An enforced silence cannot solve India’s problems - Smt. Sonia Gandhi

The government’s deep-rooted disdain for democracy and democratic accountability is disturbing

  • Smt. Sonia Gandhi

The people of India have learnt that when it comes to understanding today’s situation, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s actions speak far louder than his words. His statements - when he is not venting anger on the Opposition or blaming past leaders for today’s ills - either ignore the most pressing, vital issues of the day or are platitudes and verbal gymnastics to gloss over or distract from these issues. His actions, on the other hand, leave little to the imagination on the government’s true intentions. An attack on institutions Over the past months, we have witnessed the Prime Minister and his government systematically dismantling all three pillars of India’s democracy - the legislature, the executive and the judiciary, with their actions demonstrating a deep-rooted disdain for democracy and democratic accountability. Consider first recent goings-on in Parliament. In the last session, we saw a government-led strategy to disrupt Parliament and prevent the Opposition from raising issues of grave concern to the country and its people, such as unemployment, inflation and social divisions, and discussing the year’s Budget and the Adani scam among other vital issues. Faced with a determined Opposition, the Narendra Modi government resorted to unprecedented measures - expunging speeches, preventing discussion, attacking Members of Parliament and, finally, disqualifying a Congress Member of Parliament at lightning speed. As a result, the Budget of 45 lakh crore of rupees of people’s money was passed without any debate. In fact, the Prime Minister was busy inaugurating projects in his constituency with widespread media coverage when the Finance Bill was rammed through the Lok Sabha. The Narendra Modi government’s misuse of the Central Bureau of Investigation and the Enforcement Directorate is well known, with over 95% of political cases filed only against the Opposition Parties and cases against those who join the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), miraculously evaporating. The misuse of laws meant for national security against journalists, activists, and reputed think-tanks has been unprecedented. The Prime Minister makes grandiose statements about truth and justice even as allegations of financial fraud against the Prime Minister’s chosen businessman are ignored, Interpol withdraws a notice against the fugitive, Mehul Choksi, and the convicted rapists of BilkisBano are set free and go on to share a stage with BJP leaders. The systematic effort to undermine the credibility of the judiciary has reached crisis point, with the Union Law Minister calling some retired judges “anti-national”, and warning that “they will pay a price”. This language is deliberately chosen to misguide people, inflame their passions, and thereby intimidate serving judges. An onslaught and intimidation The media’s independence has long been compromised by the political intimidation of the government coupled with the financial might of the BJP’s friends, with evening debates on news channels emerging as slanging matches to shout down and silence those who question the government. Not satisfied with this, the government has armed itself with legal powers by amending the Information Technology rules to remove legal protections for any news which it dislikes under the label of “fake news”. The Supreme Court of India has recently made clear that criticism of the government is not grounds for penal action. Is the government listening? No doubt, an army of lawyers from the BJP and Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) stand ready to harass any platform which publishes criticism of the Great Leader. Enforcing silence cannot solve India’s problems. The Prime Minister is silent on legitimate questions on his government’s actions which affect the lives of millions. The Finance-Minister did not mention unemployment or inflation in her Budget speech; it is as if these problems do not exist. Her silence does not help crores struggling to afford daily commodities such as milk, vegetables, eggs, cooking gas and oil; or youth facing record unemployment rates. After failing on his promise to double the income of farmers by 2022, the Prime Minister has conveniently fallen silent. But their problems of rising costs and unremunerative prices for their crops remain here and now. The Prime Minister ignores the rising tide of hatred and violence, egged on by BJP and RSS leaders, and has not once called for peace or harmony, or acted to reign in offenders, let alone bring them to justice. Religious festivals seem to have become occasions to intimidate and bully others; a far cry from when they were occasions for joy and celebration. Instead, there is intimidation and discrimination only on account of their religion, food, caste, gender or language. On the live border issue with China, we have the spectacle of the Prime Minister in denial about Chinese infiltration, the government blocking discussion in Parliament, while the External Affairs Minister adopts a defeatist attitude when it comes to China, which is further emboldened in its intransigence. The days ahead are crucial Despite the Prime Minister’s best efforts, the people of India cannot and will not be silenced. The next few months are a crucial test of our democracy. Our nation is at the crossroads, with the Narendra Modi government bent on misusing every power and elections in several key States. The Congress Party will make every effort to take its message directly to the people, as it did in the ‘Bharat Jodo Yatra’, and will join hands with all like-minded parties to defend the Constitution of India and its ideals. Ours is a fight to safeguard the voice of the people. The Congress Party understands its solemn duty as the principal Opposition Party and stands ready to work with all like-minded parties to fulfil it.