There are two letters before the nation today. One, the Prime Minister’s Letter to the Nation, and two, the suicide letter of a poor, unemployed man from Lakhimpur Kheri, Uttar Pradesh. The Prime Minister is celebrating the completion of one year in office and he, along with the Union Home Minister, have written long praises of their work. The unemployed man killed himself because of distress and the lockdown.
So which letter should India consider? Which letter represents India better?
Why Did Bhanu Gupta Kill Himself if All is Well?
On May 29, according to the local police, 50-year-old Bhanu Gupta had killed himself under a train. According to his suicide letter, found in his pocket at the time of death, he had taken the step ‘because of poverty and unemployment.’ The single-page note written in blue ink speaks much more than the beautifully printed essays of the PM and the HM in today’s newspapers. ‘The lockdown has been continuous and I cannot find any livelihood,’ Bhanu had said. It is difficult not to read these words along with the PM’s praise for the way the country had obeyed his instructions, ‘be it clapping and lighting a lamp…’ as Mr Modi wrote today.
The hill on which the Government resides in India is too high to see the small people on the ground. ‘I have food grain from the ration,’ Bhanu had said in his suicide note, ‘but I have no money for the other things required for running the household, and the shop-keepers are not giving me credit.’
Glaring Disconnect Between Government and People
On the same day when the government was speaking about Ayushman Bharat, Bhanu in his suicide letter had said, ‘I have several health issues, so does my mother, who suffers due to lack of treatment. There is no money and the government has not offered us any help.’
Bhanu, who used to work as a hotel cook and was the father of 5 children, wrote, ‘There is no money even for the last rites after my death.’ Those were the last lines of his suicide note, and, perhaps, the last thoughts in his mind.
This may be day of rhetoric for the Government, but it hurts in its insensitivity to the plight of the common people and indifference to its impact. There is an arrogance about anniversaries, as if the inevitable passage of time was an achievement of governments in power. This is especially true for India where people do not elect leaders – people elect gods to worship. Neither the Letter to the Nation of the PM nor the op-ed of the HM covered the disconnect between the government and the people – and in fact, barely made it out of the well-manicured precincts of their air-conditioned homes in Lutyens Delhi.
India Devastated by Apathy and Arrogance
The top two leaders of the country seem to have a different view of India. What did the letter say to the young boy who was trying to wake up his dead mother on the railway platform in Muzaffarpur, Bihar last week? The 35-year-old woman, coming from Ahmedabad, Gujarat, had died of hunger, and heat, and had travelled on the Shramik Special Train. According to official sources, 80 migrant labour had died on these trains – many of which had lost their way and reached their destinations late by days.
India today is a country devastated by apathy and arrogance of power. What should a nation celebrate when it cannot provide drinking water to the poor in the summer heat? What should a nation celebrate where every day the pandemic toll is steeply rising? Can the government celebrate this day and its achievements? If the HM is right, and if Mr Modi is the ‘hero of this journey’, he alone can celebrate this day.
(Dr. Kota Neelima is author and researcher, and writes of rural distress and farmer suicides. Her recent book ‘Widows of Vidarbha, Making of Shadows’ is published by Oxford University Press. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and she tweets at @kotaneelima. This is an opinion piece. The views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)