India Has Made Progress But Suppression of Dissent Worries Me

‘India Has Made Progress But Suppression of Dissent Worries Me’

Shruti Mishra (20), a first-time voter pursuing dental surgery at Santosh Medical College, says India’s remarkable development has come at the cost of democratic values. Her views:

As I stand on the threshold of casting my vote for the very first time, a whirlwind of emotions engulfs me. It’s a blend of excitement, responsibility, and a tinge of apprehension. In the political landscape of 2024, I find myself grappling with the complex reality of our nation’s democracy.

Reflecting on the past decade, the tenure of the Modi government has been nothing short of eventful. I can’t help but acknowledge the strides India has made on the global stage under their leadership. Economic reforms, infrastructural development, and initiatives like ‘Make in India’ have positioned our country as a force to reckon with. However, beneath this facade of progress lies a troubling undercurrent that leaves me deeply unsettled.

The systematic dismantling of opposition parties raises concerns about the very essence of democracy. While a strong government is essential for stability and progress, a healthy democracy thrives on the existence of a robust opposition. The suppression of dissenting voices and the erosion of democratic institutions are ominous signs that cannot be ignored. As a young voter, I fear that unchecked power could lead us down a path where democracy becomes nothing but a hollow shell.

Moreover, the neglect of the middle class is a glaring issue that remains unaddressed by successive governments, be it the BJP or the Congress. While policies are crafted and rhetoric is spun to appease the masses, the backbone of our nation—the middle class—is often left in the lurch. Struggling with inflation, stagnant wages, and crumbling infrastructure, the middle class bears the brunt of policy failures and political apathy. 

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Yes, India may have soared to new heights on the global stage, but it’s imperative that we don’t lose sight of the ground realities. A nation’s progress should be measured not just by its GDP growth or international alliances but by the well-being and prosperity of its citizens, especially the middle class—the engine of our economy.

Mishra (right) yearns for a more inclusive, transparent system of governance

As I prepare to exercise my democratic right, I yearn for a political landscape that prioritizes inclusivity, transparency, and accountability. I long to see leaders who listen to the voices of the people, who uphold the principles of democracy rather than subverting them for personal gain. It’s not about blindly supporting a party or an individual; it’s about holding those in power accountable and demanding better for our nation and its people. 

In the run-up to the elections, I hope to see genuine efforts to address the concerns of the middle class, to foster a healthy democratic environment where dissent is valued, not suppressed. It’s time for leaders to rise above petty politics and work towards building a nation where every citizen—regardless of their background or socio-economic status—can thrive. 

As I step into the polling booth, I carry with me the hopes and aspirations of a generation longing for change. My vote is not just a mark on a ballot; it’s a beacon of hope, a declaration of my commitment to shaping the future of my country. And in this pivotal moment, I choose to believe in the power of democracy, in the belief that together, we can forge a better tomorrow for India and its people.

As told to Deepti Sharma

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‘Raids on NewsClick Are a Message by BJP to Dissenters Ahead of 2024 Polls’

VK Cherian, a Delhi-based journalist and writer, says the present regime wants to muzzle any critical media work to crush dissent. His views:

The raids on media portal Newsclick — this is indeed terrible. As for the charges, even the junior staff of NewsClick were woken up at 6:30 am in their homes and questioned, with politically leaning questions. A senior deskperson was asked about coverage of farm laws protests, Delhi riots etc. Their devices, laptops and mobiles, were seized.

And all of them got a feeling after the questioning that though they have not been arrested (only two are in police custody currently), they can be picked up by police — anytime. Even the contributors’ houses were raided in the early hours and they were treated as employees of the media portal.

Indeed, I believe it is a ploy to muzzle the media before the Lok Sabha general elections of 2024. The message is clear: that the present regime will not tolerate any critical media work on them and they will go after anybody on one pretext or the other if they write news or opinion which the government does not like. Clearly, the freedom of speech of the media, as enshrined in the Indian Constitution, has taken a back-seat with this regime.

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The man in the Centre of the entire controversy is of Sri Lankan origin, an American Citizen, Neville Roy Singham. He carries the legacy of the aborted ‘Trotskyite revolution’ in the island nation in the 1970s and had his IT company operations in India and China. He has reportedly sold off his company and is now running few institutions to propagate ‘Left ideology’, which the present regime in India hates.

The fact that a nephew of the CPI (M)’s Polit Bureau is involved with Roy, the main funder of Newsclick, makes it easier for the present regime to discredit the Left movement in India. The New York Times article on his activities and alleged links with China has come in handy for them, as the money-laundering case in India against Newsclick did not lead the investigating agencies anywhere. And now they have made it into a political-terrorism related case.

