Saturday 25 March 2023

PM Modi is fashioning a post-colonial India (The Sunday Guardian)


Criminal defamation ought to be removed from the statute books forthwith, and hopefully Prime Minister Narendra Modi will get this done in his drive to cleanse the IPC and the Criminal Code of colonial-era practices.

The British, being colonial masters who were engaged in the suppression of the population, left behind several laws that have no place in the 21st century, nor indeed in any country where the government is elected by the people. In matters relating to industry, Prime Minister Narasimha Rao removed some of the most irksome regressive laws, such as the IDRA regulations providing for the prosecution of officials in a company, were that entity to function efficiently and in the process, produce beyond its government-mandated capacity. A major culling of colonial era laws has taken place only since Narendra Modi took charge as Prime Minister in 2014. So entrenched is the opposition to such removal of colonial laws within the political and bureaucratic structures that the process has encountered roadblock upon roadblock, each needing to be painstakingly removed. There are several Victorian individuals in India, and among them was a group from a Karnataka town. A week ago, they disrupted and stopped a group of ladies from holding a get-together in a hotel in Doddapete, where there would have been dancing accompanied by disco music. Clearly, having a good time was not saintly. It must be admitted that to those not aficionados of disco music, the decibel level is unpleasantly high. Perhaps a regulation needs to be put in place that permits disco music and dancing to take place only in soundproof portals, as otherwise the noise is less than bearable to those not enjoying the fun. However, was the holding of such an event reason enough to try and use the bludgeon of the law to stop it and seek to shame the ladies who were participating in behaviour that the Bajrang Dal regards as inadmissible? With such moral policing spreading in Karnataka, securing investment from outside or inside the country would get difficult. Fortunately, the local Superintendent of Police did not see anything heinous in a get-together organised by the ladies, and refused to book either them or the hotel management. Unfortunately, far too many SPs act differently, and who therefore wield the lash of colonial-era laws and regulations with zest.
Since his party was ousted from power in 2014, Rahul Gandhi has been talking in locations across continents about the effects of colonial era laws in India, but during the UPA period, he did nothing to protect citizens from them. Now he has been found guilty by a court for defamation relating to a surname. His comments were indeed in bad taste, but is the concept of criminal defamation justified in a democracy? Had some individuals having the same surname that Rahul seems intensely to dislike brought forward a suit of civil defamation and asked for Rahul to pay a fixed sum in compensation to persons with that surname, that may have been a better course to adopt than the criminal route. As this columnist has been pointing out for years, criminal defamation ought to be removed from the statute books forthwith, and hopefully Prime Minister Narendra Modi will get this done in his drive to cleanse the criminal code of colonial-era practices. Talking about the police, there are more than a few former members of the Indian Police Service in the BJP, and many of them have had distinguished careers. The point about recruiting an IPS or IAS retired official into a national political party was to ensure that the vision even of its state leaders remains centred around national needs. So far as the BJP is concerned, securing a third term for Prime Minister Modi in 2024 is essential if the mission he began in 2014 is to be accomplished. In every state, those in the BJP placed in charge of state units need to act in accordance with what is needed in terms of not just that state but the entire country. It was therefore a surprise when a former IPS officer, Tamil Nadu BJP chief K. Annamalai, has been saying that he would quit his post were the BJP to not go solo in next year’s Lok Sabha polls. In particular, he was opposed to an alliance with the AIADMK. Once such in-house criticism of an allied party becomes public, it harms relations between that party and the BJP. Given that the DMK under Chief Minister Stalin is steadfast in his support for the Congress Party, the only significant alliance that the BJP has access to in Tamil Nadu is with the AIADMK. Does BJP state president Annamalai believe that the BJP would be able to secure more seats in the Lok Sabha polls solo? If so, his view of the situation in the state is different from that of many others. In 2004, the BJP lost to the Congress party because both its southern allies, the Telugu Desam and the AIADMK were trounced in the Lok Sabha polls. Given the drift of the public mood in Andhra Pradesh, it seems likely that the TDP would this time around get a fair number of seats in 2024 if allied to the BJP. The BJP leadership will need to take a hard look at what is on offer by prospective allies, for in Andhra Pradesh—unlike in Telangana, where going solo may be a better option—an alliance with one of the two principal regional parties in that state is essential. Every Lok Sabha seat will count in the next Lok Sabha, and state leaders in the BJP need to factor in that reality while discussing options, especially in a manner that becomes public. While Annamalai is justifiably proud of being selected as an IPS officer, he needs to remember that the IPS post-Independence is not expected to behave in the same way as they did while serving a foreign power.
TN BJP chief Annamalai needs to win over his team through his behaviour, and not rely on the fact that he was once in uniform. Next, he needs to understand the national ground realities of the 2024 contest, and frame his responses to possible alliances accordingly. Abusing a friendly party in public weakens the bond with that party and affects both the BJP and the other party at the hustings, as numerous elections have shown. PM Narendra Modi is seeking to fashion a post-colonial India. Every institution, every individual, concerned with governance needs to help rather than hinder this super-heavy task.

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