Elusive El Dorado
India has become an El Dorado for the rich; a capitalist country in practice but devoid of the values ingrained in the West
The denial of sanction for prosecution in the case of Gujarat police officer, Vanzara, underscores the singular agenda – Hindutva, of Modi and BJP, since they have proved themselves a failure in the economy, development and every other aspect of governance. And, for people, who have been eagerly waiting for some good to happen since the change of government in 2014, it has all ended like the elusive gold of El Dorado.
The Spanish term 'El Dorado' means 'the gilded one.' When the Spaniards colonised Colombia, they came across the folklore about Zipa, the king of Muisca tribe in the hills near Bogota. Covered fully with gold dust during his anointment ceremony, the heir, zipa, would have a dip in their sacred Lake Guatavita to wash and appease the goddess who they believed lived underwater. The Spaniards called the zipa, 'El Dorado', and spread the tale of the practice that had ended much earlier. Over a period, the legend of the zipa grew into a city of gold, to a kingdom, and finally, El Dorado came to mean 'an empire of gold and riches'. Since the lust for gold spans all eras, races, and nationalities, in pursuit of the El Dorado, many expeditions were held from Europe in the 16th and 17th centuries, only to end up with the loss of lives and fortunes. Now, this term is often used as a figure of speech to represent something much sought after, but elusive, or as a metaphor to represent true happiness.
Constitution gave us a vision of an El Dorado in our democracy. But, in spite of all the safeguards in place to prevent authoritarianism, the very foundations of democracy have been struck twice, firstly by Indira Gandhi, and now by Modi. Through the 42nd Amendment, she made a mince-meat of our Constitution. Disturbing the checks and balances between the three organs of the government, she stripped the SC of many of its powers, curtailed democratic rights in the country, and gave sweeping powers to the PMO and the executive. However, resenting her misadventure, the country installed the Janata Party at the Centre to correct her wrongdoings. They did try. But it was the SC that gave finality in the Minerva Mills case, declaring, 'The Parliament cannot exercise its limited power to grant itself unlimited power to destroy the Constitution. It also cannot emasculate the fundamental rights of individuals, including the right to liberty and equality.' The country was saved.
The insertions of the terms 'Secular' and 'Socialist' in the Preamble, however, remained unchanged, since they were agreeable to all the political parties. Thus, communal issues, welfare schemes, and the economy came to be handled according to this theme.
In contrast to Indira using Emergency and Parliament to become an autocrat, without any such Emergency and without touching the Constitution, Modi has devoured every democratic institution towards the same end. And, interestingly, he represents BJP, that took birth from the very Janata Party which had saved the nation from autocracy. In his regime, freedom of thought and expression are choked, by shelving debates and discussions in Parliament; silencing opposing voices with raids and dubbing them as anti-national; coercing media into submission; snooping into every computer in the country on the cards. The autonomy of institutions is being trampled upon. Earlier, it was demonetisation, and now the face-off on the use of its reserves with the RBI. The smear campaign against the CJI to encroach into the autonomy of the SC is the height of their evil designs. Not a single institution is left untouched, including educational institutions, where the ideology of the Sangh Parivar is being pedalled.
Constitution says we are 'secular'. But, instances of lynching of Muslims and Dalits by cow-vigilantes against Muslims and Dalits are numerous, but there is stoic silence of BJP leadership. In the incidents of Hindutva terror, every dubious method possible, including influencing the judiciary, is used to save the accused, who are from RSS and kindred outfits. Cases of Bilkis Bano, Sohrabuddin, Malengao, Ajmer Shariff, Samjhauta Express, etc., are only examples. Their mindset against Muslims and Dalits is too evident.
Now, the decision of the Gujarat government to deny the CBI sanction to prosecute the police officer, Vanzara, speaks volumes about the way police machinery was abused to promote their communal agenda. In his letter written in 2013 from prison, the officer did not plead his innocence but insisted that every act that he had committed was government policy. He condemned the 'betrayal and treachery' of Amit Shah, who was the minister of state for home. There were a series of police encounters – those of Sohrabuddin Sheikh, Ishrat Jahan, Sadiq Jamal, etc., which all looked like extra-judicial killings. Although Vanzara was acquitted in the Sohrabuddin case, he is facing trial in the other cases, the foremost among them being the Ishrat Jahan case in which a 19-year-old was shot dead in circumstances that appeared to be cold-blooded murder. Now, the sabotaging of the process of trials only raises doubts about the complicity of Modi and BJP leaders. Alas! This was the Gujarat model that was hyped and touted by BJP to come to power in 2014.
