20 April 2024 10:14 AM



We Don’t Need a Chowkidar, Sir!

We need a leader like Jacinda Ardern

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, by his own confession, has taken five years to graduate from a chaiwallah to a chowkidar, slightly better perhaps than his disputed graduation from Delhi university.

That's not much of a progression by any reckoning but it is indicative of his penchant for playing the victim card, constantly resorting to a jaded brand of bespoke symbolism, and for treating 900 million voters as a bunch of cretins.

Having tied himself up in knots by his wild- cat policies he is hoping that this ruse will allow him, like some latter day Houdini, to escape from the pig's breakfast he has served the nation during his tenure. But it may not work this time, for his credentials even as a chowkidar are highly suspect.

A chowkidar is supposed to protect and secure the property he is enjoined to guard, in this case the country's economy, institutions, natural environment, peoples and values.

Not only has PM Modi failed to do so, he has in fact facilitated their destruction and demolition. He has divided the house he was required to preserve, pitting each member of the joint family against the other: never in history have the states had such an antagonistic relation with the central government, to the point whether federal agencies are prohibited from functioning in some states and central schemes are not allowed to be implemented in them.

The very idea of federalism is now being called in question, something which we thought had been settled in the early 1950s.

He has pitted the majority community against the minorities, upending hundreds of years of peaceful co-existence. This has been done explicitly and implicitly, by legislation ( the Triple Talaq ordinance, the Enemy Properties Act, the National Register of Citizenship, the aborted Citizenship Bill); by hate speech and instigating silences; by the violence of gau rakshaks and cow related lynchings in which more than 40 people have been killed since 2014; by resurrecting the Ram Mandir issue before every election; by equating all Muslims and Kashmiris with Pakistan. It may not be his own hand or tongue which has done all this, but then isn't a chowkidar supposed to stop all this frenzy when it threatens his wards?

The economy: we may be growing at 7.2% or 6.8% or whatever figure the Niti Ayog dreams up from time to time, but the fact is that except for our rapidly growing tribe of multi millionaires, the rest of the country is perhaps worse off under this chowkidar's watch. Any increases in GDP have been gobbled up by the uber rich and very little has trickled down to those who need it most.

Demonetisation and a botched up GST have led to the closure of some 2.50 lakh SMEs, resulting in the loss of 11 million jobs. Unemployment is at a forty year high, according to the govt's own ( suppressed) figures. Farmers are much worse off today than they were in 2014: agricultural growth is 2.2%, less than the rate of inflation.

PM Modi may claim credit for keeping the inflation low, but this has come at the cost of agriculture and the 50% of the country's population which depends on this. 36420 farmers have committed suicide between 2014 and 2017 but that has not stopped him from spending thousands of crores on statues, and billions of dollars on self promoting publicity and foreign jaunts that have achieved very little. It is not that he is not aware of the the calamitous state of affairs, because after 2017 the government has stopped releasing the figures of farmer suicides!

Guilt by suppression. And incidentally, whatever happened to the Rupees 4.50 lakh crores collected by the government by repeatedly raising excise duties on petroleum products post 2014 when the global crude prices plummeted to US$36 per barrel ?

Chowkidar Modi would have been sacked if he had been guarding a housing society.

-He has allowed as many as 27 economic offenders to escape abroad during his tenure.

-Almost all the accused in the Samjhauta, Ajmer Sharif and Mecca Masjid blasts have been acquitted because of shoddy, biased and politically influenced investigations by a National Investigation Agency which is gradually becoming the National Acquittal Agency.

-Not a single politician of any note has been put behind bars in these five years in the many corruption cases he had alleged in his stump speeches in 2014.

-Even his vaunted " ghus ke maarenge" bravado has been punctured by the terror attacks in Uri, Pathankot and Pulwama: they are now the stuff of Bollywood movies, not soul-searching by our Prime Minister. It is not a biodata that inspires any confidence.

A country's greatness does not depend upon its politicians and chowkidars but on its institutions, and PM Modi had inherited some of the best and internationally reputed ones, particularly the Reserve Bank of India and the Election Commission.

In just five years he has destroyed most of them:

-an autonomous and effective RBI has now been reduced to an appendage of the Ministry of Finance with mere rubber-stamp duties, to ensure which a student of history has been appointed as its Governor;

-the Election Commission has completely lost its credibility as its decisions are now perceived to follow the ruling party's wish list;

-the Supreme Court has been challenged by innuendo and dragged into so many political issues that now even third rate politicians can rave and rant at it with impunity- it does not help that the court itself gives the appearance of a divided house ( which suits the chowkidar fine).

-Universities and other academic institutions have been bludgeoned into near silence by the appointment of other wanna-be chowkidars whose brief is to quash any spirit of inquiry or dissidence.

The list is endless:

- CBI, statutory Commissions, Central Statistics Organisation, the National Stastical Commission, NSSO, powerful agencies like the ED and the Income Tax Deptts.- all reduced to Pavlovian creatures who respond only to the dog whistle hanging around our chowkidar's neck.

-A Lokpal has been appointed just four weeks before the elections when the SC made it clear that it would brook no further delay, but even here the leader of the largest opposition party in Parliament was not given voting rights.

-An always shaky electoral system has been gutted by measures calculated to ensure the survival of the BJP's thousand year reich .

