Democracy in dementia
Incumbents remain silent despite a cacophony of dissent prevalent in society
We are not even conscious of the fact that like the villagers in the novel 'Hundred Years of Solitude', we are suffering from memory loss. Our democracy is dangerously poised by a kind of dementia obfuscating our decision-making and a sort of amnesia obstructing new thoughts. It is high time that we think of ways to come out of it in order to save our democracy.
In the Nobel award-winning literary classic 'Hundred Years of Solitude', of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, when the entire village was infected with sleeplessness, people realised that they were forgetting even the names of routine objects and matters, and began tagging them, like 'cow for milking', etc. It went on until the wandering Gypsies gave them the antidote. Although it is fiction, memory loss is a serious matter. It could be dementia or amnesia.
Dementia is a collective term used to describe symptoms of impairment in memory, communication, decision-making ability, etc., that indicate several underlying ailments such as Parkinson and Alzheimer. In the case of amnesia, the hippocampus of the brain, that controls activities like forming memories, organising memories, and retrieving them when needed, is impaired because of several factors. While in retrograde amnesia, the recent memories are affected, in anterograde amnesia there is difficulty in forming new memories. It seems, in addition to these problems, even selective amnesia has seized Indians, severely affecting our democracy. From the states to the Centre, the story is all the same.
For example, in Andhra Pradesh, the CM, has rightly assumed that people have forgotten all his promises made at the time of the previous election; his cash-for-vote scam during MLC election that had rattled him; all the patronage he has been giving to land, sand, mining, and liquor mafias; his inaction against corruption of political leaders and influential people; his silence about the demand for Special Category State for four years as long as he was friendly with BJP at the Centre; conversion of precious agricultural land for the new Capital while at the same time helping his Heritage Company and others in the process; and many more. He is confident that his daily light and sound shows would cause amnesia to divert their attention to only those matters he is now championing, like the Special Category State issue, and several sops he has announced along with the Vision statement for 2029. He is sure that the anterograde amnesia he has caused would also help him to wriggle out of the mess of data-stealing with the help of IT Grids Pvt Ltd, he has landed in. A case stands registered at Hyderabad for stealing private data of citizens to help Telugu Desam Party to get the names of lakhs of voters hostile to them removed from the voters' list. And, Election Commission has ordered investigations into the over 8 lakh fake online complaints in Form-7 to delete the names of about 60 lakh voters. In a retaliatory action, the AP government has begun a cyber war by setting up a SIT to probe 'data theft by Telangana State and YSRC of Jagan'. But, Andhra Pradesh is not the only place; it is across the country, including the ruling party at the Centre.
Pointing out the dementia of the Prime Minister through social media, Julius Rebeiro, the famous police officer, questioned his propriety in questioning Congress's achievement in the last 60 years, and reminded him about the progress made from scratch in several fields – agriculture, transport, defence, space, technology, nuclear science, communications, health, education, banking, economy, etc., which Modi has inherited when he came to power. In the same breath, Rebeiro has reminded people about BJP's contributions like a change in names of places and building unwanted statues; cow-politics; failed demonetisation; favouring of Ambanis and others, etc., to help them come out of dementia.
The much-touted 'Gujarat model' and the great illusions created on falsities to come to power already stand exposed. CAG report confirmed that the Human Development Index is poorest in Gujarat. Their own ministers have confirmed about their false promises. Now SC has advised mediation and taken the wind out of the emotional Ram Janmabhoomi issue. Thus, it is the reality of their performance that needs the attention of people. In this context, Prime Minister's statement that the Opposition is all out to finish him while he is working to quell terrorism, ensure national security, eradicate poverty and corruption and generate employment, has to stand scrutiny.
While one cannot take away the credit due to armed forces and the political leadership of the country in the surgical strike at Balakot, although the satellite and communication technology inherited has helped in accurate action, Amit Shah's rhetoric about the fuzzy figure of 250 terrorists killed in the attack, and Yediyurappa claiming that BJP would reap the harvest with at least 22 Lok Sabha seats in Karnataka, speak about the extent of politicisation in this issue. Post Pulwama, the Governor of Meghalaya supported the contention of some people that Kashmiris and their products should be boycotted. Kashmiri students have been rusticated in Uttarakhand, and Kashmiri traders are being attacked by fringe groups of BJP and RSS. Yet, the silence of the PM is astonishing. Are Kashmiris not Indians? Similarly, he has never condemned the lynching of innocents by cow-vigilante bigots. Instead, his government reels out statistics about their achievements in the Indian economy to create amnesia among the people. What is their credibility when their promises of good days, development for all, millions of jobs, Rs 15 lakhs in the account of every citizen, cooperative federalism, making India corruption-free, etc., have all turned out to be only falsities and illusions?