Earlier, 'socialistic' pattern had led to licence-raj and wide-spread corruption. Subsequently, 'liberalisation' was introduced with the intended purpose to give a fillip to the economy by encouraging private enterprises, while at the same time improving the PSUs through competitive performance. Indeed, it has changed the complexion of our economy. But, in addition to the continuance of already existing corruption, two more dangers have also evolved in the process.
Firstly, hype and advertisement being the forte of business establishments, they have polluted the minds of people with wealth. For both elders and youngsters alike, material possessions have become a status symbol among their peers and social groups. Recently, a college student, who is being educated on loans taken by his labourer-father, has committed suicide in Vizag only because a higher model Smartphone was denied by his father since he was finding it difficult to pay the EMI for the motorcycle already purchased for him. In the past, hard-earned money was what counted; means of the acquisition were questioned or talked about. Now, in the pursuit of wealth, it is quick money that matters; means could be any, including crimes of cheating, fraud and corruption, or even gambling, betting and trading in stocks. Greed for wealth and possessions replacing contentment, people are robbed of happiness in their lives.
The other negative facet of liberalisation is more serious. Crony capitalists began using it as liberty to prop up and control governments. Policies are designed according to their wishes, and their unethical practices and frauds are protected as quid pro quo. Ambanis, Adanis, Nirav Modi, Vijay Mallya, are only a few of the striking examples. Such business houses can pocket any important government deals even at the cost of PSUs, like in the Rafale matter. Modi's regime has made India the El Dorado of the rich; a capitalist country in practice, but, devoid of the values and truthfulness ingrained in the West.
The economy is wrecked in the process. The banking system is creaky. Foreign direct investment, which reflects the confidence that foreign investors have on the economy, is at a five-year low. The debt burden has increased to Rs 30 lakh crores. Finance ministry's report indicates that the economy is in a slow down mode. GDP is down from 7.8 to 6.5. Growth in the core sector of infrastructure, the main job-creator, is at a two-year low. Forget about the promised creation of 2 crore jobs a year, 50 lakh jobs have been lost due to the demonetisation. Unemployment is at a 45-year high at 6.1 per cent. In order to hide this failure, Modi has even scuttled the release of the report of the labour situation by the National Sample Survey Organisation.
Equality of status and opportunity is what the Preamble says. 'Vikas for all' is the rhetoric of Modi. But, mafias – land, sand, mining, logging, etc., and middlemen are allowed to rule the roost through corrupt practices; destroying environment, habitats and promoting enormous corruption. The Centre in 2017 cleared on an average six projects a day, diverting moderate forests for non-forest purposes. Socialistic welfare measures like sops and doles are only to woo the poor people for votes. That too, only a pittance is given to poor farmers; and nothing to the landless labourers and tenant farmers as well as workers of unorganised sectors. Farmers were promised the cost of production plus 50 per cent bonus on their produce, but got nothing, while pots of gold and diamonds are given to the rich. As a result, 1 per cent of people possess 58 per cent of the country's wealth and 60 per cent people are reeling under poverty. With this disproportionate distribution of wealth, egalitarian society is only a dream. There is unrest among tribes, Dalits and many more leaving the ground open for Naxalite activities. As against the claims of Rajnath Singh to wipe out Naxalism in a couple of years, recent killings of MLAs, poll officials, and now 15 security personnel in Ghadchiroli only confirm the lack of tangible plans to address the root causes, like in other pressing matters such as unemployment and agrarian crisis. Alas! For five years, authoritarian Modi and his partners have created illusions of an El Dorado to fool the country. Now, let their dream of retaining power be an illusion.
(Dr N. Dilip Kumar is a retired IPS officer and former Member of Public Grievances Commission, Delhi. The views expressed are strictly personal)