What the smoke bombs exposed

A nation’s disillusionment exploded in its temple of power, revealing the deep fractures in the country’s besieged democratic edifice.

Published : Dec 17, 2023 12:49 IST - 6 MINS READ

On December 13, 2023, the new Parliament had another ignominious distinction: a security breach, executed with effortless finesse by amateurish protestors. 

On December 13, 2023, the new Parliament had another ignominious distinction: a security breach, executed with effortless finesse by amateurish protestors.  | Photo Credit: By Special Arrangement

The recently inaugurated parliament building is a physical manifestation of the New India ecosystem that Prime Minister Narendra Modi wishes to transcribe onto a subdued India, which uncomplainingly acquiesces in his several experimentations. Unfortunately, the beginnings of this orchidaceous structure has been rather egregiously inauspicious. For one, Ramesh Bidhuri, a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) MP representing the supposedly upper-crust South Delhi parliamentary constituency, created an ugly milestone in parliamentary deliberations. Bidhuri used repugnant slurs against the Muslim community of such a vulgar variety that its repetition is impossible. Naturally, Bidhuri’s party, after a token synthetic indignation at his outrageous vitriol, quickly moved on to greener pastures.

On December 13, 2023, the new Parliament had another ignominious distinction: a security breach. It was executed with such effortless finesse by amateurish protestors looking for the oxygen of publicity that it appeared as if India’s security architecture was manned by the producers of the film Jawan. It was preposterous. Were it not for the fact that the two young men, Manoranjan D and Sagar Sharma, were only carrying smoke canisters, it could have resulted in a serious risk for the literally helpless and gobsmacked parliamentarians.

It transpires in the aftermath of the shocking episode that the shoes of the visitors were not checked as per the security protocol. According to the Modi government, shoes are only a high-risk receptacle for transporting deadly arsenal if one is taking a plane from one of the Adani group’s several airports. Everywhere else, they are as innocuous as the deer in mythological comic books.

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To put it bluntly, behind the bellicosity and braggadocio on national security, this government functions with an unprofessional, uninspiring jugaad mindset. Atmanirbhar Bharat?

For context, it is important to remember that two former Prime Ministers, Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi, were gruesomely assassinated. Or that exactly 22 years ago on the date, several security personnel were killed in a terror attack on the sacrosanct structure. It was an NDA government then too. Clearly, we have not learnt our lessons.

At the time of writing, all the participants (including Amol Shinde, Neelam Verma, Vicky Sharma, and the alleged mastermind, Lalit Jha) in the bizarre episode, which could have turned horribly wrong if they had violent proclivities, have been arrested. Expectedly, the Modi government, caught snoring, has tried to insinuate conspiracy theories and begun to enthusiastically bombard the opposition—for encouraging dissent among the disaffected populace. It is a familiar trope; hardly surprising. They did that with the farmers, calling them Khalistani terrorists, and with the women wrestlers protesting against sexual harassment, branding them the public front of a political party.

But the BJP has got both its feet on a banana peel this time. The individuals concerned are not cross-border terrorists trained by the Lashkar-e-Taiba in Pakistan; they are ordinary lower-middle-class Indians. Secondly, they do not belong to any phantasmagorical Tukde Tukde Gang; they actually shouted “Bharat Mata Ki Jai”, as the videos show. They belong to the firebrand revolutionary Bhagat Singh’s fan club.

While the investigations are on, it can be prima facie deduced that these individuals were borderline ready for self-destruction (they face the draconian UAPA charges), so frantic was their urge to “be heard”. Clearly, their desperate stunt was driven by a raging frustration at not being acknowledged; the latter is also a form of dehumanisation. There cannot be a more tragic commentary on the shibboleth called “Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas” (With All, Development for All: a political slogan popularised by Narendra Modi). It is a mammoth absurdity in reality, and at the core, duplicitous. It symbolises the vaporisation of democracy.

But what has brought India to such a sorry pass?

There are reasons. The Indian mainstream media is practically inanimate; it surfaces sporadically to remind itself perhaps that having a conscience is a good thing. But most have meekly surrendered to either unambiguous nudges or the easy revenues from government advertising. They have become like the factotums of the British royalty we see in the TV series The Crown. Accordingly, serious issues never get airtime.

Apparently, the alleged offenders wanted to draw the country’s attention to inflation, dictatorship, Manipur, and joblessness; are these irrational, unreasonable expectations, their over-the-top modus operandi notwithstanding?

India’s demographic dividend story, packaged for long as India’s USP, is almost buried. India’s average GDP growth during 2019-2023 was a measly 3.5 per cent. Are we surprised that there are no employment opportunities for the educated youth? According to the Azim Premji Foundation, 42 per cent of graduates under 25 years are unemployed. That is a humongous waste of young manpower. The CMIE report suggests an average 7-8 per cent unemployment rate. Women are dropping out of the workforce altogether. Pakoda economics is not the panacea that India’s young need; it mocks their need for social security and basic economic cushioning.

Moreover, the gig economy will soon overtake formal employment contracts, as large employers resort to just-in-time hiring. Needless to add, AI will destroy jobs in the near term; in the long run, as John Maynard Keynes said, we are all dead anyway. PhDs, MBAs, computer professionals, and post-graduates are applying for low-paid, clerical state jobs. Modi has failed India on jobs. The two crore jobs per year promise was a sham, and the youth are paying dearly. The families of the young people booked for the Parliament breach are distraught about what awaits the future of their children.

Also Read | Mahua Moitra’s imminent expulsion from Lok Sabha raises concerns about misuse of Parliament powers

Last but as important as the rest is that the government continues to dodge an official statement from the Home Minister on such a serious lapse, despite persistent opposition demands. It is surreal that the Modi government would sandbag a conversation on an attack on Parliament, where even BJP MPs were present. This is a bipartisan issue. But the absence of Modi and his comrade-in-arms Amit Shah is again part of the BJP playbook; was Modi not conspicuously missing in action during the farmers’ protest, wrestlers’ remonstrance, Manipur riots, the second wave of COVID, etc.?

Most authoritarian demagogues are hypersensitive about their strongman imagery which must be protected at all costs, even in a time of national emergency. The leader cannot afford to look weak or need to explain a failure. The word “apology” does not exist in their political language. Thus, we have the grotesque apparition of Indian democracy where 15 opposition MPs are suspended because they want the Home Minister to speak in Parliament, while the latter is busy giving homilies on televised shows of pliant news busybodies.

India did not just experience a security breach in Parliament; it also saw the gaping cleavages in its dilapidated democratic structure exposed.

What is worse, a government that thinks Mahua Moitra is a national security risk instead clearly needs to see a therapist.

Sanjay Jha is a former Congress spokesperson. He is also the author of books such as My Illegitimate Son, The Great Unravelling, and The Superstar Syndrome.

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