Little boxes on the hillside
Little boxes made of ticky-tacky
Little boxes all the same.
There's a green one and a pink one
And a blue one and a yellow one
And they're all made out of ticky-tacky
And they all look just the same.
And the people in the houses
All go to the university
Where they get put into little boxes
And they came out all the same…..
The paraphrased segments from the timeless song, Little Boxes, written by Malvina Reynolds and immortalised by the legendary American folk singer Pete Seeger and several others whose protest poems were frowned upon for being against ‘national’ interest beg the question: Is there any correlation between the American Establishment Act and the present Indian regime?
These questions surface at the backdrop of numerous assertions and decisions made by the Centre since the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) rose to power to 2014. But the latest utterances of the country’s most loquacious public speaker, also the most beguiling—Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and his closest aide—Union Home Minister Amit Shah's ominous bluntspeak in contrast to his boss's nuanced framing, have shed fresh spotlight on them.
Modi’s Public Speaking Skills Mask His Rote Lines
In Modi’s addresses to the nation, one often encounters a paradox: His capacity to enthral people hearing him live or on television or social media, isn't undermined by his repetitiveness. In fact, PM's perpetually improving performances lend a sheen of newness to his previous lines, notions and beliefs.
Take, for instance, the virtual address on 28 October at the two-day-long Chintan Shivir on custodians of law and order in the Union and State governments. This reiterated Modi's archetypal style since 2012 when he exhibited his innate ability to address the nation through a camera inside a TV studio-like space and yet reach and impact thousands with technological access across the country.
More like a shivir or camp, the event had speakers merely reading out whetted speeches, and yet it was titled such to make it appear participatory and broadcast the message that this government (unlike the previous ones) seeks everyone’s opinion before taking decision on any issue.
Centre's Thoughts On Oneness Intervenes States' Scope
In his address, Modi spoke panegyrically regarding the system of “One Nation-One Ration Card, One Mobility Card, One Grid, One Sign Language, etc.,” and expressed that “such an approach be developed regarding the uniform of the police.”
A matter as serious as the police uniform must be discussed only in constitutionally-appropriate forums. Even suggestions on the force cannot be made in ways that impinge on the rights and powers of state governments (police is included in List 2 in the Seventh Schedule).
But the idea of ‘one-uniform’ for police corroborated with Modi's political objective of ushering oneness, homogeneity and standardisation.
Wouldn't Modi’s idea that a standard uniform be made for the police forces across India, make identification of police personnel extremely tacky in concept and execution?
Identifying Cops From Clothes: Govt Furthers Agenda
The worrying intention of standardising diverse law-enforcing agencies and bringing them under one command is possibly a harbinger of government’s decision to further encroach on the powers of state governments and shift the force to List 3 in the Seventh Schedule.
This resurrects memories of ‘Little Boxes’ because way back in the early 1960s, this reference exemplified “middle-class conformity” and if I may add, national uniformity.
It is not a secret that Modi has spearheaded the Sangh Parivar’s homogenisation drive in the nation. This campaign has been consistently waged on religious identity, or by squashing state powers that determine the federal character of the country.
Hindutva’s Homogenisation Drive
The idea of oneness that Modi floats on political and administrative realms, is drawn philosophically from Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam— the Sanskrit phrase found in Hindu texts. Meaning the 'World is one family', the PM referred to the idea during political campaigns within India and on numerous international platforms, starting with his maiden appearance at the United Nations General Assembly in September 2014.
This is not merely an attempt to leverage India’s soft power by using a concept embedded in ancient India when socio-political realities were completely different. Homogenisation of the society has consistently been one of the primary objectives of Hindu nationalists.
Significantly, Muslims (and Christians and other religious communities whose Punyabhumi or Holy Land is outside the geographical boundaries of India) have been homogenised from even before VD Savarkar codified the Hindutva idea.
All religious minorities have unfailingly been cast in a single hue and thereafter, accused of opposing ‘national’ interests. Paradoxically, this tactic stands in contrast to Modi’s earlier directive to the party's rank and file to reach out to Pasmanda Muslims.
Modi’s Dig at ‘Urban Naxals’
Significantly, the PM also equates every form of dissent with disapproving groups. The trope of ‘anti-national’ has been consistently used against disparate and heterogenous political groups with the aim of creating two categories of citizens: Patriots and traitors.
In his speech, he went a step forward by stating that the national target should be to: “...defeat every form of Naxalism. The gun-toting as well as the one holding the pen are Naxals...resorting to such immature issues to confuse our young generations...they (Naxalites) are now resorting to expand their intellectual circle to those places where they can target the future generations and create a perverted mindset...They speak the language of law and constitution but their actions are altogether different.”
Undoubtedly, this was the most articulated attack on the intelligentsia for their ability to point out “little boxes” into which the diverse nation, its people and their thoughts are being funnelled. Most chilling is what Modi further elaborated on a universal ‘resolve’ in the country – defeating contrarians who ‘hold the pen’ too.
What Makes for a Patriot Act in Modi’s India
Modi’s speech has to be analysed comparing with the points contained in Shah’s address a day earlier at the same venue. Talking of the government's ‘achievements’ so far in the realm of internal security, the Home Minister spoke of “reforms (not amendments) in the FCRA” and that this government pursues a “zero tolerance policy” which when claimed as an accomplishment, implies that previous regimes were ‘tolerant’ of crimes in varying degrees.
While listing “action against some organisations”, the Home Minister, in one breath, clubbed together those who had engaged in “anti-national activities, conversion, political opposition to development projects or propaganda against the policies of the Government.”
In essence, this government considers protests by civil society and affected communities over displacing people without offering due compensation and alternate livelihood avenues as null and void and dissenters of one or more policy as 'anti-nationals' or 'traitors'.
Modi’s Rule in India Mirrors US McCarthyism
Targeting political adversaries, members of civil society, religious preachers, writers, journalists, artists and artistes in one sweep is reminiscent of what was prevalent in America in the 1940s and 1950s, the period referred to as 'McCarthyism' when accusations of subversion and treason against all who were not part of or backers of the establishment, reached unprecedented heights.
In the recent past, especially since 2019, this government has launched unrelenting political repression on those who mustered courage to oppose decision and policies, even in a peaceful manner by persecuting them.
Protest of any kind is now considered an act of violence against the nation. Canards are spread against the accused by the State in courts, as well as non-state players in social media and by vigilante squads. This is uncannily similar to the government pushback several decades ago in the US.
State institutions and academia are being persecuted and isolated as they were during the anti-communist purge in the years after the onset of Cold War. Institutions are being packed with ‘Yes-people’. An atmosphere of fear is whipped up among the supporters of this regime against an alleged, but untrue, syndicate of diverse political forces, aiming to destabilise and weaken the nation.
Govt IT Troll Army’s Excesses
The powers of these institutions of the State have been strengthened through questionable amendments, several challenges against which remain pending in the highest court, making their tightened grip even more traumatic.
The situation necessitates recalling another of Seeger’s songs, albeit in a condensed manner: “Where are the flowers, the girls have plucked them. Where are the girls, they've all taken husbands. Where are the men, they're all in the army."
(The writer is a NCR-based author and journalist. His latest book is The Demolition and the Verdict: Ayodhya and the Project to Reconfigure India. He has also written The RSS: Icons of the Indian Right and Narendra Modi: The Man, The Times. He tweets at @NilanjanUdwin)