From economic reforms like demonetisation and GST to the beef ban and the surgical strikes on terrorism – some of the NDA’s policy decisions have garnered applause while others have attracted criticism.
But a government is not only successful because of the policy decisions they make, but also by how they react to unpredictable trends and random occurrences around the country – do they immediately hold press conferences to make sure the countries citizens are briefed on how an emergency situation is being handled, or do they leave everyone in the dark, wondering “What next?”. Does the government focus on unifying the country in times of crisis, or does it divide the population? Is it tough on crime, or nepotistic in doling out punishments?
In this 2 part series, we cover headlines – a combination of unpredictable trends and random occurrences – that could make or break the NDA.
1. Rohith Vemula: The Student Who Died For Dalit Rights
On 17th January 2016, an expelled PhD student from Hyderabad Central University (HCU) named Rohith Vemula committed suicide. His body was found the next day with an ASA (Ambedkar Students’ Association) banner and a suicide note that blamed the education system’s discriminating against Dalits. Investigations into this case found that Union Minister Bandaru Dattatreya, HRD Minister Smriti Irani, HCU Vice Chancellor Appa Rao, ABVP Unit President Susheel Kumar and his brother Vishnu had some role to play in Rohith’s suicide, indicating that not only had the government failed this troubled student at every level, but so had the University and the Student Unions – the discrimination really was systemic! Even though then HRD Minister Smriti Irani eventually appointed a panel to look into the matter, nobody was punished and no systemic change was made. No action was taken against those who had failed Rohith.
Rohith isn’t the only victim of caste-based discrimination in the last 5 years. In all of India, 40,801 atrocities against Dalits were reported in 2016, the year that Vemula killed himself. This archive from Frontline details recent attacks against Dalits and it includes – lynchings, beatings, rapes, murders, every inhuman crime you can imagine. The NDA has consistently failed to address these crimes, in fact one report on international religious freedom found that attacks against Muslims and Dalits grew sharply in India under the NDA. According to data from the National Crime Records Bureau, the conviction rate for such crimes has also declined substantially.
There are around 300 million Dalits in India, and 300 million is a big enough number to sway elections. Ignoring atrocities against Dalits is sure to come back to haunt the NDA.
2. Vijay Mallya flees to London, leaving behind debt of Rs. 9,000 crore
Sure, the Vijay Mallya case looks like it’s on its way to resolution now – the UK has agreed to extradite him to India and he has offered to use his personal wealth to pay off the debt accumulated by his Kingfisher Airlines – but things didn’t look so rosy back in March 2016. Mallya fled to London, leaving behind a debt of Rs. 9,000 crore. But why were our banks lending his Airline business money, despite the fact that it was operating in losses for 8 years? Turns out, Vijay Mallya was only the tip of the iceberg – India’s NPA problem was worth Rs. 8,29,226 crores in total! Our banks had lent over Rs. 8 lakh crore, and all of this was bad debt – which means the borrowers had no way of paying back the banks. It’s bcause of this bad debt that scores of companies weren’t making enough money to pay their employees. Instead of this money being circulated within the economy, being used to fund other promising businesses, or for development projects, it was simply missing.
In 2018, when the Nirav Modi and Punjab National Bank case came to light, things got a lot worse for India’s banking sector. It became clear that it was grossly under-regulated and in need of reform. That’s when the NDA passed the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code (IBC) – to recover as much of money from bad loans to pump back into India’s economy. This new policy has been a great start to resolving the NPA crisis, but the problem was too big to be solved in just 3 years. So far (March 2019), the portion of NPAs has only fallen 10.3% – not nearly enough for people to forget about Vijay Mallya or Nirav Modi.
3. Gauri Lankesh: Indian Journalist shot dead in Bangalore
On 5th September 2017, journalist and an outspoken critic of PM Modi’s Government, Gauri Lankesh, was murdered outside her house by an armed gunman on a motorbike. She isn’t the only dissident to be attacked or killed since 2014. Activists, writers and educators like Govind Pansare, M.M. Kalburgi, Narendra Dabolkar, Sudip Bhaumik, Jyotirmay Dey, and many others have lost their lives too, indicative of a bigger problem – an NDA-led India is not tolerant to criticism or dissent.
