An essay in hypocrisy

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s address at the plenary session of the 48th World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland, was an essay in hypocrisy. The nice things he said about democracy, harmony, peace, clean environment, et al, sounded hollow because his government and supporters at home were doing exactly the opposite of what he was preaching.

We are a deep-rooted democracy, he said. Democracy yes, but it is not deep-rooted, not even functional, unless holding elections regularly is regarded as the sole yardstick of a country being democratic.

The right to freedom of expression, a defining feature of democracy, gets eroded by the day; and Modi is not bothered. Consider the Padmavat affair. On the grounds that their sentiments were hurt, a group of goons thrashed Padmavat director Sanjay Leela Bhansali and vandalized the movie set during shooting last year; none of the culprits has been punished. Pious thugs openly threaten violence against the Bhansali and the actors in the film; none has been brought to book.

In other words, Modi and other leaders of the Bharatiya Janata Party have consistently failed to uphold the rule of law, another essential feature of democracy. Not only they have not upheld the law but they have also succumbed to, if not tacitly promoted, the lawless elements that terrorize creative persons like filmmakers.

Unsurprisingly, the appeasement of thugs goes on unabated. BJP-ruled states banned Padmavat despite the fact that the movie was cleared, after the change of name and several cuts, by the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC). In a bid to placate the anti-movie hooligans, the CBFC had also screened the film to historians, who suggested changes.

The Supreme Court invalidated the ban but, instead of gracefully accepting the apex court’s ruling, the states persisted with their plea.

So, the dispensation under Modi doesn’t protect the free speech, uphold the rule of law, and listen to the Supreme Court, but the Prime Minister talks about our democracy being “deep-rooted.”

Modi said at Davos, “We want to see a co-operative, harmonious, sharing and caring world. In fact, this is where the hope lies.” Forget the world, Mr. Prime Minister, what are you doing to rein in the saffron cowboys who are become a law unto themselves? In the name of cow protection, they intimidate ordinary Muslims; many Muslims have even being lynched. Lynching and deep-rooted democracy are not exactly compatible.

Modi also waxed eloquent about environment protection and the arcane subject called climate change. “The second global challenge is the problem of climate change. In our culture, we treat the nature as mother. We also believe that man only has the right to milk it; not to destroy it. That is why, through Paris Agreement, we have assured the global community that our development process would be entirely in line with our cultural ethos towards environmental safeguards. In fact, we are not only aware of our responsibilities towards climate change; we are willing to take lead in mitigating its effects.”

All this sounds very good, but what about air pollution in north India. With the onset of every winter, lakhs of farmers burn their crops in Punjab, Haryana, and Uttar Pradesh; pollution flies off the charts. Even otherwise, air quality is ‘sever’ and ‘very poor.’ The Modi government and BJP state governments have done little to improve the situation.

Our rivers have become drains; forests have been plundered, wild life ravaged. Garbage dumps dot urban areas amid discussions on smart cities.

Politicians talking big are common, but Modi’s speech at Davos appeared conspicuously hypocritical because of the abyss between his assertions and doings.