Are we living in a dystopia?

The rampant police brutality and utter disregard for the rule of law compel us to question what lies ahead for India

The thing about young Sushant Singh Rajput’s untimely passing is not so much his death, which was undoubtedly tragic, but far worse, his subsequent character assassination for dubious political ends. What the media would now have us believe is that he was just another Jekyll and Hyde character, a promising and aspiring young star on the outside but a doped out manic depressive on the inside. Thankfully, the AIIMS medical report and the CBI’s initial findings seem to confirm that he indeed did commit suicide.

Over the last few months, the pot continued to boil as dribs and drabs of inconclusive information were leaked by agencies to media outlets to serve their own ends. This ensured the arrest of his former girlfriend, now granted bail by the Bombay High Court, in the ludicrous avatar of a drug financier, and a galaxy of top stars from Bollywood facing the heat for alleged drug use and peddling. The fact that the evidence investigators appeared to be working with was in the nature of some forced confessions, as some allege, and the recovery of 500 grams of a recreational drug, seemed inconsequential. Truly, we are now burdened with courts, it seems, that will believe anything, however far-fetched or fanciful it may be. In all of this, one is not quite sure what the actor’s family hoped to gain from converting this tragedy into a public spectacle. In all probability, their hopes seem to have been belied and dashed, if recent reports in the media are to be believed.

The real winners are not the aspiring politicians but our very own Sherlocks, the hard-working sleuths of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) who now get to mess with the stars daily. As the good Bard wrote, each of them now gets to “strut and fret his hour upon the stage”, though at the end of it, after the Bihar elections precisely, one suspects it will be “a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

There is another loser here, an institutional one, that has willingly allowed politicians to turn this tragedy into a blood sport. But then as the inimitable Charles Dickens wrote, “the law is an ass”, and one cannot help but wonder what he thought of those who meted it out. Sadly, we see that too often these days, as the verdict on the 28-year-old case over the demolition of the Babri Masjid demonstrates. BJP veterans may well celebrate but it is not innocence that has won but plain incompetence. But who are we to complain, it is probably the price we pay for our version of democracy and the right to choose who leads us.

Talking of which, in these dystopian times, we have been given a glimpse of the new and future India if the BJP and its friends have their way. Rampant brutality and utter disregard for the law, on the part of those appointed to uphold it, appear to have become the hallmark of Yogi Adityanath’s Uttar Pradesh. All the people in the State are seen as lab rats for the Hindutva brigade’s experimentation with governance. A rape a day is the new normal, Hathras yesterday, Balrampur today, who knows where next tomorrow?

 The alleged horrific rape, that the police insist never occurred, the subsequent murder of a teenager in Hathras and the subsequent acts of indignity heaped on her family by the local administration are not just a shameful and damning indictment of the Yogi Government, but also of the Central Government that has allowed the police to run riot wherever its party controls the system. As our courts and criminal justice system have floundered, and all but surrendered, to an increasingly authoritarian regime, the latter’s  henchmen, in collusion with the police, act as if they are above the law, storm troopers from an earlier darker era. What else can explain the undemocratic curbs placed to prevent protests against police high-handedness?

In all honesty, it is unfair to blame Prime Minister Narendra Modi, either for most of our ills or for much that has transpired. After all, this debilitating pandemic was not of his doing and while initial reactions of the Government may not have been up to the mark, especially its handling of the migrant issue, it is really doubtful if any other Government would have done any better. Given the constraints that health is a State subject, our high population density, poor health infrastructure and lack of hygiene awareness that prevails, we have at least tried to manage resources. In fact, it is the Modi Government that has been focussed on the issue of hygiene and sanitation.

Similarly, our broken criminal justice system and the prevailing police culture that are responsible for much that is awry owe a great deal to generations of politicians of all hues, who have used, and continue to use, the police as personal lackeys for their own ends. It is they who have successfully blocked all attempts at reforms or minimising political interference in such matters. Also, let us not forget that this is not the first time that the issue of independence of the judiciary has been raised or its action questioned.

Most of the Prime Minister’s initiatives have been stymied by the inability of the Government to understand that the 30 per cent odd voteshare that it received, leading to an overwhelming majority in the Parliament, does not in any way represent the views of all the people. For initiatives to be acceptable to all, there is a genuine need for consultation and interaction with all stakeholders in a spirit of give and take without intimidation. There has also been a remarkable inability on the part of this Government to deliver, due to sheer inefficiency, on matters such as GST and demonetisation. The saving grace for him has been the military’s superlative performance in the confrontation against the Chinese, especially given the way he botched up his response after the Galwan action. This is indeed ironical, given the fact that he has never lost an opportunity to do down the military, serving and veterans alike. One cannot help but wonder if his attitude towards the military will now change, or will he kill the goose that lays golden eggs.

(The writer, a military veteran is a Consultant with the Observer Research Foundation and a Senior Visiting Fellow with The Peninsula Foundation)

Source: The Pioneer