trite ‘golis’ and ‘gaalis’ reference. There was little by way of content to reassure citizens when exactly the elusive ‘acche din’ will finally arrive — if they exist at all. Just a few days earlier, Hamid Ansari had spoken up boldly during an impassioned parting interview, in which he’d gone ahead and addressed the herd of elephants in India’s room. There was shock, awe and admiration when he candidly talked about the “sense of unease among Muslims”, and referred to “a sense of insecurity creeping in”. Was he lying? Exaggerating? Over-dramatising? Of course not! He had hit the bull’s eye. If the underlying truth in what he said didn’t make us flinch, it should have. The Prime Minister had two choices once Ansari’s interview gained momentum: A) He could have ignored Ansari. B) Or, Modi could have equally boldly stated it was time to address these prickly issues head on, since they perturb over 184 million Muslim citizens of India. He did neither. Instead, he picked a third, and very shabby option: he not only mocked the erudite gentleman who had been India’s respected Vice President for two terms (2007-2017) by saying that he had shown his true colours (read: Muslim identity) and advised him to “follow your basic ideology and instinct.” If this is not provocative and divisive, what is? To make it worse, the BJP dubbed Ansari a “mannerless” man.

Chief Minister Manik Sarkar publicly stated his position (outrage!) after being asked to ‘reshape’ his Independence Day speech. That word ‘reshape’ is dangerous and loaded. Today, an elected chief minister of an important, sensitive state is being asked to ‘reshape’ a pre-recorded speech which was found unacceptable by Big Brother (Prasar Bharati). What chance do ordinary citizens have? We will soon be ordered — perhaps at gunpoint — to ‘reshape’ our words, thoughts, even emotions. Our diets have already been ‘reshaped’. This is perhaps the first time in 70 years that a chief minister’s speech has been targeted. Surely, citizens have the right to hear it, regardless of what the Centre feels? Hamid Ansari raised the very pertinent Muslim issue of identity and belonging in today’s India, while Manik Sarkar pointed out that Dalits and minorities are under attack. Are they making it up?

These are but two intelligent, educated, aware men daring to voice what countless citizens fear. Ansari has already withdrawn into a neutral zone after the Prime Minister’s below-the-belt tongue lashing. Let’s see what happens to Manik Sarkar, who has openly accused the Central Government of censorship. When asked what action he planned to take, he answered soberly and thoughtfully, “I have brought this to the notice of the common people of our country. They are the best ones to judge what is going on.”

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