Yet, in their state of dementia and amnesia, people may not realise that experts have debunked the manipulated statistics. Two RBI governors resigned. One of them, Raghuraman Rajan, even said, it requires a new economic theory to explain the claim of the well-being of the economy. Experts say the deficit created in the Interim Budget would adversely affect our economy because the assumption of mopping up of revenue to over 14 per cent year-on-year is impractical. The deficit of 3.7 per cent of the GDP will be viewed as credit negative and wider slippage will be frowned upon by investors. Even two members of the National Statistical Commission recently quit after expressing concerns about a labour report and revisions to GDP figures. Now, even on the trade front, US ejecting India from the GSP, which was giving an advantage of duty-free entry for $5.6 billion worth of the country exports to the US, will batter India's image in trade and commerce, and foreign investment. How can people affected by dementia realise that the tenants and landless labourers, who are the backbone of agro-economy, and the workers of the unorganised sector are ignored and that even small farmers are only given a pittance of Rs 500 per month, while welfare of cows has not been missed?
Much-touted demonetisation to purge out black money has caused immense hardships to common people and cash-based businesses and small industries have had to close down, while the entire money found its way to banks. Lending slowed down as banks became risk-averse. Medium, Small Scale and Micro Enterprises bore the brunt since they depend on banks for loans as borrowing from other financial industry is very expensive. Circulation of black money has only increased, defeating the very purpose of demonetisation as seen in the seizure of Rs 77 crores during the Telangana elections, which is only a tip of the reality. Further, hurriedly introduced GST only compounded the problem. Millions of Jobs have been lost.
Total employment actually shrank by seven million between 2013 and 2015 and declined further, subsequently. Unskilled and semi-skilled workers are the most affected since they do not fit into the new areas like beauty salons, food delivery services and other service sector opportunities. The ratio of employment growth to GDP growth now is less than 0.1, and with the substantial fall in employment in agriculture, manufacturing and construction sectors, the rate of unemployment has reached a whopping 16 per cent.
To cover up the failures, an illusion greater than that of 2014 is created. It is the '10D Vision' to reach a $10 trillion economy in the next decade! Still, people may not realise the reality, since in addition to the paid news and advertisements, now, paid social media with fake handles, political hashtags, all paid in cash, have also entered the field to mislead and influence people. In this state of amnesia, people also lose sight of the acts of selective amnesia by those in power.
Conveniently, they feign loss of their cognitive ability in cases of their own kin or those close to them. The Rs 50,000 crore fraud case against Mukesh Ambani in the KG gas basin matter is not an issue for the PM who is rhetorical when it comes to weeding out corruption. Attempts have been made even to hoodwink the SC in the Rafale deal that favours the insolvent Anil Ambani by saying that crucial documents have been stolen, and to manage CAG to give a report that would say that the purchase was a very fair deal in favour of the country. The dissent notes and several important factors which expose the fraud have not been talked about by the CAG. Now, rattled by the revelations in The Hindu, they say it is contempt of court; offence under Official Secrets Act. But, isn't suppression of facts from the SC to get a dismissal of PILs for an FIR a blatant contempt of court? Fighting corruption has become a hackneyed phrase and empty rhetoric since Modi was never serious about it; there was no Lokayukta for all the time of his rule in Gujarat, and Lokpal at the Centre remained a non-starter until the Supreme Court pressurised. CBI, ED, IT, etc., are being used extensively against political opponents and those who oppose the government. In a state of impaired memory, people forget all such things.
Despite all the failures, Modi, a tall leader, would have become taller had he admitted and apologised for his genuine mistakes; and failures because of limitations. Since such a thing does not happen in India, people need to find ways to come out of the problems of dementia and amnesia.
Therefore, like how the Gypsies gave the antidote to the villagers in the novel, we all need anti-dotes. One of the ways to ward off the problem of memory loss is to keep on doing mental exercises like Sudoku and puzzles, read the latest books, etc. Since information about our political parties and leaders, their promises and achievements, etc., lay scattered, it is necessary to have a reliable website that gives real-time details and balance sheets, both political and financial profiles, to help people in decision-making.
(Dr N Dilip Kumar is a retired IPS officer and a former member of Public Grievances Commission, Delhi. The views expressed are strictly personal)
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