The World’s largest democracy can work only through conversations, reaching out, understanding alternative points of view before those ruling arbitrarily decide on what to do, senior Congress leader Kapil Sibal said while delivering the Girish Patel memorial lecture in Ahmedabad. The second edition of the Girish Patel Memorial lecture was organised by Friends of Girish Patel with Advocate Anand Yagnik as the key person. Talking on the topic, India in the age of Modi”, Sibal said it was unfortunate that PM Modi continuously keeps on invoking Mahatma Gandhi, his ideology and philosophy and then acts completely contradictory to that.
Referring to his visit to Sabarmati Ashram on Saturday morning, he said, “Gandhi spins the charkha, Modi spins a yarn. If you keep educational institutes, judiciary, politicians…everyone, everything in your pocket, how can you run a democratic nation? Modi changed the rules of the games for all the wrong reasons. Opposition is weak because Modi doesn’t go by rules.” said Sibal, a member of the G23 group of leaders who have openly dissented against the Gandhis and the lack of a coherent hierarchy at the top in Congress.
He referred to the way Kerala journalist Siddique Kappan was sent to jail last year while he was on his way to report on the Hathras gang-rape case in Uttar Pradesh that triggered nationwide shock.
Silence is not an option during the BJP rule, said Sibal, adding that it would mean one is equally involved in these atrocities. Of the ongoing crisis in Congress, he said he and others like him in the party could at least express their feelings. He, however, rued the fact that he wasn’t sure if the party was ready for change.
Attacking Modi’s pet project – the Central Vista – he asserted: “The building of the parliament has no relevance to democracy. It’s just a building. Mano toh Bhagwan, na mano toh pathar.”
Unlawful use of the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act
The Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) was passed in Rajya Sabha to combat terrorism. “The law is not being used against terrorists but our own people. It was not designed to attack Indians. You put an innocent man in jail and he comes out after 10 years and is declared innocent. The government is using the law against people like 70-year old Stan Swamy, author Gautam Navlakha, Bhima Koregaon and others. What threat do these people pose to the sovereignty of India?”
Democracy thrives on dialogues but in Modi’s era, there is no scope of the conversation, Sibal said. “You ought to understand the other point of view. Today, there is no place for dissent. He runs the country sitting at the centre in Delhi, but Delhi is not India. India lives in villages.” The conviction rate in sedition cases is 3%, while the conviction rate in UAPA is 27%, he added.
On the mishandling of the Covid-19 pandemic by the BJP-led Central government, he alleged: “Before the second wave, Modi went to the World Economic Forum in 2020 to speak about how well India fought Covid. He said it’s an example for the world. He wasn’t even aware of the second wave. In just a few months, the cases increased and people had to suffer. Forget about healthcare during Covid, they didn’t even have facilities to cremate bodies as per the Hindu traditions. While other countries were placing orders for vaccines, we were disillusioned.”
Attack on educational institutions is an attack on the nation’s backbone, he said. “The wealth of a nation is in its universities and educational institutions, not in factories and industries. You destroy the spirit of innovation when you attack institutions like Jamia Millia, JNU or Ahmedabad University. You put an RSS guy as a chancellor who openly accepts that he is an RSS member first and an educationalist second, there is something fundamentally wrong.”
The US spends $240 billion dollars on research and development and in universities, he said questioning India’s negligence towards the education system.
Governance of fear
Gandhi believed in interfering the least in people’s lives. His rule was: Minimum government, Maximum governance. “In Modi’s India, it’s maximum government, minimum governance. Raaj Modiji kar rahe hain, neeti koi hai hi nahi. Their only strategy is to threaten people. The only safe harbour is silence. But I’m standing at this podium to speak up as I can’t see my country die. We need a Jan Andolan where people speak against Modi and his lack of governance. Even if we get jailed, we have to speak up, atleast I will.”