The state of the media in India is pathetic since no established ones want to confront or criticize the ruling regime in Delhi — not even ask basic questions on current affairs issues and policies. If they dare to do so, not only the particular media-person will be targeted, but the entire organization would be under the scanner.

(The narrator has headed the financial public relations agencies such as Adfactors PR and Concept PR in New Delhi. He has also worked in the media with groups like Deccan Chronicle, Mathrubhoomi, The Hitavada, Amrita Bazar Patrika, Financial Express and The Hindu Business Line. He is the author of The Scam and the Rajas of the Money Market, Crisis of Corporate Communism — Politics of Murder in Kerala and India’s Film Society Movement: Its Journey and Impact)

As told to Amit Sengupta

Preserving the Right to Dissent

Aggrieved by the growing intolerance in the country, some writers and artists in the country announced in 2015 to return the honors given by the Sahitya Akademi. These authors, a total of 39, had expressed their displeasure by returning the honor as we were hurt by the killing of writers like Kalburgi, Govind Pansare, Narendra Dabholkar and saddened that Sahitya Akademi is not taking any role in this regard as to why an institution like Sahitya Akademi does not care about the intolerance spread in the country and society. Supporters of the government tried to discredit their unique movement in independent India by calling it a ‘fake protest’ against the government. The supporters of the government dubbed the writers who returned the awards to the artist the ‘Purskar wapsi gang’ and this is often repeated today.

Although attempts have been made to trivialize the return of awards as an act of anti-nationalism, one wonders what the fact that the government is ready to frame new rules on government awards and honors even after eight years shows. Due to this incident, the entire system was shaken somewhere inside. Parliament’s Committee on Transport, Tourism, and Culture has suggested to the government that such an act of returning honor should be considered an anti-national act. It is also said in this recommendation that an affidavit should be taken that they will never take any action to return the government award after receiving it. It is a coincidence that the country is currently going through a Manipur-like situation and the issue is being debated in Parliament and on the streets, so the suggestion regarding the action to return the award in this name is expected to be debated. Insulting government honors. This mindset of associating government honors with ‘patriots’ and ‘traitors’ is an affront to democratic values and people’s right to protest. This undemocratic act must be opposed.

The step taken by Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore in connection with the Jallianwala Bagh incident is before us as a vivid example. In 1919, the then Nobel laureate Kavindra Ravindra gave voice to the nation’s anger and pain by returning the title of ‘Sir’ given by the British government to protest the brutal massacre of British General Dyer in Jallianwala Bagh. While returning the degree, Gurudev had said, ‘Time has come that the medals of honor are bringing shame to us’, when Gurudev had made it clear that the British Government’s action at Jallianwala Bagh was a disgraceful incident to humanity, and the honor bestowed by the Government on such an incident was a disgrace. They consider it necessary to return. He had said, “Democracy and freedom of thought cannot survive if loyalty to the government is more important than the voice of reason.”

This explanation of India’s first Nobel laureate says a lot and reminds   lot. Freedom of thought and expression is such a democratic value that to ignore it should be considered a complete denial of democracy. Government fulfills its duty by honoring writers and artists. It is the responsibility of the government or an institution like the Sahitya Akademi to glorify the talent of the country. The honor itself is being reduced by placing conditions on the honor medal or the amount of honor. Asking for a written guarantee from the person being honored that he will not return the honor for life is actually an insult to the honoree. It is the individual’s right to accept or reject the honor. It is equally wrong to think that returning honor is treason, as it is wrong to think that the government is doing a favor to someone by honoring him.

Intolerance is constantly increasing in our society today. This situation should be a matter of concern for both the rulers of the country and the leaders of the society. ‘Puraskar Wapsi’ was an expression of the nation’s sentiments against such intolerance. It is a crime to call those who do so a ‘gang’. It is true that only 39 people then announced to return the award, but it is also true that these 39 people fought for democratic values and rights. Our rulers should understand that opposing the government in a democratic system is not opposing the country.

Any step taken against the failure of the government to check the intolerance spreading in the country is not against the country but in the interest of the country. In a healthy democratic society and system, the right to dissent is a citizen’s weapon against all wrongs. Returning awards, and returning honors are examples of such differences. This example should be respected.

One hundred and four years ago, Rabindranath Tagore, while returning the title ‘Sir’, expressed his disagreement with the policies of the government in a letter written to the then Viceroy. Eight years ago, 39 producers in the country voiced such dissent by campaigning to return the award. This expression is part of our history today. This divisive step taken to protect democratic values is not a matter of shame, but a matter of pride. This right to dissent must be protected. Democratic values demand respect for dissent. It is to be expected that the country and society will not accept such an obligation as an oath to never return the honor.

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