Volume 23 Issue 01, January 2019


Rising oil prices, dearth of jobs, farmers’ suicides and rural distress, broadening inequality - both economic and social and the aftermath of demonetization and levying of GST - all have been serious issues waiting to be addressed sincerely. But the political outfits and the persons at the helm, who have been democratically elected to their respective offices, have kept the people of India busy with the politics of religion - albeit in the garb of religiosity. Different parts of the country have hoardings and slogans ordaining temples - and the ‘Ram Nam’ pops up spontaneously submerging all issues.

Now with a series of showdown in the by-elections and with the general elections round the corner, desperate efforts are being made to divert the people’s attention from these issues as they have become major threats to the ruling party. Promises made on these issues - of providing jobs to the jobless and relief to the farmers, for instance, are far from being fulfilled. The state leaders have left no stone unturned to establish that the consequences of demonetization have benefited everyone, with the Prasar Bharati - the national radio, showcasing the evidence in the form of audio clips from ‘beneficiaries’ across the country. The common man, however, is yet to recuperate and make sense of it. The ruling party rode the high wave of doubling the income of the farmers by 2022. To materialize this promise, India’s agriculture sector needs to grow by 30% annually. The reality, however, is that according to the Economic Survey 2017-18 which was tabled in the Parliament in January 2018, it grew at a lowly 2.1 per cent during 2017-18. Several new initiatives like Soil Health Card, Input Management, Per Drop More Crop, Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchai Yojana (PMKSY) and Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana (PMFBY) have been hyped as saviours of the farmers. A reality check suggests that during 2013-14, the insurance companies made profit worth INR 15794 crores when the average income of the farmer hovered around INR 20000/- per month during 2015-16. More than 300,000 farmers have committed suicide since 1998.

We are reeling in times when you question the government, or its prescriptions and you can be labelled as anti-national and charged with sedition. But when the politicians defy the Supreme Court ruling and proclaim on public platforms that it took only 17-18 minutes to raze the Babri Masjid to the ground on 6 December 1992 - at the behest of the right wing leaders, no action is taken. An artefact of architectural endeavour - which was constructed in years, was demolished without an iota of remorse evident in the perpetrators. On the contrary, delay in judicial proceedings is being questioned by posing the query ‘how long should it take to ‘write a paper’ (of judgement)?’ It is fairly well-established that the Babri Masjid demolition was a criminal act and a court verdict on the matter is awaited. Despite video clips which have captured the identifiable pictures of the participants in the mob frenzy, no one has yet been penalized. Many members of the ruling party have stated that the majority religious group - the Hindus are ‘losing patience…’ because the court has taken too long to give a decision on the issue. Therefore, ‘what will happen if they lose patience…?’ In effect, it was the mosque which was demolished by some differently inclined members of the majority community. So, the patience has been actually shown by the largest minority community - the Muslims. The delay in judicial proceedings should be ‘testing their patience’ instead!

The ruling party has blamed the Congress for purporting the delay in the case. They have even gone ahead to pose themselves as the ‘aggrieved’ party that ‘deserves justice’. The Chief Minister of the State where the temple is located has proclaimed that the youth is eager to ‘do or die’ for the construction of the temple. A morally strong Chief Minister would have dissuaded the youth if they had actually decided as claimed. As the head of one of the states, his responsibility is to provide employment to the youth as promised by his party and to ensure peace and harmony. On the contrary, there is a conscious effort to drive attention away from basic issues like unemployment among youth, access to clean drinking water, proper health facilities, affordable health care, right nutrition, and dependable supply of electricity, proper roads, quality schools and colleges.

As is evident from the reply to a question asked in the Rajya Sabha (upper house of the Indian parliament) this year, 61.2% of primary health centres in the country have only one doctor while 7.69% of them do not even have a single doctor. India has 50% of the undernourished children in the world, yet spends only 1.02% of its gross domestic product on health and more than 300 crores in constructing the statue of a statesman, who himself would have admonished this extravagance of the government. According to the 2017 report of WaterAid, rural India had 63.4 million people living without access to clean water, which was more than any other country.

Harping about bringing the Indian rupee to the European stock market and raising the prestige of the country, assumed benefits of demonetization and distorted growth in the GDP are not enough to ensure vikas – development - the electioneering vehicle on which they rode to success.

The Hindutva ideology fostered by the present government will not go very far if the real issues are not confronted and addressed. Temple politics can vehemently contribute to a Godhra, a Muzaffarpur and lynching of individuals on illogical assumptions of possessing a certain kind of meat. It can also resurrect the ‘science’ in the mythological narratives and the epics (airplanes in the times of Ramayana, for instance). But it will fail to deliver the promises made to the people of secular India. The government needs to focus on the real vikas and leave the temple issue to the Supreme Court. Otherwise, the proverbial ‘good days’ promised by the government will not only continue to remain elusive, but will bring no laurels in the forthcoming elections as well.

The writer is a Professor at the Centre of Social Medicine and Community Health, School of Social Sciences, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. She can be reached at sanghmitra.acharya@gmail.com

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