The ruling classes are now widely using the terms anti-national and traitor, bringing more people under these tags. The tags are used against inquisitive university students, questioning journalists, critics of the government and any voices of dissent. Trade union activities like organising a strike, questioning illegal retrenchments or salary cuts or raising voices against social injustices are also now deliberately brought under the anti-national and traitor scanner.
Then Union minister and present BJP MP Anant Hegde, who said in December 2017 that the BJP government was in power to change the Constitution, has now claimed that all the employees of Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited were traitors and anti-nationals. He said the BSNL employees were unwilling to work towards uplifting the state-owned telecom firm. He also claimed that over 88,000 employees would soon be fired from the company, as the government would privatise it.
The once thriving state-owned telecom company has been deliberately brought down by pursuing wrong policies like non-allocation of 4G spectrum to BSNL by the Centre. With the fourth generation or 4G technology being a prerequisite in the upcoming mobile connectivity initiatives in rural and far-flung villages, the unavailability of next-generation services limited the state-run BSNL’s ability to even participate in the open tendering process. Many telecom infrastructure projects were allotted to private companies by open bidding with BSNL being sidelined by the top echelons of the Department of Telecommunications (DoT).
When industrialist Rahul Bajaj said last November in a public function in the presence of Union Home Minister Amit Shah and Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman that people were afraid of speaking against the Narendra Modi government, some of the BJP leaders said, just the fact that Bajaj spoke at all is evidence of the right to free expression, while some others said he was hurting “national interest.” The protest against the Citizenship Amendment Act was termed as anti-national. Prime Minister Modi accused opposition leaders of speaking the language of Pakistan.
The Information & Broadcasting Ministry, during violent protests against the citizenship law in November 2019, issued an advisory to all private TV channels asking them to desist from broadcasting content that could incite violence or cause law and order problems. Now taking advantage of the pandemic, activists had been taken in preventive detention to stop them from organising protests, and critics of the government, including students, teachers and journalists are accused of sedition, criminal defamation or terrorism.
The government has used financial audits and investigations against different rights groups and media companies, and even used arbitrary measures like preventing people from travelling abroad to speak in international conferences. In October last year, the police in Bihar filed a case of sedition against 49 people, including well-known personalities, for writing an open letter to Modi expressing concerns over hate crimes and mob violence targeting minority communities. The authorities had to close the case after widespread public condemnation.
Notwithstanding the CAA protesters’ adherence to the national flag upholding the Constitution, Modi and his colleagues are dubbing the protest as anti-national and an anarchist movement, inspired by the opposition. Not surprisingly, Indira Gandhi described the Jayaprakash Narayan movement in 1974 led by the opposition parties the same way, just before declaring the Emergency.
PSUs at Receiving End
There are 339 public sector enterprises in India, which are now often at the receiving end. It is being said that the government has decided to use the Covid crisis to merge or privatise many of these and expose them to private competition. India’s central public sector enterprises will exist only in ‘strategic sectors’ where the government role will be important but there will be two different sets.
Public sectors enterprises in the domains of Railways, Defence, Coal, Isro, Atomic Energy, Banks, Insurance, Oil, etc, are under the process of privatisation. The Railway Board issued an order that there will not be any recruitment in the Railways in future. All the labour laws are being tinkered in favour of private corporates. It will not be surprising if the government put the public sector employees and workers who protest against the policies of the government behind bars labelling them as anti-nationals or traitors.
Modi said while addressing over 300 members of the US-India Business Council in October 2014 that “it’s not the government’s business to run a business”. He also said in the same meeting: “I am business-minded and so I know that no businessman is a donor, he’s not here for charity. A businessman has to make profits on his investment; he must get a return for his investment. I am in favour of that.” However, a businessman is a good donor at the time of elections. If we look at the Election Commission’s chart of donation to political parties by the top business houses, we will find the BJP at the top.
In the combined five-and-a-half years of the Modi-led Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) rule since 2014, Rs 5.76 lakh crore worth of corporate freebies had been announced. The ostensible reason behind these moves is that Corporate India needs help in these difficult times and helping them will serve the national interest. Such help in the form of tax concessions would boost their activities, give them a better opportunity to expand, and thus help employment, goes the argument. However, nothing of the sort has happened.
Massive concessions were given to corporate houses over the past few years – yet the country has steadily slid from slowdown to acute crisis today. The lesson is clear: spend money on the people, not on corporates, and it will automatically provide a stimulus to the whole economy. If you do not do that, you are fattening the coffers of the super rich.
The changing narrative on patriotism and national interest for political advantage is also in itself a challenge to our democracy.
(The author is a senior journalist from Assam)
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