-A Delhi High court order holding the BJP and Congress guilty of accepting illegal foreign donations was nullified by a retrospective legislation;

-Anonymous Electoral Bonds were introduced to legalise kick backs from the corporates ( which accounts for the fact that almost 50% of the Rs.1200 crores donations received by the BJP last year were from unaccountable sources);

-The 7.5% cap on donations from companies was removed to facilitate large transfers via the Electoral bonds route;

-The anti-corruption clause in the Rafale conract was also deleted by the chowkidar's office to ensure that Dassault's accounts could not be scrutinised for precisely such entries;

-The Election commission steadfastly refuses to introduce a reasonable percentage of matching of EVM and VVPAT results;

-The polling has been dragged out over 7 phases to confer a distinct advantage to the ruling party.

What can one do when the chowkidar himself starts looting the house he is supposed to guard?

Cronyism is alive and kicking, thank you.

Other than the alleged Rafale offset award to Anil Ambani, there is a huge question mark on the exponential growth of the Adani empire in these five years: the US$ 1 billion SBI loan to his controversial coal mining project in Australia which no other bank ( not even the Chinese) was willing to fund; the allotment of six Airport operation projects to his group on the basis of extraordinary high bids made by his company; and as recently as last week the clearance, against all environmental norms and concerns, of a coal mining project in the heart of the last remaining dense forest in central India- the pristine 170000 hectare Hasdeo Arand forests in Chhatisgarh.

And now the SBI has been ordered to bail out Naresh Goyal and his inept Jet Airways from a Rs. 8000 crore outstanding loan it cannot repay. With the SBI now injecting another Rs. 1500 crores to take a 51% stake in Jet, good money is now being thrown in after the bad. A government which cannot manage one airline ( Air India) will now mismanage a second one!

Why this special favour? Why not allow the Bankruptcy code and the NCLT process to take its own course? Maybe Mr. Naresh Goel will now now fly out ( on another air line, of course!) to join the likes of the Modis and the Choksis, all of whom fled under the watch of our " chaukanna" chowkidar.

The chowkidar's onslaught on the country's natural environment will take decades to recover, if at all that is possible.

Just about every regulatory mechanism designed to protect the environment from Big Money has been dismantled and its watchdogs reduced to lapdogs.

Hundreds of thousands of trees are being slaughtered for unnecessary highways, river linking projects, dams, mines, and real estate.

The BJP Chief Minister of Haryana is being allowed to declare most of the Aravalli and Shivalik ranges, the only remaining green barrier between Delhi and the deserts of Rajasthan, as non-forest areas so that builders can mint money: the Ministry of Environment has overruled its own regional office in Gurgaon which had declared these areas as forest!

The Andaman and Nicobar islands, the country's most pristine, naturally forested region and a bio-diversity hot-spot of global importance, is being thrown open for tourism and hotels. No effort is being made to implement the Kasturirangan report on the Western Ghats,instead no effort is being spared to bypass the Supreme Court order banning the mining of iron ore in Goa.

What kind of chowkidar allows his own property to be ravaged and raped for a few pieces of silver?

It is little wonder that India is now at 177th place ( out of 180 countries) in the Environmental Performance Index.

There is much more in our chowkidar's CV that should make him unemployable:

-a disastrous foreign policy which has ensured that we have no friends left in our region;

-inexplicable cut backs on welfare and health spending, specifically on Midday Meals, ICDS and Education, all of which vitally concern the most vulnerable sections of our society;

-a hostile and intimidating environment for press freedom and journalists: 12 journalists died in suspicious circumstances in 2017, India has slipped to 136th place in the World Press Freedom Index, and is now categorized as one of the most dangerous places in the world for journos;

-a chest thumping cum pellet gun policy has more or less ensured that we have lost the soul and hearts of Kashmiris for ever. Not to forget the bodies: 181 civilians and security force personnel in 2018, as against 75 in 2014 ( official MHA data). In 2019 the figure has already reached 61 till 31st March, and the snows have not even melted.

We don't need a chowkidar, sir.

What the country is in desperate need of is a wise, compassionate, tolerant, far-sighted Prime Minister who coopts the best ( not the slavishly loyal , like you have done) talent in our land and listens to them; someone who feels for the poor and works for them, not for fat cats, and heeds the muted voice of the man afraid to speak out rather than to the hosannas of those who shout; a visionary who realises that protection of the natural environment should be given the highest priority if we are to survive beyond 2050 outside of caves, a leader who is willing to walk that extra mile for peace, not war and conflict; a leader who heals rather than wounds.

We need a leader who models himself on someone like Jacinda Ardern, the Prime Minister of New Zealand, not on a Duterte or an Erdogan or a Netanyahu. We also do not need the millions of clone chowkidars you have spawned in your image. For, to take a liberty with the incomparable verse of one of the greatest poets in our history, which you disown:

" Barbade watan karne ko

Ek hi chowkidar kafi hai,

Har shakh pe chowkidar baitha ho

To anjame Hindustan kya hoga?"

Avay Shukla is retired from the Indian Administrative Service. A keen environmentalist and trekker he has published a book on high altitude trekking in the Himachal Himalayas: THE TRAILS LESS TRAVELLED.