In November 2016, NDTV received a blackout order from the government because of their coverage of the Pathankot terror attacks. In August 2018, Editor-in-Chief Milind Khandekar and anchor Punya Prasoon Bajpai of APB News network quir their jobs because of alleged government interference in their news coverage. Most recently, in February 2019, a Delhi court filed an FIR against Arnab Goswami, Editor-in-Chief of Republic TV, for illegally airing information from the Delhi Police investigations into the death of Sunanda Pushkar.
This violence and ‘legal’ censorship of the press has put India at 138 out of 180 on the 2018 World Press Freedom Index. The press is an important pillar of every democracy, responsible for being a watchdog and holding elected officials accountable for their actions. But under the NDA, this pillar seems to be crumbling down. Leaders from the NDA love to bring up the Emergency of 1975 to accuse the Congress of press censorship, and now the Congress has enough ammunition to turn the tables on that accusation.
4. Muslim Man Lynched Over Beef Rumours
On 28th September 2015, a violent mob in Dadri, Uttar Pradesh killed 52 year-old Mohammad Akhlaq after a public announcement was made at the local temple that Akhlaq’s family had killed a cow and consumed its meat on Eid-al-Adha. The mob was apparently made up of members of a right-wing Hindu group associated with the BJP. This incident and the general atmosphere of growing religious intolerance in the country was widely condemned – through social media movements like #NotInMyName and public protests like “Award Wapsi”. Yet, this incident was only one of many. Since 2012, 88 of such incidents have been registered officially while 86 of them have taken place in the BJP government.
Instead of finding and prosecuting the people that form these ‘Gau Rakshak’ mobs, most of the accused are out on bail. One of them – Hariom Sisodia – is even contesting the Lok Sabha elections, representing the BJP. In fact, lynch mobs have become a common form of public justice in rural India over the last 5 years. In June 2018 alone, 14 people were lynched by mobs in different incidents around the country – some thanks to rumours of child kidnapping on WhatsApp.
There have been no anti-lynching laws introduced by the government, despite loud called for such a legislation, nor has PM Modi strongly condemned this phenomenon. Many think the reason for this silence is because these incidents have been perpetrated by people associated with the BJP and have mostly been against Muslims and Dalits, 2 groups that BJP’s voter base typically stands against. Could this silence cost PM Modi the election?
5. 8-year-old Asifa Bano raped and murdered in Kathua
In August 2017, a 17 year-old girl wrote an open letter to UP CM Yogi Adityanath claiming that she was raped by Kuldeep Singh Sengar – a Member of the Legislative Assembly of Uttar Pradesh from the Unnao constituency – on 4th June 2017. However, it wasn’t until April 2018 that any action was taken against the perpetrators of the case. Then, in January 2018, an 8 year-old girl was found brutally raped and murdered in Kathua, Jammu & Kashmir. A priest from a local temple, Sanji Ram was the main accused in the case. The case made headlines around the country and people held protests demanding #JusticeForAsifa. During the peak of the #MeToo movement in India, BJP Union Minister M.J. Akbar was accused of sexual harassment by a female journalist. Instead of firing him immediately, the government did nothing until Akbar resigned himself owing to public pressure.
This government inaction could be attributed to the fact that all the perpetrators were in some way or the other associated with the BJP. Women’s safety has become one of the foremost civil rights issues in India in the last 8 years, ever since the Nirbhaya case in 2012. Many argue that the Nirbhaya case was one of the things that contributed to the downfall of the UPA government in 2014. The NDA and PM Modi in particular may regret not taking a stronger stand on these cases.
The last 5 years haven’t been all bad. Just like these headlines could break the NDA, there are a number of headlines that could help them win the 2019 election too. Read about those here.