Narendra Modi with peacock
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi seen with a peacock at his residence in New Delhi Image Credit: Twitter

From the mid-90s to the late 2000s was a period of great hope in India. Those like yours truly who grew up in the ‘90s felt this was because India has finally untethered the wings of its economy, letting its entrepreneurs fly.

But there was another reason: India had come out of its multiple political crises, the wars with China and Pakistan, the insurgencies in Assam and Punjab. Even the militant uprising in Kashmir had been brought under control.

The most iconic representation of the breakout India story was how well-to-do professional Indian expats had started returning from the US or Europe for new economy jobs in Gurgaon or Bengaluru.

The charges against Rhea Chakraborty are patently false, but such is the power of propaganda that I’ve met people who are convinced that Sushant Singh Rajput was murdered

- Shivam Vij

Today’s India is battling multiple crises, reminiscent of the dark ‘80s. At once, we are dealing with an economy that has been slowing down since 2016, with no hope in sight. Covid has made it much worse, with GDP growth for April-June 2020 shrinking more than any major economy.

We have just surpassed Brazil to be the world’s second most affected country by Covid-19. More than the death count, Covid is preventing the opening up of the economy, making 1.3 billion people wonder when the pain will end.

With India weakened with an economic crisis and a pandemic, China has found the perfect time to be aggressive on the border.

Distract and rule

For a country to be facing three big crises together — Economy, Covid, China — should be sobering. It should make us reflect on how we got here and how we could get out of here.

It should make us all set aside our differences and put our collective minds to solving these crises. The government should be seeking the advice and help of the brightest Indians, and the reliable friends in the international community.

An honest approach to tackling such a difficult time in the life of the world’s largest democracy would need, before anything else, an honest acknowledgement of these problems. The Narendra Modi government, however, is too afraid of the political cost of honesty.

To acknowledge a problem would mean some admission of failure, bringing down Narendra Modi’s political ratings. And it is clear that he puts his political ratings above the national interest.

Narendra Modi’s answer then is to “distract and rule”. With his vice-like grip on the media, especially TV news and social media, he gives 1.3 billion people other things to discuss so that they may not obsess about China, economy or Covid.

For weeks now, central investigation agencies and TV news have come together in a witch-hunt targeting a Bollywood actor.

Rhea Chakraborty’s alleged procurement of drugs, her alleged role in the death of her boyfriend Sushant Singh Rajput are apparently issues of much greater national importance than Chinese aggression in Ladakh, a thousand plus people dying a day of Covid and millions of salaried Indians losing their jobs.

The charges against Rhea Chakraborty are patently false, but such is the power of propaganda that I’ve met people who are convinced that Sushant Singh Rajput was murdered.

Not even the testimony of his doctors and therapists seems to be enough that he had mental health issues, and before we dwell any further on this question, we have already fallen into the “distract and rule” trap of Narendra Modi.

Drug called propaganda

One way some people deal with stressful situation is to take to consuming psychotropic substances that numb one’s senses. That is what we are told Sushant Singh Rajput was doing with marijuana.

That is also what the people of India are doing to themselves with an equally addictive drug, propaganda. Modi and media are numbing our senses and not letting people face the reality that India is plunging into a deep crisis with Covid, China and Economy.

Modi imposed the world’s strictest lockdown in March-April, leading to the world’s highest contraction of the economy — and this would have been worth the pain of it had managed to tackle Covid.

But we have been consistently rising in the Covid hall of shame. Again, this is because we didn’t act fast enough, beat up people to stay indoors instead of educating them on how to stay safe. We tried not to test too many people to show low figures.

Similarly with China, the prime minister’s first instinct was to deny that there was any cross-border aggression by China. The statement was used by China to show India as aggressor. Even now we don’t have a full picture of what is going on in Ladakh.

As I write this, a spam mail arrived. It’s a newsletter called “The Nationalist” with sections like “PM Modi’s vision”, “New Ladakh”, and “self-reliant India”.

It’s all so celebratory you wouldn’t believe there’s any problem in India. As Modi puts out photos of himself feeding the peacocks in his garden, all is well.

I don’t get any spam mail from the opposition.

Shivam Vij
Image Credit: Gulf News 2020