These are tough times for liberal India. More so if you are cursed with a sense of aesthetics. The Narendra Modi government asked people to bang thalis in appreciation of the doctors and others fighting the coronavirus pandemic — after ensuring in February that crucial medical equipment was not reserved for medical personnel and patients.
The Indian liberal edifice is falling to pieces. Instead of a free press, we now have a free-for-all press. The former Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi accepted the Modi government’s nomination to the Rajya Sabha soon after his retirement, when the memory of his judicial views in favour of the government in several critical matters was still fresh in people’s mind. The constitutional value of the ‘separation of powers’ has seldom looked shakier.
The Indian economy lies in tatters. Communal riots last in Delhi for days but no heads roll. There is no opposition and no respite from the Modi government’s overbearing manner. In this mix drops a virus, and it soon acquires a communal colour. Liberalism has hardly had it so bad in independent India.
In his column National Interest in ThePrint, journalist Shekhar Gupta lists the reasons for people rushing to bang the thalis, and concludes by saying: “Modi is winning. Why should he be complaining? Or bothering with usual suspects accusing him of infantilising his voters when they are happy being just that: Obedient infants?”
I guess Shekhar Gupta is merely expressing his angst at the spectacle of people following instructions to bang thalis. However, over the past six years, this complaint has become common and more frequent among Indian liberals. Earlier, we were told that the ordinary voter was wise and took correct decisions at crucial moments of history such as in 1977, 1984 and 1991. Why this about-turn?
Is it an escape from further analysis? Nothing more needs to be said once the voter has been declared an infant? Or is it based on the liberal/capitalist assumption that responsible adults have free will, which is used to make rational choices, and so they would not have banged the thalis or even elected Modi?